When It’s Not The Words, It’s Still The Words

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August 7, 2011 by David Gillaspie


Before he joined the Marines, my dad lived with his family in the country.

They had farm animals and a garden my Grandma planted.

That’s him, Wayne Gillaspie in the stripes, with his brother Rex.

Wayne graduated high school and waited for Rex so they could go to college together.

One day their dad decided it was time to slaughter one of the huge hogs in the pen beside the barn. Grandpa got his big pistol and a pint of moonshine he made in his still and met his boys in the barn.

Grandpa liked doing his own killing.

The two boys held the hog between them with ropes while Grandpa practiced his quick draw. He’d take a nip, and whip his big gun out on the pig.

“Gonna get you. Today’s it.”

All three present had gone through this routine before; the pig was a newcomer.

“Hold him, boys, he’s getting nervous.”

They tightened the ropes and felt the jolt each time Grandpa pulled the gun out of his holster.

“Here it is. Right here. Here it comes.”

Grandpa took a swig, holstered his weapon, then pulled it faster than ever and cranked off a round.

The pig took a glancing shot off its forehead, reared up and fell back. The two boys gave him enough slack in their ropes to let him roll around and die.

Except this pig, blood streaming, rolled to its feet and charged through the wooden wall separating it from the pig pen outside.

“Hold onto him, boys,” Grandpa yelled.

They held the ropes but tripped on their way through the wall. The pig ran full steam through the pen full of pig shit, crashing down the wire fence that once held it. The boys hung onto the ropes, dragging behind on the bellies.

“Don’t let go, goddammit, hang on. I’ll draw a bead on this crazy pig.”

Grandpa ran after them waving his gun.

The pig bolted for the garden and plowed it flat with the two boys. When it made the wrong turn, Grandpa shot it and walked back to the barn tipping his pint.

“You two drag him back here and we’ll get him hung up. I’ll get the tractor if you can’t handle it.”

The dressed hog the rest of the day.

A week later Grandpa was supposed to pick up my dad after a day setting chokers in the woods, but didn’t show up. Dad walked home past the local watering hole, Johnsonville, saw Grandpa’s truck parked in the lot, and kept walking.

Not long after, he joined the Marines and headed to Korea.

Thirty years later I asked, “That’s why you joined the Marines in November?”

“I figured it couldn’t be any worse,” he said. But it was.

This is my Dad when he was younger than my boys today.

He explained a scar on his face like this, “One day on the rifle range we were qualifying and a fly landed on my face. I flicked it away. The DI saw me flick it away and asked me if enjoyed scratching my face. Then he had me scratch my face where the fly had been until I wore a bloody groove into my face, which is the scar you see. I didn’t scratch my face again.”

This is what he did one day in the Korean War.

SSgt Gillaspie came home and went to college and raised a family like it was the most normal thing in the world. His kids had no idea of his Korean War days. We wore his gear and played army in the backyard like the rest of kids in the neighborhood while he watched.

Hard to know what he was thinking while we gunned each other down and got up. Years later, Mom gave us a clue how things were when he first got back from Korea.


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