In the Time of COVID. Day 80
June 6, 2020.
The Wayward Brother
He called himself the ‘Cherokee Shoe Doc’. He wasn’t Cherokee, he just wanted to be. If it wasn’t for him being “Born Again” he would have sworn on Burning Sage he was a big chief in a past life. I never asked mom if she was fooling around with a Cherokee when dad was working in Alaska. She would have slapped me. Hard. Dan, the Cherokee Shoe Doc was their first born, their darling child.
Dan had a rough go of it as a kid, but those around him had it even worse. This isn’t a story about what a mean bastard he was. That was just a natural fact. For some, he still causes bad dreams even though he’s been dead for 30 years. This is about Dan 2.0 and how he became the Cherokee Shoe Doc.
Was a time judges used to tell juvenile delinquents they had two choices. Go straight to jail or join the service. Dan joined the Coast Guard. Later that year, it was Happy Birthday 18 year old. Wahoo, driving hell bent down a coast road in Oregon with a buddy and a local girl, then everything changed. He woke up nine months later.
Dan lived two lives. His bell was rung. He had a big dent in his head. It took him a year in rehab before he could talk and walk. Half blind, with a lifetime disability pension, confused and angry, he came out of the hospital and moved home. He took pills to hold off seizures. He grasped at the shadows and fragments of memories. He had little impulse control.
Home didn’t work out to well. He moved to pensioner’s quarters. He became a boot-black. Then, he went missing. Missing, a parent’s torment.
He worked his way east, walking a guy’s race horses, slept in the stalls, shined cowboy boots and landed in a cheap hotel in Hialeah, Florida. Lonely as a man can be. My wayward brother, was 23.
True Confessions magazine left in the lobby. Dan grabbed it. “Unfaithful to Her First Love, Could She be Loyal to her Second?” Classified ad: page 45. “Lonely Hearts, let us arrange a romantic correspondence for you. Meet your sweetheart thru the foremost high-class social correspondence club in the world. A club for refined lonely people… particulars free.. Eva Moore, Box 908, Jacksonville, Fla. I have a sweetheart for you”
Dan fired off a letter and then another and then another. Daily he harassed the front desk for his mail. He fired off letters every day.
It came on a Friday. Her name was Omega. she lived in Tyler, Texas. She was a 42 year old widow. She was “born again in the blood of Jesus, and any man in my life would have to walk the true and righteous path to glory.” Dan fired off a letter at once. First fish on the hook, he was all in. “Come out here to Florida darlin’. I’ll send the money. Just say you’ll be mine”.
The next letter took 2 weeks. The whole time waiting, he had the heebie-jeebies. “No, I won’t come out to Florida. I got family right here in Smith County. You want me in your life, you come to Texas.” Dan was on the next Trailways west.
She hadn’t written those letters. Omega couldn’t read or write. Her daughter Faye put her mom’s name on those letters. Omega had been married to a rattlesnake of a sharecropper. Anyone north of Lucifer himself, would be The Lilly of the Valley, The Rose of Sharon. He’d died and left the family adrift. Faye sought help.
They were an unlikely pair for sure. Dan was 23 years old , 6’5 and 320 pounds. Omega was 42 and skinny as a rail, illiterate, not much in the way of teeth and about 5’2. Her daughter was Dan’s age and already had a flock of kids. They lived in a tenement farm shack, east of town. Always had. Nothing fancy, everything they had was other’s leavings. The coming of Dan was Prince Galahad on a white steed.
Within a week, they were married at the Tyler Tabernacle Apostolic Church of the Pentecost. Dan put down the tobacco and he put down the booze and he welcomed Jesus and Omega with open arms.
Secure with a pension, he bought them a little house on Fannin Street. Omega had never had a refrigerator or washer / dryer or a TV or none of that. Dan had plenty of money and those kid’s of Faye’s got new school clothes when they needed and Dan put Faye through Nursing School. He taught Omega to read and write.
He converted the unused garage into a shine parlor . He got a big old plywood board and Painted “The Texas Shoe Doc” and then over time he switched it to “The Cherokee Shoe Doc #1 Spit Shine!” He told anyone who would listen he was from the Indian nations.
When he was 26 my folks got a letter to him through the Red Cross and at least we knew he was alive. His letters were so harsh on my folks, they stopped opening them. But they wrote “Dear Dan and Omega we love you” letters, every month or so.
The Greyhound dropped me at the town square. It was a green, squat town, hot and muggy with dozens of churches. I’d of had a beer or two in a bar but that’s a dry county. I walked up to a cab driver lazing in the shade. I described my brother. The cabbie cocked his head and with a rye smile said “ The Cherokee Shoe Doc your brother? Come on, I’ll take you”.
I walked up the pathway, knocked and there he was. Hadn’t seen him in a dozen years. I stayed the night, man, that was enough. Everything in his past that had gone sideways he laid on our folks. Omega was sheepish and let him rant. I hit the road for Dallas the next day. Adios wayward brother.