ReganBooksCopyright © 2005 Tommy R. Franks
All right reserved.ISBN: 9780060779542
Chapter One Planting Seeds
WYNNEWOOD, OKLAHOMAJUNE 1950
My understanding of the world and its consequences - of rightand wrong, good and evil - began when I was five in centralOklahoma. That may be hard to believe, but it's true.
It was my father, Ray Franks, who taught me those lessons.
"You pull up just as hard as you push down, Tommy Ray," Dadsaid. He was trimming two-by-fours for our barn roof with ahandsaw on the tailgate of the old Ford pickup. The saw bladesnarled down through the board and ripped up with a thinnersound. His right arm, tanned like leather under the shortsleeve of a washed-out shirt, bulged as he leaned his stockyweight into the saw.
It was summer, nice in the shade of the cottonwood trees nearthe barn. I was barefoot, in faded bib overalls that weregetting short in the legs, sitting in the dirt, watching myfather work, listening closely, as always, to his soft-spokenwords. He smiled a lot and liked to josh around. But when wewere alone together, my dad often took a moment to explain thethings he'd learned in his life.
"Here, Tommy Ray," he said, tossing me a couple of splinterycuttings. "You can play with these blocks."
"But, Dad, they ain't real toys."
"Aren't real toys," he corrected, flipping another board endto me. "But they are, you see. A few years back, kids had tomake do with toys their daddies made for them. They couldn'tjust drive to the five-and-dime in town and buy ready-made."
I fingered the wood, still hot from the saw blade. "How come?"
He wiped his face with a handkerchief, laid another plankacross the tailgate, and lined up the saw. "Well, Tommy Ray,we had a war. Most of the countries in the whole world werefighting. America had to fight the Germans and the Japanese.Millions and millions of guys my age and younger were soldiersand sailors and flyers and had to go fight."
Fight, I thought. That was like when the barnyard chickenswent rolling around, pecking and squawking. Or like when thebig kids walking to school in the winter threw ice balls. Butwhat would make a million soldiers and sailors fight?
"How come, Dad?"
"Bad people, Tommy Ray. The Japanese attacked us at a placecalled Pearl Harbor. It went on for years, and a lot of ourboys didn't come home."
"Where'd they go?"
Father laid down the saw and smiled that soft grin he had whenhe needed to explain something sad, like when Ginger the catgot hit by a truck. "Well, those boys got killed. They diedfor America, Tommy Ray."
My mother said people went to heaven when they died. Thoseboys went to fight and just kept going till they got toheaven.
"Did you go fight?"
"I was in the Army Air Corps, Tommy Ray. I fixed airplanes forthe boys to fly. I didn't have to fight, but I think my jobwas important."
In my mind's eye, I could see my father fixing airplanes withshiny propellers. He could mend anything - the electric waterheater for the bathroom, the truck, the tractor, all thedifferent plows and reapers. Folks were always bringing theirbroken things to the farm for Ray Franks to fix. Mother toldme that Dad could never say no if people needed help.
"Did you go to Pearl Harbor?"
My father shook his head, smiling. "No, Tommy Ray. I went to aplace called the Panama Canal Zone. They've got palm treesdown there, and really pretty birds called parrots."
"Mother didn't have to fight, did she?"
"The ladies stayed home and worked really hard, son. Lots ofmen, too. The whole country went to work. People plantedvictory gardens for their food. The boys in my Scout troopcollected tin cans and newspapers. Things were scarce. That'swhy children couldn't always have new toys, why their dads oruncles had to make them blocks and doll houses."
My father always explained things so I could see a picture. Somany years later, I recall that afternoon clearly. This was myfirst appreciation of war. What I learned was clear: Badpeople started wars, and Americans had to go fight. I alreadyunderstood about cats getting run over. About steers going tothe slaughterhouse. Now I saw that whenever wars were started,some boys didn't come home.
"Will I have to go fight?"
My father stacked the trimmed boards up against the fender andsighed. "Tommy Ray, I hope not. But you get used to playingwith those blocks I just cut, because there are more badpeople starting trouble again in a place called Korea. I thinkAmerica is in for another trying time, son."
I set my blocks in a square and then leaned forward to scratchin the dirt between my ankles, fascinated by the littlerust-colored bugs swarming up from the ground. They lookedangry, like a million soldiers.
"Oh, hey ..." I yelped. The bugs were crawling up my legs andbiting. "Dad ..."
He snatched me up with one arm and shook the flapping legs ofmy overalls. "Tommy Ray, you were sitting on an anthill. Thoselittle devils are red ants, son. They're nasty."
We were at the garden spigot now, and Dad ran the water overmy ankles. It felt cool. But in my mind I pictured crowds ofsoldiers with guns like my father's 12-gauge shotgun, boilingout of the ground, just like the ants.
That night, I had my bath, said my prayers, and my mothertucked me in. But I couldn't go to sleep right away. I'dlearned important new information out in the shade of thecottonwoods. When there are wars, boys go to fight, motherswork hard, and kids like me go without toys.