Friday, March 25, 2022

Help me Rhonda, help help me Rhonda...

A Tale of the One That Got Away - Twice

I never had many serious girlfriends when I was a teenager, matter of fact I had exactly one. Oh sure, there was the sisters of friends that I played slap-n-tickle with when their brothers weren't around and we could get away with it, but as far as dating goes? Like going to movies and dances and shit? Uh-uh. Didn't happen.

Part of it (or at least I tried to convince myself) was the fact that with my dad being in the military, I was setting myself up for a heartbreak when either my dad or hers rotated to a new duty station. That was somewhat believable seeing as all my friends moped around like beaten puppies when their girlfriends moved, but what I failed to notice was that within 2 weeks, they were back to chasing anything that moved. Kids are pretty resilient and can get over anything.
The truth of the matter was not only was I kind of a scrawny kid, but I was also bashful as hell around girls. At 15 years old I wasn't afraid to stand up and fistfight a full grown man even as small as I was, but a flirting glance and a smile on the side from a pretty girl would reduce me to a stammering mess. 
It is what it is, but I'll be damned if I was gonna admit to that, even to myself.

And then Rhonda came along.

I guess I could say that I remember vividly the first time I ever laid eyes on her and it was love at first sight, but I'd be lying. The fact of the matter was, she was a friend of my sister Barbara and had been since they were in 8th grade together so it seemed like she had always been around, a skinny little half German girl in jeans, T-shirts and PF Flyer tennis shoes who always looked at the ground and blushed when anybody talked to her. She was even more bashful than I was and I just didn't pay attention to her other than 'Hey Rhonda' when she came up to our place looking for my sister.
Then, during the summer of my 16th birthday, she went back to the States during summer vacation to visit family and when she came back a couple months later, she was the New and Improved Rhonda. She left as a young girl and came back a young lady, hips and blossoming titties and everything. In 2 months. Holy shit. Granted, it was probably more of a change in the way she dressed, but she still got my undivided attention.
The first time she knocked on our door to visit Barbara after she got back, I answered it and I'm surprised the whole family didn't hear my jaw hit the floor. She was, as we said back then, foxy as hell. The change was unbelievable, and not just with her looks, but her personality as well, as I found out later. She wasn't shy any more, matter of fact I would be finding out shortly that she was downright outgoing and engaging.
What was even more amazing though was the fact that I wasn't even a little shy around her, even as pretty as she'd become - what the hell, I'd known her for 3 years at that point.

Within just a couple of weeks, we got a lot friendlier with each other to the point that we started going out and doing things with my sister and the guy she was sweet on, then things kinda moved on from there. 

Now we both lived in Vogelweh housing area, but at opposite ends, about a mile distant, and when school was out, she went her direction and I went mine. When we met up during the evenings and weekends, it was always at a point that was about halfway between our quarters, like the high school or Teen Club or bowling alley or movie theater. She was still coming up to where we lived occasionally, but I'd never been to her place which I thought was a little unusual but what the hell, I wasn't all that thrilled about meeting her folks anyways. 
Then one day..... we were walking to the snack bar together holding hands when all of a sudden this car pulls up next to us, and this great big motherfucker with the face of a pit bull leans over to the passenger's side and roars, "Rhonda, get your butt home NOW!" and Rhonda jerks her hand out of mine so fast she damned near dislocated my wrist. I turned towards her and she had this wide-eyed shocked expression on her face. "Oh no, that's my daddy," she said.
"Are you in trouble?"
"Yes," she said. "I'm not allowed to see anybody until I'm 16," and then she turned around and hurried away leaving me standing there thinking 'What the fuck, I know I'm new to this but when a couple enters into a suicide pact, isn't it customary for both parties to be aware of it?'

I worried about her all afternoon and then about 6 that evening, the phone in the hallway rang and me thinking it was Rhonda, I beat everybody to the phone and answered it with the required "CW2 Lane's quarters, this is Ken speaking, how may I help you, sir?" 
Wrong. It wasn't Rhonda, it was the Pit Bull.
"This is Master Sergeant Campbell. Put Mr Lane on the line. I'll hold."
Aw, fuck.
I went in to the living room and told Pops that Rhonda's dad was on the phone, then went into my room which was across the hall from the telephone desk so I could eavesdrop and hopefully get a hint of the shit storm to come.
"Mr Lane speaking." Long silence. "I understand. We'll be there in 15 minutes, Sergeant." Then "KENNETH!!!"
Aw fuck again. Anytime my parents added the 'neth' at the end of my first name, I was in the shit.
"We, as in me and you, are going to talk to Rhonda's father. What do I need to know before we get there." That was not a question, that was a United States Army Warrant Officer demand.
"Well, you know me and Rhonda have been kinda seeing each other and..."
"Yeah, I know. I'm not blind or stupid. Continue."
"Sergeant Campbell didn't know but he saw us today holding hands. Rhonda's not allowed to date until she's 16, a couple months yet."
"Shit," he says. "You didn't know that?"
He glares at me for a second then says, "Okay. Be polite and courteous and look him in the eye when you talk to him. Maybe you'll survive. Let me grab a bottle and we'll go."

We knock on the door and Rhonda answers it and I'll be damned if she's not wearing a very slight smile. Her dad's right behind her and he's not smiling at all. Not only is he grumpy but he's fucking huge. I was getting a crick in my neck just looking up. Not just tall, either - his biceps were bigger than my waist.  
After the introductions are out of the way and drinks poured, MSgt Campbell asks Rhonda and her mother to leave the room, then tells Dad that his little girl isn't allowed to date until she's 16 and he realizes that it's just as much her fault as it is mine and blah blah blah, then he looks at me and says, "Do you not realize it's common courtesy to ask the father if you can date his daughter?" and all I could say was no because I really didn't, then Pops jumps in to rescue me and says, "Master Sergeant, I'll take the blame for that. I should've told him, but this shit snuck up on me."
Pit Bull glares at me for a couple seconds and then he tells Dad, "Yeah, it snuck up on me too, sir. Well, I can do this one of two ways. I can either forbid it and get ignored by both of them which is just going to piss me the fuck off and force me to commit unspeakable acts of violence, or I can let it continue with my rules and regulations. What do you think, Chief?" and Pops just nodded and said, "She's your daughter, Master Sergeant."
Then he laid out his rules which really weren't all that unreasonable - shit like she had to be home by 9 on weeknights and 10 Fridays and Saturdays, we couldn't see each other after 6 PM Sundays because that was their family night, we were not to be behind any closed doors ever, she had to keep her grades up, we couldn't leave the housing area without his permission, and we couldn't do anything more than hold hands in his presence ("I'm not ready to watch my daughter get mauled yet") and damned little more than that when we weren't in his presence. Oh yeah, and God help me if I ever raised a hand to her in anger. The only rule that I thought was a little weird was that I was to dine with him and his family once a week because he didn't want his daughter dating the kind of guy who pulls up and honks without coming to the door.
What the hell, I didn't even have a driver's license.
Then he called Rhonda and her mother back into the room and gave us his blessing after giving her the same rules and regulations. When he finished, Rhonda squealed "You're my boyfriend!" and ran over, threw her arms around me and tried to kiss me right on the mouth with her daddy watching and me trying to push her away before I found out first hand what those unspeakable acts of violence entailed.

She pretty much became a fixture at our quarters. If she wasn't visiting me, she was visiting my sister and more than a few times I came home to find her visiting with my mother. She became a part of the family. And yeah, she was still great friends with my sister, still going out with her and doing things together.
But let me tell you what, she had my folks wrapped around her finger. I remember one time my sister's boyfriend came by while Rhonda was there visiting with her and wanted to go to the movies. I was grounded for a week at the time for something minor and Rhonda didn't want to be the third wheel so when they left, she came in and flopped down on the couch next to me and snuggled in.
Okay, I'm grounded. That means I can't go out, I can't have anybody over, I can't even talk on the phone. I look over at Mom and Dad and they're looking at each other and then me and then back at each other and I'm thinking 'Fuck it, I'm not going to tell her, those are their rules, not mine,' and then Pops says "Rhonda? You do realize Ken's grounded, right?" and Rhonda says "Yeah, he's such a screw up, isn't he? You should send him over to my house, he's scared of my daddy," and then she giggles. A second or two later I could feel the warmth as the little light bulb finally went off in her head, then she sits up with a wide eyed expression on her face and says, "Wait... I can't see my boyfriend for a whole week? But I'm not the one that did anything wrong!"
Pops hesitates, looks at Mom and says, "Cleda, let's go talk in the kitchen. Rhonda, don't leave just yet."
I could hear them muttering and I was catching shit like "She really is a sweet girl" and "She's a good influence on him" along with other odd shit I never thought I'd hear my parents say about any of my friends even if she is a girl.
Then they came back out and told her that it wasn't fair that she should suffer because I was a fuck up and she could come over 3 nights a week for two hours but I couldn't go out and Mom would drive her home instead of me walking her. Unbelievable. Un-fucking-believable. 
Rhonda leaned over and whispered in my ear, "That was easy," and it was at that point that I realized for the first time in my life that I missed a bet by not being born with titties. I also realized that I need to watch this young lady because if she could play them like that, I didn't stand a chance.

It was a good year. Her passions were photography and history, and we went all over Kaiserslautern and took buses or walked to the surrounding towns (with her daddy's permission) so she could take pictures of every fucking old building we saw and I do mean every fucking one. Thank God the 8th Air Force bombed the dogshit out of Kaiserslautern during WWII or I'd still be there waiting for her to take yet another picture of yet another old building.  We also went bowling on the weekends, shot pool at the Teen Club there in the housing area, went to movies and dances and did everything that young dating couples did. Yes, I did the weekly dinner with her family. While I never did get real friendly with her father, he treated me decently, even tagging me with the nickname Bird Dog which I thought was cool until I found out it was because of the way I had my nose up his darling daughter's ass 'and by the way, if it goes any farther I'll cut your balls off like a dog that don't hunt any more'. Her mother, on the other hand, didn't care for me and I'll get into that later in the second part of this story.
And my parents were right, she was a good influence on me - while I still drank and smoked dope, it was a hell of a lot less than it was before we got together. I just didn't need to get fucked up to have a good time when she was around, as corny as that sounds. I was high on life, bro.

And I fell in love with her despite all the bullshit I'd told myself about not wanting to get hurt. Oh boy, did I fall in love with her. Just seeing her walk into a room would make my breath short and pulse race. It was easy to do though - she was smart, and she was fine, her only flaw (if you could call it that) was a slightly chipped front tooth.
She had an agreeable personality too - I don't ever recall us having anything more than a minor spat the entire time we were together and damned few of those. No brattiness, no bitchiness, and she pretty much kept the same frame of mind all the time, taking a shitload of guesswork out of that relationship.

