Chapter One

1969  

 

 

     He spun slowly, strangely, watching the laws of nature disappear. Time had come unglued and all things in the room were rejoicing in their new freedom. A tiny world of snow flurries over a brown cabin, snowflakes that slid over miniature plastic trees, embalmed in glass and destined, for as long as time stayed dependable, to adorn a desktop, now opened magnificently like a flower.

     He watched the white snow leap into the air, no order to its movement, flying randomly toward wide open places. Tiny trees floated by like bushy green rockets zooming through crazy space. He laughed as the cabin came apart as cabins never do, the pieces flying past his face. He turned to follow the novaed end of this small world and his eyes met the Painting on the Wall. He might have missed it had time done its job, but time loafed.

     Patterns of red with thin streaks of white splashed playfully across the yellow pool of the wall. It was, at first, a sunset upon yellow sand, then red trees and long‑legged egrets standing, casting slender shadows. To his amazement the dark red shadows were growing longer as the world tilted and he fell gracefully to the floor. The paint was still wet! It was wet and running, sliding down the wall. He watched it reach the floor and merge with a crimson ocean that circled, he noticed, the unwilling artist. Gideon screamed.

 

     “Gideon?” a voice asked from the darkness.

     “No!” he screamed again.

     “Gideon,” the voice in the darkness weakened, cried.

     “Please?” Silence.

     “It’s me,” the void stayed dark, a painful black. “It’s me, Sarah.”

     Gideon tried reaching his arms out, but only one would move. Fear came. Not just fear of loss, as his memories swam beneath the surface, but a fear of touching something out there, something cold. He pulled his one arm back in and brought his hand to his face to feel the darkness. It was soft, bouncy. The darkness hurt him when he touched it.

     “Don’t touch,” the soft voice continued. “It’s a bandage.” He heard the strain in her voice. “But, you’ll be all right,” she hurried on. “Your eyes are all right.”

     Something touched his hand. Gideon opened his mouth but no sound came. The hand that touched his was warm. It slid between his fingers and lay softly on his palm. Sarah’s face eased into the void, a lighter dark. He felt the corners of his mouth pulling themselves up toward his blind eyes. A smile, he remembered. It turned in his mind like a key, carefully, and the hinges broke loose, spilling in shining rays of things more real. Time had pulled itself together.

     “Hello, Sarah.” He kissed the hand that rested in his.

     “Gideon?” Sarah’s voice faltered again, then crumbled into an avalanche of sobs that crashed against the cotton walls covering his ears and snuggled happily into the folds. She lay her head on his chest and it rocked like a heartbeat with each cry. The soft fur of her hair tickled his chin and he pushed it down, his hand barely touching her head.

     “It’s okay, Sarah,” Gideon said, testing his own voice. His hand searched her face and felt the tears.

     “J. is here,” she said quietly. “He told me to promise you he’ll get you out.”

     “Where am I?” he asked. “And why do I have to get out?”

     “You’re in the hospital.”

     “Where?” He was puzzled.

     “The hospital,” Sarah whispered. “In San Francisco. The police are keeping you here under arrest.”

     “Why?”

     She told him why, then lifted her head and sat back in the chair, holding his hand as he lay still, silent. Sarah listened to the machines around him sucking, whirring and clicking as several minutes crept past. When he finally spoke she jumped at the sound of his voice.    

     “We have a lot to do if it’s going to work, Sarah. I don’t doubt J. Hubbard, but I’m not sure about me.

     Sarah leaned forward and gently kissed his lips. “We’ll make it.”

     Gideon pressed his head back against the pillow, exhausted, then drew in two deep, ragged breaths. “It’s not funny anymore,” he said. He felt dizzy and disoriented. Searching his mind for something to hold onto, he found the comforting, shaded lawns of Macalester College. He felt the cool Autumn air and saw a pretty girl with long blond hair step in front of him as he ambled across the campus. Sarah watched Gideon smile as he dropped off to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWO

MACALESTER COLLEGE

 

When she met Gideon Holley, Carmen Woolsey was the secretary of Students in Defense of the Third World at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was a group formed to fight racism in America. She was passing out the SDTW newsletter on the green outside Macalester's student union. Carmen saw Gideon weaving his way through the swarm of students and, for a reason she didn't know, moved to intercept him, newsletter in hand. Carmen Woolsey was destined to meet Gideon Holley.

     Gideon was unintentionally conspicuous, even in this conspicuous crowd. He was six feet two inches tall and weighed one hundred and fifty pounds. He was called 'baby bird'’ when he was in high school. The nickname was given to him by one of the girls in the Hillsborough Young Women's Youth for Christ after she rescued him from Lake Blossom. He had wandered from a party at a friend's lake front home where he fell, naked and drunk, into the lake. When the water had been pumped from his lungs the young girl looked down at Gideon as he lay curled and wheezing in the sand.

