Join us on our first money-raising initiative for the Finding Corte Magore project. With your tax deductible $250+ donation – you, or someone you love – can be memorialized forever by “Hugging a Tree” on Corte Magore, at Hog Cay, Bluefields, Nicaragua. I promise you, with every ounce of my being, your money will be put to very “GOOD” use.
On Google Maps the Coordinates for Corte Magore at Hog Cay are the following:
Tree Huggers® are created using high-grade stainless steel and are noted for being the only tree plaque that gently wraps around the tree (by means of plastic-encased springs) and expands without harming it as it grows! It will not rust or corrode or release any harmful toxins or chemicals that could harm the tree. There are hundreds and hundreds of trees on Corte Magore at Hog Cay, Nicaragua – and we anticipate that eventually, every one of them will be memorialized by our donors. Click here to make your tax deductible donation.
The Finding Corte Magore Project Problem: 42% of all children along the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua drop out of school by sixth grade, if they ever enroll at all. Poverty in Nicaragua drives kids out of school and into the workplace. (The Guardian). They drop out because they don’t have shoes to walk to school, because they have to watch their siblings while their parents work, or because they have to work to support their families. They drop out because they see school as pointless. Guess what? They’re right. There are no jobs waiting for students if and when they graduate. Which means poverty will live on in Nicaragua forever. Unless…
Solution: Our project, led by Author, and Entrepreneur, Tonia Allen Gould, along with her team, aims to start to reverse this cycle of poverty in one large region of Nicaragua by driving sustainable, best practices, social good tourism to Bluefields via the island of Corte Magore at Hog Cay, Nicaragua. Our social enterprise works like this: Eco-Tourists and Flashpackers visit our island in Bluefields, driving revenue to fund programs such as: Jobs and job training on the island for locals seeking to better provide for their families, such as eco-building, island maintenance, security, hospitality, transportation, and cooking, training they can take back to their communities to earn money. By showing kids along the Atlantic Coast that their parents can be trained and then gainfully employed, we can offer children hope for a better life for themselves. Hope that may start to reverse the cycle of poverty. By providing job opportunities for parents and making school meaningful for students, the island will free students to stay in school, go after their dreams, and spread prosperity as they become business-owners, entrepreneurs, tourism professionals, artists, scientists, coders, teachers…
We also intend to fund educational programs for students in Nicaragua – programs like a floating educational barge that delivers teachers and and school supplies to remote indigenous regions, after school sports and crafts programs that only students who stay in school can partake in, or on-island biodiversity and environmental learning research camps for older students.
The Finding Corte Magore project will establish ecotourism operations in under-developed and ecologically vulnerable areas, and set the precedent for sustainable development in a way that prevents the destruction of pristine natural habitats by irresponsible tourism. The FCM business model will be validated in the Hog Cay pilot site in Nicaragua given the biodiversity attributes and relative lack of development in the area, as well as the recent influx of visitors to the country. The FCM platform will subsequently be exported to similarly vulnerable areas with a viable and repeatable business model that creates investable and scalable opportunities to promote sustainable development.
Meanwhile, we intend to build a global, K-12 environmental learning curriculum from eco-projects happening on the island -which is an identified bio-diverse hotspot, projects that have research attraction from many of our potential partners and universities, as well as will put locals to work with proper training:
Building our Eco-Beach complete with a volleyball pit
Mangrove protection and devising ways to eliminate natural, island erosion
Building the bar and commissary
Renovating the basketball court with recyclable products like used tires
Building floating casitas
Training of locals to do construction, learn hospitality, cooking, bartending and how to captain a panga, etc.
Creating a Zipline from one part of the island to the other or connecting the island to a neighboring island via zipline that won’t infringe on passing boats
Eco-Spa – Building natural, spas from collected rainwater
Lighting the island for evenings
Building eco-sensitive tree houses on the island
Rebuilding the island’s suspension bridge
Artisanal Fishing Demonstrations with natives
Creating Cultural Excursions like to the Garifuna annual anniversary celebration
Coral Reef Restoration Projects
Turtle Protection and Migration Projects
Building Photovoltaic thermal hybrid solar collectors to convert solar radiation into thermal and electrical energy to power the island and how people may be use similar technology to power their lives after a hurricane
Farming Mussels in the lagoon to clean up the brown water
Various Eco-Farming projects – (we have access to an eco-farm across the lagoon) – training on planting and growing foods in tropical climates despite global warming
Figuring out how to divert town rain water and brown water from flowing into the lagoon
Creating and traveling with our floating educational barge to indigenous regions, bringing education to children who otherwise can’t access education
Inventing hurricane resistant “kit” housing for poor coastal communities led by a team of engineers in a think tank
Building a bird sanctuary
Creating Vertical Gardening Systems despite the clay soil which is conducive to growing certain types of food only
Implementing fishing best practices
Introducing diving to the area and along the many shipwrecked boats
Finding the tradewinds and introducing surfing to areas which are untapped or undiscovered
No other tourism venture strategically connects the dots between social good, environmentalism and education – making our project the first of its kind and further promoting sustainability by making the number of visitors, to the island, virtually limitless. Planned educational opportunities at FCM are extensive and do not just include educational experiences consumed by the eco-tourists we attract. Rather, we see an opportunity to build a K-12 environmental educational platform that makes FCM virtually accessible from anywhere in the world. A FCM student/teacher/professor/university inspired curriculum will be at the core of our offerings.
