Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A story from Dio's childhood -- a gift from my father


This story is an edited and improved version of my contribution to the summer storytelling session that was held at the Falling Anvil Pub in Caledon the other night. It is the tale of how Dio came to be raised by her grandfather, Marcus Aurelius Kuhr, a former mountain man. I think it explains a lot about how she became who she is.

At right is a painting of actor Sam Elliott by artist Don Marco. ( if you care to learn more about Mr. Marco's excellent and interesting work, all of which is done in crayon, please visit his website).

I have put this picture here because when I imagine Papaw Marcus, the image in my head, more often than not, is pretty much Sam Elliott. I really hope that if someday someone does a cinematic version of these stories, they manage to get Mr. Elliott to play Dio's grandfather.

My name is Diogenes Aurelia Kuhr, and I was raised on the border of the Comancheria, in west central Texas, back well before the war of the Rebellion. I lived in a ranch house with my ma 'n well as my older sis, an’ my younger brother Heraclitus, who we called "Harry." He was about three years younger'n me.

But m' favorite person in the whole world was m' grandpa: Marcus Aurelius Kuhr. Papaw Marcus, he lived in a lil' shanty on the edge o' the family ranchera. He'd been a mountain man in his day, an’ by the time I was five, he was tryin’ to teach me to understand the kind o’ things that he understood -- things like stalkin’ an trackin’ an’ all.

Well, ye see, one day -- ‘bout a year after the Texican republic was formed -- I had gone a gatherin’ berries with Harry an' the hired woman, Cleo. Cleo was this real nice colored gal who had been manumitted, an’ she was paid somethin' t' help Ma with the cookin' an' housework, an' lookin' after us young'uns.

We was pickin’ the berries not all that far from the house, when all of a sudden, we heard this whoop! an’ the rush o’’ I look t’ see some Comanche jumpin’ up from the grass an dashin’ towards us...

Well, hell, twas on the edge o their stompin’ grounds, after all....we got raided sometimes twice a year...

Anyhow, Cleo shouts fer me to run like hell, whilst she scoops up Harry an’ takes to runnin’ herself. Now mind ye, I had been larnin’ about stalkin’ an' huntin from Papaw, so I figgered gettin’ away from someone huntin’ you was likely to be somethin’ simlar.

So I dodged 'n dashed like a rabbit, an’ then I found some brambles I could shimmy under, an’ I hid right well. It was much like the stalkin’ as papaw had taught me: they was a big rock in the brambles a'n I made sure I was lookin’ out from the side o’ the rock instead o’ over it; I was bein’ all quiet, not breakin' twigs nor rustlin' leaves about, an' breathin’ slow an soft.

Well, in a while I heard’ then shots...’ several Comanches rode by... of ‘em was wavin’ some cloth what looked like Cleo's dress...’ a’other was holdin’ Harry. Now mind ye, he was holdin the boy tight, right in front o’ hisself on the' it was tight but not like he was hurtin’ him. More like jus keepin’ him steady an’ they all rode off.

So I’ waited...

...’til I was sure twas quiet. Then I crawled from beneath them brambles an’run as fast as I could...back t’ the ranch house, where I tol' m' pa 'n grandpa what had happened. They already had their rifles out, and I took ‘em to where the Comanche had jumped us...

We found Cleo.

They’d shot her an' took her clothes, an’ then shot her so full o’ arrows she looked like a pincushion. At least, they din't take her hair. Papaw tol’ me they din’t like takin’ colored folks’ hair, bein’ as it reminded ‘em too much ‘o bufflo fur.

But they was no sign o’ Harry.

Papaw later assured me they probbly would take him into one o’ their know, one what had lost a chile. An’ they would raise him up as a commanche warrior.

An’ I reckon they's worse things.

But Pa...he was heartsick. That boy had been all to him, the very light o' his life. Now Papaw was rarin’ t’ go after the raiders, so he got his hoss, an’ fetched Cap Johnson from the next ranch over to go with him, an' they set off trackin’...followin’ them Comanche. Pa, however, he was too broken up to go. He just stood a while, watchin’ em ride' then we walked back to the ranch house.

An’ on the porch he turned t’ me an’ said:

"Goddamn you chile, why dint they take you instead?”

As he turned away from me, he added:

“Yer the one who oughtta be daid, not Harry"

An’ then he went inside.

An’ I sat on the porch.

When Papaw an’ Cap Johnson come back emty handed some time later, I was still settin’ thar.

Papaw said, "Why you settin’ here, Chile?"

So I tol’ him what Pa had said to me. Papaw din’t say nothin’ -- he jus’ picked me up an’ set me on his hoss, an took me o'er to his cabin. An’ from then on, I was raised by m' grandpa, Marcus Aurelius Kuhr.

Grandpa never said much to m' folks after that day. Pa took to his’ to drink. Ma and sis was busy takin’ care o’ him....they had no interest in the likes o’ me. So I was brought up by m' Papaw Marcus. I larned to shoot by the time I was 7. He taught me to ride, an’ track ‘n hunt. I larned to kill ‘n dress-out game. He taught me to play the fiddle, an’ to read the books that he had, which was a part of a Bible, some Shakespeare, an’ his copy o’ the meditations o’ Marcus Aurelius, the ancient Roman gent for whom he was named. Papaw 'n Cap Johnson also taught me how to fight from hossback, an’ how to patch folks up when they git shot or stabbed, an’ how to look after ‘em when they git sick, usin’ herbal remedies 'n poultices jus’ like the injuns do...

My Papaw Marcus taught me how to cuss 'n spit, an’ t' take no shit from any man alive.

An’ I consider m'self to be as fortunate as a woman kin be.

M' pa gave me a gift by leavin’ me into Papaw Marcus's hands...whether he meant to or not.


  1. A beautifully crafted story, Dio! I felt so sorry for the little you when your old man said what he said, but it’s so like you to look back and see the gift he gave you – the chance to live with and learn from your amazing granddad.

    I wonder where Harry is now?

  2. Hey Head burro,

    Thank you. Calling this "beautifully crafted" damn, I appreciate that Hon.

    I have to admit when ever I get to that part about what pa says, I tear up a little bit. The goal there was to make you, the reader, feel like you were just punched in the stomach, and then I hoped you would apply that sensation to understanding how the young Dio felt.

    I noted that when I told this story at the Falling Anvil, one of the audience members actually typed out the exclamation "OH!" as soon as Pa's words came out. I like to think that it wasn't just a polite interjection (as the virtual audience sometimes puts in to show you they are still paying attention). I like to think it was a genuine reaction to his hateful statement.

    As for the title, and the concept of the "gift," it wasn't until I actually had pretty much finished the story that it struck me that the idea of saying he gave me a gift could apply here, and be taken as both irony and literal truth.

    Oh eventually, you hear more about Harry.

  3. As a father to a small child myself, I can tell you that your fathers words caused me great pain too - funny thing about being a parent, things that never bothered you before all of a sudden become The Worst Things Ever! no matter how much you say you won't let it happen :(