Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


Archive for May, 2007

Mose Brenlee’s Missive — 2

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Besides the ghosts, and this is the sec­ond thing I have to tell you, I’ve kept a lot of secrets about Brenlee and the peo­ple here. Everyone who lives here very long has to keep secrets. I guess out of fear, most­ly. Fear of los­ing what you have. Fear of hav­ing to move away and start over. Maybe even for me, fear of nev­er see­ing the ghosts again. Well, fear for them­selves keeps a lot of peo­ple qui­et and basic human decen­cy keeps the rest of them qui­et because what they know might ruin oth­er people’s lives. Almost def­i­nite­ly would ruin lives.

The biggest secrets I know, the ones I can’t keep inside any­more, have to do with the boys mur­dered here. The one they found ear­li­er today and the one they found 20 years ago. Both of them pret­ty much in the same place. Out in the Sneed’s orchard.

You all know I don’t care for Kenny Sneed. We grew up togeth­er, more or less, and nev­er did get on togeth­er. He had to win at every­thing and be seen win­ning at every­thing and nev­er cared how he won. Anything to do that might have tak­en his work but wouldn’t amount to his gain, he avoid­ed. Never sup­port­ed the depart­ment. Hardly even came to the pan­cake break­fasts and teased the peo­ple who did vol­un­teer and give us mon­ey. I don’t know if you kids remem­ber the time I came home bruised and bloody and didn’t get out of bed for two days. You were pret­ty lit­tle. Kenny went to the hos­pi­tal. It was only his pride that kept him from press­ing charges or suing me into the poor house — either of those things would have meant admit­ting that I beat him. I’m only as proud of it as a man is proud of killing an ani­mal that eats his stock. Maybe that sounds pret­ty pride­ful, but it’s not like a hunter with a tro­phy. It’s some­thing that had no alter­na­tive. It wast­ed time and brought nei­ther the ani­mal, pest that it was, or the ranch­er, not a man who makes mon­ey from his gun, any real good.

All that to say that I was only so proud of kick­ing Kenny’s ass. He had it com­ing, but I wish I didn’t have to have done it at all. You see, he wouldn’t let men work­ing for him, vol­un­teers for the depart­ment, have time off for the con­trol burns or train­ing or, even one time — the time that pushed me over the edge, time to answer an emer­gency call. He start­ed tak­ing away their beep­ers and walkies while they were at work in his almond huller. As soon as I heard about that and knew it was him at the source, I went to him. We beat each oth­er near­ly sense­less, but I walked away and he didn’t. I made him call the depart­ment for an ambu­lance and made sure it was the men who worked for him who arrived first. The whole depart­ment watched him get hauled away and every­one did their jobs in spite of him. Everyone except Andy Currie, that is. Anyway, Kenny nev­er gave me or the depart­ment any trou­ble again.

None of that’s a secret though. Maybe from you two kids because you were so young, but not gen­er­al­ly. No, the secrets in Brenlee run deep­er. There’s ones peo­ple guess at, like that boy, Boone, who went to prison for killing that boy 20 years ago being inno­cent. Of course, any­one who remem­bers that, knows he’s inno­cent after the boy they found this morn­ing, but not many peo­ple said any­thing at the time or much lat­er. Then there’s secrets nobody even wants to guess the truth about, like the one that fol­lows the truth about the Boone boy; if he didn’t mur­der that boy 20 years ago, who did? And why’s nobody say­ing any­thing? And the answer to that last is fear. People are afraid of know­ing the truth, because the per­son behind it, isn’t just like you or me. That per­son, a per­son who would kill a child and leave it like that to be found, butchered and bled out, that per­son is from Brenlee walk­ing among us and our ghosts, poi­son­ing our town. Too many of us know who that per­son is and none of us has said a word — but keep­ing that secret changed my life… maybe Phyllis you’d say, it ruined it.

