Odum’s Coming and He Likes to Drink Alone
Dad used to tell me this story when I’d ask what it was like to work in California’s timber stands before man landed on the Moon. It’s told from my Dad’s voice and point of view to give a sense of how Pop would speak.
After I got back from my first tour in Vietnam I was feeling pretty tough. I was just back from combat and I was in shape and man, I was one heck of a piss cutter. I’d gone to Hyampom to visit Rick and Ralph and I didn’t have a car so I hitchhiked into town from the main road at Hayfork. I figured the best place to find Rick and Ralph was probably at the bar so I headed straight there. It was a very hot day and the sun was bright and beat on me pretty hard. It was so bad the wind felt painfully hot blowing on my skin and I wanted out of it. The walk wasn’t anything special but it was one more punch in the face. Nothing had gone right on my deployment. I was wounded, I got malaria and I didn’t even get to tour Japan. To make matters worse, nothing had gone right on my return stateside.
When I got to the bar I pushed the bat-wing doors wide open with my chest, no need for arms. I strutted in like the cock of the walk. I’m dressed in my army uniform which wasn’t really a popular look at the time but in Hyampom nobody had given me a second look. I wasn’t ready for no reaction especially after getting spit on and rotten fruit thrown at me by hippie protestors after my plane landed. It was really weird because while everyone in town knew me, nobody even looked in my direction. Hey at least they weren’t spitting on me.
I walked up to the bar and had a seat near the entrance and the second my ass hit that chair the whole place seemed to start to empty out all at once. You’d think the building was on fire the way folks was leaving. Everyone but the bartender was leaving and I mean in a hurry. I was near the door and I see Rick coming towards me leaving in a lot more of a hurry than I figured he’d be doing. Considering he was an alcoholic and he was in a functioning bar I couldn’t think of anything that might get him to leave much less that quickly. He was just about to stroll right past me when I stood up and grabbed his shoulder. He stopped and looked at me real serious right in the eye like he was scared, serious scared. I’ve never seen Rick scared and I wasn’t sure that whatever it was that could scare him like that was something I wanted to stick around to meet.
I asked where he was runnin’ off to and he said in this low and growly but clearly panicked voice, “Odum’s comin’ and he likes to drink alone.” And he just kept walking. That was pretty weird because Rick’s tough as bulls balls but he’s as gentle as a pussy cat. He sounded scared, bad scared. The kind of scared that makes a man turn mean and mad but he was runnin’ off. Rick ain’t never run from anything so I really started to be concerned for a minute. Then curiosity got hold of me.
I didn’t understand what or who Rick was talking about and, honestly, after spending a year getting shot at in the jungle I wasn’t too worried. I was tougher than steel covered rawhide and plenty ready to kill whoever I needed to at the drop of a hat. Any hat. Whatever or whomever Odum was I’d find out soon enough and I wasn’t worried at all about it. I turned and sat at the bar again and asked the barkeep for a beer. He slid one across to me and told me I’d better hurry up and drink that and leave. I asked why and he said, “Odum’s comin’ and he likes to drink alone.” and then the barkeep left.
I sucked down my bottle of suds and since the bartender had left with everyone else I went outside to let him know I was just gunna grab another from behind the bar and to put it on my tab. Just as I cleared the bat-wing doors to the outside I look to my right down the street toward the old sawmill and I see the most amazing thing: There’s a man, if you can call him that, riding on top of a huge chestnut colored bear. He’s got hold of the bear’s head by the ears and under each arm he’s got a mountain lion in a sort of pinched headlock. Everyone that was left on the street vanished like cockroaches in the light. I mean to tell you they had their hats and they was giddy-ing. I walked across the street to the post office and stayed out of the way. I didn’t want any part of that bear or them mountain lions. Not to mention the guy they was with.
When the bear got up even to the bar the guy riding him let go of its ears and when he did the bear turned its head, opened its mouth, roared and looked like he was gunna bite the guy riding him. What happened next was very fast. The moment the bears ears were free and it’d turned toward the rider the rider punched it right in the back of the jaw and the bear just dropped like a used rubber and the roar turned into weak whimper. The guy riding the bear stood up, crossed his arms and grabbed the moutain lions under each arm by the skin on their necks with opposite hands and smashed their heads together. The effort killed both lions instantly. You could see that the guy’s clearly not just knocked their heads together but actually crushed their skulls and brains to jelly with a single hit. He dropped the limp carcasses, walked into the bar and sat down. I crossed the street to follow him thinking this might be a fun fight to get into. As I walked in he was reaching over the bar and grabbed himself a beer off the counter. He twisted the top off and started drinking, paying me no notice. He seemed perfectly calm and mellow now that the bear and the lions weren’t around and the beer was around. I walked up to a stool a couple down from him and reached over and grabbed a beer for myself and took to drinking it.
The guy seems to be in a rush and finishes his beer on about the 3rd sip, spins in his barstool, gets up, starts walking toward the doors. When he gets to me he stops and looks at me real serious for a second. I thought he was going to hit me and I steeled myself getting ready for it. Nothing hit me. He just said, “Hey, you better hurry up in a hurry. Odum’s comin’ and he likes to drink alone.” Then he left. So did I.
Dedicated to my dad who passed away in December of 2014. Pop used to mention Odum when he wanted me to understand that it was time to be tough and to just get done what we had to do. Sometimes it was something little. Sometimes it was life and death. I never cared. What it meant to me then and now was that my dad needed me to be really tough for a minute and that he knew he couldn’t just tell me to man up without accomplishing the exact opposite of what he was trying to. The mention of Odum from Pop meant that what was coming up wasn’t going to be in any way easy and it probably would be the opposite of fun but that he knew I could get through it and he was going to have to do it too and couldn’t be worrying about me or neither of us might get through it the way we needed to. The story really hit home one day when I learned how tough my dad was. We were carrying a 550lbs wood stove into the house when the steel rods that stabilized the bottom end of his spine both snapped. They snapped so loudly that I heard them. He didn’t wince he didn’t move. He looked at me real calmly and said, “I’ve gotta put my side down now.” and he did. Then he walked quietly and smoothly to the couch, laid down on it and told me who to call and what to say. It was 6 weeks before he could take another step and that was exactly 1 step that day. When I think of someone really tough, how can I think of anyone else.
I miss you Dad. You’ll always be Odum to me.