After breakfast, we sat at the kitchen table and looked over the list Dad had given us. There was plenty to keep us busy until he arrived on the weekend. We decided we'd work on a regular schedule with the understanding that we could always make changes depending on what might or might not come up or work out.
One of the tasks Dad had laid out was work on the water system. Our water came from a spring half-way up the side of a small mountain north of the house. Water flowed by gravity to a tank atop the house and then was gravity fed to the house itself. The water pressure was, of course, very low, but adequate. However, with the farm becoming our permanent home, Dad decided to put a pump in the spring.
The pipe to the house was buried just under the surface and the water was allowed to run continuously. The spring water was a constant temperature winter and summer and allowing it to run continuously prevented it's freezing during the winter. However, if we put in a pump, the water would not run all the time and the supply pipe had to be buried deeper. Additionally, an electric line would have to be run to the spring from the house to operate the pump.
As we looked at the list, Keith said, “Obviously the big job here is digging the ditch for the water and power line from the house to the pump. I suggest we spend time on that first thing each morning and lay off when it gets too hot.”
“Sounds good,” I agreed. "We'll have to wait until Dad gets here to get the pump, but I see no reason we can't get the pipe and wire and get them laid.“
We checked on the tools we had and definitely needed to purchase a couple of shovels and a mattock. We found a twenty-five foot steel tape and measured the distance from house to spring and, at Keith's suggestion, added several feet to be sure we had enough pipe and wire.
We drove into Clarksville--which Keith was seeing for the first time--and went to Lowe's. We found a woman in the electrical section who asked a lot of questions then selected the wire we needed. She said it would be hard to handle, but it would be best if we bought a large spool and not have to splice the wire. She told us when we were ready to leave, to go to the contractor's entrance and someone would load the wire for us.
We took the ticket she provided and then went to the plumbing department. Again, we found a man who was very helpful. Since we hadn't bought the pump, he had a lot of questions and finally told us all we needed was a shallow well pump since we only needed pressure, not lift.
Keith was not one to stay ignorant and asked the fellow what he meant. He explained that the water was already at ground level, so it wouldn't need lifting. "If you had a well, the pump would have to lift the water to ground level."
“While you are getting your supplies, why not go ahead and get what you'll need? Think I might even be able to get you a bundle price on a whole system.” He asked more questions and finally made up a shopping list for us. We went ahead and bought the pump and all we'd need to actually get it installed.
He made out a ticket for us to take to the cashier and when he started ringing it up, I hoped Dad hadn't given me a maxed out credit card! We were ready to have everything loaded when we remembered our own shopping list which was good because we hadn't bought the tools we needed.
After everything was loaded I asked, “Keith, had your daily grease requirement?” He looked puzzled and I added, “You are about to get your week's allotment of grease and great hamburgers.
We drove to the Busy Bee and I ordered four burgers, fries and a coke for us. Keith found a table outside while I got the food. As we were eating, four guys came outside, carrying trays piled high.
“Mind if we join you?” a blond asked us. The other three were dark; I suspected they were at least part Indian.
“Not at all,” I answered as I scooted over to make room. “You guys from around here?” I asked, pretty sure at least the blond was from his accent.
“Deep Cove,” he answered, “I'm Hank Dennison. These are my brothers, Jason Talltree, Douglas McElrath and Jonathan Henderson.”
“Tom McCarter,” I responded, "and my brother, Keith Anderson. We're from College Park, Georgia, outside Atlanta.“
“Looks like your brother is from a different tribe too,“ Hank laughed.
“Yeah, seems to run in both our families,” I replied.
“Vacationing?” Hank asked.
“Half and half,” I answered. “We're working on our place on Pea Ridge, getting it ready for year-round use.”
Before long, Keith and the others with Hank joined in our conversation and we talked about what we were doing and what they were up to, nothing serious. Strange as it may seem, the next time I met any of them, we both had forgotten our meeting at the Busy Bee.
By the time we got back to the house, it was quite warm and we unloaded the truck and went for a swim.
There is something very satisfying about hard work where you can see progress. Fortunately, we didn't run into too many rocks in digging the ditch and the ones we encountered were so large we just trenched around them. While the digging was hard and the progress slow, each morning when we stopped, we could see we were making progress.
After ditching all morning, we had lunch and took a nap. After our nap, we swam and played in the river, often lying in the shade on the rock extending over the river. I couldn't take the sun and Keith saw no good reason to be baked, he said.
In the afternoon, we worked inside the house.
As most mountain cabins dating back a generation or so, the North Carolina farm house, like Topsy, just grew. The original cabin built by my great grandfather was two rooms and a loft. Originally the loft was reached by climbing a ladder fastened to the wall. Dad's father and his uncle were born in the cabin and slept in the loft.
Before he married, Dad's Uncle Jake had added a large room--more than twice the size of the two bedrooms--to the cabin which became our living room. He also added a shed room for a kitchen. The loft was extended over the living room and narrow stairs replaced the ladder. He also piped the water from the spring.
When Uncle Elbert had inherited the farm, he had torn down the shed room and added a room all the way across back of the house which was divided into a kitchen and storage room. He also built a small room, a bathroom, reached from either of the two bedrooms. As I mentioned earlier, a bathroom was added to the loft area--my area--as a graduation present when I graduated from middle school.
When the decision was made to make the cabin Mom and Dad's retirement house, Mom said something had to be done about the bedrooms. “We'll freeze to death unless something major is done,” she said, and she was right.
Dad talked with a contractor who advised him to sheetrock the walls of the bedrooms and the bathroom. “But before you do, you need to insulate the walls. You'll need to wrap the walls, add insulation--I'd advise plastic foam--and then sheetrock.” That could have provoked a major discussion about maintaining the authentic mountain cabin interior, but only with people who hadn't spent a winter's night at the place!!
Dad arranged for a contractor to look over the house and decided what needed to be done, to get the materials delivered and supervise Keith and me if he thought we could handle getting ready for sheetrock. The contractor had called before school was out and suggested he get a crew into do the insulation and then he'd show Keith and me how to hang sheetrock. “They can do that,” he said, “but you'll want professionals to finish it.”
The crew had done the insulation when we arrived, but when we called the contractor about sheetrock lessons, he said he was tied up for a couple days and only arrived Wednesday.
We discussed leaving the living-dining area as it was since it had its walls covered with wide chestnut boards. The contractor thought that might be adequate, but suggested he get some real mountain craftsmen in to carefully removed the chestnut, re-chink the logs, wrap and insulate them before replacing the chestnut. Dad agreed that would be done.
After the contractor's visit, we worked afternoons hanging sheetrock. The contractor came back early Friday morning to check on us and said we were doing ok.
Later that day, Keith and I were lying on the rock after having played in the river for an hour or so. I had dreamed about Derrick the night before and it had been in the back of my mind all day. “Keith, do you dream about LaTasha?” I asked.
“Now you mean?”
“Yeah, well, any time.”
“I dreamed about her a lot right after she died. Mostly I dreamed she had been away and was back. I just thought she was dead, she'd tell me.
“I dreamed about Derrick last night. I don't often. Last night was different from other dreams I had since he was killed. It was so real. I dreamed we—you and I--were lying on the moon watching rock, making wishes on shooting stars. You said—well, I thought it was you, but it was Derrick's voice—the voice said, “Your wish has come true,” and when I looked, it wasn't you lying beside me, it was Derrick. He kissed me and that was the end of the dream. I didn't wake up, I just stopped dreaming.”
“I don't know, Tom. I think Derrick's and LaTasha's spirits didn't want to give us up any more than we wanted to give them up. Then, when LaTasha decided to give me up, she helped me give her up. I haven't dreamed about LaTasha since our trip to Mississippi.”
We were silent for several minutes, buried in our thoughts, then Keith asked, “Tom, did you ever tell Derrick about—you know—the night we spent at the moon watching rock? I often wondered if you had, how he reacted.”
"He didn't react at all, Keith, because I never told him. The first time I thought about it, I decided I would not tell him. It was before I met him and all, but, Keith, it was just too personal, too private—I even said too sacred—to be shared. It wouldn't have made any difference so far as his feelings toward me were concerned, I'm sure, but it might have changed his attitude toward you. He was, as he said, a little jealous of our relationship and that couldn't have made him less jealous.”
“You ever regret that night?”
“You know I don't, Keith. You?”
“No,and thanks for keeping it special between us.”
Mom and Dad arrived Saturday morning at lunch. We had finished hanging sheetrock in one bedroom by the time they arrived and had the ditch for the water line almost done. Dad was surprised at how much we had accomplished.
After lunch, we sat down and talked about what we needed to add to the to-do list. “One thing for sure, Keith and I will be here until the snow flies if we're expected to get all that done,” I said.
“You'll have a little help,” Mom said. “Your dad and I counted up the days we have accumulated and the system is due us almost three months. They will only pay for seventy-two days accumulated leave when we retire, so we're going to use the rest. We're here for the next two months unless we want to do something else.”
Like most mountain cabins, the house had small windows and few of those. Since the single small window in the kitchen faced the side of a mountain, it was especially dark and Mom asked about a kitchen skylight. Since there was no loft over the kitchen, a skylight was a possibility.
After we inspected the roof, Dad decided to just have a new one put on and the kitchen skylight added while that was being done. I asked for and got a second skylight for the loft. I also traded comfort for authenticity--my walls and ceiling would be insulated and sheetrocked.
Saturday afternoon, we rode into Clarksville and made arrangements for the skylights to be put in, the new roof put on and the sheetrock finished. We would hang the sheetrock, but Dad agreed with the contractor that we'd not do a decent job finishing it, but we could do the painting.
We followed pretty much the same schedule we had followed before the parents arrived. The week after their arrival, we finished hanging the sheetrock as well as installing the pump. By Friday evening, everything was ready for the sheetrock finishers and the roofers promised to start Monday as well.
While we were in Clarksville during the week, Keith noticed a sign for music on the square Friday and Saturday nights. There were some groups listed—none we knew, of course—and a note that others would be welcome.
We talked about going Friday evening, but Mom and Dad both decided they'd rather stay home and rest after a week of pretty hard physical labor—at least for school principals.
Keith and I went and had a grand time. There were large groups, small groups and an occasional soloist playing. There was a platform in front of the courthouse, but others were playing here and there on the lawn. The music was all acoustical which meant you could have two groups playing fairly close together without a problem.
Saturday evening we all went back into Clarksville, had dinner at the Gourmet Uptown and then enjoyed the music on the square again. Keith and I decided we'd work up something and play the following week—if we managed to survive working on the house.
Sunday afternoon, Dad looked over what had yet to be done and what would be going on the following week and decided once all the workers got started, he'd leave me and Keith in charge and he and Mom would go back and begin the process of sorting through stuff, packing things not needed until we moved in December, and in general, getting ready to move. There were also some things he wanted done to the College Park house to get it ready for the market, such as painting and all.
The rest of the summer quickly passed. Keith and I worked on the cabin and it's surroundings, played fetch for the workers who put on a new roof, finished sheetrock and the other jobs “best left to the professionals.”
Most weekends found us on the square Friday or Saturday evening. We play together on a few things we worked out and sat in with some other guys.
It was hard to realize the end of summer was upon us, but when Keith's parents, Joe, Trey and Queen showed up for Labor Day weekend, we knew summer was over.
Keith and I talked about it on the way home and both decided we had a good summer. I had worked through a lot of the grieving I had to do. I still missed Derrick, of course, but he didn't occupy nearly all my thoughts as he had when we first got to the cabin.
Keith had discovered he was very fond of Janice, but not in love with her. I suspected as much when his phone calls to her stopped being nightly and then became farther and farther apart. Good thing because in late August she phoned to tell him she had met someone “with whom I want to spend the rest of my life.”
Keith was angry at himself because while he didn't love Janice, he was unhappy that she had dropped him for someone else. I assured him it was just his male ego. “Testosterone, my brother, testosterone,” I said and he agreed.
Neither of us were surprised to learn Josh had also found a boyfriend. Keith had said early on, “I thought only gay guys have gaydar, but I have one going off every time I'm around Josh. He bats for your team.” