He was sitting on the porch sipping his coffee. It was a pleasant evening; it had been a hot day and a light cooling breeze and started making it just right. He looked around at the kids playing stick ball on the road, burning off the last of the day’s energy. The setting washing the sky with reds and oranges, telling him that tomorrow would be another good day. He decided he would take his grandsons fishing tomorrow. They had been pestering for the last week for him to bring them down to the river to fish. Not that the younger two ever actually fished. They usually splashed about in the river and ran around the park abutting the river.

He had started to teach his older grandson Alex how to fly fish last summer when they had come up to stay with him. He could see the youngest two playing in the stick ball game. Paul aged eight was playing out field and ten-year-old John was the pitcher, a role he played in his local little league team. He had travelled down to see him play in the local finals earlier in the summer. Unfortunately they lost by one run, but it had been a close game.

Suddenly he heard shouting from further down the road. Getting up and walking to the edge of his porch he looked towards where the shouting was coming from. He could see Alex and two other boys from the neighbourhood surrounding another boy. One of the other boys was pushing the boy and laughing. Putting down his coffee he started to walk towards the boys and called.

“Alex, what’s going on here?”

“Shit! It’s my gramps.”

Turning around he said “Nothing Granddad”

Raising his eyebrows he said “Nothing my foot, leave the boy alone and get into the house now and you two get off home. I will be talking to your parents about this”

The old man walked up to the boy and could see he was crying. He looked around twelve or thirteen years old and his nose was bleeding. One of the boys, hopefully not his grandson, had punched the boy in the face. He took out his handkerchief and putting against the boy’s nose said

“Come with me and I’ll get you some ice for your nose.”

Pointing to his grandson he said, “Get your ass up to the house this minute. Move!” he shouted the last word. He grandson jumped and ran up to the house. He guided the boy to the porch and made him sit down. Going to the kitchen he got ice wrapped in a cloth. He brought it out to the boy, making him bend his head back he placed the cloth on his nose.

The boy was still crying a little. He put his arms around his shoulders and comforted the boy as best he could. He had never been great at that.

“Why were they picking on you?” he asked.

The boy sniffled a little and said, “Buddy and his brother are always picking on me. Calling me names and pushing me to the ground. They call me a fag and a pervert. Just because my brother is gay.”

The old man sighed. No matter how things change they remain the same. What pissed him off most was that Alex had gotten involved. He had thought the boy was better than that. He sat with that boy for a while until the bleeding had stopped. He called his parents and his father came over and picked him up. He apologised to the boy and his father ensuring them his grandson would never again have anything to do with something like this.

Realising it had gotten darker, he looked at his watch and saw it was 7pm. He called his other two grandsons in. He told them to get washed up and ready for bed. They could then watch a movie until it was time for them to go up to bed. Getting them settled in front of the TV, he went up to deal with Alex.

Going up to Alex’s room he saw the boy sitting on the bed. He turned as his grandfather walked into the room. He went over and sat beside the boy.

“I’m very disappointed in you. I thought you were a better person than to do that”

“But granddad...”

“But nothing! I know you know better than to bully another boy, but to gang up on him like that…I don’t know.”

He sat silent for a while.  After a moment he turned and looked at the boy, saying, “Let me tell you a story. Back when I was just a boy not much younger than you something happened that changed my life forever. I think you are old enough to hear about it. It would have been in the summer of ‘35, so I would have been around eleven. We were just coming back from swimming in the local swimming hole for lunch. When my mother told me...


*        *        *


“I want you to get changed. We’re going over to Clarksville this afternoon for a picnic.”

The boy looked at his older brother and smiled. This sounded great and their uncle George lived in Clarksville. In fact, he was the sheriff over there. He had always liked visiting his uncle, who would tell them great stories about the people he arrested. His mother always gave out about these, but it never stopped his uncle.

“Great, are we going over to see Uncle George?”

His mother looked at his father. They shared a strange look and he said, “George will be there.”

“Yeah!” the boy exclaimed.  He hurried up eating his sandwich and ran up to his room to get changed. They all got in to the pickup with him and his brother in the back. The day was warm and he liked to ride in the back. He could see that they weren’t the only ones going. Behind and in front of them were about five other families. He thought it strange that he had not heard anything about this picnic all week. Usually when something like this happened he and his friends would be talking about it for days beforehand. He turned to his brother and asked if he knew what was happening. His brother told him to be quiet and said that he would see when they got there.