Part Three — Mose Brenlee’s Missive

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

Mose Brenlee, in at least one respect, is like most ear­ly 21st cen­tu­ry Americans, in that he is not much of a let­ter writer. He loves to receive them, even enjoys writ­ing them, indulges in rever­ies of their roman­tic elo­quence and last­ing impor­tance while watch­ing Civil War and oth­er pre-twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry doc­u­men­taries on tele­vi­sion, but Mose, at 63 years old, can think of only two per­son­al let­ters he has writ­ten in the last thir­tysome years. He vows to change that, begin­ning with a long let­ter to his wife and chil­dren whom he has not seen in some weeks due to an uncom­fort­able and, ulti­mate­ly, vio­lent exchange with his son regard­ing the exis­tence of ghosts. Mose believes in them, his son, Rick, does not.

Late in the evening of the day the body of 12 year old Gabriel Velasquez was found in Pickem Sneed’s orchard exact­ly as the body of a boy named Tomas Coates was found in the same place some 20 years ear­li­er, Mose sits down to explain him­self in writ­ing to his fam­i­ly. They must under­stand why he knows there are ghosts, why he is about to do what he knows he must do the fol­low­ing day, and, most impor­tant­ly, he must con­vince them to return to live in Brenlee. He sits at the bat­tered linoleum topped kitchen table in the fire­house with a new ball­point pen and a pad of air mail sta­tion­ary (both pur­chased that after­noon from the new dol­lar store out on the edge of town) and begins writ­ing.


I have a lot to tell you that I’m afraid you wouldn’t sit and lis­ten to if I tried ram­bling on about it to you in per­son. I’ve tried and it just comes out wrong. We end up fight­ing over things that aren’t the heart of the mat­ter any­way. And someone’s got to know the heart of the mat­ter the way I know it. Someone besides me. A Brenlee should know it because the heart of the mat­ter, the heart of this town I can’t ever leave is the birthright of you kids and your right as my wife Phyllis, our mar­riage mak­ing you a Brenlee too.

So, the heart of the mat­ter is what I’m writ­ing about. But before I get to it, let’s just get a few things out of the way and if you think they make me crazy, well, I hope that won’t keep you from read­ing this whole let­ter, because I don’t think the main things I have got to tell you would be called crazy by any­body.

First, or num­ber one, I don’t believe in ghosts. I just know there are ghosts. Like know­ing water runs down hill. Simple as that. I have seen them my whole life in Brenlee. It’s not get­ting old that made me see them, it’s get­ting old that’s made me less afraid to be hon­est about what I see around me every­day in this town. Don’t be scared. I’m not one of those TV guys who thinks they can tell us how to win the lot­tery or some­thing. The ghosts here, I don’t know about oth­er ones or even if oth­er ones exist, but the ones around here, the ghosts of Brenlee, are qui­et, in fact, not all of them are even peo­ple. They’re things you see and smell and even, one time, taste. I’ve heard them too, but they don’t talk to me, not exact­ly. They say things or make sounds, but they don’t have a mes­sage that’s straight­for­ward like two liv­ing peo­ple hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion.

For a long time, I just fig­ured I was a lit­tle crazy, but not so crazy I couldn’t get on with what I had to do to look nor­mal or sane. Then, one day, I helped this lady out on Fraser Landing Road with a kitchen fire. She was old, but in good shape. She saw my name tag and knew my fam­i­ly. She told me she had seen my grand­moth­er the week before walk­ing in town. By that time my grand­moth­er had been dead for twen­ty or more years. The old lady said, “Oh, but you saw her too, didn’t you? She prob­a­bly came to town to see how you were doing.” I told her my grand­moth­er was dead so she must have seen some­one who looked like her, but she said, “No. She was a ghost. Don’t pre­tend you haven’t seen them Yosemite Brenlee, every­one in Brenlee sees them soon­er or lat­er. People don’t leave Brenlee. Not their souls, any­way.” She told me Brenlee was built on a Miwok bur­ial ground and that was why the souls stayed, it was a place blessed for souls. I don’t know about that and she’s the only one who ever told me any such thing, but I had seen my grand­moth­er that week and lots of peo­ple before her and lots of oth­er things too. And these days, every­where I look in Brenlee I see ghosts, more than ever before, and I think I know why they’re so active. That’s the heart of the mat­ter of this thing. That’s why I’m writ­ing you all, to tell you what the ghosts want me to do.

Noon — End of Part 2

Friday, May 4th, 2007

The Brenlee Volunteer Fire Department has three full-time employ­ees.