We have been in talks with many notable agencies and insitutions such as NOAA, Conservation International, CREST and UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science. Sustainable, best practices and conscientious travel is imperative to this region or it may be devastated by tourists. That said, the tourism is still coming to the region regardless, here’s why: Eco-Tourism is already happening in Nicaragua A dirt road from Managua that normally takes twelve hours to drive, is currently being paved. This connects the Atlantic Coast to the rest of Nicaragua without having to fly. Lonely Planet calls Nicaragua the Top 4 place in the world to visit The Canal de Nicaragua is a shipping route under construction through Nicaragua to connect the Caribbean Sea (and therefore the Atlantic Ocean) with the Pacific Ocean.
Our business partner is:Ambassador Francisco Campbell, Nicaraguan Ambassador to the U.S. and owner of 29-acre, Hog Cay. FCM has negotiated a 15-year leasehold already on the island. We are halfway there to make our vision at Corte Magore a reality.
Hog Cay Google Coordinates: 11°59’25.2″N 83°45’09.7″W.
We believe the dreams of children are the most precious resource in Nicaragua – but also the most squandered. So many dreams go unfulfilled due to extreme poverty. Something needs to be done about this. Every child deserves a shot to go after their dreams, and the Finding Corte Magore Project intends to give it to them. We believe that achieving dreams can not only elevate children above their birth circumstances, but also their communities and, over time, their nation.
We have acquired the island through a lot of hard work and dedication, and now we need to build it out, develop programs and put the island to work to keep a nation of children in school.
Finding Corte Magore is a California Benefit Company. The purpose of a benefit corporation includes creating general public benefit, which is defined as a material positive impact on society and the environment. A benefit corporation’s directors and officers operate the business with the same authority as in a traditional corporation but are required to consider the impact of their decisions not only on shareholders but also on society and the environment. Finding Corte Magore at Hog Cay, Nicaragua is a Nicaraguan joint partnership formed under Nicaraguan law.
When I travel back to Nicaragua, the phrase “Welcome to the Jungle” means more than the iconic Guns & Roses song.
Here, “Welcome to the Jungle” means waking up to the sounds of roosters crowing, birds chirping, and the leaves on the palm trees swaying to alert us of a pending storm. It means returning to the jungle of my childhood and the vivid memories that live here, like when I laid the first brick of what would later become the family farmhouse I sit in now, looking out at the trees that my brother and I climbed when we were kids.
“Welcome to the Jungle” means I’m home at Finca Zaragoza, a luscious coffee farm located on over 500 acres of nature in the mountains of Nicaragua’s La Dalia region.
In the blink of an eye, over 30 years have passed since I climbed those trees. While much of the coffee farm remains the same, there is one big, new addition that fills me with hope for the future of the country. Across the way, in what used to be an open cement field where we dried coffee beans and I learned how to ride a bike, there is now a schoolhouse.
In 2012, my father, Omar Perez Leclair, built the schoolhouse for the kids of the farm workers who harvest coffee here. Prior to the schoolhouse, parents struggled to keep their kids in school. Unable to afford cars, the only way for kids to get to school was “on foot,” and since the nearest schools were five to ten miles away, the kids’ shoes would quickly wear out. Without money to spend on new shoes, parents would sometimes just take their kids out of school. By building a school on the farm, we hoped to save not only kids’ shoes, but their dreams.
Francis, a 7-year-old girl, who enjoys playing hide-n-seek with her friends, told me she wants to become a doctor so she can take care of anyone who gets sick.
Francis’s family has worked in Finca Zaragoza for many, many years. My mother taught her grandfather, Don Julio, now retired, to read and write. He will never forget it and tells me this same story every time he sees me. For me, the joy he got from learning to read and write reinforces the importance of investing in Nicaragua’s future by making sure that essential resources (such as accredited teachers, desks, notebooks, pencils, a chalkboard, etc.) are in place to educate the kids.
Despite the efforts of people like my father, many kids here will not make it past the 6th grade. Their parents will force them to start working in the city, the streets, or in other farms so that they can help contribute towards food and clothing to support the rest of the family – including younger brothers/sisters and grandparents. Without school, many won’t have a shot at fulfilling their dreams.