Clarksville was a two hour drive from where they lived and they pulled into a field just outside of town. There were people already here. Some people were setting out picnics for their families and kids were starting to get games started. He spotted some kids he knew and ran over to them. He joined in a game of tag. This seemed to go on for a long time, when his mother called him over and they sat down to eat. His mom and dad were a little quiet and he started talking to them about the kids he had been playing with.

They sat for a while and the sun began to set when he asked, “I didn’t see Uncle George. When is he coming?”


“Anytime now,” was his father’s reply.

He went back to playing with his friends for a while. The sun began to set when his father called him. Looking over at him he could see some trucks arrive. He ran over to his father. He noticed that the lead truck was his uncle’s. He smiled when he noticed that there were men in the back dressed in clan uniforms. He knew what these were as he had seen one in his uncle’s closet and asked his uncle about it.

The men jumped off the truck and dragged a black man from the floor of the truck. He was tied up and gagged. The men started to hit him and laugh.

“Ain’t such a smart nigger now are we boy?”

They dragged the man over to a tree in the middle of the field. The tree they had played around all day. He didn’t know what was happening, but could guess. He had heard some older boys talking about how uppity niggers got lynched, but he didn’t know what that was.

He looked at his father, who was laughing at what the men had said. He wanted to ask him what was going on, but the words stuck in his throat. The men dragged the crying man over to the tree. One of the men dressed in white threw a rope over a branch. The people started to get closer. He was pushed closer by his father. He wanted to run, but his dad had a grip on his shoulders.

They poured something over the man and the boy could smell gasoline. They put the rope around the man’s neck and pulled him off the ground. He started to swing and kick out. The boy turned and put his face into his father’s stomach. He didn’t want to watch this. His father pushed his head around and held him so he would watch.

The man was still kicked in the air when one of the men lit a torch and set him on fire. The boy couldn’t believe this was happening. He could see the other people in the light given off from the fire and some were smiling and laughing. Some were even swapping jokes. He started to choke in from the smell of the man burning and the smoke. He could feel hot tears rolling down his cheeks. He couldn’t believe his dad would be part of this. Why had he been brought here? All he wanted to do is run away. His started to struggle, but his dad was holding him tight, forcing him to watch. He closed his eyes. The man started to scream and he thought he was screaming too. He just wanted the man to stop. For this to stop.  He wanted to wake up. This had to be a dream, it couldn’t be real. He wanted his mom, but knew she must have known this was going to happen.

He felt like getting sick from the smell from the man burning. At last the man stopped moving and everyone started to head back to the trucks. His father kept a tight grip on him. He had heard one of the men in white talking to his dad and realised that it was his Uncle George.

No one talked on the way back to the house. When they got back he ran to the privy and threw up everything he had eating that day. He then ran upstairs to his bedroom fell on to the bed buried his face into the pillow and bawled his eyes out.



*        *        *

The man sat for a moment and looked at the shocked look on his grandson’s face before continued.

“Nothing was ever said about that night, but I never looked at my parents or my uncle the same way again. I was call up in ‘41 and spent the next five years in the fighting in the Pacific. After that I went to college on the GI Bill and became a Teacher, met your grandmother and got married. Once I left I never spoke to my parents or my Uncle George again. I went home for their funerals and never returned. Of all the things I saw in the war, none of them have haunted me more than watching that poor man die. You see, what shocked me more was not just that they murdered that man, but that they did it in a way that stripped him of his humanity. They turned him into a nothing. These weren’t evil people. They probably didn’t even hate the man. That was the saddest thing I think. The everyday edge to the death.”

Tears had started to fall down the boy’s face. “But granddad what has that got to do with what happened today. We weren’t going to kill him.”

“It was the same kind of hate that was involved. That boy’s brother is gay and some people hate him for being that way, and some will even go as far as to hurt him. What you did today had the same kind of hate involved in it as those men. To hate someone just for who they are and to make think them less because of it is dangerous. To step away from thinking it is okay to hurt them because they are not like us. Now, I know you are better than this. I want you to think about today okay and if you want to talk to me I’ll be downstairs.”

The old man got up and headed back downstairs leaving his grandson to think. He looked in on his other grandsons. He grabbed a beer from the fridge went out to the back porch and sat. His mind on the man, whose name he never knew but whose face he never forgot, who had died in a field sixty years ago. He sat quietly for until his two grandsons came out to say goodnight. Kissing them, he tucked them in. He went into Alex’s room, finding the boy lying on his bed staring at ceiling. He quietly closed the door and left him to his thoughts. Went back downstairs, went back to the porch and looked out, back to that night sixty years ago.




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