SOUTHERN NATURE – Homecoming For Bo
Mrs. Teasley’s grandson Bo called me one Friday a few weeks ago to tell me Mrs. Teasley’s spring had gone dry. Hearing the news gave me new respect for the draught that has turned the earth around here to dust. For two months, the weather has been persistent heat and dryness. Plants went from withered to parched two weeks ago, and we haven’t had any rain in the meantime.
Bo was excited. He was just back from Iraq, where his specialty had something to do with explosives.He was glad to be alive and stateside, but we’d all noticed that he had trouble reconnecting with our world. He didn’t fit in with his old crowd any more, and there weren’t many jobs available, especially ones that involved blowing stuff up. Now, though, Bo had found something to do that was right up his alley. His voice hadn’t had this lilt in it since the day he enlisted. He was going to save the day — by blowing something up.
A month ago Mrs. Teasley’s place made the paper. Bo had been poking around the remnants of a depression-era shed on Mrs. Teasley’s place, gathering up the heartwood cedar planks and laths for Mrs. Teasley, when he came across a sweating stash of ancient dynamite. According to the paper, the ATF was called in, and they decided to destroy the dynamite on site because the old dynamite was too dangerous to move. Neighbors who lived five miles away were quoted in the Herald saying that they gotten their guns and made their kids go inside when they heard the explosion because they thought terrorists had finally come to rural Alabama. Mrs. Teasley was quoted lamenting the fact that the ATF “hadn’t even left a splinter of that heartwood cedar.”
So Bo let me know he’d secretly kept a few sticks of the stuff for himself. He was going to blow open the spring on Sunday, and would I like to come?
“Sure,” I said.
Sunday I gathered with a small group of Teasleys on the road to the spring, and we all walked there together, expecting Bo to be ready to put on a show. When we arrived the dynamite was sitting in a wooden box at the edge of the woods, and Bo was admiring something down by the spring.
There, in the middle of the miry puddle that until recently the was county’s finest swimming hole, lounged a majestic eight-foot alligator. In his eyes was a lazy contentedness, and his gaze was fixed on Bo. One of the Teasleys volunteered to go get his deer gun, betting the game warden wouldn’t find out. Bo’s uncle Randy thought maybe he could wrangle the gator out of the spring if we could first lasso the monster’s mouth shut. Randy had some belt buckles from rodeos he’d won in high school.
Bo just reflected the gator’s peaceful gaze, and there was awe in his voice when he finally spoke. “Reckon I’ll go blow up some stumps instead,” he said.
Somewhat disappointed, the Teasleys eventually quit thinking of ways to conquer the alligator and instead swapped gator stories that got more and more outlandish. Then, one by one, they patted Bo on the shoulders and dispersed. I was the last one to leave, and I stayed long enough to see that gator honor Bo with a magnificent bellow.
Mrs. Teasley’s on city water now. She’s building a new barn out where Bo cleared those stumps for her. At church last Sunday they threw Bo a fancy dinner, honoring him for his service, praising him for his patriotism. We all sang the Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America, and the choir gave us a patriotic medley complete with a really high soprano solo. Some boys from the high school marching band contributed the necessary brass, and the preacher talked about heroism and us being blessed to be born in the USA. Bo endured all the pomp and ceremony. In the end he stood at the back of the fellowship hall with the pastor shaking hands with all the men who’d grown tearful in their patriotic frenzy and getting hugged by all the women who blessed his heart and welcomed him home.
Afterwards Bo invited me to walk down to the spring with him to see that gator again. I stood in the shadows while the two seasoned warriors sat on logs across the former spring from each other, both of them smiling peacefully and enjoying the songs of the bullfrogs and the symphony of night insects.
“It was nice of the church to hold a dinner for you,” I observed.
“Yeah,” said Bo, “but I’m here now.”
As I watched Bo and the gator stare at each other, both of them feeling the dryness and reveling in the closeness of the sounds and smells of summer, I understood what he meant. He wasn’t in Iraq anymore.
The next day, Bo took a job at the hardware store. He says he thinks he’ll make assistant manager before Christmas. He signed up for accounting classes at the local community college. Tomorrow, my cousin Tate will be home from Afghanistan, and Bo’s going with me to pick him up at the Greyhound station in Montgomery. I imagine he’ll greet Tate with that same gaze of contentment he’s had since the night he met the gator down by the spring. Maybe he’ll even take Tate out there to sit and feel the nearness of a Southern summer night by the old swimming hole, the peace of finally being home.