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 by Frank Shortt
One Reason I Rushed Into The Air Force
2014 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
        I was not raised in a peaceful environment in the early 1960’s. Buchanan County, Virginia was not overly civilized when I left there. There were assaults, killings, robberies, and general mayhem reported each week. A lot of the problems were created by relatives of mine who drank too much moonshine.
        I tried to enter the Army at age seventeen. Mom would not sign the papers necessary for me to enlist. I had already graduated high school and was doing odd jobs for my dad’s cousin, Ace Shortt. He grudgingly paid me fifty-cents an hour to labor in the hot, humid sun. He had paid Josh Burns a dollar an hour before that but found out he was not even doing a dollar’s worth of work. I did twice the work for half the pay. Honey bees, yellow jackets and hornets were familiar friends as I cut into their habitat with a brush hook. My job was to mow down all the brush from a pasture on the side of a steep hill. Who else would do this in order to get enough money to attend the movies which cost a whopping twelve cents? Were the blisters and callouses on my hands worth all the effort?
        At this time I was seeing a girl upon Gordon Creek, Virginia named Nellie Kimball. The only way I could get up there was to hitch-hike to the mouth of Gordon Creek and then walk the rest of the way to the Kimball home. Needless to say, I did not visit her much as it was all uphill and several miles of winding road.
        Isn’t if funny what a pair of cute eyes, a shapely figure, and a boy’s imagination can cause a love-starved hillbilly to endure?
        I was also seeing a girl in Tazewell County. I must have thought I was some kind of rich Romeo. Truth was, I could barely afford the shoes on my feet and the clothes on my back. After evaluating all that happened that night I wondered if I was receiving some kind of payback….
        “Hey Frank, I hear you are dating one of the Kimball girls up Gordon Creek,” my cousin Hal questioned and averred at the same time one Saturday evening.
        “Yeah, I’ve had a crush on her since about the tenth grade,” I replied.
        Hal and I happened to run into each other at the post office at Shortt Gap. This is where most of the community met and conversed about the local gossip. Shortt Gap was named for my forefathers and was situated at the gap between Buchanan and Tazewell Counties in the state of Virginia.
        “Where are you heading after you check the mail?” Hal grilled.
        “I thought I might just head to Raven and a movie. I don’t have very much money so that’s the cheapest option.”
        Hal laughed in his deep-throated way.
        “Well, why don’t you go with me up Gordon Creek to see your girlfriend? I just happened to be going that way myself.”
        I had heard that Hal was cheating on his wife with one of the older Kimball girls. I would have condemned him, but the pot cannot call the kettle dirty. I was somewhat apprehensive to get in the car with Hal as he was a notoriously reckless driver. He always had the fastest automobiles in the area and loved to show off when one of his cousins or friends rode with him.
        “I suppose I’d better try and get a ride to Raven.”
        I dreaded the alternative.
        “Aw, come on, we’ll have a double date and have some fun. Hal persuaded. It won’t cost you anything.”
        Reluctantly I entered the car with Hal to take winding route 460 down to Gordon Creek. This was before the new four-lane was finished which straightened out some of the curves.
       Hal took Dead Man’s Curve on two wheels. He intentionally slid around all the other curves just to either impress me or scare the daylights out of me. If a curve said ‘fifteen miles per hour safe speed’ he just naturally had to try it at forty miles per hour.
       Why did I agree to come with him?
        By some miracle we reached the Kimball residence. The girls agreed to go with us to a drive in restaurant at the mouth of Gordon Creek. After we ate, Hal then drove us to an abandoned strip mining job that he knew of and there we were supposed to ‘have some fun’. This debacle ended up with Hal and the older Kimball girl, whose name was Mabel, getting into a horrible knock-down, drag out fight. Thus ended our ‘fun’ date!
Hal would have made the two girls walk home had I not convinced him to do otherwise.
        Boy did I dread the ride home! My fears were not long in manifesting. Hal drove homeward like a maniac. My pleas for him to slow down were on deaf ears. Instead of him dropping me off at my home, he continued on toward Richlands, Virginia where he knew a bootlegger who could supply us with some cheap home-brew. The curves in Tazewell County were as bad, or worse, than the ones in  Buchanan County.
        After procuring the booze, Hal drove the streets of Richlands to see what he could drum up in the way of women. Finding none he said,
        “Let’s drop down to the Tastee-Freeze and see who is down there.”
        Not much was happening there, but we did run upon someone that Hal had been yearning to meet for some time, Mabel’s husband!
        “I hear you’ve been aching to see me,” Hal challenged.
         “Sure have,” Mabel’s husband responded.
        “Well, here’s your chance,” Hal said as he named the place to meet.
        We drove to W.B.F. White’s establishment which provided us with a dark alley. Both men knew that if they fought in the open they would have the deputy sheriff, Ralph Shortt, to contend with.
        Upon reaching White’s, Hal parked the car for a quick escape and proceeded to meet the other man. As he approached the man he unexpectedly pulled out an ugly revolver. Instead of using it for its intended purpose, he walked up to Mabel’s husband and struck him up the side of his head. The resounding blow sounded like hitting a fat hog in the side with a sledge hammer. The man hit the ground like a dropped rock.
        I was dumbfounded!
        “Are you just planning to leave him here to die?” I asked in consternation.
        “Aw, shaddup, and get in the car,” was Hals’s hard-hearted reply.
        If the ride over to Richlands was scary, the ride home was a nightmare. The worst curve on the way was a horseshoe turn called the J.B. Howell Curve. The safe speed would have been about ten miles per hour. Hal took this curve at almost forty-five mph. I gripped my toes inside my shoes to such an extent that I expected them to be bleeding when I finally was able to remove them.
        Bed had never looked so good as on that night!
        I honestly tried to sleep! Each time I dozed, I could hear the sound of that pistol hitting Mabel’s husband. I just knew that I was in for a long stay in jail for my part in the alleged slaying. I just could not fathom that a slug so hard would not result in someone’s death.
        Later, I kept waiting for the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department to come knocking at my door. I did not dare show my face in Richlands for fear of arrest.
        I was panicked each time I saw a law enforcement automobile. We were too poor to receive the Richlands paper, so I had no way of knowing if there was a death reported in a dark alley behind White’s warehouse.
        I was totally relieved when I received my notification papers to appear in Roanoke to be inducted into the U.S. Air Force. I figured that the local constabulary had no jurisdiction over the U.S. Government. So, on the day that I turned eighteen I left for Roanoke.
        After arriving to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, I learned, from a brother, that Mabel’s husband was not seriously hurt, just some swelling and a bad bruise.
        Nonetheless, I was in ‘basic training’ so I made the best of it. It sure beat cutting brush by hand for fifty cents an hour or working in a coal mine seeing gob rats and darkness all day!