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Growing Milo

Growing Milo

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Growing Milo

282 pagine
4 ore
Nov 5, 2020


Milo is a sugar crop of the sorghum family. It is grown extensively in the Midwest including on the farm of the troubled young woman in this tale. It is also the name of the person telling this tale of how, by helping the young woman deal with her life-threatening difficulties, she in turn grew him into a better man. The title, then, is a double entendre. Readers will decide for themselves who is the primary character, a choice that their own life experiences will help them make.
Nov 5, 2020

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Growing Milo - James R Muri

Table of Contents















Growing Milo

James R. Muri

Copyright © 2015 James R. Muri

All rights reserved

First Edition


New York, NY

First originally published by Page Publishing, Inc. 2015

ISBN 978-1-68139-784-9 (pbk)

ISBN 978-1-68139-785-6 (digital)

Printed in the United States of America


The author wishes to dedicate this tale to Marsha, and all the girls like her as a partial apology from us thoughtless bastards.


From Albuquerque to Western Nebraska

My notorious luck held during the war. I came home healthy, marked only by a nice, clean bullet hole in the left buttock when it didn’t get low enough in North Africa, and a groove in my right cheek from the shell fragment that also took off the right earlobe in northern France. I never understood how I got through it all with those minor scratches.

After mustering out, I bashed around aimlessly for the better part of a year, going from one simple job to another. Tiring of that quickly, I then tried college in New Mexico. Geology eventually showed itself to be marginally interesting. But three years of that and a couple of dismal boy-girl situations later, I needed a change. At least, that’s what I was told.

The need for change came about when that pretty peach I met at the Water Hole, a tavern in my college town, went home with me. She wouldn’t move in, but she returned regularly until she figured out the same things about me that other girls had. Anyway, a few days after she left in an offended huff, I received a summons to the office of the dean of admissions. There on his desk sat a photo of himself and his wife.

The dean must have been fifty. His wife, however, passed herself off as a twenty-ish student. She had also passed herself off as my paramour for a few weeks before angrily stalking out of my apartment. I broke into a nervous sweat.

My wife and me, he greeted, pointing to the photo. Does her justice, don’t you think?

She’s…striking, I agreed.

He didn’t offer me a seat but sat himself behind his desk. Comfortable, he leaned back in his chair. She tells me that you’ve made a number of suggestive advances to her. Do you generally prefer married women, Son? he asked, his bushy brows snarled together in a challenging scowl.

Uh…no, Sir. I got the impression that she was a student, and I certainly didn’t know she was anyone’s wife. She didn’t wear a ring, and the subject never came up. We hardly talked at all. We hadn’t wasted our time together on palaver.

He leaned forward, elbows on the desk and hands together in front of his face as in prayer. For a moment, he regarded me over the tips of his fingers. Staring into the face of the man I’d cuckolded made me queasy.

Apparently he made up his mind about something then leaned back again. I’ve looked into your record, Mister Sweet. Your grades are better than average, although not remarkable. Your, uh, other record—your informal record, if you will, which I had to investigate through other means, shows that several young women have apparently fallen to your fit and trim stature or blue eyes or laconic ways, or maybe you just got them drunk. Whatever happened, I’m told that they all eventually came to regret their, uh, relationships with you. I haven’t misstated that, have I?

Hard to argue with a general truth, I thought. No, Sir.

He slowly nodded his head. I thought not. Mister Sweet, I think you’d be doing the community at large a favor by transferring your academic record and, uh, other interests to another institution, preferably one far out of state.

My alarms went off. Are you kicking me out of school, Sir? I asked, undecided whether to be frightened or angry.

No, Mister Sweet. I’m suggesting that you might find it easier to get along elsewhere. Next semester’s registration is just around the corner, and it’s possible that the classes you need might not be available to you or that your transcripts might be misplaced. That, of course, would mean you wouldn’t be able to register or have any academic record at all. Very difficult to transfer a nonexistent record. And very complicating. A different, out-of-state school probably wouldn’t have such unfortunate administrative lapses. He kept his eyes on mine, watching for a reaction.

I lapsed into anger, which I controlled enough to remain civil. That sounds like ‘Get Out Of Town By Sundown Or Else,’ Sir.

No, Mister Sweet. Not by sundown. Just don’t be in this community next semester. You will rest easier if you take yourself a half-continent or more away from here. In the meantime, have no further contact with my wife. Otherwise you’ll find life even more difficult. There are also legal steps that I could take, unless you decide to do yourself and the community a favor, Mister Sweet. Get a set of your transcripts as soon after finals as possible and leave.