     "He looks like a baby bird," she said.

     Carmen stared at Gideon. His hair was conspicuously short. It swept over his ears but only touched his collar. There was a white scar across the bridge of his nose that called attention to his deep set, grey‑blue eyes. When Gideon walked, his arms flung loosely back to front and side to side. His legs worked much the same way. Carmen watched this scarecrow as he deftly twisted around the other students and wondered, for a moment, if he was from another world. He wore a brown shirt and a lightweight green sweater that hung on him like a circus tent. His flared pants were rolled up at the bottoms. The rolls looked like three‑corner hats. Carmen stepped in front of him nervously as though stepping into the path of a runaway truck.

     "Excuse me," she said, smiling. "Would you like a copy of the 'Freedom Press.'"

     "No thank you," Gideon said, returning the smile.

     "But," Carmen stood like the Statue of Liberty, one arm cradling a stack of papers, the other raised, dangling a copy in Gideon's face. "It's the only free newspaper on campus."

     "Oh." Gideon relaxed, looking at the headline.  It was ominous. 'SECOND BLACK CHURCH BOMBED BY WHITE RACISTS IN NEW ORLEANS,' it said.

     "I thought you were trying to sell it to me."

     "I am," Carmen said.  "I mean, it's only a quarter."

     "You said it was free." Gideon glared at her.   

     "That's not what I meant," Carmen said quickly. She looked up at Gideon and laughed.

     "Oh, I get it." She dropped her arm at last. "You're playing a joke."

     Carmen Woolsey was a freshman at Macalester College, one summer removed from high school. She stood five feet and four inches with no shoes and had a beautiful, healthy Minnesota face with a dash of freckles across her nose. She had long, very blond hair.

      Poor Carmen. If she hadn't tried so hard to sell a free quarter newspaper to Gideon Holley, she probably wouldn't be dead now. But she had no choice.

      Gideon was twenty‑three years old and only six months out of the United States Air Force. He'd been discharged from the Air Force at Chanute, Illinois, on March 2, 1969.  He and a friend were released at the same time and the friend invited Gideon to his home in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for the summer. They could work at Kimberly‑Clark, the friend said. Gideon, with no ambition to go home, accepted.

     He lived in Oshkosh for five months, working and sleeping the entire time. He went out to a basement bar on Saturday nights and drank alone. 

     Gideon permitted himself one luxury ‑ buying and repairing a 1963 two‑ton step van; a retired bread truck.  He had it painted blue and installed a bed and a stove. When his acceptance to Macalester College came through, he said goodbye to Oshkosh and drove his van to St. Paul.

     Gideon hadn't met a girl he cared to spend time with for over five months. Now he had the time, the money he'd saved, and a GI Bill that covered his school expenses and more. Carmen was, indeed, a beautiful girl.

     "Yeah," Gideon said, "a joke."

     A red frisbee floated in a graceful arc behind Carmen, and sunlight, filtered through thousands of delicate leaves, fell softly on her upturned face.  Laughter and conversation flowed in harmonic waves around them as she lifted a strand of hair from her eyes and dropped it behind her ear. 

     "I'll buy them all," Gideon said.

     "What?"

     "I want all of them."  Gideon pointed at the stack of thin newspapers.  He bought twenty‑six copies of the The Freedom Press, two tuna sandwiches, and two bottles of Coke. They ate in the union, Gideon acting knowledgeable as Carmen talked to him about "the Movement." He had honestly never heard of the "free press."  He didn't know who Eldridge Cleaver or Huey Newton were.  Martin Luther King was only a shadowy figure in Gideon's world. Having always accepted the picture of King as a "paper doctor" and "troublemaker," Gideon was quietly surprised and humbled to find out what a brilliantly educated and dedicated man he was. Carmen talked and talked and Gideon stole glances at the groups of students in the room. He wondered if they all knew so much more than he.

     Gideon didn't know what ecology meant.  He felt stupid and new, embarrassed to have spent four years in the Air Force without thinking anything much more about Vietnam than hoping he wouldn't be sent there. He had never left the States. Now Carmen talked of all this and more. She exposed the worsening political crisis in America and the maddening war.  She became enraged as she spoke of the racism and police brutality across the land.

     As she talked, Gideon threw "I feel the same way," and "You bet!" into what he hoped were the right places.  A new and exciting world was opening up for him. After three hours of listening and bluffing, he knew quite a bit about radical politics.  After three hours of talking, Carmen Woolsey was convinced Gideon was the most politically aware person she had ever met. She'd never learned to take credit for her own intelligence.

 

 

For over a month Gideon went with Carmen to all the meetings of Students in Defense of the Third World and they spent most of their time together. They were in love.

     Carmen introduced Gideon to Gordon Cotton and all the members of SDTW. She told them Gideon had a great knowledge of current events. They were pleased. While he was meeting these friends of Carmen Woolsey, another black church was bombed in New Orleans, Louisiana.

