I think this was my Dad's favorite story from the play. I remember him calling me up all proud and excited after he wrote it and reading it to me over the phone. I was blown away. This was the first I'd heard any of what he was writing for me.
He 'wrote' the whole thing over 2 days. He was a man on a mission. Dictated it straight off the top of his head to my mom who typed it out. It must've been gestating in his mind for 20 years, maybe more. He'd been retired for like 10, out of the mill for nearly 25 by the time he decided he was going to write this.
After I read the whole thing, I begged him for years to write more. He didn't, maybe he couldn't, I could tell he had decided he wouldn't. He could be a stubborn bastard. This was it.
This would be what I called Scene 9 in the first performance. He didn't write scenes originally, but had somehow intuitively known how to put the various tales in order so that there was dramatic structure and flow, and humorous breaks after tugging at the heart with something poignant and moving. The whole performance clocked in at over 90 minutes, that had been exhausting and extremely draining in the first performance, so in the Bethlehem performance I opted to leave it out. Hard as hell to do that, but it didn't really add to the arc of the story, and stands alone as a vignette all on its own. Its not a 'proper' short story in structure, but a crystal clear view into what it was like to be a macho working class guy in the mid 50s in eastern Pennsylvania.
Without comment on its appropriateness or suggesting any relationship or meaning in regards to the horror of recent events in Newtown, I share it here, just for that reason. Not to excuse or defend, nor to condemn that world and their perspective, just to tell the story of the men, the way they lived, and where and how guns played a part in that world. To just show these guys like my Dad and what they were like, because I love them, warts and all.
Diarists Note: This is part of a continuing series I will be posting on Kos over the coming weeks. My introduction to the story behind 'The 28 Inch Mill' by my father Robert D. Frantz can be found here:
Janos, did I ever tell you about the time I went deer huntin’ with Vinnie?
Well, what got us started was, Vinnie had this friend who had a cattle farm up above Northampton somewhere, that was loaded with groundhogs and, anyways, the cows was steppin’ in the groundhog holes and breakin’ their legs and stuff. So the guy tells us, “You can shoot all the groundhogs you want.” Vinnie takes me along ’cause he knew I had a 220 Swift and he had a Marlin 30/30 lever-action, which is too much gun for groundhogs.
Hey, but Janos, let me tell you about Vinnie’s rifle. I mean, the whole damn gun was nickel-plated. I know it doesn’t make it shoot any straighter, but that sure was a beautiful gun.
Anyway, so this is what we used to do. Well, you know how spooky those groundhogs are. They’re like crows. You can’t get within 200 yards of ’em ’specially if you’re carryin’ a gun. So there was these two hills with a country road in between. We’d climb up one hill and Vinnie would scan the opposite hill with his binoculars which was a good 300 yards away. So he’d say somethin’ like “just to the left of that little apple tree.” And I’d lie down, get that old groundhog in my sights, open sights, too, no goddamn telescope. Actually, I’d aim just a hair over the top of his head. Bang!!! And Vinnie’d be starin’ through his binoculars—seemed like 5 minutes. All of a sudden he’d say, “Holy good Ke-rist, you got him!”
So, what I mean is, he know’d I was a good shot.
Well, Dominic Sorrento had a cabin up near White Haven. You remember Dom. Sure you do, a great big guy, he was a heater up at the pits. Yeah, that Dominic. Well, Vinnie asked me if I wanted to go deer huntin’ with Dom and him and a coupla guys from the 48. At first, I said no, ’cause I told him I didn’t wanta walk around them woods and have some jerk make a sound shot and, bingo, my old lady’s a widow.
Vinnie says, “Don’t worry, we’ve been feedin’ the deer all summer. We’ll just sit on the back porch, wait for the crack of dawn, and blow their heads off while they’re eatin’ breakfast. So what the hell, I didn’t have anythin’ else to do so I says, “O.K.”
Then Vinnie says, “You’re gonna need more gun than that 220 Swift.”
“Well,” I says, “All I got is the 220 and a twelve gauge. I can use a pumpkin ball.”
He says, “Naw, you’ll look like a jerk. Get one of the guys to loan you a decent rifle.”
So anyway, Mickey O’Hallahan loans me a 9mm Mauser, which he told me, he took off a dead German during the war who looked just like me, blond hair and all. Hey, and it had an aluminum butt plate! I mean, Janos, wouldn’t you think the Germans would have saved their aluminum for airplanes instead of butt plates?
I wanted to go over the long weekend but Vinnie says, “No, Dom’s wife didn’t want us up there tearin’ the place apart for four days.” So, we decided to go up the night before opening day and come back late the next night.
So, we take off for White Haven. I ride with Vinnie in that ’41 Ford Panel Truck he had, remember, the blue one, and the other guys ride with Dom in his new Buick. Man, did we have the fire power. Vinnie had his Marlin 30/30 and a 30/40 Krag. The guys from the 48 each had a 30/06, Dom had a 35 Remington pump, and me, I had my Mauser.
Well, we finally get to Dom’s cabin which, I gotta admit, was a helluva joint, three bedrooms, a big living room with the biggest goddamn stone fireplace I ever seen.
See, I told you, Janos, the guys up at the pits made more money than us ’cause they get tonnage off the big mill.
As soon as we get there, Dom starts a fire in the fireplace and Vinnie breaks open a bottle of Wild Turkey and we sit around drinkin’ and eatin’ hamburgers that Dom made on the grill. Then about 10 o’clock Vinnie says we better hit the sack, ’cause we had to get up at 3 A. M.
I says, “What do you mean 3 A. M.? You can’t start huntin’ until 6 and you said all we had to do is wait for ’em on the back porch.”
He says, “‘Cause that’s the way we do it.”
Anyway, at least I get to sleep on a day bed in the parlor ’cause its nice and warm.
Slept like a baby and woke up to the smell of hot coffee. We sit around drinkin’ coffee and eatin’ fried eggs for about an hour while Dom takes a bunch of apples down to the end of the lot to feed the deer.
About 4:30 we go out on the porch and start waitin’ for daylight. We’re all whisperin’ so’s we don’t spook the deer. Daylight comes. No deer. I’m tellin’ you Janos, them deer must’ve come down with a serious case of the smarts, ’cause, 8 o’clock comes and still no deer.
Dom says, “We’ll have to drive the bottoms.” So Vinnie and Dom and the two guys from the 48 get some garbage can lids and buckets and hammers that they can make a lot of noise with and out we goes. Vinnie takes me over to the valley and tells me “Now look Karl, we’re gonna rustle up the deer and drive ’em right past you.” and he tells me to climb up a big oak tree and shoot the deer when they come by.
I says, “I can only shoot one deer ’cause I only got one deer tag.”
“Listen,” he says, “They’re five of us, aren’t there? That means you got five tags. Got it?”
I says, “Yeah, I got it.”
Then he yells over his shoulder, “Unload that gun before you climb up there and before you come down.”
I says, “Yeah, I know.”
So anyway, Janos, they walk up the edge of the valley and about an hour later they start hootin’ and hollerin’ and bangin’ them lids makin’ a hell of a clatter.
Jesus, Janos, all of a sudden I seen this buck. You know that statue of a deer on the lawn of the Elks Lodge? Yeah, I know it’s an elk, but what I mean is, it looked like the statue. Well, anyway, Janos, I raise the Mauser when he’s about 50 yards from me and wait for him to get a little closer. All of a sudden when he’s right on top of me he just stops and stares at me. Well, I had that front sight right between his eyes, and he’s just lookin’ at me. Hell, Janos, I just couldn’t shoot that big bastard. So, he just turns and trots away. Janos, I’m shakin’ so bad I damn near fell outta the tree. Jesus, then another buck comes flyin’ by and I don’t get a shot at him either. Then a bunch of real small ones, looked like big dogs. Well, hell, Janos, they was too small. I’d be damned if I was gonna bring home one of them.
Couple minutes later Vinnie comes runnin’ up and hollers, “Hey, we scared up a couple of big bucks. Why the hell didn’t you shoot?”
I says, “I didn’t see ’em.”
He says, “You’re lyin’, you S.O.B. You got Buck Fever.”
So then the others come, “Why didn’t you shoot?”
Vinnie says, “He got the Buck Fever. The dumb Dutch bastard.”
So anyway, we walk back to Dom’s and these guys start drinkin’ the rest of the Wild Turkey and when they finishes that Dom fetches out a gallon of Dago Red and they begin workin’ on that. They start gettin’ all red-eyed and pissed off, mumblin’ about how we was gonna hafta go back home with no deer and, “Why didn’t you shoot. You ain’t got Buck Fever. You better tell us, you bastard.”
So my mind’s spinnin’ a mile a minute and I says, “O.K. I’ll tell you the truth, but I’m only talkin’ to Vinnie.”
Vinnie and me, we walk outside and I told him, “Look, Vinnie, I didn’t shoot out of respect.”
He says, “What do you mean, out of respect?”
So I says, “Vinnie, you know that gun Mickey loaned me? Well, he took it off of a dead German and I got to thinkin’ maybe the gun was used to shoot a lot of Americans. I mean like during the Battle of the Bulge. You know, Dino Marcatio’s son got shot in the war. Hell, suppose it was this gun that got him.” So, I says, “I was goddamned if I was gonna use this Kraut gun to shoot any American deer.”
He says, “You expect me to tell those guys that crap? They’ll never go for it.”
“Well,” I says, “it’s the truth.
So we go back in and Vinnie explains how I didn’t shoot out of respect. Well, you know Janos, how these Italians are always talkin’ about respect. So they mumble, “Out of respect. Out of respect.”
Well then Dom says, “I ain’t got no respect for this goddamn Kraut gun,” grabs the Mauser by the barrel and runs outside, winds up, and wraps the gun around a tree. BANG!!!
Jesus, I thought, Dom’s dead. We all run outside and Dom’s sittin’ on the ground holdin’ his head sayin’, “Oh, my God, Oh my God!”
“Dom, are you hit?”
“No, I’m O.K. Oh, my God.”
Vinnie whispers, “Jesus, kid, I told you to make sure the gun was unloaded.”
I says, “Yeah, I know.”
So anyway, we got to get back so we can go to work in the mornin’. We load up the cars.
Nobody’s talkin’. Me and Vinnie walk up to the truck and he says, “Karl, you drive.”
Then Vinnie hollers over to Dom, “We’ll leave first, you guys smoke a cigarette and then try to catch us.”
We take off like a bat outta hell. Janos, them old Ford V8s are really fast. I was hittin’ 95 on the straight-away and no sight of Dom. Then just outside of Saylorsburg I picked him up in the rear view mirror. They passed us on that long hill yellin’ and screamin’ and givin’ us the finger.
So I says to Vinnie, “I guess they’re over it.”
He says, “Yeah, screw it.”
I says, “What about Mickey’s gun?”
He says, “Don’t worry, 9mm Mausers are a dime a dozen.”
“Yeah, but this one had an aluminum butt plate.”
“Don’t worry I’ll handle it.”
Sure enough, couple days later he picked one up for fifteen bucks, aluminum butt plate and all. I took it over to Mickey’s house one day when he was workin’ 3–11 and left it with his old lady. He never said nothin’, so I guess he never found out.
You know, Janos, to this day I don’t know why the hell I didn’t unload that gun. ’Specially after all the preaching about safety they give us down at the mill.