Well, there was nothing magic about New Mexico, and I had plenty of money; the GI bill paid most of my college bills and enough to live on. I still had most of my military pay; it went into savings during the fighting in those foreign places, and unlike some, I didn’t drink much or gamble at all. Aunt Sarah, my favorite spinster aunt, died after a decades-long fight with cancer while I was freeing the frigging French from themselves and getting the modern equivalent of a dashing sabre scar. She left me a comfortable estate, and I made myself a silent vow to dispose of it in ways that would make Aunt Sarah smile in her grave. Money had never meant much to me; it had always been a tool, something useful for specific purposes, but not something to treasure any more than one would treasure a screwdriver. So what would goody-goody Aunt Sarah want? Easy, I knew. Just use it to make a difference, whatever that meant. She would know what that was, even if I didn’t.

Anyway, there I was: young, healthy, solvent, burned out, and kicked out. There had to be something more to life than just stumbling through it. When does one get around to living it? I wondered hundreds of times. War sure as hell wasn’t living life, I thought. Neither’s college. Even those girls said I didn’t seem to show much spark about anything. They said I turned snotty too easily. They said I made cruel fun of them for no apparent reason, that I sometimes picked on them to the point of torment. And I know that I did. Probably today there’d be some shrink who’d diagnose me with some war-related brain fart, or something, but really there was no excuse for the way I treated girls. I’d done that all my life. Hell, I needed major surgery, psychically speaking. I actually admitted that to myself. Maybe the dean was right. Maybe it was time for a change, time to replenish my dried-up juices, time to electrify my burned-out circuits, time to wake up from the stumbling half-life I’d been living. After making a few rudimentary checks, Minnesota seemed a likely place to go. It offered few people, a decent college, a half continent’s distance from Albuquerque, and as good a place as any to start the search for whatever purpose or inspiration I lacked.

* * *

So in late February of 1949 I closed the door to my apartment and put a few belongings into Max’s back seat, five one hundred–dollar bills and a number of smaller denominations into my wallet, my checkbook into the glove box, and hit the road north for Minnesota. I had plenty of time, since I’d decided on taking the semester off to look around. Hell, from a time perspective it didn’t really matter where I went. And maybe, just maybe, I’d be by myself long enough to figure out why I had such trouble with girls. I certainly didn’t want to go through life being sent packing by an endless string of wronged females. I liked girls. Really I did. Yet they kept driving me off. Now there was a puzzle worth solving, if I could, while looking for whatever else I needed to turn me into a real person.

My friend Dexter gave Max one last tune-up for the road, and Max seemed to want the trip as much as I did. Then Max took me north in comfort, occasionally driving within range of a radio station. I spent a lot of time thinking, remembering, but not deciding. I held the wheel while Max devoured the road, until Max took me into western Nebraska.

That’s where Max got us lost in the middle of the night.

* * *

I don’t really blame Max. Max is just a car that started life as a ’35 Nash Aeroform. Over the two years that it had taken to build, my friend Dexter talked me into scrapping the original engine and, in a last minute inspiration, coerced me into putting in a ported, relieved, and balanced Cadillac V-8 with a trio of progressively linked two-barrel Holleys, a three quarter cam, and a LaSalle transmission with an electric overdrive churning a dual-ratio competition differential. The whole thing rides on high-traction rubber and the latest in suspension systems to make it safe and stable at speed. Pegging the speedometer takes less time than bragging about it. But aside from the potential for speed, I like quiet driving, so we skipped the throaty exhaust system in favor of oversized twin mufflers. Then we jazzed up the paint job with a tan and pink combination that turns heads wherever Max goes. I know those sound like girlie colors, but Max looks real dressy. Max was the magic carpet to nowhere, a car and a trip that owed their roots to restlessness, a nation’s desperate struggle, and a screw loose somewhere inside my head.

* * *

Enough about Max. Back to being lost in western Nebraska. I could have sworn I was on a paved road—I must have been because I took a bridge over the Platte—but eventually the rain and the night and the lack of road signs started to worry me. Where the hell had the pavement gone? Max slid and skittered uncomfortably in the slimy clay, and worse, the engine had started skipping a beat now and then.

We clawed our way through the night, Max and I, slithering along an increasingly less discernible road, with Max’s heart skipping more and more beats, until at long last, in the middle of nowhere, Max wheezed one last time and turned toes up.

