Blasting Gophers

Sunday morning November 1, 1970. I’ve decided to cut this from the main narrative of Hunter’s Moon because I think the story demands focus on Art Drinkwater, Joe and Joey, and the Levys. –BJC

In his waking life, rationalization and denial came easily to Jerry because he tended to live in the moment. Yesterday’s mistakes were yesterday’s worries. He fell asleep Saturday night to “They probably put out the fire before anything bad happened.”

In the still hours between midnight and sunrise, Jerry dreamed of sitting around a circle in Chris Levy’s fort dressed in flowing white robes. The walls glowed red and black instead of their usual green and white. He saw himself and his friends slicing huge gashes into their bodies then pouring the blood into a a mason jar. They all stood and watched Joey mix everyone’s blood into one container and then pass it around, urging them to drink deeply. The dream’s imagery took on the lurid appearance of a black and white horror movie. Long shadows fell across the floors at harsh angles. His  friends’ features took on a sardonic affect.

Moments after drinking the blood, his body purged its fluids and waste. He watched them vaporize before touching the ground. The world deconstructed and regenerated itself before his eyes. Fascination overcame his fear. Objects devolved into shape and color, metamorphosed into texture and value, and regenerated themselves first into mathematical representations of form and then three dimensional objects. Jerry marveled at the converging lines in the hooch’s interior; at the irregular forms of his friends arranged in a circle within the hallowed rectangle, occupying the surrounding space, forming an object for which he had no name; at the curves of Joey’s face–the spherical eyes, the way his nose protruded from his brow, then drooped towards the ground, curving up at the last possible moment. For a fleeting instant, everything made sense. He saw his place in the universe as a singular being with no boundaries between himself and infinity, essential to its strength and integrity. The previous night’s vision faded into the the dark.  The group emerged as foremost. He resolved to keep the secret. No matter how hard people questioned him about Saturday night’s adventures at Dill’s house, no matter who it was, he knew he had to protect his friends.

Jerry woke to the sound of his mother calling his name from the kitchen on Sunday morning, “Hurry up and get dressed. Everyone else is waiting.”

The Greens followed the same Sunday routine week in and week out. Jenny and Chester woke up around six in the morning and had sex. They roused the kids around seven and prepared for church. Both quickly showered after which Chester went out to the mail box, retrieved the Sunday paper. He sat in the parlor reading his Newsday until  Jenny announced breakfast. The family sat down to a big meal pancakes, bacon & sausage, orange juice, coffee, and milk.

A few hours later everyone changed out of their Sunday clothes and  Chester, accompanied by his son Jerry, went to the backyard and walked the property insuring that all was in order.

Most recently Chet Green’s had a gopher problem. During the summer of 1970 his backyard had turned into a grid work of gopher tunnels and dying plants. His vegetable garden and flower beds and his grass all suffered mightily. He tried everything short of dynamite but nothing worked. Not the humane traps nor the inhumane traps. He tried flooding the tunnels. Then he tried poison. But they were too smart to eat the tainted food. In an act of desperation one Sunday morning in mid-September he went out and put a handful of carrots near one of the tunnel’s entrances and waited patiently behind a tree with his pump action 20 Gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot.

“It’s me our you gopher,” said Chet wearing a determined look. The little guy popped out of his hole and cautiously nibbled the food. Bam! Gopher parts lay scattered about the bait.  Thereafter, Chet made it a point of going out a few times a week armed with his shotgun and whatever vegetables he could find in the refrigerator. The varmints could not resist the allure of a free meal. “Ah, but there are no free lunches my furry litter friends,” Chet would laugh as he waited for yet another critter to have its last meal. Sunday, the day of the Lord, saw no pause in the war.

“C’mon son,” said Chet. “It’s time to blast some gophers.”

Jerry giggled dryly with anticipation while his father left the table to retrieve his gun from the basement weapon cache. He was an avid hunter and a Lt. Colonel in the National Guard. He kept shotguns of various gauges, several hunting rifles, an M14 carbine, and  assorted pistols.  After a few moments he emerged from the basement door with a pump action 20 Gauge shotgun and a box of shells, “Here son,” said Chet, proffering both to the boy. “Load’er up and let’s get going. Mind where you point that thing.”

