6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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Driving Across An October Landscape

After a week of Noah’s Ark-like weather, we have had a couple of days of bright sunshine and cool days. With Halloween just a little more than ten days to go, evidence of the festive occasion is beginning to show up with more and more houses displaying decorations from ghoulish graveyard scenes to orange bloated Gladbag pumpkins.

Things have been a little hectic at work lately with a couple of kids who have just recently come into our program. One kid in particular has proven to be a real challenge just in terms of getting him to stay focused on any one thing for more than five minutes. It's not that I don't like working with young people, I do, but some days trying to help them deal with their frustrations before they have a complete meltdown requires every bit of creative resourcefulness I may have, along with a lot of patience and humor. With most new kids, though, it takes a good two or three weeks before it can be determined whether they are going to be able to participate in our program. Even then, it’s a process of months, sometimes even a year or more. Most kids who do complete our program realize significant success in the process—learning how to overcome emotional difficulties, completion of high school or GED, entrance into a technical college or job corps--and hopefully when they do leave, are able to make the kind of choices that will help them realize a good life free of alcohol addiction and drug abuse.

On the drive home today, I take my usual route. I avoid Highway 1 and follow the back roads that lead me to Rt. 52 that meanders into Belfast. On the few occasions when I have taken Highway 1, I always find myself stuck in the middle of a caravan that moves along ten to fifteen miles under the speed limit. The sixteen miles between Camden and Belfast sometimes can be a forty to fifty minute ordeal. But out on 52, I’m often it, moving along at my own comfortable pace. This time of year the short drive up the knoll from Lincolnville Center feels like I’m driving across the canvas of a landscape painting. To the right are the Camden Hills in a splash of reds, yellows, and orange. To the front of me is Ducktrap Mountain. As I wrap around the hairpin turn I start to pass a succession of fields of thick emerald green—thanks to the recent rains—and mid-eighteen hundreds style farmhouses.

When I finally get back to my place, I feed the cat and then pick back up on what has turned out to be a major undertaking. It’s been a month now since my son went off to Army boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia. During that time, he’s only called twice. Once, when he first got there to let me know he made it in all right, and then about a couple weeks later when he was allowed to make a five-minute phone call. Within those five minutes, he tried to get in what his whole experience had been so far, and how much he liked the training. By the time I finally got to ask him for his address, he abruptly cut me off. “Well, good talking with you, Dad. Love you. Sorry. I have to hang up.”

I haven’t heard from him since, nor have I received anything in the mail from the Army. I did hear from his mother, though. She had sent me an email last week inquiring about his address and his graduation date. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know so I can make plans to attend.”

Tracking down his address was not an easy task. There are many training battalions at Fort Benning, and within those battalions are several training companies that have several training platoons. Finally, after twelve phone calls, I still wasn't sure if I had reached the right desk. “Alpha Company. Good afternoon, sir/mam, how may I help you?”

I told the desk sergeant who I was and that I was calling to get my son's address. "Do you know your son's name and his roster number?" he asked.

“Well, I’m pretty sure his name is Michael Cunningham, but I don’t have a clue as to what his roster number is.” I then heard the sergeant yell out to one of the other drill instructors:

“Anybody know what platoon Cunningham is in? I need his roster number.”

“Hey, that’s my guy,” I heard a voice say in the background. “Cunningham, what’s your damn roster number?”

Very faintly, I could hear my son reply to the drill instructor. The desk sergeant then gave me my son’s mailing address and graduation date. “Anything else I can do for you today, sir?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Tell my son to get down and do fifty for making his father track down his address.”

“Will do, sir. Gladly,” he said.

I then thanked the desk sergeant for his help and hung up, and then had a good laugh picturing what my son’s reaction might be to my request of him to do a couple of pushups. He always has said I have an odd sense of humor. To say the least, I’m sure next time he calls, he’ll have something to say about that, and we’ll both end with getting a good chuckle out of it.

The nights are definitely getting colder. It’s only been an hour since sunset and the temperature has dipped from a pleasant 54 degrees to 42. Jack Frost’s artistry might be evident when it comes time to head out for work in the morning. Looking out the window, I see a couple of squirrels scampering about a thick spread of acorn droppings from the two oaks that line the sidewalk adjacent to my apartment building. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a long, cold, snowy winter this year. From the way the squirrels seem to be going about it, I’d almost agree.

By S. L. Cunningham