County Lines by Bob
Joe's first steps as a toddler were in his grandfather's church.
He liked being there.
When Joe grew tired while his grandfather was preaching, he would
curl up in a pew and sleep until the singing started that accompanied
his grandfather's invitation to walk down the aisle and be saved.
A single screeching in the choir, like a cat when you step on its
tail, would snap Joe back to consciousness.
Although he couldn't prove it, Joe was fairly certain the culprit
was Mrs. Smoot, who worked at the five and dime, what a squealer.
When Joe was 8, he cashed in the pop bottles he had saved and bought
a can of Prince Albert at a country store. Joe pedaled his Western
Flyer into town and bought a corncob pipe from Mrs. Smoot at the
five and dime.
Joe loaded his pipe behind the store and lit it with a stove match.
He was going to be just like Huckleberry Finn. Good ol' Huck, smokin'
and fishin' and ridin' free on the Mississippi.
In Joe's mind the fishing and riding free would fall into place
after the smoking.
Joe puffed and puffed until smoke gushed from the pipe. He inhaled
and blew smoke out his nose like a cowboy he saw on TV.
After a few more drags, Joe's head started spinning. He felt like
throwing up. Vomit spewed from his mouth and nose, stinking yellow
and green with globs of pink, a partially digested hamburger.
This is terrible, he thought. Why didn't Mark Twain mention this?
Maybe I'll die and feel better. Joe's grandfather pulled up in his
Chevy. "Come on, boy, let's go." Mrs. Smoot had ratted
Joe out. But he was too sick to care. "Please, Grandpa, leave
Joe's grandfather picked him up, laid him in the back seat, put
the bike in the trunk and cranked the engine. "If you feel
like throwing up, boy, do it out the window."
"Yes, Sir," Joe said.
Joe's grandfather pulled into the driveway. "Come on, boy,
we're home. Let's fix you up."
Joe's world was spinning too fast to stand and walk. "Leave
me here, Grandpa, please."
His grandfather carried Joe to the porch and laid him in a glider.
He walked inside and returned with a bottle of coke. "Sip on
this. I've shaken the fizz out. You'll feel better."
Joe sipped some. He felt better, but not great.
Boy, I'm in trouble, Joe thought, when Grandpa gets through giving
me what for, he'll punish me big time.
But Joe's grandfather never scolded him. He never mentioned the
smoking incident. Joe didn't understand why until he was much older
and a little wiser.
Joe walked down the aisle to be saved when he was 9. His cousin
Stevie followed him. Joe's grandfather baptized them during the
same ceremony in front of the congregation.
"This water is cold," Stevie said.
"Deep too," Joe replied.
"Hush," Joe's grandfather said. When Joe was 14, his
grandfather got sick.
"Cancer," the doctor said.
"He's dying," Joe's mother said. Joe didn't believe it.
He prayed and prayed for his grandfather to be well.
"I'm dying," Joe's grandfather said. Joe knew it was
true. He quit praying.
Joe's grandfather died. An unenlightened observer would say something
inside Joe died also. In reality, however, something was born inside
While the threat of "hell", ruled over by the "devil",
might make some behave better temporarily, no such things exist.
Self-created demons, however, live inside us all.
Sometimes these negative forces scream for release. Sometime they
wait silently for a momentary lapse of reason to escape and cause
Prisons and mental institutions are filled with those who lost
control of their demons.
A demon was born inside Joe when his grandfather died. He refused
to cry at the funeral. He refused to be comforted. Joe's motto was
"Don't touch me." The glow of a new fire burned.
Joe became a soldier after graduating from high school. With his
emotions switched off, Joe made an excellent killing machine.
To kill the enemy, though, you must find them first. Joe excelled
When a lieutenant asked how he located the enemy when others failed,
Joe replied, "I smell ‘em.” Then he howled like a wolf at the
moon. The lieutenant avoided Joe after that.
Joe didn't re-enlist after his second tour of duty. When the coaches
won't let you win, it's time to leave the game.
Joe smoked hashish and opium tar behind a strip joint in an Asian
city while waiting for transport back to the states. Floating out
of his body, he watched himself break into pieces and reassemble
in what appeared to be a Picasso painting.
Joe was losing it. His grandfather couldn't save him this time.
That was up to Joe.
Searching for a church, Joe found a Buddhist temple.
"I haven't prayed since my grandfather died,” Joe told a
"Life is a prayer," the monk replied. "Your grandfather
is not dead. He lives inside you."
A peace washed through Joe. He wept. Joe felt clean for the first
time in a long time.
Joe has been a follower of the Middle Way that lies beyond the
gateless gate ever since.
As his grandson's first Christmas approaches, Joe wants to give
him more than just material gifts.
Joe wonders if he'll be spiritual enough to rescue his grandson
when he does something stupid without saying, "I told you so."
If he follows his grandfather's example, Joe knows what the answer
Overton County News
415 West Main Street
P.O. Box 479
Livingston, Tennessee 38570