Jack wrote this in July, 2005.
That little farm you see down there is the place where I spent a good many of my
formative years. As you can see, we’d had a pretty good year for hay, which dates the
picture to 1949, or 1950, before the big drought hit.
Maybe I’ll write some more entries about that farm and some of the things that happened
there sometime, but today, the reason I’m posting this picture has to do with life and
some of the more unexpected things that come into it.
In the lower right, this side of the railroad, you see a warehouse… what you can’t see is
that there’s a giant farm machinery business there, outside the picture.
That family was probably one of the wealthiest in our relatively poor town. Good, solid
folks, the father not one to tolerate the kind of snobbery in his offspring that prevailed
among the other financial upper-crust families there, where there were crystallized layers
of social strata it’s difficult to imagine existing anywhere in these times.
The ‘untouchables’ were the Mexicans, mostly farm laborers, who lived on the same side
of the tracks as I did, in a mishmash of adobes that began half a mile to the left of the
picture. Next up were the farm kids, no matter how successful the farm. Anglo farm kids
were better than Mexicans, but not nearly so good as any town dweller.
Next up were the poorer town folks, then the physicians, lawyers, business owners and
ENMU profs. The stratosphere of a 1950s small town society.
But, I’ve digressed. I wanted to tell you about the sons of the man who owned that
business in the picture.
I went away from that town for a lot of years, then revisited it and became reacquainted
with a lot of old friends and enemies. As a result of that fairly weird experience, I
learned that one of those sons of the farm machinery tycoon was a banker in the town
where I was then living, which led to me looking him up for a chat. His older brother,
Stephen, had been a boy I respected a lot and we’d been good friends at a distance,
allowing for the differences in our social strata. I wanted to know what ever happened to
I’m shaking my head, once again, as I write this.
That fine young man got himself a good education, went into banking, was a rising star
until the mid-1980s. Then he abandoned it all, vanished for a while from everyone who
cared about him.
A few years later, his brother tells me, they discovered he was living under a bridge,
living on the streets in Seattle. He wasn’t asking for any help from any of his wealthy
family, wasn’t looking for a way back, wasn’t even willing to talk to anyone from his
I’ve pondered Stephen a lot during the years since I learned what he’d done with his life.
In some ways I think I understand, though I’m not sure.
My own life has been a long series of reversals in direction. It’s meandered, cutting as
wide a swath of human experience as I was able to pack into it. So, from that
perspective, I can gnaw at the edges of understanding Stephen’s behavior.
But I was a wild kid and I’ve always pushed the envelope, all my life. Stephen was
I’d like to see old Stephen again if he’s alive. He’d be 63, 64 years old now and maybe
wiser than he was in the 1980s when something told him he’d had enough. I’d like to sit
on the porch and talk with him a long time to come to know how he came to make his
choice to isolate himself, to impoverish himself.
I do my best not to think I know what other people should do with their lives. But, in the case of Stephen, I know what I’d like this reality a lot better if he did, and the news got back to me that he’d done it.