Two Brothers – Two Soldiers
by Shorty Dawkins
Activist Post has an article on its website: It’s Official: Being Poor in America Has Been Outlawed.
The first paragraph reads:
As they say, you can always judge a society by how they treat their weakest members. So I shudder to think of how future generations will judge our society. We’ve become a nation that discards our poor like they are trash, and anyone who doesn’t “fit in” is segregated from the herd.
The article brought to my mind several memories from years long past. The following is a story of two brothers who were soldiers in World War II.
When I was five (in 1956), we moved into a house on a dead-end street. Our house was the last on the right. Further down the street a hundred yards or so, on the left side of the street lived the Smiths (not their real name). Mrs. Smith had two brothers who served in WWII. I never knew their names. I’ll call them Bill and Jim. Both of the two brothers suffered from what back then was called shell shock, but today is called PTSD. I don’t know which Theater they fought in, but from the few snatches of information I was able to hear, ( I was only five at the time, and we moved away when I was nine), they saw serious action, and lost many comrades.
The two brothers couldn’t live in the world they came home to. They needed to be alone with their memories; their demons. A tar paper shack was built for them, just big enough for their beds and a couple of chairs and a table. A woodstove provided them heat and a means to do some simple cooking. The shack was just a short distance from our house, nestled among some trees and bushes.
Their days were spent, mostly, in their hut, drinking, just enough to numb the memories. I never saw them stumble down drunk, but on the few occasions I saw them outside their shack, I could smell the alcohol. On their good days, they sometimes walked past our house on the way into town to do some shopping. The walk was a couple of miles.
Mrs. Smith, and her daughter, Mary, who was a teenager, looked after Bill and Jim. Once, or twice, a week they were invited over to the house to have a good meal, and to enjoy some family time, if the brothers were up to it. They weren’t always up to it. Mrs. Smith had a son, George, who was a year younger than me, and became a playmate of mine. We never played war, only cowboys and Indians.
I remember my Father once telling me, “Just leave them alone. They are harming no one. They were in the war.” I didn’t understand what “They were in the war” meant, being so young, but I left them alone. If I was outside playing when they walked past, I would simply say ‘hello’. They would reply with a nod, or a whispered hello. I still, to this day, can see the haunted looks in their eyes, and can smell the alcohol that was always on their breaths.
They were left alone, in the care of their devoted sister. No one bothered them. No one tried to have them evicted from their tar-paper shack. They harmed no one. I shudder to think what would happen to them today.
Across America today, there are many homeless people. Some are Vets with PTSD, some are drug addicts, some are people who can’t find work and have lost there homes. Whether they live out of their cars, or in tent cities, or off by themselves in makeshift huts, they are, for one reason or another, homeless. Some don’t fit in this modern world. Cities and towns across the Country have decided they are unwanted. They are actually legislating being homeless as a crime. What does that say about us, as a people? What does it say about us when it is illegal to feed the homeless? Are property values more important than common decency? Why is common decency so uncommon today?
It seems to me, that in the effort to create a better world, we are steadily creating a worse one. Out of sight, out of mind, doesn’t solve the problem. It only exacerbates the problem. Believe it, or not, one size doesn’t fit all. You can’t put a square peg in a round hole. The more laws folks are expected to follow, the more folks there will be who ‘don’t fit in’. In our efforts to create Utopia, we have created Hell.
Some folks don’t fit in. We can deny it till the cows come home, but it is the simple truth. Some folks are ‘different’. It doesn’t make them bad, or wrong, it is just that they are what they are. That they can’t live in this Society we have so majestically proclaimed does not mean they are wrong. I don’t know, maybe it is ‘we’ who are wrong for expecting everyone to happily fit in.
As a postscript to my story, my boyhood friend, George went to Vietnam. He returned with that same haunted look in his eyes that his Uncles had.