     There were rallies and demonstrations at colleges across America and Macalester College was no exception.   Mobilization committees were formed, letters of protest were written and marches were planned. Speeches were scheduled everywhere.

     "Gideon!" Carmen took him by the hand and pulled him toward the auditorium just two days after the bombing. "Bob Rome is here!"

     Bob Rome was the student movement's most fiery speaker, a rising star in radical politics. He had flown to Macalester College as part of a hastily booked nationwide tour set up by the Radical Speaker's Bureau to throw support to a beleaguered civil rights movement. With him on the flight was Sarah Ash, one of those rare people whose knowledge raised her far above the rank‑and‑file and left her in a limbo of obscurity that comes from not being able to close a sale, to go for the jugular. Sarah had been given the honor of warming up the crowd for Bob Rome.

     Angry students filled Macalester's gymnasium until the late comers were forced to stand, first in the corridors and, as they kept coming, on the Green where outdoor speakers were quickly strung. Sarah Ash took the podium and talked for a half‑hour on social reform and the roll of united young women and men of all races and backgrounds in this reform.

     "We are not trying to reform the country and the world for our own pleasure," she said. "We're doing it for the political freedom of our children and our children's children. We must work totally toward change and we must have patience."

     Sarah received polite applause when she finished.

     Bob Rome appeared at the podium and stood silently, glowering at the expectant crowd. He was a pudgy, white bowling‑ball with a thick curly beard and black bushy hair. Short, thick arms curved down to his belt and rounded out into puffy pink hands with stubby fingers. Bob Rome pointed one of these fingers at the audience.

     "A lot of you think the revolution is a joke!" he shouted in a surprisingly well‑modulated voice, the accusing finger scanning them like a shotgun drifting across an open field, searching for a darting deer or a frightened quail.

     "The oppressed people in this country are being exterminated by the colonialist ruling class," Bob Rome dropped his hand to the podium and, with a resigned sigh, held the students in his power like an experienced tent revivalist.

    "Genocide is the game they're playing with our lives and we won't stand for it any longer!" His voice was like lightning before the thunderclap of applause.

     "Third world victims unite!" his voice rose above the cheering crowd. "We'll take the revolution to the streets and show the world we're ready to die for our cause!" Bob Rome's words were drowning in the screams of assent.

     "We'll show the pigs and their fucking oppressive system of mindless lackeys that we're not afraid of their pig guns and their pig laws any longer!" Everyone in the gymnasium rose to their feet, fists toward the sky as they cheered him on.

     Gideon missed most of Bob Rome's speech because he had gone to take a leak, but even far down the corridor he could feel the rumble of applause, the roar of allegiance. He was standing outside the double doors when Sarah Ash walked out of the gym.

     "Do you know why no one listens to you?" Gideon asked. Sarah stopped and turned slowly toward Gideon, a stork in a drooping green sweater. She was prepared for any question but that one.

     "I beg your pardon?" she said.

     "I said do you know why no one listens to you."

     "Please," she said sarcastically, "tell me."

     "Because you sound like Jesus Christ," he answered, pushing one finger into the air. "And, you're too honest." He raised another finger.

     "Is that it?"

     "Nope. You don't tell them they can rape and pillage after they conquer." He leaned closer, "They need revenge, you know." The third finger.

     "You forgot to shout," he said, four fingers in the air. Gideon stopped to think.

     "No number five?" Sarah asked.

     "Number five," Gideon said. "No one takes you seriously because you're too pretty."

     Sarah stared at him, unable to see anything but honesty in his face. She started to reply when a tremendous cheer from inside made conversation impossible. The cheer turned to applause and a stream of students burst through the door, pushing Sarah and Gideon farther and farther apart.

     He heard Carmen call his name and turned when she took his arm. When he looked back, Sarah was gone. Carmen slipped a hand inside his belt and leaned into his side. "I feel electric!" she said.

     "Yeah," Gideon said.

 

 

Gideon also used this time to share his new knowledge with his roommate, a quiet, brilliant young student named J. Hubbard. Their first two weeks together had been spent in loud arguments and abusive language that brought people into the long dorm halls to anticipate the worst. Then, in the midst of a shouting match, laughter broke out and they discovered they were compatible.

     J. Hubbard, at just over five feet, had the smooth face of a child and a predator’s eyes that betrayed a passion for conflict. Together, Gideon and J. looked like Mutt and Jeff.

     J. Hubbard never seemed to leave his room except to go to class or to find new and ingenious ways of smuggling beer and ice into the dorm, yet nothing seemed to happen on campus without him knowing. He kept six large, bound notebooks in a three‑legged bookcase that leaned against the wall, its missing leg replaced by a can of beer. Five of these notebooks were filled with J.'s neat script. He was working his pen across the pages of the sixth notebook when Gideon came in, nervous and excited.

