Uriah Huntrager and Whit Burchfield somehow just didn’t fit the mold of your run-of-the-mill hillbillies. Both had somehow survived a short stint as grade school inmates by becoming model prisoners long enough to get out without apparent harm.
They were about to embark on a mission of mercy aimed at liberating all of us by blowing up the building and institution we had shared for the last five years.
All of our class of various aged misfits had at times actually enjoyed Mr. Early, as he insisted on being called.
“Early for what?” Whit had quipped on our first meeting.
Having been named by a father whose hero-worshiping of sideways, obtuse and contrary famous men, Jubal Early, the teacher had spent and misspent his entire life trying in one way or another to live up to or live down all the trappings, actions and reported dealings of the man whose name he had been given. His own educational experiences had been a progression of mostly miserable events regularly marred by being called “Jerkass Jewboy” for starters and digressing to much more inflammatory, insulting and downright abusive catcalls from the best of the neighborhoods that he had been forced to live in. Like his namesake, this Early’s character and personality provoked controversy. Described by his peers as eccentric, outspoken, caustic and opinionated, he served as a perfect foil for Uriah, Whit and Pearlie Mae’s constant bitching, arguing and shock and awe verbal skirmishes. Unfortunately for the rest of their classmates, these bouts and outbursts of arrogance and ignorance generated a lot more heat than light on the subject under discussion.
As I mentioned before, Jubal Early Wahlberg was the talkative guy that had repeatedly and patiently tried to get all of us to memorize stuff. Silly shit, like reading, writing, arithmetic, vocabulary and a whole bunch of things that hadn’t seemed to be of any use to us. Everything had a different word list that we had to know if we were ever going to be able to know what the hell he was talking about. “Don’t forget the symbols,” he had warned.
“Who needs that many sounds just to talk and listen when even little kids already know that bears and raccoons crap in the woods.”, Uriah had muttered.
Jubal Early was a devout agnostic who recently had taken a step backward. Having converted to Judaism in a last ditch attempt to find truth and salvation for an otherwise heretofore meaningless existence. And after taking this thankless job of sorts and meeting with his students-to-be, he realized again that his search hadn’t ended and that he was once more wandering down a dimmer path than he had seen before. One quick look at them led him to think that calling them students just didn’t work. Maybe by calling them that loud enough and long enough they might change, but it seemed unlikely.
Unshaven, ruddy and angular face topped off with an unruly thatch of shit-mukilty dun colored hair; clad in a mismatched shirt, pants and socks and limping with an uneven gait, he could easily be mistaken for one of the northwest Georgia hill valley billies he had signed on to educate; except for the horn-rimmed glasses. The glasses somehow didn’t fit the picture and couldn’t be seen as part of the homespun image of this bunch.
In the ninth grade after not being able to see the blackboard from the rear of the room, Early had been taken to an optometrist that had provided the spectacles that made the numbers bigger and altered his appearance and attitude and view of life in general forever. It was the beginning of his progressive myopia that had eventually grown to include his social skills and every other aspect of his intellectual curiosity and development.
Most recently, his myopia had focused brightly on the state of the world in general and particularly on the hole it was in. Instead of not being able to see the forest for the trees, Early wasn’t able to see the trees for the forest. People and real things around him seemed too dim and unclear as to merit any need for his consideration. Ideas, concepts, processes and protocols were vivid, clear and enormously demanding of his immediate attention. His mind worked constantly on issues of terrible importance to the protection of the intellectual “life as we know it”. If he was unable to make a connection for them, well that was just another manifestation of the issue at hand. As usual, with no black powder in the chamber, he was shooting semantic blanks in this miserable war of words.
Here and now in the scabby woods of Georgia, Uriah, Whit and Pearlie Mae were faced with the job of trying to put some of his talking and their learning to practical use.
The ponderous weight of my role of being the unseen, uninvolved and imbedded journalist in this mission was getting heavier by the minute. In the cramped situation room of my hiding place, my usual asthmatic wheezing became more labored and noisy. It was definitely getting more difficult to suppress.
“He said that black powder doesn’t get hot enuff by itself to explode. “ said Uriah. He was trying hard to be the brains of this operation. “Maybe this guy can tell us how to do that.”
“I think I ‘member him saying that cordite had something to do with making it work.” offered Whit.
“Aw, what the hell do you know about it anyhow, countered Uriah. You fall asleep every day.”
They didn’t want to blow Jubal Early up with the building but they reckoned they would be able to figure that out after they got the powder. After all, he was the one that had given them the details on how make things go boom in such a huge way. Things like the fireball, the range of destruction and of course the size of the hole in the ground that would be the lasting evidence of their success in this monumental task. For a couple of twenty somethings with Pearlie Mae doing her best to be a loyal and quiet camp follower, it was going to be a beautiful beginning.
In one of his frequent cynical rambling monologues Early had said, “ Life is a long, lonely road winding from an obscure corner used for the beginning of a trip going nowhere in particular, peopled by wandering souls, each with their own map with legends filled with half-truths and out-right lies.”
“That’s just a limited definition of what is beautiful about not knowing what really counts in life.” Beulah, had interrupted him. “Ya know, . . . like that old song my Gramma sings, “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life,”
Neither Uriah or Whit had any real idea of what the hell they were arguing about, but both agreed that it sure sounded deep and was most certainly worthy of being the “attainable objective”, Early frequently ranted about.
On more than one occasion, he had said that he thought he preferred well-intentioned ignorance to intellectual deception, but hadn’t really made up his mind on that one yet. “One thing I’m sure of though, you young folks share two significant attributes, profound paranoia and an enormous need to be noticed. Since I have only one of these, communication is awkward and for the most part ineffective.”