Then the day we dreaded came. My father had orders cut for Ft Benning. It was time to say goodbye.
We got permission from both sets of our parents for a late night and spent our last hours just hanging out and holding each other, her crying and me trying not to without much luck.
It's not supposed to end this way, godammit. We were in love and love conquers all, right? Yeah, maybe in civilian life, but Uncle Sam don't play that shit.
Promises were made. I was going to work part time after school, then find a real job after I graduated, save all my money, then I was going to send for her and we were going to get married, have 2.4 kids and a Golden Retriever and a house with a white picket fence and live happily ever after. The whole American Dream, right?

I went home that night and Pops was waiting up for me when I got there. He just sat there and looked at me, then he told me how sorry he was, that he never even considered something like this happening.
Fuck it, man - it wasn't his fault. We agreed to blame the government.
I was pretty pissed at the Army for quite a while, not having figured out yet that there's some things in life you can't do a fucking thing about except to roll with it.

We moved to Georgia and I quickly realized that I probably shouldn't have made promises I couldn't keep. I couldn't find a part time job on post that would allow me to save anything after I bought ammo and fishing tackle, and when I got out of high school the only job I could find paid a nickel above minimum wage - $2.35 an hour - which I couldn't even live on, forget about trying to save anything.
But we stayed in contact for quite a while, about a year after we moved. I was getting and writing 3-4 letters a week, then they got fewer and fewer on both of our parts, then one day I got a letter from her asking if I remembered William, the guy that lived in the building next to hers. Of course I remembered him - we called him Whiny Willie because, well, he was always whining about something.
She was getting engaged to him.
Wow, I didn't even see that one coming. At first it hurt, then I quickly realized she was a 17 year old girl and there's no way I could realistically expect her to wait for something that probably was never gonna happen. And once I realized that, I was overcome with a second feeling: FREEDOM!!! Freedom from my commitment. Freedom from my guilt.
Sonofabitch, as much as I hated to admit it, it was like I could feel the burden being lifted off my shoulders, the burden of eventually having to tell her that I couldn't keep my promise.
But Whiny Willie? Seriously?

I did the Right Thing. I wrote her back and told her that I'd always hold her in my heart and I wished her all the luck in the world, and that I wouldn't write her any more because I didn't want to interfere in her happiness.
Then I went out and chased every girl that had even smiled at me in the past year.

Over the next few years, I thought about her often. Not an obsession by any means, but fond memories of us together, and mostly hoping she was happy in her life. Yeah, there were times I wondered what it would've been like if we were still together.  As the years passed I didn't think of her as much, but they were always happy thoughts and I was grateful she was in my life, even for such a short time.

And now for Part II:

Fast forward 10-11 years and bear with me for a minute.

I'd been working out at the ammo plant on the grenade line for about 7-8 years, about 3/4 of that working 13 hours a day 6 days a week and 9 on Sundays and without any vacations or real time off except when I got hurt on the job or suspended. I supposedly got one weekend a month off, but that usually worked out to be one day instead of a full weekend due to downtime maintenance or being called in for one reason or another.
They were installing a new chemical processing unit between contracts and because it was upstream from us, we were going to be off for 3 glorious weeks while the millwrights worked their magic. THREE FUCKING WEEKS!!! The entire crew was ecstatic. 
Friday, the next to the last day we were scheduled to run production on that contract, we had a crew meeting after last break and they told us we could either burn some vacation time or we could go to work on another line, our choice. After the laughter subsided, every damned one of us took the vacation time.
And then Rodney Cocksucker, my boss, looked at me and said that because it looked like night shift would fill our final quota, tomorrow's shift was cancelled and everybody's vacation started at the end of the shift - except the day shift set-up man. That would be me. He needed me to come in and work 4 hours on Saturday to make sure that when we came back to work, my machines would be ready to run some balls-out production to make up for lost time. I didn't have a problem with that knowing for sure I had some serious time off coming when I was done.
Rod gave me a choice of starting times and I told him I'd come in at 4 AM so I can have a full day in front of me when I was done. No biggie, my usual starting time was 3 AM. I'd get to sleep in an extra hour.

Saturday morning finds me at work replacing tooling, turning wrenches, replacing belts, checking fluid levels, and purging air tanks and lines. If it even looked like it was going to fuck up, it got replaced or repaired. Me and Rod were the only ones in Building 13, me working on the machines and him upstairs in his office finishing up some paperwork. About quarter to eight, he comes down as I'm getting ready to clean the 90 weight gear oil off my hands, turns down my radio and tosses a slip of paper in my tool box. "Hey Pancho, Angels Camp Mining Supply just called and says your gold dredge is ready for pickup. You taking personal calls here now?" Rodney called everybody Pancho. It drove Real Pancho nuts for a while running back and forth thinking Rod was calling him.
"Yeah, I take personal calls here because I'm always here. Do me a favor and light me a cigarette, will you?" I still had a shitload of hand cleaner on my arms and hands. 
He lights a cigarette and sticks it in my mouth. "If you're going up the hill today to get that dredge, would you mind stopping off by the bar and paying my tab? I told Jaime I'd be in today but my old lady wants to go to the coast when I get out of here."
"Yeah, sure. Put the money in my toolbox. I'll stop off on my way." The bar was the nicer of the two in the old touristy part of Columbia and Jaime was the bartender. He used to work with us but got tired of the hours and quit, finding a job there and guaranteeing any of us our first drink free and a bar tab any time we walked in the door. None of us took advantage of it much but there were times when I was passing through the area and was in the mood for a refreshing frosted mug of beer in a nice bar served by a motherfucker in a bowler and sleeve garters.

I got cleaned up and left, heading for the house for a quick shower and a change of clothes before driving up the hill to get my dredge. I had bought it new, used it a couple times and it blew a seal. It was still under warranty so I just turned it back in rather than trying to repair it myself. I was excited about getting it back as soon as I did - there was still a fair amount of flow of water in the creeks last time I was in the Mother Lode 2-3 weeks before. Maybe I'll get some dredging in while I'm off. I had nothing planned but at the same time, I had a million things planned for my 3 weeks off work. A trip to the east slope of the Sierras for sure,  maybe a day or 2 at Sonora Pass - I could combine those two - go down to Mariposa and check out the Gem and Mineral exhibit again, hit some Gold Rush town's local museums, and last but not least, spend some time at home doing absolutely nothing.

Columbia's on the way towards Angels Camp, so I figured to stop in there first and pay Rod's tab, then the mining shop, then over to Calaveritas Creek to check the dredge if there was enough water, then home. Pops usually worked Saturdays when he could and almost always stopped off for a beer or two on his way home to give Mom something to bitch about. If I wasn't there, then he'd have something to bitch about.

Even though it was only 9:30 or 10, the parking lot of the old town was pretty full. It was a nice Saturday in June and the tourists were out in full force. I'll pay Rod's tab, beat Jaime out of a beer and go get my dredge. Fuck those tourists.
I walked into the bar and looked around. There was about 10 or 12 people there, all sipping their sarsaparillas or whatever the hell it is tourists drink in western tourist saloons at 10 in the morning, and Jaime was huddled over something at the bar with a babe wearing faded Levis and those John Denver waffle stomper hiking boots that city people liked to wear. Nice ass.
Jaime saw me and reaching for a cold mug, he says to her, "Let's ask Kenny. I bet he'd know, he drives beat up old trucks that are always breaking down. Beer, Kenny?"
"That's sweet, asking me if I want a beer. Make it a pitcher if you're buying." As I'm saying this, the woman turns around with her mouth open and I'll be damned if it isn't Rhonda, standing there in front of me looking like she'd seen a ghost. A decade and a 6000 mile difference..... can't say that I blame her.
She was looking at me, but then there was uncertainty in her eyes. I can understand that. The last time she saw me I stood about 5'8", weighed in at a whopping 140 pounds if I was holding a big rock, and had short hair. A beard was a distant dream. Now I'm a couple inches taller thanks to that late growth spurt, 180 pounds of solid muscle, long hair, full beard, and tattooed back like a motherfucker. My appearance had changed somewhat. So had hers - she'd filled out very nicely.

My heart stopped. "Well, I'll be damned, just look at you," was all I could say, but hearing my voice again was all it took. Her face lit up with that chipped tooth smile and she was in my arms saying, "My God, you're still alive!" 
I got that a lot back then.

After we got the 'Omigod I can't believe this' and 'Isn't this amazing' shit out of the way, we separated and were standing there holding hands and grinning like two fools, and the tourists are all clapping and putting money on the bar for drinks. The spotlight was definitely on us. But free drinks? I'll deal with it.
As I'm holding her hands, I noticed that I'm not feeling a wedding ring. She was checking out my ring finger too. "Still married?" I just had to ask.
She got a bit of a pained expression on her face. "No, not for a while now." 
"Finally got tired of Whiny Willie, did ya?" Her pain is my gain.
"No, he was killed in a drunk driving accident a couple years ago."
Oh shit. Maybe I can recover here. "Fucking drunk drivers, man... I'm so sorry." 
"He was the one that was drinking."
"Hey, you know what? I'm just going to shut up now."
"That's probably a good idea."

I grabbed my beer and a glass of wine for her and sat down as far away from prying tourist ears as we could get. "So what's wrong with your ride? Is that what you and Jaime were talking about?" Anything to get her talking.
"Yes, we were trying to find a good mechanic," she said. "It's my daddy's truck, his pride and joy. He loaned it to me for my vacation and right after I left Sonora, it started cutting out and stalling. It'll re-start a few seconds after I turn the key, then it dies when I put it in gear and start moving a little bit, and it's getting worse and worse. I barely made it here." She didn't look real happy. "I'm doing this trip on a tight budget and I can't afford a break down. Now I'll have to cut everything short."
"Naw, that's light shit. Sounds like the fuel pump to me. Let's go to the parts store and get one. If that doesn't work, I know a mechanic that owes me a favor."
She looked doubtful. "Right now? You can fix it? Really? It sounds expensive."
I started laughing. "Oh yeah, it'll break the bank. Maybe 25 bucks and we'll replace the filter while we're at it."

After I put in the new fuel pump and we test drove the truck, we retired back to the bar where we sat there and talked. Well, she talked. I listened. Turns out she just finished up her first year teaching elementary school down in the LA area, had a couple of kids that were at that awkward age where they weren't shitting on themselves anymore but were still too young to discuss the merits of a boat tail projectile with any reasonable intelligence, and this was the first time she'd spent even a night away from them, and this was also the first time she'd had anything resembling a vacation in 5 years. Her parents took the kids for two weeks and planned on spoiling them with trips to Disney Land and Knott's Berry Farm and the Tar Pits, so she was basically on her own for the next couple of weeks. Her idea of a vacation was traveling up Highway 49 and taking pictures of all the old towns and ruins, but she was kind of disappointed because it was more touristy than she figured it would be.