Nine o’clock. Night black as a pimp’s heart. Rain falling like day three of the flood. Max dead, or at least comatose. Last town, if that is what it was, thirty or more minutes behind me.

I sat there in the front seat, steering wheel in both hands, and after the anger and frustration passed, I smiled. Well, Milo, I thought, you wanted something different? This is different.

I opened the door and stepped out into the mud. I had no raincoat, but I took off walking in the same direction Max and I had been driving anyway. There’d be a farmhouse eventually, I knew, and I’d been cold before. Big deal.

Less than an hour later, a dim light off to the left of the rutted, slimy track hinted at civilization. I walked up to the house, which looked less a house than an oversized chicken coop. Light came out of two curtainless windows beside the door facing the road and another curtainless window on the side of the house. There was no porch.

I stood in the mud, a stoical traveler whom the cold rain could make no wetter, and knocked on the door. It opened. A woman in a crushed nightcap looked out. One hand clutched a thick, quilt-like robe at her neck, the other hand held a shotgun. It wasn’t pointed at me, but it plainly was there. I couldn’t see her features clearly, but I did see a crude casket sitting on a table in the center of the room. Its lid was closed, probably already nailed shut. A half-dozen candles flickered in various areas about the room, splashing meager yellow tints into the shadows. Pots, cups, dishpans, and a thunder mug littered the floor and other flat surfaces in the house. The sound of rain dripping into them reminded me of a roomful of clocks. I noticed all this in a second or so.

You’re a long way from the tracks, hobo, she said. Her voice had a catch in it, and I looked at her face a little closer. Despite a gaunt look to the angles of her face, puffy eyelids showed she’d been crying. I revised downward my first impression of her age.

I’m not a hobo, Ma’am. My car broke down about two miles back that way—I pointed—and I wonder if you’d mind me using your telephone to call for a mechanic or a taxi or something.

She looked me up and down, squinting as though seeing me for the first time. You a college boy, boy?

I thought that a particularly unpleasant thing to call me, but it did fit, even if I was twenty-five. I suppose so. I was most recently enrolled in the University of New Mexico. I guessed that my clothing gave me away.

Her mouth twisted into a sympathetic smile. Pretty lips, I remember thinking. Well, College Boy, did you see any telephone poles on your walk tonight?

I hadn’t, now that she brought it up. No, Ma’am. Don’t you have a telephone?

No telephone, no electricity, no running water, no food, no money, nothing worth stealing, no work for a hobo to do. No husband except for that…that worthless skunk over there. She pointed toward the casket. He’ll go in the ground tomorrow. Tonight’s the vigil. See the crowd?

There was only her.

This woman had difficulties to overcome, I saw. Best, I decided, to leave her in her grief or whatever emotion governed her.

Well, in that case, I’ll be on my way, Ma’am. I’m sorry to have bothered you. Good night.

I started to step away from the door. Just a moment, I heard from behind me. Do you have a blanket? Some way to keep warm tonight?

I shook my head. She disappeared for a moment, then opened the screen and handed out a blanket. Bring it back when you get your car running, she said. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help.

I walked back to the car in the rain, in the mud, in the dark. Less than an hour later Max welcomed me into his dry interior, where I wrapped myself up in the soggy blanket and tried to sleep. As I shivered I thought it ironic that I was in a dry space, small as it was, while that woman had to dodge raindrops just to move around in her house.

I wondered if she had a dry bed, or even a dry blanket.

* * *

The rain stopped long before first light, a fact I can accurately report because I did not sleep. The first early morning of March came with a chill that, not having a working engine, Max could do nothing about. My teeth chattered, and when the rain stopped, I happily took the opportunity to step outside and walk around in the mud, easing my cramps and warming up from my exertions.

The light from the east trickled into that corner of Nebraska, and soon I could see well enough to open the hood and look at Max’s heart.

Three vehicles passed, heading in the direction of that woman’s house. A police cruiser, a black sedan, and a black hearse ignored my plight there by the side of the road. I guessed they were on their way to pick up the casket and take it to a cemetery. I went back to work.

About a half hour later, the three vehicles passed by again, this time heading back the way they’d come, presumably toward the cemetery. About then I found two loose wires on the coil, sitting right there in front of my nose. The nut had worked loose on the connection post. I tightened the nut and gave it an extra snug twist to ensure it didn’t work loose again, put myself behind Max’s wheel, and engaged the ignition.

