September 25, 2018:
Home on derange.
Brothers Don and Gene on horseback outside the outhouse. They're in blue denim and stetsons, head to foot. The dudes, not the horses.
Don is all but silent. Silent Don, the Mystery Rancher. It's not so much that he's brooding, as that he's in so much pain he can't force his tongue to form syllables. He returned from the Battle of the Ardennes twenty years ago refusing, or unable, to communicate.
I wonder, if he could, what he would say to the pregnant 17-year-old he abandoned in the Ozarks back in 1936, when his father said no to marriage and he accepted that judgment passively, probably silently, a lifetime sentence for his conscience and the girl and her baby.
I wonder what exactly his younger brother Dutch said to that baby on the phone one day twenty-eight years later. And what she said to her mother. She must have asked, Is all this true? And of course, Why was this kept from me?
By contrast brother Gene speaks volubly, rapidly, a nonstop river of profanity which in hindsight makes me wonder if his coprolalia were a symptom of Tourette's. "God damn no dick sumbitch cocksucker cuntfucker hell fuck shit damn crap God fuck," on repeat, day in day out.
Decades later I now have affection for them both. And hostility.
Don, particularly. Affection and admiration for his pacifism, his principled stand against all war. I understand he was a leader in his church, which I thought of frequently when in late 1990 and early 1991 I helped organize caravans of church buses coming from Montana to the massive antiwar demonstration in San Francisco on January 26th. Hostility, for abandoning the pregnant neighbor girl with his child that grew up to be my mother.
Gene was an ignorant prick, but he made me laugh, and he won my everlasting respect when my college friend and I stayed with him for a night in 1978. His loyalty was to working people, the end. So that when we talked animatedly of Marx and socialism he listened with keen attention. I thought, We can communicate here, which surprised and intrigued me. After that I stopped being angry at the shitty way he'd treated me in childhood.
What are they doing there, on that day?
It's summer. Don's showing Gene the ranch. There'll be flies and mosquitos, the cows will need extra salt, the pastures will be fallow, confirmed in subsequent pics. They'll pose riding herd, the Wild West Brothers posturing as cowboys.
Gene's no cowboy. Don really is, though. That's his ranch.
My Grandpa, Silent Don the Pacifist, a Wild West rancher.