The DOORWAY Buck
Author: CM Sackett

Chapter 9
Too Old To Handle It...

The world that had opened for me on an Ozark mountain, less than 48 hours before, was the stuff of too many a growing lad’s dreams, things I had dreamed of for most of my then-young years.  To be treated even as a ‘worthy’ apprentice in the realm of “Manhood”… like so many others, I had longed for this, but had received precious little hope or encouragement that such a thing existed, or was true… let alone that it would actually happen.  In the edge of that thicket, at the threshold of that little buck, the doorway had opened wide… unlocked by a white haired, grey-eyed; nylon-knee’d little… no, NO…  GIANT of a man… named ‘Tuck’.

     It should have come as no surprise then that the world of Lost Lodge Mountain would prove to be nothing compared to what awaited anyone fortunate enough to be standing on the front porch… doorknob close to the life and times of Daniel ‘Tuck’ Arnold.

 

The house itself was not remarkable, in any exotic or mysterious sense (least, none that I could tell at the time…).  It was a wide, strong-built affair, of very old beginnings. “She was what folks called a dog-trot in the early days”, Tuck said.

     “A what?”

     “Dogtrot, son.  You see, before the age of electricity and other modern nuisances, people built their houses to be practical for the area they lived in. In these Ozark parts, and most of the “sunny” South, that meant making sure the place could ‘breathe’ on a sun-baked summer day.  So, they built them with a large breezeway in between livin’ spaces… that’s one of the reasons why kitchens were usually a separate structure, a few yards from the main house.  ‘Course, as any kid or critter knows instinctively, that hole made for a perfect runway between their daily activities on the front side of the world… and the back yard; hence, the name “dog-trot”.”

     I never stopped marveling (still do, when I think about it) at how nearly everything, in the world I walked with this man, became another facet of a growing, ‘wonder’-filled place ~~ fuller of mysteries and revealings than I would have thought possible.

     No, the structure of the house, as interesting as I now found it, wasn’t all that awe-inspiring.  But as the door shut behind us, my eyes reported things back to my brain that it just couldn’t keep up with, at the moment.  And then they came to rest… on THE BUCK!

 

“Mr. Tuck… LOOK!”

     “Yeah, I ~~ I’ve noticed him a time or two.”  The old man chuckled, “Come on now, let’s put somethin’ on to fire…, and throw it at our bellies.  I’m starved.”

     “But Tuck, that’s a WHITE buck!”

     “Yessir. Everything’s gotta have a daddy; or, in this case, a great-granddaddy.  Now come on, I’ll kindle the stove, you start the coffee.”

     As we made our way back to the kitchen my jaw bumped and skidded across the floor again and again over the life-treasures on every wall, in every corner… at every turn.  Why, there was the Stars-n-Stripes sure enough, hanging in a beautiful dark-wood cabinet.  She was standing out proud and proven through the beveled, leaded see-throughs, resting against what looked like a red satin background.  On an old marble lamp table, the boy’s pistol and sundries lay ready for action.  I looked up and found the Spencer and Le Mat on the wall.  As I walked over to get a better look, Tuck spoke from the kitchen, “Careful boy, they’re loaded.” By Golly, they were, too!

     “Mr. Tuck?”

     “Yes, son.”

     “You keep loaded guns on the wall?”

     “Unloaded guns in a man’s house are like pretty, single women to a married fella… they’re not even worth lookin’ at.”

     I had followed his voice back to the kitchen by now.  “Yeah, but aren’t you afraid those old things won’t be able to handle it?”

     I shouldn’t have said that.

     He turned and straightened himself, and looked right through me.  Those grey eyes had more flame in ‘em than the belly of that stove…

     “Many a fool has died Travis, overestimating the advantages of the ‘young’.  ‘Too old to handle it’?  You get the makings for coffee down from that cupboard over there… I’ll tell you a story about ‘Too old to handle IT’.”

 

You might say I focused extra hard on the task at hand for a minute or two.  I swear, sometimes that man could give a look that would freeze the blood of the devil’s stepson. And right about then I was feeling kin to somethin’ that low… so I kept my “attention” pointed elsewhere as he began to speak.