I need only look at my own path to see how important school was in building the life I lead in Los Angeles. In 1983, my family and I fled to the United States. I was in 2nd grade, enrolled in “El Americano” School and learning how to speak English, when fighting between the Sandinistas and the US-supported Contras grew severe, causing Nicaragua’s economic and civil rights conditions to worsen. My family and I settled in the San Fernando Valley in California, and I enrolled in the 3rd grade with American kids. I quickly learned how to read and write in English, and by the end of the school year, I was helping my American classmates with their homework. I admit, I was kind of a nerd, but I just LOVED going to school and I never missed a day – I looked forward to winning “perfect attendance” awards at the end of the year. When I got chicken pox in 4th grade, I was crushed that I had to miss a full week.
I went on to attend Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills, CA, and then CSUN (California State University Northridge), where I graduated with a bachelor’s in Business Administration. After graduating, I ventured into the world of marketing at several fast-paced telecommunications companies.
Today, I am thankful for all the events that have led me to this point, and feel that the school is an expression of our gratitude and hope for the parents and children in Finca Zaragoza. Yet for as many as we’ve helped, there are millions more across Nicaragua who are forgotten. Spreading quality education to a whole country of children is a huge task, one requiring big ideas, hard work, and the coordinated efforts of dedicated people. It’s more than my family and I can do alone.
Then, one day, on Facebook, I saw a video about the Finding Corte Magore Project. But, it was this personal video from Tonia, about Finding Corte Magore, that got my attention the most because it tells the story on how her personal journey to Corte Magore began and how that relates to my own experiences, growing-up Nicaraguan.
I’d known Tonia Allen Gould, the project’s founder/CEO, for several years after we’d worked together in Los Angeles and became friends on social media. I learned that Tonia had published a children’s book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, and now was turning the book’s fictional island of Corte Magore into a real island in Nicaragua to help kids stay in school. I knew I wanted to learn more, be a part of it, and help Nicaraguan students fulfill their dreams by helping Tonia fulfill hers. When Tonia approached me about visiting kids in Nicaragua, I welcomed her with open arms.
One conversation led to another and six weeks after our initial conversation, we were at the schoolhouse in Finca Zaragoza watching the kids’ faces glow as most of them received coloring paper and crayons for the very first time. They also received an English lesson from Tonia for the very first time as she taught them to say “Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore.”
Ultimately, I understood that The Finding Corte Magore Project’s mission was to bring awareness to education in a country that desperately needs it. This trip to the schoolhouse was a starting point for a grand initiative, a vision and a project that started out as a dream in the pages of a children’s book but was going to leap off the pages into reality.
So with great hope and excitement, I invite Tonia, the island, and the Finding Corte Magore Project to Nicaragua by saying: Welcome to the Jungle.
About the Finding Corte Magore Project: Our goal is to crowdfund a “social good” island in Nicaragua to raise awareness to the children who may drop out of school before reaching the sixth grade. In an effort to promote dreaming amongst children at home and abroad, our goal is to rebrand the 29-acre island of Hog Cay, to Corte Magore, after the fictional island in the children’s picture book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, authored by Tonia Allen Gould. The main character in this story had to overcome a lot of challenges to accomplish his goal of building a life for himself. We believe, with a little help from students and teachers in the US, crowdfunders, and the Finding Corte Magore Project, that the children in Nicaragua too can create a better life for themselves as well.
How one author’s children’s picture book unfolded out for her in real life eventually making a fictional place real for social good.
Fifteen months ago, I had an “AHA” moment that, at first, involved marketing my book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, an epic children’s tale about a land and sea fiddler crab who wandered onto a beautiful island called Corte Magore. Sam wanted to stay and live there forever, but had to first overcome obstacles like building himself a home before the tides came in to sweep him back out to sea. He also had to work around naysayers and the big, bad beast, the Great Tidal Wave. Sam was a dreamer and a hard worker. He made mistakes but each time he failed, learned to pull himself up again and again by his bootstraps.
If you know me well, you’ll know there are some parallels between Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore and my own life. Like Sam, I’m tenacious and a hard worker. Also like Sam, I too was once searching for a home. At the age of fifteen, I was placed in foster care. Mine was a dysfunctional family living well below the poverty line and things were often difficult for me growing up. The naysayer in my life was the system – the statistics that said I wasn’t supposed to break the cycle. Many children don’t, but I fortunately did. I’m resourceful, entrepreneurial, and when I’ve failed, I learned early on to pick myself up gracefully and work to get myself right back on track – just like Sam. I broke the mold and I know, in my heart of hearts, that it’s my duty to share with others that they can do it too. Despite their circumstances.