Well, of course it's touristy. The mines and gravels played out by the late 1860s for the most part and the timber industry was pretty much non-existent this far south because timber itself was pretty much non-existent. This is scrub oak and manzanita country. A lot of the towns damned near died until the tourism came in and saved the day, kind of a necessary evil.
I explained all that to her, but told her she could still find all kinds of ruins and quaint little towns but she had to get off of Hwy 49 and get on the back roads to do it . I told her to hang on, I'd go get a map out of my truck to show her, but she pulled one out of her purse along with her itinerary she had written in a notebook which she showed me. I traced her route and looked at her notes and said, "Hell, Girl, some of this shit you're allowing 3 days to do when you could knock it out in one. The distances aren't that far, but you're bypassing some really neat stuff to see the tourist stops."
"I know, but just in case something catches my eye..... This my vacation, I allocated myself two weeks for it, and I just don't want to rush through it and miss something. And I was working out of tourist books so I don't know about this 'neat stuff' that you locals know about." She hesitated for a second and asked if I'd be willing to come back tomorrow to meet up with her and maybe drive her around, spend the day together, and show her the sights that most tourists never see.
"I'd love to but I've got a better idea. You said you were on a tight budget. How 'bout you follow me home and crash at my place for a day or two? I've got an extra bed and that way you'll save the money on a room and meals. Besides, my dad will be at my place in a couple hours to bitch and whine about Mom and I know he'd want to see you again."
She started laughing at me. "Are you hitting on me? Is that what this is?"
 Damn, I'm busted. "Yeah, I guess, in my own pitiful way."
 More laughter. I really missed that laugh of hers. "That was pretty weak. I see your social skills haven't improved any."  She took a drink of wine and said "Let me think about it for a little bit, okay?"
We talked for another half hour and she cleared her throat and said, "Seriously though, really? You don't mind having a guest? I'd love to see your parents again. And you're sure you don't have a girlfriend? I don't want to cause any problems."
"Nope, not even dating anybody at the moment. Not gonna be any problems." I took out my wallet and waved it towards Jaime. He blew the bill off saying the tourists earlier more than covered it, and wished us a good day.
Man, I was almost out of the parking lot when I jammed on the brakes and killed the truck. I hopped out and walked back to Rhonda's truck and told her I forgot something, then hustled back inside and threw a couple twenties on the bar to cover Rod's bar tab, the reason I went in there to begin with. Can't believe I almost forgot that. 

She followed me down to Riverbank City of Action, then out to my place, me keeping her in my rear view the entire time in case I was wrong about the fuel pump. As we pulled onto my property, I pulled over and went back to her truck. "Listen, I forgot to tell you about the dog. Don't fuck with the dog. Don't pet the dog. Don't step over the dog. Ignore the dog." Captain was a pretty good dog, he just didn't care for people that much.
"Is he vicious?"
"Yeah, everybody he's bitten seems to think that."
"Why do you keep a vicious dog around?"
"Because he's vicious. You'll be fine. Just ignore him and he'll ignore you as long as you're with me."
We pulled in the rest of the way to the house and Ol' Cap raised his head up from his dust bath that he was taking in the dirt driveway, wagged his tail stirring up a dust cloud, then looked towards the other truck and stared at it, growling. Rhonda just sat there. "Come on, get out and come in. If he was going to attack, he'd already be flattening your tires."
She got out and Cap stood up, all 120 pounds of him, and shook himself off, dirt flying everywhere, then he trotted towards her with his fucking tail wagging, then I'll be damned if that contrary son of a bitch didn't stick his nose into her hands for a pet.
" 'Don't mess with the dog. Don't pet the dog. Ignore the dog,' " she smirked at me.
"I never have cared for that animal. Fucking waste of food. Well, come on, let's go in. Home Sweet Home and all that." I have to admit, I was a bit nervous and it was showing. I unlocked and opened the door and stepped aside. She walked in and started laughing her ass off. "No, you most definitely don't have a girlfriend."
I was confused. The house may not have been spotless but it wasn't dirty - no dishes in the sink, the floor was swept and most of the empty beer cans had been picked up. "What do you mean?"
She was still laughing, matter of fact she was starting to wheeze. "Look at this place - there's not a woman's touch anywhere!"
Well, yeah, okay. So there's a reloading bench in the living room and the walls were covered by topo maps of the southern and central mining districts, burlap "curtains" hung in front of the windows, a carburetor I was attempting to rebuild was on the kitchen table, there was a 1911 laying in a pile of parts on the coffee table, a bunch of prospecting gear next to the front door and then ther..... SONOFABITCH I FORGOT TO PICK UP MY FUCKING DREDGE!!!

Rhonda was standing on the front porch as I was carrying her bags in and she was looking out towards the pasture. "My God, it's so quiet out here. What a great place to live." Then she looks over my shoulder and asked, "How many chickens do you have? You let them run free?"
"Huh? What chickens? I don't have any chickens," and I turned around and it was my turn to laugh. There was 10 or 12 pheasants up on a berm about a hundred yards away, scratching in the dirt for bugs or whatever the fuck they eat. "Those aren't chickens, they're pheasants. You really are a city girl, aren't you?"
"Quit making fun of me. Where do they come from?"
"Somebody told me China once." 
"They flew all the way from China?"
"Oh, I see what you mean now. No, they were imported back in the 1800s, I think. People around here hunt them. The guy a couple properties over raises them, then charges people big money to hunt his place during pheasant season. Those are last year's survivors and this season's targets for my friends come pheasant season."

We walked back inside and she asked if she could use my phone so she could call her folks collect and let them know where she was at and to talk with her kids. "Not a problem," I said, "it's in the closet. Don't call collect, just dial direct."
"Okay, thanks. Why in the world is your phone in your closet?" She was giving me a weird look.
"It doesn't exactly go with my décor, Rhonda. Don't you have any fashion sense at all? The plug-in is behind the end table there."
The look got weirder. "Why don't you keep your phone plugged in?"
Fucking women and their silly questions. "Because when I plug it in, it rings sometimes. Besides, I'll be tripping over the cord if it's in the closet and plugged in over there."
"What if somebody needs to get a hold of you?" I took my pager off my belt and waved it at her. "But then you have to plug in your phone anyway to cal..... never mind, I'm going to leave this alone."
Thank you, I appreciate that.

She called her folks and gave her dad the rundown on the truck, that I wandered into the bar after all these years and had graciously fixed it for her and she was staying here for a day or two so I could play tour guide, then she grinned at me and said "Hey Bird Dog, Daddy wants to know if you still have your nuts?" Not funny - I could feel them shriveling up inside me at that very moment.
Then she got to talking with her kids and explained she was staying on a farm with an old friend of her and Daddy's. "He's got lots of animals. I'll bring home pictures of cows and horses and his big farm dog and pheasants..... Pheasants? Oh, they're a, um, a Chinese Chicken....." and I about coughed up a swallow of beer with that one ".....Lambs and pigs and billy goats? No, there's no....." I waved my hands back and forth and gave her a thumbs up ".....Wait, Kenny says he knows where there's lambs and pigs and bil..... Camels? No Sweetie, there's no....." I give her another thumbs up. She holds her hand over the phone and says, "You know where a camel is around here? Really, a camel?" and I said "No, but I know some folks that have llamas. Just tell 'em they're baby camels and don't have their humps yet."
She looks all indignant and says, "I can't lie to my children!" to which I replied, "Says the Chinese Chicken lady."

She gave her folks my pager number and address so they'd know where to start looking in case I turned out to be an axe murderer or something, then ended her conversation and I'll be damned if she didn't unplug the phone and put it back into the closet. Right on. We kicked back on the couch and Cap came over and laid his head in her lap so she could scratch his fucking ears and make a liar out of me, and shot the shit for a while, her telling me more about her life and what she'd been up to. 

Then Cap jerked his head up and started growling and looking towards the front. I checked my watch and said, "Looks like the Old Man is here. You wanna fetch him a beer while I subdue the dog?" and she doesn't say a word, she just flies out of the front door and sprints towards Pops, who has his back to her getting something out of the truck, then she grabs him from behind and spins him around and piles into him, hugging and kissing him, squealing all the while.
Pops, who has no idea what the fuck is going on or who this woman is, looks shocked right at first, then he gets this silly ass grin on his face as he decides to roll with it and let her have her way with him.
She finally pulls away and he realizes who she is, and then it's his turn to hug her, taking advantage of the opportunity to prolong the moment. I'm watching his hand dropping lower and lower towards her butt from the porch just shaking my head and going 'Omm, I'm telling Mom.'
Rhonda walks him into the house and tells him the story of our day and sits down on the couch and Cap goes right to her and flops his head down in her lap again looking up at her with those big brown eyes. Pops, who'd never been able to even pet him without getting snapped at even when he was a pup, takes all that in and turns to me with, "Is that dog sick or something?" and I just shrugged.
"Well, listen," he says, "I've got an idea. How about you come into town tonight and we'll all go out to eat, have dinner in a nice place and get all caught up. How's that sound?" and we both nod. Sure, that sounds good. "Great, let me call your mom and let her know," and he heads over the the closet, gets the phone out, and plugs it in. Rhonda's watching that and shaking her head. "Cleda? Have you started dinner yet? No? Don't, Ken's taking us out to dinner tonight and we've got a surprise for you. You'll see later. Be home in a bit."
"Oh, now I'm taking you out to dinner?" I was replaying the conversation in my head trying to figure out how that happened.
"I fed your worthless ass for 18 years, I figure you owe me." Pops finished his beer and says, "Give me a couple hours to get cleaned up and make up my mind if I want prime rib or an inch thick sirloin steak. And change into a button down shirt, ragbag. We're going someplace expensive," and he hops in his truck and takes off, cackling.

Dinner was nice. We ended up going to a semi fancy German place they knew about but had never been to, and Mom and Rhonda ran the conversation while killing a couple bottles of wine. Me and Dad amused ourselves by running a taste test on their selection of imported beer on tap.
After it was over, they went home and we went back to my place. Rhonda asked if I'd stop off so she could get some wine for later, so I went into Ernie's Liquors and bought a couple bottles of a nice Riesling. It had been an expensive day - between the fuel pump, dinner, and the wine I figured I was down about 250 bucks. Oh well.