     "You know what we've decided to do?" Gideon asked.

     "Go to New Orleans?" J. guessed politely.

     "Damn it!" Gideon sat back on the corner of his desk. "How did you know?"

     J. shrugged, closed the notebook and put his beer down on the cover, then reached over the back of the chair and pulled another can of beer from a small bucket of ice. He handed it to Gideon, rubbed his eyes sleepily under his glasses, and propped his feet up on the bottom shelf of the bookcase.

     Gideon opened the beer, sipped from the can and said, "Is there anything you don't know about the trip?"

     "Yes," J. leaned forward and slipped the notebook into the case beside the others. He turned up the can and drank the last of his beer then tossed the empty into a paper bag. "Why are you going?"

     "What?" Gideon said.

     "Why are you going to New Orleans?"

     Gideon looked confused. He took a long drink and tilted his head back. "Well," he said, "I don't see anything wrong with marching for the freedom of those people." He sloshed foam on the carpet. "I mean, damn it," he leaned down toward J. and half whispered, "They've got their dues coming, right?"

     J. stared at him.

     "Okay," Gideon struggled on, "I know I probably wouldn't be going if Carmen wasn't going but, shit..." he searched for sincerity.

     "Look, so I want to do my part to raise the consciousness of America and have Carmen, too," he drank. "What's wrong with that?"

      J. still said nothing.

     "Look," Gideon said, "I never even wondered about Vietnam, you know? I mean, I joined up because that's what you do. It never occurred to me that I had a choice."

     "When did it occur to you?"

     "After I met Carmen, and the others," he said sheepishly. " Before that, I never even thought about this stuff."

     "And now," J.'s eyes were heavy with exhaustion, "you're going to change the world?"

     "Maybe," Gideon said, rising to his feet. "Why don't you go with us?"

      J. shook his head, dropped his chin to his chest and began to snore. Gideon stretched his long frame then reached down and gently removed J.'s glasses. He put them on the desktop and looked at the clock. It was three‑thirty a.m.  In less than four hours he would be on a plane bound for New Orleans, Louisiana. He didn't want to go but he didn't want to miss it, either. He thought the trip might teach him something, might provide him with something to believe in. He leaned against the window, one hand holding his beer, the other on his crotch, and fell asleep.

 

 

They stood sleepy‑eyed but excited in the airport terminal, waiting in the chilly autumn sunrise for their plane. Gordon Cotton was running around as though the terminal floor was a spider's web of bare electric wires, his hands and mouth working a strange, hypnotic duet over the crowd of students. Carmen left her car with a friend and she and Gideon walked across the parking lot toward Gordon's crazy dance. Finally, they came within the sound of his voice.

     "The entire project will depend on how well we work together. There'll be students there from all over the country to stand with us in support of the black struggle. I've collated some important information for you to read on the plane and I want each of you to get one of these pamphlets.

     "You know the cause we're all working toward and you know the goals ‑" he kept up the flow of words as he handed out stacks of papers to a select few who, in turn, handed them to others.

     "He's like a tobacco auctioneer," Gideon said. Butterflies took flight in his stomach and he thought of being home with a beer. Carmen wrapped her arms around one of his and pulled herself close.

     "Isn't it exciting?" she said. "To be a part of history!"

     Gideon's mind wandered and he saw his high school basketball coach standing before him, a strange ghost in red sweat socks and black shorts, a white T‑shirt with COACH in blazing red on the chest. He could smell the locker room and feel the players' tension before an important game.

     "Boys," the coach was talking, his stocky frame trembling with excitement. "This game will decide the divisional championship. The way you play tonight will be a part of history!" They lost the game. Two weeks later no one could even remember the score.

     Carmen pulled him back to the present again with a tug at his sleeve. The mass of students around him were moving toward the loading gate, their murmuring an undercurrent to Gordon Cotton's singing chant: "Everyone get on board the freedom plane!

     "The freedom plane!

     "The freedom plane!"

     Hup, two, three, four.

 

Be the first to respond!

Leave a comment:

  •  

Mud Music

Like us on Face Book

Facebook -- http://facebook.com/Luckymudmusic

Be A Mud Puppy

Get The Latest News

Upcoming Shows

  • May 30
    Bay County Council on Aging,  Panama City
     
  • Jun 2
    Maggie's Musical Farm Americana Cafe Sundays,  YOUNGSTOWN
     
  • Jun 16
    Maggie's Musical Farm Americana Cafe Sundays,  Youngstown
     
  • Jul 7
    Maggie's Musical Farm Americana Cafe Sundays,  Youngstown
     
  • Jul 21
    Maggie's Musical Farm Americana Cafe Sundays,  Youngstown
     

Book Lucky Mud

Maggie@Luckymudmusic.com