When you live in a small town the odds of anything being a secret are pretty much zero. “No sooner done than said” is the expression I heard growing up and I never realized how true it was until I was old enough to do things I had rather not had spoken aloud. I think was four or five when I realized that the others kids talking about something we did would eventually get back to my parents who would punishment me twice; the first time was for doing something wrong and the second time was for not telling them about it in the first place. Whatever lie any parents have ever told any children the “I won’t get mad as long as you tell me the truth” lie is the worst. I knew damn well some of the things I did would get me in trouble no matter who told them.
But then there are those people who, for whatever reason, seem to get away with anything and everything. There was a kid in our neighborhood who hit a nasty foul ball that went right through Mrs. Smith’s window and the rest of us scattered like quail. Tom went right up to her back door, walked in, got the ball, went home and shot a blue jay with his BB gun, and then left the dead bird in Mrs. Smith’s house, next to all the glass. Everyone knew he did it. Everyone talked about it. But when Mrs. Smith got home her only story was one of a bird that flew through her window.
Tom was never indicted and never served a moment in jail, hell, or a corner of the room for it.
That was child’s play, literally, to what Wayne Jonson did. When I was in my late teens I worked in a wood yard and one of the truckers who hauled wood there was Wayne. He was a legend. Wayne had real facial hair and had a tattoo of a bloody dagger on his right bicep. One of the guys that worked there told me the tattoo was of a real dagger that Wayne had used to kill a man over cheating at cards. The law couldn’t prove it and to taunt them Wayne sported the tattoo. Wayne had long hair and he wore pointy toed cowboy boots. He wore mirrored sunglasses and always had a toothpick in his mouth. And he drove a log truck. How much more manly could a man be, really?
But most of all, Wayne Jonson was famous for having two wives.
Since he drove a truck he could claim to be on the road most of the time and he did just that. He would go into the scale house of the wood yard, a place where most of us lowly wood yard workers were not allowed to go, and he would call his Alabama wife and tell her he was in California or Texas, and then he would go home to his Georgia wife.
I was there. I witnessed this one day.
One of my jobs was to mop the scale house once a week and while I was cleaning up Wayne Jonson came in. I think he actually spoke to me. But I was still invisible to most of the adults in my world so Wayne sat down at the phone and called his Alabama wife, “Yeah, dammit, I threw a rod out on the interstate near Santa Fe, yeah, yeah, be back in a couple of days, love ya baby, see ya soon!”
In my little circle of post juvenile delinquents the story of the “Santa Fe Breakdown” was the equivalent of listening in on Blackbeard discussing keelhauling someone. Wayne Jonson was who we all wanted to be, if we ever grew up. But first we had to have facial hair. And pointy boots.
After I left Early County I didn’t return for over a decade. By that time I had survived the Army, survived alcohol, quit smoking for what I thought was good ( it wasn’t) and I began to lose my hair. I got up with some of my old drinking buddies and we went out to a hole in the mud bar that only the locals at the mill knew about. Yep, I looked over next to me and there was Wayne Jonson. He looked different, too. His beard was a lot greyer and his long hair was cut very short. He walked with a limp from a wreck and couldn’t drive because of the seizures he had. He looked shorter, less massive, and oddly human. I asked him if he remembered me and he looked at me with the same look I was giving him, “yeah, yeah, you were that kid at the wood yard, damn, that was a long time ago.”
So it seemed the stories were true, kinda; he had a wife in Georgia and a longtime girlfriend in Alabama. Wayne told me that in Nam he went into a cave and the most scary thing was someone had tied a cobra to the tip of the cave and it damn near bit him on the face when he walked under it. But that, he said, was nothing compared to the day he walked in to find his wife and girlfriend together on the couch, crying, looking very pissed off.
Ever get away with anything for very long?
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit
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