After we got back to the shack and drinks were poured, she flopped down on the couch and patted the spot next to her. "How about some music? Why don't you put on our song for old time's sake and come sit with me?"
Our song? We had a song? I don't remember us having a fucking song. Shit shit shit.
"Um, my truck ate that tape a while ago." Maybe she'll believe that.
"My God, you're such a liar! We didn't have a song. I wanted 'Stairway to Heaven' but you said, and I almost quote, "I can't stand that effing song," except you didn't put it so nicely and then you said you wanted 'Please Don't Judas Me' by Nazareth." She patted the couch again. "Now put on some Clapton and come over here and let's act like an old married couple."
"You bet. What do you want to fight about?"
That got a laugh out of her. "Never mind, let's act like we're teenagers again. How's that?"
"Great, you get nekkid and I'll make a beer can bowl."
Another laugh. "Maybe later. Right now I want to hear about you. All we've talked about so far is me. Tell me about your life and what you've been up to."

So I filled her in, leaving out the bad parts like me having been strung out on crank for a few years and selling the garbage and all the bullshit that went along with that. She got a kick out of the fact that I did three years in the army and a bigger charge out of the fact that I didn't get kicked out. "I can't believe 'Mr You Can't Tell Me What To Do' enlisted in the army. I bet you were buffed when you got out with all the push-ups you had to do." I laughed and told her, "Naw, not too many push-ups. I was in the Signal Corps, not the real army."
Then she, having female super powers, told me to quit playing games and tell her the rest, so I did. Some of it, anyways. "And you're still selling drugs?"
I acted shocked. "No. Well, not hard drugs, A little weed here and there. What makes you say that?"
"Well, you smoke pot like it's free. You took 2 different routes coming and going from your parent's house and you spent more time looking in your mirrors than you did watching the road. You carry a gun and a pager. The gun I can understand but you can't convince me the pager's just because you hate phones. You still have to use a phone when you get paged, right? And then there's the gun in your shower in a plastic bag. I saw it when I went pee."
Damn, I'm glad she's not a cop. "Okay, I can explain all that. Yes, I do sell bud when the Indica harvest comes in. That's about 4 or 5 months out of the year and all the weed I smoke is a small part of my profits from that so yes, it is basically free. I took 2 different routes because I know the liquor store owner personally and I give him my business when I'm in Modesto even if I have to go out of my way. The rearview mirror thing is because I'm a good defensive driver." That was the best I could come up with on short notice. "The pager? Well, you're partly right about that. I don't do business over my home phone - my people page me and I drive into Riverbank City of Action to return the call from a phone booth. I sell pounds to maybe 5 people so I don't get so many calls that I'm running into town 3 times a night. The only reason I have a phone is because work says I have to have one but they didn't mention anything about having it plugged in. And as far as the gun in a plastic bag in the shower goes, well, you have to keep it in a plastic bag or you'll get moisture inside of it and that'll fuck it all up. Satisfied?" I hoped it was because I'm obviously no good under pressure.

It was a nice evening and really, it was something new for me. I know it's hard to believe, but with all the moving around we did, I never once ran into any of my old friends from our father's previous duty stations. Sure, Mom and Dad had friends that they'd reunited with from different duty stations, but those folks either didn't have kids my age or I wasn't friends with them to begin with. But with Rhonda, I was able to do the Remember-Whens and 'I wonder what happened to old so-and-so'.
And we talked about other memories as well, ones we made ourselves. Both of us had a nice buzz on when she asked, "Do you remember the first time we made love?" and we looked at each other and busted out laughing.

It wasn't the lovemaking we were laughing at, although it could've been - we were both inexperienced as hell, it being her first time and only my second time (a big shout out to Missy if she happens to see this) in the saddle. If there was ever a blooper show for porn, we could've been on it. No, it was the aftermath and the fallout. Holy shit.

Both of our fathers were in the field for 30 days for REFORGER, an annual field problem, and about 2 weeks into it Rhonda's mom was called away to her home town for a minor medical emergency in the family. Well, Rhonda was a big girl and didn't need anybody to watch over her, right? 
Wrong. Her mother wasn't 5 minutes out the door before Rhonda called me with the news and asked if I wanted to come over and listen to a new album she just bought earlier that day and I swear by all that's holy, that's all that was intended, but being teenagers, it ended up going further. Yeah, it was a magical moment and all that, but when it was over, we both felt guilty as hell and worried to boot. What if somebody told her mom that I was over while she was gone? What if Rhonda got pregnant? And then she was worried about me losing respect for her and not loving her any more and all that other old fashioned bullshit.
A couple guilt wracked days later, on a Friday afternoon, Rhonda calls me up with the dreaded words, "Mama came home and she knows." My heart fell, my stomach was in my throat and my balls were fixin' to make a run for the border. I was dead meat. "How does she know, did you say something?" I squeaked, when I finally caught my breath.
"No, you fucking idiot, I didn't say anything." Oh, shit. This was bad. Real bad. I'd never heard her cuss before. "Seriously, Ken? 'Hey, guess what, Mama, I lost my virginity while you were gone and better yet, I lost it to somebody you hate.' "
"Wait a minute - your mother hates me?"
"If she didn't before, she does now."
We never did figure it out. Rhonda said her mom walked in the door, took one look at her and burst into tears saying her little girl was now a woman. Mothers just know that shit, I reckon.

We were both laughing so hard we were dying over that and then she said "You were so cute. Here you are on the phone and you're almost crying and you kept saying "'Your dad's going to find out! Oh, woe is me, woe is me...' and I could hear you slapping yourself on the side of your head" and when she said that I couldn't fucking breathe I'm laughing so hard. "Oh bullshit, I never said that!" and she's saying "Oh yes you did, woe is me, over and over."
Woe is me..... Sheee-it.

The day after her mother came home, Rhonda called again. "I think you should come over and talk to Mama before Daddy gets home."
Good idea. It'll give me time to heal up from one ass-kicking before I'm subjected to another provided they both don't rat-pack me when her father gets home. Man, I was nervous as hell. Her mother was always stand-offish to me anyway - not unfriendly, but not friendly either. Let's just say she tolerated me. Me and her father could carry on a conversation, but Frau Campbell never really said much of anything to me. Not rude, just quiet.
I got to their quarters and rapped on the door. Rhonda must've told her that I was coming over because the door flew open so fast it almost sucked me in, then her Mama commenced to attacking me with a big wooden spoon, whacking me on the sides of my head over and over and over again. "Ow, godammit, that hurts!" I hollered and that just made it worse. "Do not speak like that! This is a Godly home!" she said as she switched hands and started whacking me again. 
Well, it might've been a Godly home before, at least until we defiled it, but her beating me half to death with a cooking utensil wasn't going to restore that shit. 
I was trying to block her, but that woman was faster than any schoolyard opponent I'd ever fought before. Sonofabitch, she could hit and she had rhythm. She'd have made a fine drummer in a metal band. It did make it a little easier for me to bob and weave, though. Not much, but some - that woman had fast hands.
She finally wore herself out, but not before I had a fat lip, a bloody nose, and a couple good sized knots on my head. "I am not speaking of this to my husband. He's a good man but he will kill you if he finds out. Do you understand? He will kill you and go to prison and then Rhonda and I will be alone."
All I could say was, "Thank you, I appreciate that," which for some reason set her off again. This time around, I didn't mind so much knowing that she wasn't going to rat me out.
I went home, licking my wounds, and didn't see or call Rhonda the rest of the weekend. Frau Campbell had her bluff in on me.
Monday morning finds me waiting for Rhonda before school at the hole-in-the-fence where all the stoners hung out, but she didn't show up. Fuck, did her mother kill her or ship her off to a convent or what? I was worried as hell about her. At lunchtime, I was there again and she walked up behind me and gave me a big hug. "Are you all right? I was worried about you." She nodded, kissed me, and told me her mother took her to the dispensary that morning and had them put her on birth control.
Fucking A, that was nice of her to do that for us.

The next morning, I got up a couple hours before she did so I could drink my coffee and watch the sun rise over the Sierras, something I tried really hard not to miss every morning, even when I was at work.
I heard her stirring around in the house, so I got off my ass and went back inside and put on a pan of water to boil for the coffee press. She met me at the stove and asked if we could put off driving around the foothills that day and instead go take those pictures of farm animals for her citified kids. Not a problem, we can knock that shit out in one stop about 10 minutes from here, I told her.
One of the Portagee women I worked with for a while on another line at the ammo plant owned a dairy with her husband and as a charity deal, they had a small hobby farm with all sorts of tame fowl and livestock, and on the weekends when Diana wasn't working (the line she worked was a 40 hour a week line), they hosted mentally and physically disabled kids from organizations all around the region so they could pet ducks and bottle feed lambs and ride ponies and shit, the only charge being a big smile from their guests. I asked Diana once if they got some sort of government grant to help with the costs. "No, we're Christian. The Bible commands us to be charitable." Good people. Sometimes they had busloads show up, other times it was just individual families. They were pretty well known and everybody was welcome.
When we got to the farm, I made the introductions and Diana invited Rhonda in for some tea while she made her husband's lunch, leaving her 6 kids to take care of the few guests they had at the moment. Rhonda and Diana hit it off pretty good, so I wandered off to go find John who was supervising the cattle feeding. When he was done, he washed up and drew a gallon of milk out of one of the tanks. I couldn't wait to see Rhonda's face when she tasted fresh milk seeing as she drank an entire quart of storebought milk that morning saying how much she loved the stuff.
When we got back to the house, the table was set and John swapped his jug for one in the refrigerator and when we were all seated, our glasses were filled. I wasn't disappointed, when Rhonda tasted that milk I thought she was going to orgasm right then and there. "Oh my gosh, this is so rich! It's better than ice cream! Where did you buy it?" John's fork paused in mid-air and he said "You do realize this is a dairy, right? That's raw milk right there." then he mumbled something about being cute but not real bright. Good point. We explained where she was from and he pretended to understand.
After lunch, he took her for a tour of the dairy, explaining how everything worked and how it was a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week operation with no days off, not even Christmas, then let her try her hand at milking a cow by hand.  That in itself made the whole trip there worth it. I was just glad she didn't want me to demonstrate it for her - I can't milk a cow worth a shit either. Evidently there ain't a drop of Portagee blood in me.
So she got to milk a cow (kinda sorta) and she got her pictures, and we left, but not before Diana loaded us down with something like 10 quart jars full of milk and a couple huge slabs of butter she churned herself, then told us to stop by for more when we ran out.