Instant startup. Max purred his approval of my genius. I smiled. Back to my adventure, whatever it would turn out to be. Return the blanket back to that poor lady’s house, then hit the road, if I could find one, to whatever destiny awaited.

* * *

Max idled patiently in the road, warming his coolant, as I carried the blanket up to the front door of the house about five minutes later. I opened the screen and pushed the door open far enough to place the soggy blanket on the floor there. I’d wrapped a ten dollar bill inside by way of thanks.

Sitting in the deep shadows, on what must have once been a sofa or divan, the lady still wore that same quilt-like robe and crushed nightcap. Our eyes made contact, then she looked away.

Thank you for the blanket last night, Ma’am. I truly appreciate it.

You’re welcome, College Boy, she mumbled back.

I hesitated, then went ahead and explained. I thought you went to the cemetery with those three vehicles I saw earlier. I would have knocked if I’d thought you were home. Please forgive me for just opening your door like I did.

I know, she said. You don’t need to explain.

Are you waiting for a friend to take you to the cemetery so you can bury your husband?

No, she said. I could have gone with the folks who picked up my husband, but I wouldn’t have been able to get back here afterward.

No one would bring you back? I asked, astounded.

She shot a look at me, doing some sort of quick appraisal, then looked away again. Look how we—I live. I’m trash, she explained. No one wants any dealings with trash.

So appalled at the mentality of folks who would be so petty, I made the offer. Well, it seems to me that a woman should be able to attend her husband’s burial. If it isn’t being too presumptuous, please let me provide you a round-trip ride so that you can do that. It’s the least I can do for your loaning me a blanket last night.

Again she regarded me. In the dim light of the house interior, she looked younger. After a moment of thinking, she stood. That’s white of you, College Boy. If you’ll be so good as to wait in your car, I’ll change and be right out.

She changed quickly, coming out the door in a dark dress, old brown leather shoes that hadn’t seen polish since they’d been made a century or so earlier, and a wide-brimmed hat with a black veil that covered her face. The shapeless, baggy dress had clearly been made for a more robust woman. Tall, she might have been five nine or ten. Soft coppery wisps that escaped her hat curled on the back of her neck and whispered of youth.

I opened the passenger door and took her hand to help her into the car. I’d never felt a woman’s hand as callous-palmed as hers; she had clearly worked hard at the most manual of labor, probably a good part of her life but certainly recently. The slender but strong fingers and narrow wrist revealed that she didn’t carry any surplus weight at all.

As Max turned around in the slimy road, I tried to get a better look at the bereaved woman. The veil hid her face behind a black mesh, allowing only vague outlines to show. I felt awkward in the quiet presence of this new widow.

So I didn’t talk. I concentrated on keeping Max on the road, not as easy a task as it would have been on dry concrete. I felt the woman’s eyes on me.

What happened to your cheek and ear, College Boy? she asked.

War wound, I answered. Got hit in France.

Oh. Of course. I should have guessed. It must have hurt awfully.

Actually, I didn’t even realize I’d been hit until my buddy told me to stop bleeding all over him. Listen, I should have introduced myself earlier. I’m Milo. You don’t have to call me ‘College Boy’ anymore, unless you want to.

Milo? she repeated, a lift of surprise in her voice. What an odd name!

I grinned with half my face. Yeah. I’m the only one I’ve ever actually met.

I knew another Milo some years ago, she replied conversationally. Down in Grand Prairie. God, I hated him!

I startled. Grand Prairie had been home for a couple years. I turned to look at her again. I still couldn’t see her features. Grand Prairie? Texas?

Yes. Do you know the place?

I’ve passed through it. Why did you hate him?

"He and his flock of foul friends always chased me away whenever I wanted to play with them. They were all fifteen, sixteen years old. I was ten or eleven. I hated all of them, but he was the worst. He made up a rhyme about me that girls still use for skipping rope down there. I’ll never forget it:

Dora, snora,

What a bora!

Run home, cry

And slam the dora."

I almost drove Max off the road but recovered quickly.

Are you all right? she asked, alarmed.

Road’s still pretty slick, I explained. Shit! The woman sitting beside me was none other than Pandora Spock, about whose name even worse poems and jokes than mine had been invented. I guessed that she hadn’t heard those. We’d been almost neighbors in a small community between Dallas and Fort Worth some ten years earlier. She was one of my earliest tormentees. Obviously, I’d done a thorough job of it, since

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