     “I told you about some of my traipsin’s through Alaska with my partner, Ben Arden… remember?  Well, those days came in handy for Uncle Sam a little later.  We got to make tracks together on that cool stretch of God’s country a second time, during the Aleutian campaign.”

     “Sir?”

     He sighed, “You kids and your lack of History.  World War II, son… Hell was bubblin’ up and boiling all over the globe, even in that part of Paradise.  Like every other mother’s son after Pearl, I was making plans to enlist when I got a phone call down at Floyd’s station from my old friend.

     “Tuck” he says, like we’d just finished breakfast in front of each other (I hadn’t seen that piece of whipcord since the lion hunt at his place… back in ’37).  “Tuck, they’re needing boys that know the way of things up there.  I got you a spot in the 3-V club… can you get up here in a week?”

     Tuck could tell by the knit of my brows that he was walking through territory familiar to only one of us… again… and it wasn’t me.  Thank God, the man was patient.

     “3-V, Travis; triple volunteer. Every man and woman who’s ever served deserves a full measure of honor and respect, that’s for damn sure!  But, there were missions, requiring special training and a certain mindset that, well, you just can’t successfully force on a man.

     “Well, to make it short, that was the first week of March, 1942.  It took a couple days more than a week, but I made it. After 3 months of special weapons and tactics training, Ben and I joined up with Col. Lawrence Varsi Castner's Alaska Scouts.”

     “You didn’t go through basic training?”  I blurted.  Viet Nam was winding down, but I was up for the draft… and aware of the ‘normal’ chain of events.

     He actually paused and chuckled, looking up from the makings of what looked to be a fine supper he was putting together… “Hmm, well we weren’t uhm, we weren’t what you’d call ‘basic’ soldiers, son.  Nossir, Col. Castner knew what his men needed as much as what the country needed out of his men.  We were a bunch of what most folks would have called misfits… prospectors, trappers, whalers, frontier doctors and engineers.  We had Aleuts, Inupiats and Indians.  As one fella put it, we would have been a real ‘…pain in the chair-knuckle’ for any regular command. But we did our job.  We damn-sure did.”

 

“We were basically a counter-intelligence group, reporting regularly to the Alaskan Defense Command about Jap activity… like their attempt to sneak into Dutch Harbor.  A few of us, who had wrapped our tongues around the local dialects a good bit wound up reaching a bit further than Adak, Amchitka and the rest of the chain.  That’s how Ben and I wound up signing on with another Russian whaler, along with a splayed-nosed old hardbiter named Caldwell. Seems he had recently been busted back down to private after his fourth attempt at getting comfortable with Sergeant’s stripes... somethin’ about relieving a quartermaster of the use of his jaw and left arm after the man had made fun of a local’s wife.  Rather than throw him in the brig or court marshal him, they threw him at us.  That old wolf had spent 22 years serving out of the old Territory barracks of Chilkoot.  But to our young ‘tough’ eyes, he just looked old and tired.  HAH!  Hell of a lot we knew!”

      I was captivated and wild-eyed as he matter-of-factly recounted the events of a world at war… in a world away from the theatres of operation I had grown up hearing about.  But I did notice the taters starting to smoke.

     “Oohph!  Sorry son. You mind finishing ‘em while I finish the tellin’?”  It was the first time he had asked my help with any cooking.

     I took the spatula in hand, and nodded firmly for him to continue.  I didn’t speak.  I didn’t want the sound of my voice breaking into the music of the old man’s tale.

     “Anyhow, the Japanese had their own folks prowling the seas and shores of the Northern coasts.  There were several branches of them, but the ones most effective… and feared, were the Kempei Tai and the super-secretive Black Dragons, or Kokuryu-kai .”

     One afternoon, the ship had anchored near the new city of Provideniya, a Russian port, past St. Lawrence Island.  The three of us went on into town, supposedly to buy sundries and provisions.  Actually, we were suppose to rendezvous with our Russian counterparts.”

     “Well, having a couple of hours to kill we headed to a local safe-house for some refreshment, and ran smack into a whole herd of Black Dragons.  There were nine of them, and they knew we didn’t fit there anymore than they did.”

     “It was about to get ugly.”

 

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