We started her whirlwind tour of the Gold Country the next day starting at La Grange just a few miles from home, then down to Hornitos, Indian Gulch, then southeast to Mariposa and then to Oakhurst at the very southern end of the Mother Lode, before working our way back to the north to Coulterville, me showing her some abandoned mines and buildings, the old Mount Bullion mint ruins, the town site of Aqua Fria, John Fremont's headquarters site, old stores and businesses, many still operating,  and quite a few other places, none of which were in the tourist books. On Tuesday, we worked our way up from Coulterville to Columbia where we first ran into each other, and so on until we hit the end of her itinerary which was Placerville. We spent our evenings planning the next day's sights and stops, plans that usually went right out the window as soon as we started wandering, but we knocked out her entire list of places to see and then some in less than a week, spending 8-10 hours on the road each day. 

The day after we'd done her Mother Lode tour, I had slid out of bed being careful not to wake her so I could enjoy my sunrise cup of coffee in peace and for some reason, started wondering just how fucking long was she going to stay? I mean, she'd been there almost a week and was showing no sign of moving on. Was she planning on staying her entire vacation? Was she getting it into her head to move up here? Was I being moved on so she could move in? While we got along real well, the last fucking thing I wanted or needed was a full time old lady telling me what to do and how to act, right? Plus she has kids. I'm not a kid person - those little fuckers are expensive to maintain and keep running, not to mention being a bitch to troubleshoot when something goes wrong.
I had to make a conscience effort to calm myself down. I mean, did I not invite her home with me? And the more I thought about it, it seems like after our first night together I did tell her she was welcome to stay as long as she liked. And it's not like she had done anything, anything at all to piss me off other than bring home a shitload of vegetables when she drove to the store the night before. 
I had realized quite a while back that even with the hours that I worked, I really enjoyed my life, doing what I wanted when I wanted and not having to answer to anybody. If I woke up at 4 in the morning on my day off and wanted to go fishing, I got up and went fishing. 
Right now my biggest problem was the fact that I was once madly in love with her and it would be real easy to fall back in love with her again, especially as well as we were getting along even after all these years and the changes we'd both gone through. 

 One evening after we'd hit all the towns and mining sites, I was sitting at my reloading bench while Rhonda was finishing up her nightly hour long call home to talk to her kids  when she wandered up behind me and picked up a vial I had sitting on the table. "What's this?" she asked, shaking it up and down.
"Gold," I said.
"Gold? You mean wild gold?"
I knew what she was trying to say. "Yeah, real live wild gold. Watch out, it might attack."
"Quit messing with me. Where did you get this wild gold?"
"A little feeder into the Tuolumne river. Why?"
"You know where to find gold?" I didn't like where this was leading. I had a feeling she was going to talk me into some work.
"Yeah. What do you think all that shit is over in the corner by the door? And what about when we were driving all over the Mother Lode and I was pointing out spots that I'd worked?"
She was bouncing that vial up and down in her hands with an evil look in her eye. "Okay, I just added something else to my list."
I fucking knew it.
The very next morning, I'm woke up by a wild eyed woman straddling my stomach and hollering "Wake up, thar's gold in them thar hills! Come on, get up. You promised to to take me prospecting and we're burnin' daylight. I need a hat. All prospectors have hats. Can I wear one of yours? Come on, get out of bed already. Coffee's on."
She can't be serious. It's 4 in the fucking morning. Correct me if I'm wrong but technically it has to be daylight before you can burn daylight, right?
In a way, she'd kinda put me on the spot. I'd done everything I could to make her vacation memorable, but I wasn't sure if I could come through on the prospecting. While the streams I had checked out a few weeks ago were flowing, they might not be now seeing as the flow came from snowmelt. Once the snow's gone, so is the flow, and you need moving water to work a pan and sluicebox.
An hour later finds us on our way up to the Mother Lode to search for the elusive wild gold. I had a spot in mind, a place I had found the year before while researching an old mining camp site. It looked promising and I hadn't seen any sign of anybody else working the place in recent years.
We got up there and there was still some water moving. Not much, but enough. I unloaded the pans, pick, shovel, pry bar and other prospecting equipment, then explained we'd run a couple pans and if they worked out, then we'd set up my sluice box and get her some wild gold.
Now I have to say, by that point in my life I did very little panning anymore. If I found an area that looked good, I'd run a few pans and if it looked like it was worth my time and effort to work, making at least 10 bucks an hour, I'd walk away until the stream dried up, then I'd go back later that summer and using a shovel, pry bar, trowel, and whisk broom, clean as much of the sand and gravel from the bedrock as I could, putting it into 5 gallon buckets, then I'd take it home and sluice it at my leisure.
Why? Because panning is hard, uncomfortable work. Look, go fill up your bathtub with cold water and dump about 30 pounds of ice in there to simulate snowmelt. Then squat in it unsupported with your ass and crotch submerged for 10 minutes, then stand up for a couple minutes, then squat again. Do that for 3-4 hours. See what I mean? It's not exactly what most folks consider to be fun. And that's not taking into account all the shovel work you have to do to get to the paying gravels. That in itself is a back-breaker.
But she wanted to prospect, so I explained to her how to do it, then showed her from dirt just off the bank - shovel it through a classifying screen into a pan to keep the larger waste rock out of the pan, fill the pan with water, wash the dirt out, agitate the gravel with your hands, tilt the pan and swirl, refill it with water, agitate, swirl it again and keep doing that until the only thing left in the bottom of the pan is a little sand and hopefully gold.
My pan produced a few tiny specks of gold which thrilled her and then shocked her when I tossed it back, so I led her into the water and filled her pan with what would hopefully be pay gravel. It took her almost a half hour to get that first pan done, but when she did, she let out a lusty war whoop that rattled the canyon walls. I was sitting against a truck tire smoking a joint and watching and when I heard that, I smiled - I knew that sound because I had done the same thing when I hit gold for the first time.
She did have a nice string of gold dust in the bottom of her pan. It wasn't a lot, but enough that I knew I'd be back up there later in the summer to clean that stretch of stream out.
After she'd ran a few pans just so she could say she was an experienced prospector, I set up my sluicebox and stacked rocks to create a channel for faster water flow, explaining that panning was just for exploratory work, but for serious recovery a sluice was better because you could run more sand and gravel through it in a quicker amount of time, then handed her the shovel and let her go to work while I set up my little camp stove in the bed of the truck and made us a pot of coffee.
While we were enjoying our coffee and the scenery, she asked, "How far off the highway are we?"
"Um, maybe 5 miles by that trace we came in on, a mile and half as the crow flies thataway," pointing to the ridge towering above us. It was just a guess but I didn't think I was too far off.
"And you do this alone?"
"Pretty much. Why?"
"What happens if you get hurt?" she asked.
I shrugged. "Somebody will be along in a couple three days, I'm sure."
She looked worried for a moment. "You could die in that time. You should bring somebody with you."
"Naw, fuck that."
I thought about it for a second. I could either explain it to her or I could pull a dick move and show her. I decided on the dick move. "It's easier to show you than explain it. You'll see later."
We finished our coffee and she went back to work for a couple more hours until I told her we needed to do the cleanup so she could make her evening call to her kids. I cleaned the riffles and pulled the matting out of the sluice, rinsed it out in a bucket, then had her pan all the sand out of the bucket. I thought she was going to have a heart attack when she saw the bottom of her pan. "I told you the sluice was more productive, didn't I?"
Between her pans and the sluice, she ended up with a little more than 3/8 of an ounce with gold running about $325 an ounce at the time. The area was much more productive than I thought it would be, but it was all fine flour gold. I was really hoping she'd find a nice souvenir nugget, but that didn't happen.
On the way home, I pulled into a mining shop's parking lot. She had her little test tube full of gold dust in her hand and had been admiring it the entire way there.
"Why are we stopping here?" she wanted to know.
"I'm going to sell them my share of today's take," I said.
"Your share?" She looked kinda shocked. "You're going to take half of my wild gold?"
"Half? I was thinking three quarters of it."
"What?" Now she really was shocked.
"Yeah. Three fourths of it. My spot, my tools, my expertise. All you did was a little labor."
She stared at the vial in her hand as she thought about it and I swear I saw her lip trembling. Enough was enough. My point was made. "No Sweetie, it's yours. You worked for it. You asked why I don't take anybody with me and I told you I'd show you why. That's why. Gold does funny things to people and it'll break up a lifelong friendship. People get to arguing over the stupidest shit. Somebody that you trust with your wife will fuck you in a gold deal.  Now do you understand?"
She nodded. "Yes, but I don't mind splitting it with you. Let's go halves, at least. Really." Nice words, but I could tell she was relieved I wasn't taking it.
"Naw, keep it. You'll have something nice to show for your vacation. I'll come back up later and finish that spot up."
"You're a dick, you know that, right?" At least she was smiling when she said that.

I should've kept part of her wild gold. I went back up there in the fall to clean up and didn't get nearly as much as she did, even with the feeder pretty much dried up allowing me to do a thorough job. I even went back up the next spring when the water was flowing with my dredge and didn't find it worth my while. We must've gotten lucky and hit one little pocket of flour gold when she was sluicing. Like the old saying goes, gold is where you find it.

Me not having a TV, we spent a lot of time talking, most of it lighthearted talk but also a couple of what babes call heart to heart talks.
Okay, I absolutely hate heart to heart talks. A woman saying she wants to have a heart to heart talk will strike fear into the heart of any rational man. I mean, if they're from the heart, it's supposed to be complete and total honesty, am I right? 
Ours were cool, though.
In one of them, she did put my mind to ease from the fears I had a couple days before. She had her own life, her own career and her family for emotional support down in SoCal and had no intentions of leaving that, even with as good of a time she was having now. It wasn't a subject we hit head on and she didn't say all that in those words, but that was the gist of the conversation.
Huge fucking relief, bro. Huge.
It was such a relief that I agreed to try an artichoke for the first time. 