Andy Currie pushed the paper work to the peo­ple who knew how to do it, kept the list of keys well sort­ed, main­tained and issued the beep­ers and walkies, made sure the Fall and Spring pan­cake break­fasts made it onto the city cal­en­dar, and gen­er­al­ly used his broad lip­less smile and cheery demeanor to pro­mote the depart­ment in the community.Most peo­ple thought Andy was dumb, even slight­ly retard­ed, they felt the depart­ment humored him by let­ting him serve despite his phys­i­cal and men­tal lim­i­ta­tions (he could nev­er keep a straight face, even at the most inap­pro­pri­ate times, like house­fires and funer­als, and one leg was short­er than the other).Andy has served the Brenlee Volunteer Fire Department for over 30 years. It is the only for­mal job he has ever had. His mod­est expens­es — clothes from the feed store, a new truck ever sev­en years, and the like — are all more than amply cov­ered by an inher­i­tance from his grand­fa­ther, one of the founders of Brenlee. What he earns from the depart­ment, he returns in the invest­ment of new emer­gency readi­ness equip­ment, radios, etc.

Yosemite Hoban Brenlee, Mose for short, tend­ed Brenlee’s large met­al shed turned fire­house through every dark night all year. Those who knew him, had only seen him in the ear­ly morn­ing or on a late night call. His fifty years of ser­vice to the BVFD (he held his first hose at age 14) had net­ted him more respect and author­i­ty among the vol­un­teers and com­mu­ni­ty advi­so­ry board than the all of the oth­er mem­bers of the rotat­ing set of fire chiefs combined.Once an over­grown beast of boy and young man, Mose had, over the past sev­er­al years, gone through a peri­od of phys­i­cal decline. He had thinned out in the bel­ly, chang­ing his eat­ing habits so that few could remem­ber the years when Mose Brenlee made mock­eries of eat­ing con­tests and idle chal­lenges to his sta­tus as a true gour­mand. After years of wear­ing it long, he now kept his hair clipped short and neat. All of that had changed years ago, back when Mose became the depart­ment night owl, mon­i­tor­ing the radio, tin­ker­ing with the engines, pumps, and oth­er equip­ment that need­ed main­tain­ing, and keep­ing the last light in Brenlee lit through the night.Mose Brenlee’s pater­nal great-great-grand­fa­ther, William Brenlee, is that Brenlee, the one who found­ed this town in 1854. His mater­nal great-grand­fa­ther, Charlie Hoban, found­ed the BVFD. He had spent his life here and refused to leave when his wife gave him an ulti­ma­tum twen­ty years ago, ulti­mate­ly tak­ing their kids with her to San Rafael. Mose vis­it­ed every oth­er week, still mad­ly in love with his wife and wild­ly proud of his chil­dren, the first Brenlees to grow up away from the town of Brenlee in four generations.A last note on Mose: he nev­er speaks to, nor, unless oth­er­wise unavoid­able, shares a room with Andy Currie.

Norton was not a per­son, but Brenlee’s 50+ year old Civil Defense siren. Some clever fire­man had named him in hon­or of Ed Norton of the Honeymooners, not so much for the nature of the char­ac­ter or actor who played him, but instead for its son­ic resem­blance to the way Jackie Gleason would belt out his fic­ti­tious neighbor’s name on that tele­vi­sion show. Always begin­ing with a low rum­ble and build­ing to a pow­er­ful boom, “NnnnnoORTON!” nev­er failed to send the dimwit­ted neigh­bor run­ning and the audi­ence laugh­ing. Likewise, Brenlee’s Norton had nev­er failed in its duty, nev­er hav­ing sound­ed for any civ­il defense emer­gency, it had how­ev­er announced noon each day to all of Brenlee.

NnnnnooooOORRTON.” No one runs or laughs. In fact, all of Brenlee is still for moment. Aware, today, of a new unfor­tu­nate ten­sion in the air that can come only from fear, like ani­mals star­tled into a brit­tle still­ness too short to take a breath at the sound of a rifle shot, every­one in town tries to emp­ty their minds of poor Gabriel Velasquez and fails. Quickly then, they retreat into the sec­ond half of the day, con­ceal­ing them­selves in the thick­ets of rou­tine activ­i­ty and the high weeds of invent­ed dif­fer­ences that fail to tru­ly sep­a­rate vic­tims and sur­vivors.