I tried to ingrain many pearls of wisdom throughout Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore. If only I had a book, growing up, that told me it was okay to be searching for something, that acknowledged that my dreams had validity, that being punctual and minding the time and deadlines were important, and that though there would be bullies and naysayers in my life trying to squelch my dreams, it was up to me to tackle them anyway. Somehow, early on, I learned I’d have to do most everything for myself and on my own and that being independent can be incredibly empowering, even for a child faced with life’s difficulties.
My story was one I HAD to tell. But just telling it wasn’t enough. I had to figure out a way to market my book in a big way to children so they could make my story and Sam’s story, about overcoming obstacles and persevering, their own.
One morning, right before I woke up – a time when being “almost” lucid often brings clarity to my problems – the way to market my book in a big way came to me in an “AHA” moment. “AHA, I’ve got it,” I thought as I sat straight-up in bed. “If you can name a star in the sky, then why can’t I find some postage-stamped-sized island, somewhere in the world, and name it Corte Magore?”
That crazy, absurd, half-cocked idea put me on a personal journey that has changed the course of my life – rallied even my own family, one that’s forced me to get off my own personal, one-acre suburban “island” in Southern California, a life I eventually built for myself, step out of my cush comfort zone – and onto a real life, 29-acre, living/breathing, bio-diverse island along the devastatingly poor, Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. That “AHA” moment, caused my passion (writing books for children) to be met with its purpose – having an island work to somehow keep an impoverished nation of child drop-outs in school. One adventure lead me to the next, just like in my story. And that “AHA” moment has snowballed into a new tale that now involves an ambassador, universities, conservation, eco-tourism, environmental learning, ocean science, crowdfunding, grant-writing, television/film, real estate development, and much, much more. In the course of a year, I’ve traveled to Nicaragua three times and have fallen in love with its people and possibilities, but most importantly, I’ve fallen in love with the journey to “Finding Corte Magore”.
Over the next few days and weeks, my team on the Finding Corte Magore project and I will attempt to break down this amazing adventure for you. Look for videos, pictures, and blog posts as we unfold the story from varying perspectives.
I promise that when it’s all over, you will be inspired to get up, dust off some of those old dreams of your own, dare to get off your own islands and realize that nothing at all is impossible.
Someone asked me last night – challenged me really, over dinner while talking about the Finding Corte Magore project. “Why not do all this in the U.S.? Why Nicaragua?” My answer? “I grew-up dirt poor, living below the poverty line. But, books, education, teachers, welfare and our American laws saved me. I had hope. And, everyone deserves hope.
The poorest children in the U.S. have so much more hope than most of the kids in Nicaragua, one of the poorest places on the planet. Kids in Nicaragua are forced to eventually choose work over school, if they ever enrolled in the first place. My goal is to teach kids in the U.S. that no matter how bad they have it – someone, somewhere, has things worse. And, in Nicaragua, my goal there is to let kids know that it’s okay to have hope and dream for a better life.” – Tonia
This week, I’m especially thankful – thankful I have a solid roof over my head and a home with windows and doors, and readily available food hand-picked from a market, proper medicine and supplies, running water and yes, definitely yes, flushing toilet facilities and a roll of paper always at an arm’s reach to me.
I’m equally thankful I’ve seen with my own eyes, through experiential and cultural travel, a part of the world along the Caribbean Coast, in developing Nicaragua – so now I know what it means to call myself truly fortunate.
I’m thankful for the opportunities, present and past, I’ve had bestowed upon me simply because I’m a red, white and blue, flag-waving American, and thankful to know I could, if I had to, live without surplus and modern conveniences, electricity and things that don’t really matter if it came down to instinctual survival. I am heartened and enlightened to know there are nations of people everywhere, especially in developing countries, that know far more about survival than many of us ever could. And, it is they that have much to show us on what that really means, and globally, we can each benefit from showcasing our cultural differences in a non-exploitative, educational way.
I’m thankful to know I can survive under dire circumstances because I’ve seen people, with my own eyes, who have literally nothing and yet maybe, in some ways, they have everything they could ever want and need, because they know how to live and thrive in some of the poorest conditions on the planet and still know what it means to be a part of a community and to love and support their families.
I’m thankful that I can now put my personal judgements and biases aside, because I’ve seen impoverished children, far more impoverished than I ever was growing up – living below the poverty line in Midwestern America. While many of the people I met may be lacking in opportunity, Nicaraguan children still smile and are happy, because they are each cared for by an entire village of people, and causes, who invest their hearts and souls into their wellbeing and care, despite economic conditions.
Mostly, I am thankful that I have stumbled upon the Finding Corte Magore project which has put me on a personal path to growth and the opportunity to work and mindshare with some of the smartest and caring people I can ever hope to know. I am thankful that we have “found” Corte Magore and that I have had the great pleasure of coming to know the Campbell family, and their beautiful, private island of Hog Cay, Nicaragua, and that I have personally earned their family’s trust and support in the Finding Corte Magore project. It’s a huge undertaking and I’m comforted to know, it will take our own village of incredible people, to raise this project to be everything it promises to be.