In one of our talks, we were remembering how much we meant to each other when we were kids and I finally got around to asking her why, oh why did she want to be my girlfriend? She could've had pretty much anybody. It's something I've always wondered about and I figured that was a good of a time as any to ask.
"Because of all my schoolmates, you were the one most likely to die," she said, looking me dead off in the eye without a moment's hesitation.
"Say WHAT???!!!  What the hell kind of answer is that?" I was spinning out here.
"Because you were most likely to die. Remember how reckless you were back then? Every young girl wants a tragedy in her first romance. We figured that out in Literature class. If you'd have gone to school, you'd have known that." She was looking at me with a completely straight face.
"You can't be fucking serious. Oh my God. You are, aren't you?"
She couldn't hold it in any more and started laughing. "You are so gullible when you're stoned. No, that's not the reason why. You really don't know why? I loved you because you were my hero, my White Knight, after that day you defended me. I was what, 13?"
I had no idea what she was talking about. "Yeah, 13-14, something like that. Keep going."
"Well, as you remember, I was walking home from school with my girlfriend and those 3 guys started picking on us, then Peter body slammed me and almost knocked me down, then you ran up and started yelling and pushing them away, and told them if they wanted to mess with somebody then they should pick on somebody that hits back. You came out of nowhere like my guardian angel. My knight in shining armor."
Yeah, I don't remember none of that. "Oh yeah, you were walking home with Sandra." Her and Sandra lived in the same building and hung out a lot.
"No, it was Jan."
"Jan? Are you sure? Huh." I don't even remember a Jan. "I was going to Steve's, right?"
"No, you said you were going to Kapaun Barracks to play pinb... YOU DON'T REMEMBER???!!!"
I just shrugged. There was no way in hell I could dig my way out of this one.
"Omigosh. The single most romantic moment of my young life and you don't even remember it?" 
Another shrug.
"You... you ass!" as she smacked me on the shoulder.
Another shrug. "Easy there, pottymouth."
"It was because of that my daddy let me date you. That day that he caught us together holding hands, I went home and told him what happened that day, how you saved me from certain death, and I was in love with you and would die of a broken heart if we couldn't see each other," she said. "That's why he let you be my boyfriend."
At last, something I could respond to with something other than a shrug. "No way. Your daddy let me date you because he respected me for coming over that night and talking to him man to man. Well, listening to him man to man. You know what I mean."
"How delusional are you? My daddy respecting you? Ha! He hated you! No, hate isn't the right word. He... he despised you. That's it, despised." 
Despised? Damn, that's pretty brutal. "What? He didn't like me?" That was news to me. I thought we got along pretty good. 
"Still doesn't. He's mad at me for staying here. I had to tell him I was sleeping in your guest room so he'd shut up about it."
I mulled that over in my head for a second. "I'll be damned. He really did want to cut my balls off. Speaking of us not sleeping together, you wanna...?"
"You better believe it. Thinking about you pissing off Daddy makes me hot."

I checked my mail at the post office while Rhonda waited in the truck and saw that I had a package to pick up, but there must've been 15 people in line and Miss Inez behind the counter didn't appear to be in too much of a hurry with her arthritis bothering her more and more lately, bless her heart. I'd been waiting on that package for a month so I walked back out and told her I was going to be a while, and she just nodded and murmured "Ich werde warten, Schatz (I'll wait, Sweetheart)" without even looking up from her book.
We were all standing there in line bullshitting to pass the time when all of a sudden the door flew open and Rhonda came in hollering, "HEY! THERE'S A GUY RIDING A FREAKING BUFFALO DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET! A REAL LIVE BUFFALO!!!"
I don't know if she was expecting smiles or disbelief or what, but she most definitely wasn't expecting the groans and cussing, nor the mass exodus to the door. She almost got knocked over in the rush.
We all piled outside and bigger than shit, there's Wild Bill astride his pet buffalo ambling right down the middle of 3rd Street with afternoon rush hour traffic, all 4 pickups and a hay hauler driven by a wild-eyed tweeker, backed up behind him.
Wild Bill was a local legend, an ex rodeo clown that owned some property just outside of town with a regular menagerie of exotic cattle, plus a couple chimps as well as his riding buffalo that he raised from a calf. He was also a hell raiser, a hard drinker and an attention whore who rode his buffalo into town when he was too drunk to drive. The fact that he rode his buffalo in just showed how much of an attention whore he was - a normal man would've just saddled his horse.
Only problem was, while Riverbank was an ag town back then, there wasn't a single hitching post left in the entire town, not a one, so Wild Bill would just tie his buffalo up to whatever was handy while he went inside to conduct his business or take a drink - a stout handrail, lamppost, a parking meter if Wild Bill had the change to feed it, and lately, pickup trucks. That's what everybody was pissed about. That damned buffalo had flat out torn up a couple pickups when it would get an itch and start rubbing down the side of the truck trying to scratch it. I mean, we're talking a one ton animal here, right? It would knock off mirrors and crease the side of the truck so badly the door wouldn't even open. Fucking truck would be rocking, bro. Bill never tied it off to a new truck, he always chose the pre-dented ones so he could argue with the owner about the real cost of damages later. 
So here we all are out in front of the post office and Rhonda's looking thrilled and amazed, while we're all shaking our fists and threatening to turn his buffalo into a bullet riddled rug if he even got close to any of our trucks. Two or three guys sprinted for their trucks to get their 30-30s just in case, causing Bill to pull open his vest to display his 357 revolver and issue his own threats. One Mexican vaquero says, "I'll show that pinche buffalo and that fat little fucker too," and runs to his truck, pulling a fucking cattle prod out of the bed, then circles around behind Bill while he was distracted by us and nailed the buffalo right below the asshole with that Hot Shot, missing the intended target by an inch or two but still having an admirable effect. The buffalo squatted and then lunged forward with a bellow, Bill got dumped, and then the buffalo crowhopped down the street for a couple seconds until it got distracted by a sapling the city had planted and started stripping the leaves off, grunting with either pleasure or confusion. I looked over at Rhonda just as Bill landed on his shoulder and she was aiming her camera and clicking away. "You got that?" I hollered and got a big smile and a thumbs up. Fucking A.
Mind you, this all happened one block south of the cop shop, yet neither policemen woke up long enough to come out and investigate the near riot.
Bill went and gathered up his buffalo and headed back up towards the Cattlemen's Club just outside of town which happened to have a fine hitching rail for its inebriated clientele, while the rest of us went back into the post office, laughing and high fiving the guy with the cattle prod, but at the same time knowing we better head on out as soon as we could before Bill got even drunker and decided to even the score by coming back to town and commencing to taking potshots at any of us he happened to see.
I got my package and went out to the truck where Rhonda was waiting, still shaking her head. "I'm going to assume this is a regular event judging by everybody's reaction. Am I right? Just another day in Hickville, California?"
Grinning, I said, "Well, not the Hot Shot, but I can bet you're going to see a lot more people wandering around town with cattle prods after news of this gets out. I'm gonna need a dozen prints of your best picture, by the way."
"Going to hang them up all over town, are you?"
"You know it, Darlin'. Every bar on this side of the county. The newspaper's getting one too."

I was sitting in the middle of the living room floor checking the dog for ticks when Rhonda wandered in. "You know what's weird?"
Without missing a beat, I replied, "Somebody that doesn't know the difference between a fucking chicken and a pheasant?"
"Back off, Lane," she sneered. "No, I've been here for 10 days and not a single friend of yours has called, paged you or come by. Not one. Surely you have friends."
I leaned back. "Of course I have friends, it's just that they're all scattered to the winds right now. They haven't had a vacation in years either. Matter of fact, my best friend is up in Willits visiting his mother who he hasn't seen in 4 years even though she's only 4 hours away.
"Most Friday nights, people gather here for a little party, you know, drink some beer, visit, listen to music, puke in the pasture, that sort of thing. Nobody showed up last Friday and I doubt anybody will this Friday. They're all enjoying their time off with their families."
"I get that. Those are work friends. What about regular friends?"
That stopped me for a second. "Hey, I work 80 plus hours a week. I don't get a lot of chances to make new friends, even if I wanted to. But these are real friends. I'm with them for 12 or 14 hours a day. We know each other better than our own families. I go to their kid's birthday parties, sit with them in the hospital if their wife or husband is sick, go out for dinner and drinks, the whole nine yards. I've even attended family funerals and mourned with them."
"Okay, I understand. But what about girlfriends? Do you date girls from work?"
Shaking my head, I said, "Absolutely not. I've got a hard fast rule about getting involved with anybody at work. Most of the women out there work as inspectors and they're all tight with each other. All I've got to do is piss one of them off and they'll all make my life miserable, shutting down my line for hours while they nitpick me to death over this dimension or that almost being out of tolerance."
"So what do you do for, um, female companionship then?" she asked.
"I go to bars like anybody else. Quick and easy and forgettable."
She mulled that over for a few seconds. "So basically, you're socially retarded then."
I found a tick, a great big one, must've been on Ol' Cap for days. "Okay, I've been cussed out and insulted in damned near every imaginable way, but I believe you're the first ever to say I was socially retarded. I'm going to have to remember that one. Look at the size of this sucker." 
"Ew, get that away from me." She got somber. "No, seriously. You need friends, real friends. I worry about you. I always have, but now I'm worried that you're going to die all alone with nobody to mourn or even miss you."
"You're the only one worried about it then - if I'm dead, why would I give a shit if anybody missed me?"
"You have some serious issues, you know that?"

The next day, the very next fucking day, I was kicking back on the front porch enjoying a cold beer and watching the Chinese chickens when Little David slid his truck to a stop in front of the house and hopped out. "Ho, Kenny! I need a bullet! Hola, Senorita!"
"Just one, David? Any particular caliber?"
"A 45 automatic, please. Ho ho ho! And a beer. To go."
"Fetch him a cold beer please, Sweetie. One of the Mexican ones on account of him being a beaner." I shucked my 45, dropped the mag and tossed him a bullet. Rhonda came back out and handed him a cold Tecate. "Why, pray tell, do you need only one bullet?" I asked.
"Because I'm only mad at one guy. Ho ho ho! Gracias, Senorita. You should keep better company. He's trouble, this one is," he leered at Rhonda before clambering into his truck and spraying everything with dust and gravel.
"One of your work friends?"
"Maybe not after today," I said clearing my throat of the dust with a swallow of beer. "Jovial little fucker though, ain't he?"
"Aren't you even a little bit concerned about him or his intended victim?" she wanted to know.
"Nope, knowing Little David, he already done lost that bullet, probably rolling around in his floorboard waiting to get jammed up under his gas pedal." I wasn't tripping, not even a little bit.
" 'He already done lost that bullet...' Your diction is horrible, you know that? So why did he come by then?"
"Little David lives exactly one beer from here," I said waving my hand towards Waterford. "He pops in about once a week or so and borrows something knowing I'm going to offer him a beer to enjoy on his ride home, that's all. If he's really thirsty, he'll ask for something unusual so he can have a beer while I'm looking for it.  Last time he was here he was in desperate need of either a tampon or a 12" plow disc, whichever I happened to have on hand. We finally found him a disc in the hay barn. It was cracked but he said it would do."
She just shook her head. "You really, really need normal friends."

The last few days she was visiting, we didn't do much of anything other than go to a couple town museums and drive around my favorite dirt roads while I explained the history of the area, pointing out old homesteads, old school sites, Indian grinding rocks, shit like that.

But like anything else, all good things must come to an end and so did her vacation. She was missing her kids terribly and wanted to get back home and hold them and kiss them and show them the 9 million pictures she took of a lifestyle they'd likely never see or experience.

