If you follow me on Twitter you would see some of my posts focus on Japanese kinushi, or in other words the tree spirit of Okinawa. I found this story interesting to write about ever since I wrote a few of my “survival of the fittest” writing prompt stories as all of them are connected and have situations settled in a forest.
This story much like Wound will be updated every week, since it will be a longer form of a short story. In a way it will be a chapter-book, but much shorter in length.
Gramps and the No Good Busybodies will also be edited by @anthonylmanna who is the author of wonderful children’s folktales and is also my boss. I also have to thank @hyakumonogatari for his knowledge on Okinawa’s kinushi.
Read hyakumonogatari’s post HERE.
Every Wednesday around 8:00 PM I will update Gramps and the No Good Busybodies and every Monday afternoon I will update a chapter of Wound. I hope you all enjoy this new story!
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GRAMPS AND THE NO GOOD BUSYBODIES
Written by: Katya Szewczuk
The Old Fellow’s Crossing
* * *
If I told you this story you probably wouldn’t believe me. An old coot like me with a nasty, old hip and a crick in his neck wouldn’t fool even the wildest of adventurers like the young Miss Bernadette who knows now even us rotten adults can be trusted. Nonetheless I’ve a story to tell and you’ve got a pair of rinky-dink ears. Listen if you wish, or hurry home like those pesky buggers did when we tended to our gardens.
Now, for those of you who are listening and lazing like sitting ducks, I’d like to introduce myself. The folks who work the sweat off of their brows while cultivating the pastures and making sure the swine have their buckets of slop each morning call me Gramps, or as the young’uns gush Ojīchan.
I was a foreigner from a small American ranch in a small county of Texas surrounded by a rock bottom creek, thickets of trees, great waterfalls that flowed into deep, wading pools and fields aplenty. Crops grew in bushels, especially the Ruby Lou potatoes that kept the small community abuzz with potato salads and potato casserole for many months. Even the huffing heifers were healthy as a summer rhododendron in bloom.
When I was a lad, life was simple on those farms. The neighborhood thrived with happy folks and smiling faces galore. That was until the tax collector with the small, black cap and fancy, white suit, Mr. Ritchie Harris and his noisy machines, stripped the ranch of its beauty and burnt it down to the ground. All the man ever wanted was to expand the tax collection agency and fill his pockets with silver and gold, and because of our simple way of life he made us victims of his greedy schemes.
Mr. Harris forced us out of our humble homes and sent us away in horse buggies. For many nights we slept in piles of itchy hay with the clucking hens and sheered sheep.
We soon became penniless paupers who hitched rides on trains, some hoping to make it to the big city to start a life of fame. Though no matter how far and wide we travelled, one thing remained. We were rag-tag kids with a simple dream to find a place we could call. Though, our dream seemed as big as God’s hand.
By the time I was sixteen years old I was tired of the life of a street rat. For years I scrounged for nickels and dimes and worked real hard as an errand boy for Mr. Harris’s portly sister and her little Terrier pooch, or as I called it the little yapping terror. It was then when I decided to confront the penny-pinching tax collector and take back our land.
I’ve much to regret in my life, but nothing will ever triumph over my misgivings when I was a wild youth. Stricken by rage and encouraged by my slobbering, excited gang of buddies, I dropped by the tax collector’s office one morning with a wooden bat from the town’s sandlot. The fat, old geezer was out for his morning stroll when I crept into his den and looked at the walls lined with gold, the smug statues sculpted to mimic Mr. Harris’s face, the beautiful paintings of the Harris family and the tall, dusty bookshelves lining the walls. There wasn’t a single item that wasn’t imported over the great blue seas. His taste of greed smothered me.
Boiling was my blood and drumming was my heart. Suddenly, I let out a violent scream and swung the bat. All around me was destruction. The wallpaper curdled, the floorboards snapped in two, paintings and portraits were shattered, bookshelves had fallen and tumbled down like the trees of my childhood.
My buddies let out the roars of ravenous lions; their eyes cold and focused, seduced by madness. My hands were trembling with the thrill of revenge as I cheered and beat my chest. Though as my hailing praise of victory outshone my buddies, a pain overwhelmed my body. The last thing I saw before unconsciousness swept over me was Ms. Harris and that darn yapping terror. Some say she strangled me with her plump fingers, others insist they saw my neck get turned all the way around. But I knew neither one was true.
As a punishment for my crimes, Ms. Harris tossed me in her smelly, old attic that was filled with dusty photographs and skinny sundresses from the days of her youth. For many sleepless nights I tossed and turned. Eager with an empty stomach, I hadn’t known what was to happen when daybreak peeked into the attic’s peepholes and woke the pesky rodents. Fearful and stupid, I hurried out of Ms. Harris’s place with a pack of cigarettes and hitched a ride on the nearest horse and buggy.
The trip was long and tiresome. The folks I travelled with were old and grouchy—farmers whose lands were surely stolen from them. These old geezers kept on gushing how their sons left the life of agriculture because they were drafted, which left their farms targeted for the penny-pinching tax collectors.