A look of excitement blossomed on his face as he grabbed the weapon and stepped out onto their breezeway, a concrete walk connecting the house with the garage and covered with a roof. Jerry loved everything to do with guns: holding them, loading them, firing them. But, having been an adolescent himself and understanding the fascination young boys had with guns, Chet double secured his weapons by keeping them in a gun safe in a locked room down in the basement. Only he knew the combination. Only he had the key.

Jenny wanted nothing to do with the guns and wouldn’t take the key nor would she learn the combination. “That’s your thing Chet,” she’d say. Throughout the entire gopher ordeal, Jenny busied her self around the house doing her best to ignore the entire affair. The traps and poison bait were bad enough. But, “Shooting off that gun.” Many of the old timers remembered the the not-too-distant past when all of the surrounding area was woodland. They were every bit as likely to solve their gopher problem in a like manner. So long as the shot didn’t wander over to their property, they would be content to put up with a few cracks of the gun. The new people, that was another question.

Blasting gophers was but one of the chores on the day’s agenda. Chet maintained a  winning nursery in his backyard complete with a greenhouse where he kept both tropical plants and also where he grew the seedlings and so on that he planted in the spring. He spent all day Saturday the 31st winterizing the backyard: that is, wrapping tree trunks in burlap, building wind/snow barriers for various bushes and shrubs, and so on.

When the father joined the son on the breezeway, they looked like a study of the much discussed generation gap. Jerry sported a mess of coarse blond hair parted in the middle. He wore a brightly colored polyester shirt with extra big collars, hip-hugging bluejeans held up by a big-buckled garrison belt and a pair of Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars on his feet.  In contrast, the shotgun wielding elder Green wore his greying blond hair in a crew cut. A flannel shirt hung on his narrow shoulders and heavy khaki pants clung to his waste. Well worn work boots covered his feet.

Too all appearances, Chester Green was a stereotypic ’60s Republican, Vietnam war supporter, America love it or leave it type. He was a hard working man about 5’10” tall. Up until the early ’70s, he wore black plastic framed “safety” glasses–circa 1955–which hid the way his eyes set in his face as well as the fairly high cheek bones. His ears were big and floppy and his lips long and thick. He wasn’t particularly muscular but a lifetime of physical labor gave his slight frame a solid appearance. When he was in his twenties, he was very thin. Married life and prosperity added a few layers to his waist line and in his face, which but for extra pounds, would’ve looked cadaverous.

Unlike his new neighbors, who commuted to New York City every day, he spent time with his son and taught him how to hunt and fish and how to fix things around the home. He was a great provider. He served in the Korean war as an enlisted man and worked his way up to Lt. Colonel in the National Guard, which was as much a beer drinking fraternity as a military outfit. They drilled once a month out east on the Island and drank the nights away.

But his experiences in the Korean war along with another 18 years in the service of his country taught him to value family and hard work above all else. Those were the things that sustained life. Petty disagreements over politics or dress were precisely that–insignificant. Not that he liked the way his son dressed or wore his hair but understood their impermanence whereas bitter arguments over haircuts and presentable clothes lasted a lifetime. All things considered, he opted for pragmatism.

The two walked north from the breezeway and headed toward the middle of the yard. “I found another entrance near the oak tree cluster,” said Chet. “C’mon son. Put the food where I showed you and we’ll wait. The little varmints’ll be out looking for a free meal before you know it.”

Jerry complied with his father’s instruction and they withdrew upwind from the hole and sat down on a pair of webbed folding chairs. “Now don’t move and don’t make a sound,” said the elder Green. A short while later, as Chet predicted, a gopher popped his head out of the hole and quickly scanned the perimeter. Not sensing any danger it bound over to its last meal. BAM. Click. BAM. Chet let off two rounds and watched the gopher transform into red mist. Jerry let out a whoop, “Got ’em!”

Satisfied that he was ahead in the Gopher War, Chet, handed the weapon to his son and said, “Take this to basement and give it a thorough cleaning. Rest it on the bench when you’re done. “He watched his son pass through the kitchen door and turned toward an arrangement of azaleas around which he’d set up a burlap wind/snow barrier.

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