Sunday afternoon found me loading her bags in her daddy's truck, both of us knowing she had to go but dragging our feet. "Well, this is it, I guess," she said. "Another good-bye."
"Mmm hmm, I reckon. I think I've said goodbye to you on good terms more times than any other woman. You going to call me to let me know you made it safe and sound?"
"Is your phone going to be plugged in?" She leaned against me and I wrapped my arms around her.
"Jesus, the things I do for you." I brought her in tighter. "You taking that dog with you?"
A half laugh with a small sob. "I don't think he'd be a good fit in my apartment. I'm going to miss him though. Almost as much as I'm going to miss you."
"And we're going to miss having you around. I had a good time. Best vacation ever."
She nodded and pulled away. "Same here. I reunited with my first love, saw a California I'd only read about and parts I've never even heard of, I got to shoot guns again, I learned about dairies and milked a cow, and I found wild gold..."
"And you got laid, don't forget that."
"Yes, I got laid, but most importantly, I can now tell a chicken from a pheasant. I have to go now. Take care of yourself, Lane. And thank you again. You were a wonderful host."
"It was the least I could do. Call, ya hear?"
"Plug in your phone. Oh, I almost forgot." She got into her purse then pressed a tampon in my hand. "For Little David."

I watched her drive away until she was out of sight, then went into the house and pulled out a bottle of bourbon. I still had a week of vacation left and I had some serious catching up to do.

She did call when she finally got home - at 2:30 in the motherfucking morning. 
"Somebody better either be dead or in jail," I answered.
"I'm home and I called," she announced.
"What took you so long? I'd have been worried if I hadn't been sleeping so peacefully."
'Oh, there was an accident that held me up for a couple hours, then meals, you know how I hate fast food, stuff like that. Listen, I'm going to send you a package. I need your PO box number."

I got her package about a week or so later along with a letter from her dad, which struck me odd. The letter can wait, I wanted to see what she sent me. I opened the box and pulled out a heavy duty OD green T-shirt with the words 'Socially Retarded' printed across the front. Right on, that's my new party shirt right there. Hell yeah.
Under the shirt was an envelope with a couple pictures of me and her together that she conned tourists into taking of us, and a dozen large prints of Wild Bill upside down in mid-air right before he hit the ground. His cowboy hat was still firmly on his head and I could almost feel him wincing before the impact.

I opened the letter from Sgt Campbell. There was a short note thanking me for the repairs on his truck and a check for 50 bucks for parts and labor. Not a word about hosting his darling daughter for a couple weeks, showing her around, or keeping her safe.
I sat right down and put pen to paper and let him know the repairs were no problem, I'd have done it for anybody, then told him he did a wonderful job raising Rhonda and that I really enjoyed having her here. Then I tore up his check, popped it in the envelope along with the letter and drove to the post office to mail it, along with a picture of Wild Bill to the Riverbank newspaper. There was no need to write out a backstory for the newspaper - the news of Wild Bill's Wild Ride was already all over town. Matter of fact it was dying down, so this picture in the paper oughta fan it back to life.

Another week or two went by with a couple more surprises in the mail - another letter from Sgt Campbell and my phone bill. I opened the phone bill first and about had a heart attack. With all those hour, hour and a half phone calls to her kids every night and this being before free long distance, it was the first triple digit phone bill I'd ever gotten. Fucker was over 300 bucks. Holy shit.
Then I opened the letter from her father. Inside was another check for 50 bucks and a short but sweet note telling me to to take the goddamned money, that he doesn't accept charity, especially from fucking white trash dope fiends.
Damn, she wasn't lying - he really doesn't like me. I reached into my cigarette pack and took out a joint, then lit the check on fire at the stove and used it to light my doobie. White trash dope fiend, my ass. Dude needs to calm the fuck down - if Rhonda's birth control failed, he's gonna have me dining once a week with his family again whether either of us liked it or not.

We stayed in touch for about a year, phone calls every couple of weeks, short notes, small saw-this-and-thought-of-you gifts, postcards, shit like that. Even though we'd been intimate while she was here, there was nothing at all romantic about our correspondence - basically just old friends staying in touch. About halfway through it, she told me she'd met a guy at the school she taught at and there was a spark, so I told her she'd been alone long enough and maybe she might want to pursue that relationship. She needed a husband and her babies needed a daddy.
And she did. The phone calls got fewer and farther in between and six months later, I got a phone call from her and she was positively giddy - her boyfriend had proposed to her, and once again I told her I was bowing out and wished her nothing but happiness.
I meant it, too. As much as she meant to me as a teenager and as much fun as we had when she visited, I only wanted a great life for her, a life she needed and one I couldn't or wouldn't give her.

About 20 years later, I was on a now defunct website for my old high school trying to find one of my old partying partners and hit the boards to post a message asking if somebody could tell me which penal institution he might be in, and one of the first messages I saw was one from her posted a few days earlier - "My husband's coming home from his trip tonight and I can't wait! I love him so much!" I posted a reply, "The schoolteacher?" and an hour or two later she replied, "YES!!!!!!"
Looks like I got my wish.


  1. Ken, I could read your work all day. Mahalo for a wonderful read.

    1. Damn right. Found Kens website about 5 yrs ago its a goldmine of stories like these, the internet is a richer place for it. Many thanks Ken Lane

  2. Good story. Her dad was wrong. You are a better man than you want to be. Keep it up.

  3. Good story, perfect romance, no hatred and everybody went their own way instead of you trying to force yourself into being what she wanted.
    I have good work wife situation for the last 9 years, now I'm retired and she calls me for an hour once a week. No other contact, never been any sex, she has a husband and kids and when she needs to be mad about something he catches hell and then she tells me all about how rotten he is. I just have to give her a little attention and validation. An hour a week is all the contact I need so it works out.

  4. what a great life experience, well told, enjoyed reading this more than anything I've read in a long time

  5. Sure enjoyed reading that essay, Ken. Have a great weekend!

  6. Wow. Mr. Lane, I do not normally read such long personal writings but did so with this one because I kind of know you in a very distant way and I just have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it and you do write well. Very interesting relationship and you had/have a certain amount of unique wisdom through the years.

    In short, I enjoyed this very much, you really put me there in your shoes throughout the entire time frame and thanks.

  7. kenny you are the best damn story teller I've ever had the pleasure to read. I was in the restaurant waiting for supper and started to read this and couldn't choke my food down fast enough to finish this. DAMN that was good.

  8. That was an awesome story, Ken. I laughed at Sgt. Campbell's reply to your torn-up check. You definitely are quite the wordsmith. Who needs a college education to write, anyway? Either you have it, or you don't, and you most certainly have it.

  9. Damn Kenny! That was entertaining, you should do this more often. I've told you before I was an army brat in Mannheim's Ben Franklin village about the same time. Master Sergeant pit bull sounds like my dad!

  10. Damn fine bit of writing. Thanks, Kenny.

  11. OK, that is, without a doubt, one of the best stories I have ever read. And I have read a LOT of them. That story brought smile after smile to my face and, at times, had me literally, laughing out loud.

    Brother, keep up the great work.

  12. "It was such a relief that I agreed to try an artichoke for the first time. "

    Good God! The horror! >};o)

    Phil B

  13. You are a gifted raconteur, Ken. I'm pushing seventy, and your prose always sends me down a twisted trail of memories both fond and better-off buried. Thanks for making my life a bit richer by sharing yours.

  14. Kenny, you're quite the story teller. You have a style similar to Jean Shepard who wrote "A Christmas Story". If you get a chance, read his book "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories".

    I've followed your musings for a long time. As a lot commenters have said here, you really need to collect your stories into a book and publish it.

    1. Back in the mid '60s I used to listen to Shep thru an earphone in my new-fangled transistor radio while I was supposed to be getting a good night's sleep for school next morning. He had his 11:15 show on WOR-AM New York.

  15. Mutha fucka you right gud.

    Riverbank City of Action, that slays me. One trip I got low on gas so pulled off looking for an open gas station in the wee hours. I got a seriously weird vibe. Same feeling when I was hitching and got dropped off at some place I later found out was named Compton.

    1. 'cept it was in the winter when all the trees look dead and that dreary steam fog - no, not Tule fog - settles over the lowlands just ripe for a headless horseman to come galloping.

  16. (What? No comments?)

    Okay, then I'll be the first...

    Kenny, I have been following your site for quite a few years, and I think of all of your posts for all of these years, this is your finest. ('s probably also your longest.)

    I started reading and got sucked in. I loved the story. You sir, are a gifted writer.

    I'll add just one more thing: Write. The. Book!

    1. I'll add just one more thing: Write. The. Book!

      I second that !

    2. Okay, I forgot about comment moderation. I swear, there were no comments showing when I typed this.

  17. Oh my gosh, Ken. You had this old man laughing and crying and reminiscing ... That was just plain special. I'm happily married etc. etc. but sometimes I'm just plain thankful for some of the women who passed through my life before. I'm not going looking: I'd rather just leave it to my imagination. Outstanding story, sir. (Wandering off to the tip jar ...)

  18. Wonderful piece. It totally captures life. Bitter and sweet. God bless.

  19. Beautiful Story, well told. I could probably use a "Socially Retarded" t-shirt as well.

  20. That was probably the coolest story I've read in years.

  21. That was a Hell of a good read, Wirecutter. Thanks.

  22. What a wonderful story Ken! And so very well told. regards, Alemaster

  23. Thanks, man. I really enjoyed that.

  24. I have never read any of your stories until this one. Somehow I felt I had to read and I was sucked in. Wow, what a great story and damn, how lucky you are to have had Rhonda in your life. Thank you sincerely for sharing that one. I almost felt like I was living it. Awesome job dude. Hybo

  25. Thanks Ken, brought back a flood of my own memories of young love and raging hormones... You are welcome at my campfire anytime,your storytelling speaks to those of us who remember how the world once was and know what's ahead.

  26. Wow, could not stop reading! It brought back tons of memories for me. Thanks for all the time and heartfelt effort you put into your writing.

  27. An excellent account of first love and its importance in our lives. Brought memories of my first time as well. Thank you sir.

  28. Wayyy better storytelling than, say...Aesop.
    Ohio Guy

  29. Lost loves.....heartbreaker times, man. It is what it is.

    Kenny, you said you worked on the grenade line. My mother worked in an ammunition plant while my daddy was overseas in WWII. One of the things they had her doing was screwing fuse assemblies into hand grenade bodies, righty-tighty. No snowflakes in those days, that's for sure.

