Purple Hearts and Pancakes

I can’t take back what I dun. Iffin’ you’d ask me whether I’d do things differently had I to do ’em again, I’d tell you what I told the judge:

“No, sir; don’t reckon I would.”

I stand by that. Take away a man’s money an’ his station, comes down to him only havin’ his word. Some fellers — myself included of course — our word is all we ever had. We hold it tight. Just might save our souls iffin’ it don’t save our reputations.

Now, all of that ain’t to say I never thought about what I done. I thought on it plenty. I been waitin’ in line long enough, an’ there ain’t more to do than think on all kinds of things. It ain’t like iffin you commit a small crime, an’ they let’cha out into the yard an’ read books an’ what-not. It’s just you, your cell, an’ a shower ever so often. But I’ll tell you what I told the judge: all that thinkin’ didn’t change me none — ‘cept to make me more angry.

See, way I figure it, I didn’t do nothin’ all that wrong. Least, I didn’t do nothin’ that ain’t done all the time by our boys over seas. Iffin’ McNally had been a kraut an’ that spade been a bayonet, well, they’d be fittin’ me for a purple heart instead of the tin hat. Might even get a kiss from Loretta Young. At least a handshake an’ a “job well done”.

Oh well. I suppose it ain’t all bad, really. They do prepare one last meal for a feller — an’ it can be anything he wants. They ain’t got a menu. A feller can’t ask for a, say… lamb chops. A feller can’t ask for lamb chops an’ have some snooty waiter turn his nose up, only to tell him that they ain’t got lamb chops on the menu. You ask for lamb chops an’ they nod their heads an’ say, “lamb chops it is”.

‘Course, I didn’t order lamb chops. No, I ordered blueberry pancakes. Didn’t even have to think about it. I ain’t had ’em in so long — not since I left home I’d wager. Was fixin’ to have some after I left McNally’s, but I didn’t make it more than six miles down the road before the police nabbed me. Closest diner was 10 miles away — an’ in the opposite direction no less. I reckon that’s my only regret: walkin’ the wrong damn direction.

Now… I ain’t much of a sap. Never have been. But I tell you: When they sat me down in front of them pancakes, I found myself propelled back through time. That ain’t no exaggeration neither. I went straight backwards in time.

There I sat at the kitchen table, legs a’danglin’ an’ my fists a’restin’ on the surface — fork in one hand, a knife in the other. The sun shone through the window, and out of that window I could see the flat, barren land what always seemed to stretch out into eternity. Funny how endless things seem to you when you’re a kid. Sure comes as a shock when you get old an’ come to find that things don’t last a fraction a’what you thought back then.

Normally there’d a’been rows and rows of crops waitin’ to grow so as we could tend to ’em, but winter had just started. Them fields were as white as white can get. The way the sun hit that snow, boy, the whole ground sparkled like it was made of silver. Iffin’ you stared at it for too long, it’d damn near take you a whole day just to see right again.

Any way, I’ll never forget how good them pancakes looked. Mamma gave me a whole stack of ’em. Iffin’ you’d stood me up against ’em, I’d have only been a hair taller than ’em — that’s the God’s honest truth. I looked at ’em with starvin’ eyes an’ Mamma pat me on the back as if to give me her blessin’. I tore into them, and boy… you ain’t never tasted nothin’ so sweet.

The pancakes they made for me in here weren’t close to that good. I told ’em they should’a let my Mamma come in here and make them; she’d do ’em right. Well, the guard tells me they used to let the mothers of inmates prepare the last meals. I asked him why that don’t still, and he told me that most of them couldn’t keep from breakin’ down while they was boilin’ stews or brazin’ steaks. Took too long an’ held everything up, I reckon. Makes sense.

Still an’ all, that don’t keep ’em from comin’ to the “Big Show”. I wonder why that is. Maybe it goes back to child rearin’. They ain’t gave you the air you breath throughout your whole life, ain’t taught you how to breathe to begin with. That’s just somethin’ we come out kowin’ how to do. Mothers have to teach you to eat. Hell, they downright have to make you eat at first. They been there for your first bite. Probably hurts too much to see your last.

Maybe that’s why I ain’t sorry for what I dun. Maybe that’s why we don’t mind sendin’ our boys over seas to kill an’ to die. You don’t notice a feller breathin’. Probably means you don’t notice when a feller stops. I didn’t.

Ah, well…


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