Back in the 1940s, World War II had a dramatic influence on Texas. Much of our federal money poured into building many military bases, detention camps and hospitals for the Army. Hundreds of thousands of poor farmers signed up for war jobs that paid more nickels and dimes than their smallholding jobs ever did. Heck, over 700,000 young fellows left for service, and I could have been one of them.
* * *
On my journey to escape the wrath of the Harris family, I met many interesting folks, but one of the most memorable was a man named Kazuhiro Izanagi. Mr. Kazuhiro at the time was a youthful man of forty years who was a traveling merchant from a small village in Okinawa, Japan who traveled to America every year to sell his homemade jewelry, clothes, paintings and treasures. His English was poor and his accent was overwhelming, but his mind hungered for knowledge.
As the weeks toiled onward and the days passed away, I introduced myself to Mr. Kazuhiro. In hope to leave town and find directions to the nearest ferry, I was pleased by the man’s humility and was invited into his shop to drink a cup of strong saké. He told me all about his daring adventures and all of the wonderful and curious people he met since he had departed for America.
“Saké no naka ni makoto air! In saké there is truth!” he would shout each time he filled my cup.
Even on his tattered kimono he wore a shawl with the Japanese characters hemmed onto the seams.
He was interested in my troubles and said I reminded him of a Kodama, a Japanese tree spirit for mischievously playing with and mimicking human voices whenever I called for help. He said my echoes could have been heard for miles the day Ms. Harris kept me locked up in her attic.
“According to Japanese folklore,” Mr. Kazuhiro told me, “Kodama was believed to live in the forest and was the protector of those with pure spirit who dared to enter.”
I had laughed at his words, knowing something as noble as a Kodama could never be compared to a runt like me.
“I do need protection, but I ain’t one with a pure spirit,”
“Oh,” Mr. Kazuhiro would grumble, “But I sense that you are a boy who is misguided rather than one who is not of pure spirit. You, son, should come with me on a journey. Yes, then you will learn how pure of spirit you are.”
The thought of traveling with an honorable man like Mr. Kazuhiro made me blush out of disgrace. I was a skinny fellow with bedraggled hair and scar marks all over my bony, pale face. I hadn’t any strength because my knees were bruised and my palms were filled with dried callouses from my work on the farm, so it was impossible for a young’un like me to make a living for Mr. Kazuhiro. Though he insisted and told me in a wise voice that even a boy as weak as a mouse can grow to become as strong as a tiger.
For years I travelled around the United States with Mr. Kazuhiro and helped him sell his merchandise. To exchange for my assistance he taught me all about Japanese culture and how to speak the marvelous language. We would drink saké beneath the stars while he would tell me stories about the hinterlands beyond this blessed country. We argued about heyday politics and the future of our countries, but settled on how God’s land was a marvelous Creation. We were wanderers who never overstayed our visit. Back then, we planned on seeing the world together. Though, soon my crimes had caught up to me and I was forced to face justice.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse the darn, ugly truth was told that day and it wasn’t me who faced the judgment of the law. Mr. Kazuhiro might have been a benevolent man with a heart of friendliness, but he had come to America illegally and was deported back to Okinawa on my nineteenth birthday. Down at the deportation center an officer, who was quite familiar with Mr. Kazuhiro, got a hold of me before I stepped out and said it would be best if I returned to Texas and got a proper education to make something of myself. Neutral to the subject, I whispered, “Saké no naka ni makoto air. In saké there is truth.” and took to the busy roads that bustled with heroic soldiers, laughing boys and girls and no-good tax collectors. They all had a place to return to and I did not.
* * *
Several years had passed and I finally paid my dues to the Harris family by becoming their full-time errand boy. At first I got little to no pay, but hadn’t been bothered because after the family’s nightly banquet I was given the scraps to share with the local stray cats. The meat was always gnawed off the bone and all that was left was slivers of fat. If I hadn’t been satisfied with the meal, I prepared my spear and went frog gigging to hunt and cook up frog meat. The food wasn’t a delicacy, but it kept me alive and strong enough to get the fat Ms. Harris’s attention
You’re darn tootin’ I was a Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, because back then I was capable of doing all of the household chores and more. Even Ms. Harris had become quite fond of me after I fixed up shudders, repaired rusty, leaky pipes, cleaned the muck out of the gutters, dried the wet garments on the clothesline, unclogged the overflowing toilets and fattened up the hogs for Christmas ham.
Ms. Harris enjoyed taking me to her pretentious country clubs to boast about my work to her feathered lady friends, especially when I became fit as a fiddle by the age of twenty-five. Ladies of all ages, powdered in makeup from head to toe asked for my assistance and had me hard at work every day of the week.
During a terrible drought, the prosperous town had hustled and bustled for my services and started to hog my talents. Like hungry lions they guzzled down my batches of hoecakes, grits and hush puppies—those deep-fried small, round balls of cornbread and spices that were usually fed to the family dog to quiet his begging.
Throughout my service to the feathered name-droppers, never once had I forgotten to sit atop of Ms. Harris’s roof, look at the stars and drink a cup of saké. Mr. Kazuhiro, my father, my teacher, was always on my mind. Whether it would be ten days from now or ten years, I always thought we would see one another someday. Though, that was simply a fool’s dream.
* * *