  30. Kenny, you are one of the best writers I have ever read. I check your page everyday on the off chance you tell a story like this.
    I dig the other stuff, but man your stories are awesome!
    Thank you.
    Steve in Ky

  31. Beautiful.
    Thank you.

  32. Great writing. Enjoyed it muchly. Write the book. You'll need the extra bucks with The New Normal the reptilians have planned for us.

  33. Kenny, thanks for a very enjoyable story. Well written and entertaining.

  34. And so you know, Vogelweh, Kapaun etc are still there and kicking. Nicer and newer in some cases, but still the place for teens to fall in love, get hit by cars when they wreck their cycles and all of that! Love your stories, man.

  35. Helluva story! Kenny, you really need to work on that Book!

    -Ed in WA-

  36. Oh Kenny, running into Rhonda at that bar was a God-thing. No such thing as coincidence. You are truly a gifted writer. Thanks for all the joy you bring to us, your readers!

  37. Great story. I can almost see Rhonda's face light up every time she discovered a new sight and experience.
    Chinese chicken! Snort!

  38. I agree with the others, great story, just finished it.

  39. Great read, thanks.

  40. Thanks for sharing this incredible story with us Kenney. You are a great storyteller, a real raconteur. I was captivated from the start and couldn't stop until the end. Your ability to recall all these conversations in such detail (even if you had to embellish it some,) was amazing and I want you to know that I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of it. Thanks for taking the time to put all these thoughts and memories into an amazing story and sharing with your readers. The story of Wild Bill had me laughing my ass off and how you "deposited" her old man's last $50 check was the crowning touch to this incredible story. I wish my stories were only half as entertaining.

    I too have a, "Rhonda" in my past named Linda, who I also knew (intimately also) during 2 separate times 20 years apart, and even though she's been out of my life for awhile now, I still think of her often and wish only the best for her too even though I no longer have any contact with her.

  41. Excellent story Ken, thanks.

  42. A well-told tale. Thanks, compadre.

  43. Great job, Mr. Lane. I'd add more, but all the above posters pretty much said it all.

  44. Great, well written story Kenny! I sure enjoy visiting the web page every morning. Thanks for all your work. Ed

  45. Well damn wirecutter, you write exceedingly well, and I don't offer that lightly. Had serious long list of crap to do and you delayed the hell out of it. Carry on sir.~~dirtroadlivin

  46. How about posting pictures of Wild Bill and his buffalo? My first love was kinda similar. Met Connie on the beach, I was 16 she was 15. We dated off and on till graduation. She married, I married, and lost track of each other. 25 years later while visiting the old home town some friends put me in touch with Connie. Long story short, I was divorced in 6 months and married Connie the same day. We had a good 29 years before she passed. Love of my life, only let the good memories in,

  47. Great story Kenny- Thanks

  48. That was immensely enjoyable story WC. Definitely brightened up yet another dismal, rainy fucking day on the Peninsula.

  49. Great read. Thanks for the story.

  50. What an enjoyable story, thanks for sharing.

  51. Nice. Very nice.
    Pretty amazing that the small world brought you back together at a bar in Columbia.
    Rhonda sounds like she was truly a happy, positive person.
    Thanks for the writing of this story.

  52. Excellent story, beautifully told.

  53. Always look forward to an excerpt from the auto-biography of one of my favorite authors.

  54. I'm always amazed at how much both our pasts intersect. I spent a lot of time up in the Angels Camp area, flying into Angels camp and landing at the fairgrounds to spend time with a friend's family the week of the first moon landing. I later flew into Columbia to spend time with the same family going fishing up in the foothills for trout. Then my bride's friends who worked at the Safeway warehouse in Tracy and the Bosuns Mate First Class in my first Navy squadron who was from Riverbank.

    This was a great read, you have a real talent.

  55. Man that's a great story.
    I also had a Rhonda, little skinny chick, in high school, pretty face about 5' 2" and maybe 90 lbs. Cool girl that was fun to have around but it didn't survive much after graduation. We went our separate ways and never saw each other until our 10th anniversary graduation party, only one I went to. Wow she was stunning, still short but had filled in very nicely in all the right spots. We reconnected again immediately and for 3 days it was awesome but we had separate lives that we had to get back to, she was working and living in LA and I was a world away. We promised we would and did for a short time stay in touch but I'm terrible with long distance relationships so we faded from each other again.
    Your story brought her back in my memories and the great times we had.
    Thanks for that

  56. WOW! You sure did put together a good one there, Hippie. I agree that you should put your life story in a book. Your use of prose is a Godsend to readers.

    Another thing... You should gather up all those stories of the Wild West and publish them also.

  57. Great story!
    Ken, you ought to find a way to send Rhonda this websites' address.
    I think she'd get a kick out of your postings.

  58. Never met a Rhonda I didn't like. Well done! Vivid and beautiful! More!

  59. That was a wonderful read. You probably don't want word getting around, but you are one helluva natural storyteller. Thank you! Oh & I'll also be in line for The Book.

  60. Long time lurker, never a comment. Ken I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this significant tidbit of your life. And man did it bring back some very pleasantly painful memories for me. A long time back I basically stole her away from a buddy who was too shy to make a move. And he knew his chance with her went up in smoke the very first time she and I met. It was just boom! At the time she and I met, basic training was a short two months around the corner. Our time together was as intense as you can imagine. But it wasn't to be. When I came back home after basic and follow-on training she ended the relationship. But, over the next several years we'd sporadically get together for a long weekend or week. Spokane, Seattle, Las Vegas. It was always intense. The last time I saw her was in the fall of 1988. She was living in SoCal and I was in the High Desert. Her mom got us back in contact. She came up to my place for the weekend. It was great. But when we parted that crisp Sunday afternoon, we both knew it would be the last time we would ever see each other. We spoke on the phone once just a few days later. She said she cried the whole way home knowing that a wonderful chapter of her life was now closed. Bittersweet to say the least. But I have no regrets how my life moved forward. I do occasionally wonder how she is doing. Not in a "what if" way, but just curious if her life is as happy as mine.

    Do you still have the shirt?

    1. Good comment, my friend. I can feel it.

  61. You write the book. I'll buy it.

  62. Goddammit, Kenny. Now my coffee's cold.

    I met a great big burly bearded drunk in that exact bar one night while I was walkabout. We drank shots of Wild Turkey and called each other "Senator" because we were talking so much politics. He took me home to his funky little trailer and let me have the bed. Next morning my car battery was dead so he handled that for me, and let me shoot his prized pistol.

    We went for a drive and stopped off at redwood groves, but he had to keep stopping for more booze. Couldn't get much past lunchtime without some serious drinking. I was busy suturing my heart back into a functioning organ, and needed to keep driving to the pretty to get 'er done, and he was obviously busy drinking himself to death, so that evening, I dropped him at the same bar where you'd part-two'd Rhonda, wishing hard it had been another time and a sober Senator.


  63. What a terrific story. You're a very good writer.


  65. Ken, we need to talk... My dad was stationed at Kapaun Barracks from 72 - 74. I went to school in Vogelweh then, 6th and 7th grade. We lived downtown, on Flieger and Blutacker Strasse, and were bussed to school every day.

    We must have bumped into each other one way or another....

  66. Thanks Kenny for sharing a lil piece of your life with us. I feel like I know Rhonda after reading your story. I DO think you have a lot of writing talent.

  67. Mind blown. Kenny, you really ought to write an actual book about your life. I'd buy it.

  68. Another good story. Write. The. Damn. Book!
    I would pony up enough for a few copies, in advance, to help you get 'er done. It has never been easier to self-publish something online.

  69. I enjoyed reading this more than anything I've read in Years. I have read your stuff since the days of CharlieGoddammit.


  70. Damned nice story, Ken! And fuck normal friends--they're no fun at all.
    --Tennessee Budd

  71. Yeah, Rhonda. I knew a few like that. So, just tell me, What happened to the DOG!?
    -- Dennis

  72. that was great, Ken. i hadn't thought about that hole in that fence in maybe 50 years.

  73. Thanks for sharing that. You can really tell a good story.

  74. Damn. First time here, pointed-to by Kim du Toit. I'm glad I came - wonderful story.

    1. Last couple-three months, I got overwhelmed by too many fun blogs -- you and BustedNuckles, plus a dozen more -- so I backed off my daily stops here.
      Kim Du Toit convinced me I can make time.
      From a Perfesserioneral Edtior (you that read right), I can say with all sincerity... your words flow good.

  75. Great Story Bro... Funny AF per usual... you and the dogs man...

  76. Well now I know more about you than some of my friends. I would really buy a socially retarded t-shirt.
    have to be anonymous because I don't have a google acct.

  77. A marvelous story. You really have the gift. Write the book already!

  78. I've been in a reading funk for two years. Always had a book going and now it's just stupid phone games that don't require much of my attention or thoughts. Then I read this and now I want more. What a great story. I look forward to the next one.

  79. Wow. I missed this the day it was originally posted. But I found my way here from a comment on American Digest. Great story, well told, a compelling read.

  80. What a fun read that was. I found the link to your site posted by a commenter on American Digest (a super blog by Gerard Vanderleun) in Paradise, Cali.

    I was born in Sonora, in April 1945. Raised one mile south of Columbia and attended Columbia Elementary, and Sonora Union High School. I am fifth generation native of Tuolumne County and my family helped build the little Red Church at the end of 1859 (Episcopal) at the top of main street in Sonora. I have many family members who live in and around Columbia, Sonora and all around Tuolumne County and Calaveras and Mariposa Counties. One of my brothers lives on Italian Bar Rd. a quarter mile north of down town Columbia. He drinks almost every evening at the saloon across from the post office. His name is Tim. White curly haired guy in his early seventies. Everyone knows him. He was the drilling foreman for Sonora Mining Co. Brother Todd (RIP) was the blasting foreman.

    Our family were mainly gold miners and then later loggers and lumber mill workers. I think a couple members of the family still own gold claims around Columbia and Sonora to this day.

    I had a Porsche repair shop in Modesto and used to drive by the ordinance factory in Riverbank daily to and from work. When I was in high school I cruised 10th and 11th Streets in Modesto in my 40 Ford Deluxe Coupe. Just like they depicted in the movie American Graffiti. Unreal cool and the chicks were wild!

    A friend in Modesto has been forwarding your Friday Fem link for some years. Outstanding visuals for an old Wolf like me. I was married to a couple exquisite ladies like you are posting. High maintenance. Still have one.


  81. Ken, Another great story. I look forward to them as I peruse your site.

  82. Kenny, that was an amazing story. This world will be worse if if you don't publish a book of your collected wisdom. Next time you are in Atlanta I'll buy you dinner.

  83. Great story, Bud.


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