See you on Corte Magore!
The Finding Corte Magore Project
Coming Soon on Hog Cay, Nicaragua
I awakened a few hours later to the delightful aroma of side pork and eggs, fryin’ up cracklin’ hot on the griddle. I knew Mama was standin’ at the stove, dutifully making us breakfast where she was probably still adorned in her blood-stained pink robe. Daddy, undoubtedly would be sittin’ at the kitchen table—drinkin’ his coffee and tokin’ long and hard on his Marlboro, while starin’ out the window, surely carryin’ his thoughts out into the trailer park and farther past it to the great wide beyond. I never knowed where my Daddy went when he stared out that window at nothin’ in particular, but I imagined it was someplace other than Ardmore, Oklahoma, population 24,677.
Mama always served us up a big, pipin’ hot breakfast on Saturday mornin’s and so I reckon I was mighty hungry enough ’cause I pulled back them covers back and jumped out of bed, not realizin’ how dreadful cold the air felt in the room. November in Carter County was a frigid reminder that winter was comin’ and before too long now, Daddy would be makin’ overtime plowing them roads again for the Oklahoma State Highway Department. When my feet touched the bare floor, I shrieked and jumped back to the bed, grabbed the coverlet and draped it tightly around my body and then peeked my head out the door to look into the kitchen makin’ good and sure the coast was clear.
Mama’s forehead was bruised up somethin’ fierce already and it looked like she’d be needin’ some stitches from Doc Patton, what with that gash running down her temple and all, but the good thing was–the blood was all dried-up now and she didn’t look as frightenin’ as she did before. She tiredly looked up from where she was standin’ at the stove, forced me a quick smile with her pearly whites, and told me to go on and grab me a plate. I could hear Saturday mornin’ cartoons blarin’ from the television in the adjacent livin’ room, where I’m sure Bartlett and Graham were already holed-up and congregated together on the couch.
“Barley, you and me is going into town after you eat your breakfast,” Daddy mumbled while stampin’ out his cigarette and without turning to even look at me straight in the gosh-darned face. Daddy, I’m here…Yohoo…Look at me, I thought to myself.
“I’m gonna need your help workin’ out on the yard on the Impala today, so hurry up and eat,” he said, just now lookin’ up at me for only a second before he barked, “Wear somethin’ good and warm. It’s gonna be a cold one out there,” and turned away. Obediently, I finished breakfast and raced to get myself dressed, elated that it was gonna be just me and him runnin’ into town, and there ain’t nobody else was gonna join us.
Back in my room, I threw me on a flannel shirt over a turtleneck, poured on my jeans and tugged on my socks and boots when I heard Daddy yell at Mama, “Old Lady, fetch me my shoes!” Not missing my stride, I raced back into the kitchen ready to tackle the day out with my Daddy. In all the years since I had been born, I don’t never recall hearin’ Daddy refer to my Mama as Franny; shucks, I was even quite certain “Old Lady” was the only moniker she ever knew besides Mama.
“Jesus Christ, Earl, let me finish cleaning-up first. I ain’t your goddamned slave. Just give me a second to breathe,” Mama snapped in return while she moved to the counter where she slowly scraped the cooling bacon grease with a rubber spatula from the griddle into an empty Miracle Whip jar.
Daddy’s muscles on his neck tightened, and I thought he was gonna to get right up off that chair and put her in her place once again. Ain’t nuthin’ was gonna ruin this day for me; I was gonna personally see certain to that.
“I’ll get ‘em,” I said joyfully, as I ran into their bedroom and clasped the shoes by their strings from their bedroom floor and carried them obediently to my father where I dropped them at his feet. Daddy pulled on the black, steel-toed shoes and stood up, simultaneously hoistin’ his jeans up onto his trim hips. Like a veritable hapless giant that loomed over my frail frame, he effortlessly nudged me out of his way, then walked to the other side of the kitchen where he grabbed his flannel jacket from the pegs on the wall near the door.
“Barley, let’s go,” he growled, “Ain’t got me all day.”
Outside, the crisp November wind gnawed at my rubicund face while the tall Maple nearby rustled and shook the last of her amber leaves at me. I felt a shiver run from my head to my toes and pulled my jacket tautly around my body. Suzie, dad’s huntin’ Beagle, met us at the door and raced down in front of us along the gravel walkway to the car, stretchin’ her chain out as far as it would reach, until it jerked her back and placed her on her hind quarters where she sat dazed for a second realizin’ she was still tethered to the gosh-darned trailer. Unaffected, she got up and sprinted to Daddy, and greeted him by jumpin’ on him until he finally kneed her in the chest to get her to stop. She took the hint and sidled on up next to me and mounted me just the same. I bent over to pet her for only a moment, because I knew if I didn’t hurry and catch-up to Daddy, who was already in the car, he’d be leavin’ for town without me. I wasn’t about to let that happen, so I ran to the Impala and slid into the bench seat of the car from the passenger side where I flashed my Daddy the biggest smile in all of Carter County.
