There were four pickup trucks parked outside the old store building. Inside, three of their owners sat talking philosophy. The fourth stood behind the counter.
“All those lives lost in Las Vegas,” Newsboy said. ”And all those hurt.”
“A country music festival, for crying out loud, “Big Orange added, as he took a sip of his namesake beverage.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Dr. Pepper added, sipping his own.
“Fifty-nine killed, last I heard,” News said, putting down his paper.
“Like that man who killed John Kennedy,” Big offered. “Got a rifle, hid up in that schoolbook building, and killed the President of the United States .”
“Oswald,” News said, “Lee Harvey Oswald.”
“Wasn’t he was a communist?” Big asked.
“Oswald? Not according to the papers,” News said. “A Dallas homicide captain interviewed him. Asked him flat out, ‘Are you a communist?’ Oswald said ‘No.’”
“What was he then?” Big asked.
“He said he was a Marxist.”
“What’s the difference?” Doc asked.
“Between a Communist and a Marxist?”
“A Marxist thinks all there is to life is stuff. He thinks if you wait long enough, there will be a revolution and everybody will get their share.”
“What’s a communist then?” Big asked.
“A communist doesn’t want to wait.”
“Oswald sounds more like a communist to me,” Big said.
“He sure didn’t want to wait,” Doc added. “And he didn’t mind killing to get what he wanted.”
News looked up, remembering. “After he got out on the street, a policeman stopped him. Oswald took out a pistol and killed him, too.”
“I wouldn’t ever be a communist,” said Willow, listening behind the counter in between taking payment for 10 gallons of regular, five pounds of nails, and a Moon Pie.
“Why, Willow?” they smiled.
“Communism doesn’t make any sense.”
“If you don’t believe me,” she replied, “take all the cash you got, and throw it on the counter.”
“I ain’t gon’ do that,” Big said, clamping his fist over the chest pocket of his overalls.”
“It’s not for real, Big,” she said. “We’re just playing like we’re communists.”
“So,” she continued, “y’all put your money down, then I’ll take mine out of my purse, and I’ll put it down, and we’ll put all that money in a sack. Now we are communists.”
“So, when you need money for a drink or a pack of nabs,” she said, “just get it out of the sack. If you need money for a bag of dog food, just get it out of the sack.”
“What if I need a set of mud grips for my GMC?” asked Big.
“Get the money out of the sack,” said the rest.
Willow looked over at each one of them. “How do you like this?”
“I like it pretty good,” said Big.
“I don’t like it a bit,” said Doc. “Big got a set of truck tires and I got a Dr Pepper.”
“That’s why I don’t like communism,” Willow said. “One of us would steal it all, and the rest of us would have to go to work for him.”
“I didn’t do nothing,” Big said.
“It’s just play-like, Big,” News replied, “but Willow’s right. You, or me, or Doc, or Willow would end up with all the money. Greed is just part of human nature.” He paused. “And so is the will to power.”
“I know that’s right,” Big said. “This fellow Sneed got to wanting his daddy’s farm, so he started taking the old man a bottle of brandy every day. One day, when his daddy was pretty well soused, Sneed got the old man to sign the place over to him.” He paused.
“Then Sneed said, ‘You can’t stay here, Old Man. Get out. This is my farm now.’
“The old man toted his suitcase over to his one daughter’s place, stayed with her awhile, then her sister. They tried to get some money out of Sneed, but he just laughed. ‘You wanted that farm, too. I just beat you to it.’ Sneed’s daddy didn’t last long after that.”
Big paused and thought a minute. “Reckon Sneed was a communist?” he said, taking a gulp, and wiping his lips on his sleeve. “He sure acted like one.”
“I don’t know,” News answered, “but he must have believed that the end justifies the means.”
“He might as well have shot his daddy in the head,” Willow sighed. “A man with a bad conscience can do anything.”
“Let me tell y’all how a man got a good conscience,” said Doc.
“Ah-ight,” the others said.
“He was soldier, in a ceasefire. I think he said in Korea. One morning an enemy officer marched out along the ridge, about three football fields away. He stopped halfway across, turned his face to the Americans and shoved his fist in the air, and yelled at them.”
“He did that for two days. The third day, he stopped, but instead of turning right-face, he turned his whole body toward the Americans, then shoved his fist in the air, and hollered again. Then he went on across. On his way back, he faced them straight-on again. But this time, my friend was watching him through the scope of his Browning automatic rifle. He moved the cross hairs to the Korean’s chest and pulled the trigger. He missed the first time. He pulled again; the Korean fell dead with his fist up over his head.” Doc paused.
“Fifty years later, that soldier told me, he could still close his eyes and see that Korean die. He had never taken a human life before, and he never got over being sorry for what he did on that ridge.”
“But he discovered a strong conscience,” Willow said.
“It didn’t help that Korean,” Big mused.
“Why did he tell you his story, Doc?” News asked.
“He wanted me to know that the BAR didn’t kill the Korean Soldier; he did. His life wasn’t in danger, but he killed the man anyway. He said ‘I could never blame the rifle. I was the one guilty of murder.’”
“I asked him how he felt about guns now,” Doc continued.
“He said ‘The war’s come over here now; you can be shot dead in broad daylight. You bet I keep a gun.’ Then he asked me, ‘How do you know when a war is over?’
“I said I didn’t know.
“He said, ‘You know a war is over… when one side has all the guns.’ When he said that my knees about buckled.”
“Wow,” News said, then paused. “So, in a war over the right to bear arms, the enemy would never stop with a single victory; they would seek another victory, and another; and would keep on until no civilian, anywhere, would be allowed to own a weapon.”
“We couldn’t even protect our families,” Doc said.
“Pray to God it may never happen,” News said, “but suppose a someone as evil as Oswald or the Las Vegas shooter took over the government here? He would keep his guns, and take ours, leaving us vanquished, with neither defense or hope.”
Nobody spoke for a while.
“That must never be.” Willow said.
“I’m not giving up my guns,” Big said.
“We got to defend ourselves,” Doc sighed.
“And become as wise as serpents…and harmless as doves,” News added.
Willow began to sing an old Bobby Bare song:
“God bless America, again…”
The others joined in on the second line.
“God bless America, again…
“Wash her pretty face, dry her eyes and then,
“God Bless America, Again.”
Leon Smith, a resident of Wingate who grew up in Polkton, believes the truth in stories and that his native Anson County is very near the center of the universe.