512 Words

Kaiser Bill

Lad Moore

At the neighborhood mission my grandmother founded, I remember one gentleman who always got to our services early, but sat on the last pew and didn't mix much with the others. Sonny Cox told me that the old man was mean. He said they named him "Kaiser," because that name had something to do with the enemy in World War I. Sonny also told me that the old man was so mean they ran him out of the bowling alley because he "bowled overhand." To top it off, he told me that the Kaiser ambushed dirt daubers with a 12-guage shotgun because they were "carrying off his soil." I noticed that the Kaiser's arms were real hairy and about the size of footballs where they disappeared into his sleeves. Sonny warned me about them, and said I shouldn 't get too close. "That old man is as quick as a cobra and has a five-foot reach," he said.

From then on, I was fascinated by the mystique. I remember raising my head like a periscope above the top of the pew and looking two rows back to study the Kaiser' face. If my grandmother caught me staring, she pinched the back of my leg just below my knee. I would squint in pain, slump down like a feed sack, and twist back to face the front. Even so, I was able to steal some long looks, and I saw that his face was deeply pocked and leathery. Once, at an after-church dinner, I noticed that something wet and brown had pooled in one of those giant pockmarks. I asked my grandmother about it, and she whispered that it was Red Tag Tobacco. From that day on, I connected Red Tag with pockmarks, and stayed well clear of it.

One day after church Kaiser invited me out to his farm to ride his horse. As I looked into his face, I was shaking with fright. But the lure of a day on horseback and my grandmother's reassurances seemed to make it okay. We drove out to the farm in his old faded flatbed truck. I don't think I took my eyes off the floorboard the whole time.

Well, It was the start of a great friendship. Soon it seemed I was out at Kaiser's farm more than I was home. I helped him with chores, fed the animals, and rode the horse every Saturday. In the evenings he told me Bible stories.

I had only known him about a year when he suddenly died. In that short time we had become best friends, and he shared his life with me. His words were like picture postcards, and his firm, patient voice taught me to appreciate the ordinary things around me. More importantly, he had introduced me to all his "friends"---the many story-characters found inside that love-worn Bible.

The very next Sunday I made it my business to tell Sonny Cox that he was dead wrong about the dirt daubers, and that Kaiser Bill had never once been bowling.

Copyright ©2002 Lad Moore. All Rights Reserved.

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January, 2002
Issue #69

512 Words