Daddy and I drove in silence the full fifteen minutes it took us to get into town and on down to Denny’s Auto Shop where we was pickin’ up a new ignition switch for the Impala. But, on the ride there, my thoughts kept detourin’ back to the early mornin’ hours and to what Daddy had done to my Mama. Mama sometimes told me I didn’t know what my Daddy was capable of, and well now I knowed, and that knowledge festered inside me as fierce as a boil from an infection ‘cause I didn’t want it to be so. But, sometimes I couldn’t help but think Mama had it comin’ to her. I wished she would just finally learn how to bite her tongue.
As we ambled down Highway 35 and out past Old Man Ardy’s pecan stand, now boarded up nice and tight for the winter, the image of Daddy standin’ over Mama with that chair in his hands played over and again in my head. One. By the time we passed Lake Murray, the chair came crashing down. Two. And by the time we reached Ardmore, Mama was splayed out on the floor in a batch of her own blood. Three. Everything bad happens when it comes in threes like that.
By the time we rolled into Denny’s, I was wipin’ the cold tears away from my face and did my best to smile and fake like I hadn’t been wankin’ like a baby when the tall, red-headed owner of the shop greeted me with his standard high-five hand in the air.
“Lollipops are inside on the counter, Barls,” Denny chirped as I met his hand with mine. I raced inside and looked around the shop for the candy. In the garage bay, a newer Chevy Nova was jacked up high enough for two men in dark blue uniforms and work boots to be under it tinkerin’ round with their wrenches. Daddy and Denny came-in to the shop and started talkin’ about engines, carburetors and ignition switches while I stood there crouched real low like with my legs tangled around each other.
“Christ Barley, use the toilet before you piss yerself and then go on back out and sit in the car. Denny and me is gonna be a while,” Daddy said, but I was already off to the races lookin’ around the shop for the bathroom. I relieved myself while sucking on my orange flavored lollipop, finished real quick ’cause the toilet seat felt like I was sittin’ on an iceberg, pulled my pants back up, washed my hands in the sink, and then made my way back out into the shop. Denny was standin’ back in the corner of the garage handin’ somethin’ to Daddy in a little plastic baggy.
Back in that Impala I was havin’ trouble keeping myself warm, so I rolled myself up nice and tight into a ball and leaned against the door of the car, alone for a spell I reckon, and tryin’ hard not to conjure up any recollections buried deep in my mind. But, something was badgerin’ me, tuggin’ and pullin’ at me real hard, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it—somethin’ about Aunt June that Mama brought up last night before her world and that dang chair came crashin’ down. I looked across town and from where I was sittin’ I could see dark loomin’ clouds approachin’ far up overhead. It looked like Ardmore was mighty ripe for some heavy rain. And then that thing about Aunt June, that I couldn’t remember, well, it hit me so hard it felt like someone had reached down and smacked me upside the head and left me breathless. Before I knowed what hit me, a childhood memory took me back to a time and a place sometime long before my little brother, Graham, was born.
It was late and the rain was peltin’ down somethin’ ferocious outside; I could hear the clank of thunder and see flashes of lightnin’ ricochetin’ off the walls as I am being pulled from a deep slumber in a bedroom from the basement at my Aunt Debbie’s house. It’s my Daddy, come sometime ‘round Midnight to take us home. He lifts me out of the bed and lugs me about the house, feelin’ his way up the stairs into the quasi-darkness and makin’ his way to the door. I want to pull in close to his warm body, ease into him just like that and have him hold me in his arms like that forever. But, my sleepy and dulled senses suddenly become magnified. Daddy was stumblin’ and weavin’ around as he walked, so I held on tighter, almost certain he was going to drop me on my head, my tangled bed head and all. Through my groggy, sleep deprived eyes, I could see Mama’s nose was all red, and glistening with snot from a lot of cryin’ before.
Daddy suddenly becomes less agile, and my face was positioned so close to his, I could smell the Bourbon on his breath and permeating clear through his pores. Once outside, Daddy does nothing to protect me from the harsh cold rain peltin’ my face and soakin’ up into my skin from my already drenched clothes. Finally, none too soon, we reach the old rusty car left idlin’ in the driveway, and Daddy dumps me in the backseat without looking backwards to see if I’m ok. Bartlett opens the passenger door next to me and quietly slides into the backseat with me, while Mama hops into the front seat, and we drive off. It’s still rainin’ somethin’ fierce outside and I start to fall asleep to the lolling sound of the rain and the windshield wipers thrashing out a tune. It doesn’t take long before my parents start in to arguing in the front seat. Swish, swash, swish, swash, swish, swash, the windshield wipers make perfect time with my parent’s argument which is getting really heated now. I hear them, but I’m so tired, I can’t muster the energy to open my eyes to see what’s going on. Shoot. It’s best to pretend that I’m asleep anyway.
“She just had to fuckin’ be there, didn’t she, Earl?” Mama started in again. You must think I am pretty damned stupid. June turned up because she knew you was gonna be there and I saw how she was lookin’ at you and you was lookin’ at her.”
“Jesus Christ, old lady. I didn’t know she was gonna be there. You’re just fuckin’ crazy you know that? I can’t take a piss without you lookin’ down my back.”
“And why the hell not, Rex? Look at what cha did. That’s my brother’s wife…that fuckin’ whore! You don’t think I don’t know what I seen? I have a pretty good idea and so does John. You just better watch out ‘cause when HE finds out, he’s gonna kill ya and I will stand there laughin’ at your grave when he does. Fuck you, Earl!”
Swish. Swash. I find solace from the sound the windshield wipers make as I curl into a tighter ball in the backseat, swaddlin’ myself with my threadbare winter coat, a hand-me-down from one of my older cousins. Bartlett stirs next to me, but I don’t know if she’s awake too, or just pretendin’ to be asleep like me. The car is speedin’ now; I can hear it movin’ fast, water splashin’ up under the wheels as we zoom down the road at a breakneck speed. Every now and then I feel the body of the car swerve ever so slightly as my father overcompensates at the wheel from hydroplaning on the wet pavement or from his own drunkenness, which one, I ain’t none too sure. I dare to lift my head and open my eyes. The fields and trees are whizzin’ past us, and the lights from passin’ houses are nothing but a blur. I pray that my Mama will just hold her tongue or we will all crash and die. I bury my forehead against the window and repeatedly, tap it against the cold glass willin’ it all to stop; all the while the fighting becomes more languid like God hisself was playin’ an awful trick on me and did the opposite of answerin’ my prayers.
When the car finally comes to a complete stop, I look up and couldn’t help but noticin’ that we were already at home which tells me that I musta fallen asleep sometime durin’ part of the trip. But the car ain’t in the driveway. It sits parallel to the road and faces the lone, giant oak standin’ like a solider next to the trailer. Our home was parked closest to the exit of the trailer park, and we was lucky we only had a neighbor on just one side. The tree’s branches shake its limbs at us, as if in warning, and bends and sways from the wind and rain. I noticed the trailer sat vacant and dark since no one gave it no nevermind to leave a light on for when we came home. My father flips on the interior light of the car and turns his head around and faces the backseat where both my sister and I are now sittin’ on full alert, our bodies erect, waitin’ to see what happens next.
“You girls wanna go with me or yer mom? The choice is yours, but go on and make it good and quick.” Bartlett immediately opens the door roadside and races around the car to our mother who is already standin’ facin’ the driver’s side window a few steps away. “I want to go with my Mama. I don’t want to go with you!” she says loudly into Daddy’s rolled-down window and then turns on her heels and positions her back towards him a good distance away from the car. Stupid, stubborn Bartlett, I think to myself. Not now. And then Daddy turns the rearview mirror so he can see me sitting alone and awkwardly in the backseat.
“Barley, make yer pick. It’s me on yer Mama,” he growls.
Pleadin’ with my eyes, I start to beg, “No, daddy, no! I want you both. I want you both!” I say again for effect. But, instinctively I know that it’s prob’ly time to exit the car. I brace myself before I get out of the warm vehicle and begin to shiver expectedly because I knew the torrential downpour continued to pelt unforgivingly outside. Dad was leavin’ us. I knew it was really happenin’ this time. Why couldn’t Mama just learn to leave things gosh-darned alone? And, why did Stupid Bartlett have to go on and pick sides between them?
Just before I shut the door, Daddy turned around and looked at me with what seemed to be sadness in his eyes, “Then come on around here and give yer Dad a kiss and say goodbye now,” my father slurs out the words slowly, all the while he’s looking directly at me. But, I bolt out the door and race around to my mother and sister’s side.
With much more conviction I say louder as if to change his mind about leaving, “But, I want you both!” I scream into Daddy’s rolled-down window. “Don’t go daddy. Please don’t go. I’ll be good.” He motioned me forward and I knew I had to obey or he’d get right out of that car and whoop me blind. Resigned now in the fact that he was leavin’ us whether I wanted him to or not; I walked over to the driver’s side window, apprehensively peckin’ my father on the cheek and not trustin’ how he would react to all my cryin’. This is it. He’s leavin’ and I knowed it. He had never asked for me for a kiss before. Wait. What? He had never asked me for a kiss before. It felt like love, or somethin’ like it. I couldn’t be too sure.
Suddenly, Daddy guns the engine and the car bolts forward, just as Mama steps over to pull me away from the moving tires kickin’ up gravel beneath them. Moments later, Daddy slams the car into the giant Oak tree by the road. The engine falters and dies as the headlights from the car pierce through the otherwise darkness. The three of us, Mama, Bartlett and me stood motionless and in shock. An eerie cascade of light from the headlamps along with radiator steam suddenly envelopes the darkness, castin’ shadows from the tree all around. Reality sets in and I’m the first to react. “Dad is dead!” I screamed over and over. “Dad is dead!” My whole body is tremblin’ somethin’ fierce as my mother, sister and I huddle against each other; each of us sobbin’ uncontrollably, and wishin’ and willin’ it not to be so.
Time passes and no one has enough courage to walk over to the purple Chevy that was crumpled against the tree. The steam risin’ from it seemed to be the only breathin’ entity comin’ from the car. The interior of the vehicle was all aglow, and the light from the headlamps was refractin’ into the car and onto my father’s lifeless body that was lyin’ in a heap slumped clear across the steerin’ wheel. Minutes pass as the three of us continue to wail into the empty night, rain-soaked and all convinced that my Daddy was dead. Lights come on from nearby trailers and George, who was just a pup at the time, along with all the other dogs in the trailer park start to bark and howl.
Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, dad sits up; we can see the dark outline of his hand rubbin’ his head as he repositions hisself in the front seat. He turns over the ignition, and the car sputters then eventually starts. He slowly backs away from the enormous oak, navigatin’ the car in reverse for a spell and then puts it into drive and eases up gently onto the road headin’ away from us. Obviously still stunned by the impact of collidin’ with a dang tree, my father now drives off with somewhat lackluster conviction now. I watch the taillights retreat into the dark night. Dad’s not dead, I sung over and again in my head, and I am overcome by joy and relief.
My mother grabs my sister and me and races us into the house where she clamors about hurriedly openin’ and slammin’ drawers and doors. Frantically, she stuffs our clothes into giant, black plastic bags pulling each of them tightly closed by their yellow loops when each bag was filled almost to the top. She tells us to grab a few things because we might not be comin’ back none too soon. My mother fights back her tears and snaps at us to hurry up, resolved in the fact that we were leavin’. She picks up the phone and tells the other person who shared our party line that we had an emergency and that she needed to make an important phone call. It was early in the mornin’, by now, and I wondered who that person was on the other line and why they’d be makin’ a call so late. Maybe their father left ’em too? In any case, I knowed who my Mama was callin’ at this hour, and he wasn’t gonna be none too happy about it neither.
A half an hour or so later a red, rusted-out Ford truck pulls into our driveway and a strong, burly man gets out and makes his way to the porch where my mother had placed all them trash bags. He was rubbin’ his bald head, lookin’ tired and grumpy as he walked up the porch steps to meet us. Grandpa didn’t say a word as he heaves the bags, one by one, into the bed of the old pickup truck, our clothin’ and belongin’s reduced to trash thankfully encased in plastic, protected from the pouring rain. We all pile onto the long, black vinyl seat that was cracked, and weathered from both age and sun. The sharp vinyl pokes through my still damp pajamas from all the rain. I knew we was safe now, as I eased my small frame in closer and closer to my Grandfather. I could feel his warm body close to mine, and I could smell the telltale scent of tobacco along with a hint of beer.
Grandpa reaches under the seat and tosses me a pack of Kraft cheese and crackers and then ruffles my hair with his fat, calloused hands. He still had not said one gosh-danged word. I peel back the plastic wrapper on the Handi-Snack and find the little red stick. I smear the cheese across a cracker as my Grandpa pulls the truck onto the road, flips on the windshield wipers and heads in the same direction that my father had went. The indulgence, the cheese and crackers, was one that Grandpa and me always shared together when we was alone, and was his way of soothin’ me here with him tonight. Grandpa made it better and I momentarily forgot about my Daddy and where he was headin’, out alone and out into the darkness of the night, the cold and the rain. I was cognizant that my mother’s face lay propped up against the window next to me, her shoulders shudderin’ up and down as she cried and cried. Bartlett was leanin’ on her shoulder tryin’ hard to soothe my Mama. I watched as my mother’s spirit withered away and died that night. That was the last time I had ever seen Mama stand-up to my Daddy enough to leave him.
Daddy knocks on the car window, waking me up from my reverie and gets in as the vehicle shifts a little from the sheer brute force of his muscular body. He motions up ahead at the thunderstorm clouds that were now movin’ in fast above us, and flips on the wipers just as raindrops began to pitter patter across the windshield and said, “Looks like we’re in for some mighty heavy rain, Barley. Won’t be workin’ on the car today. Let’s head on home.”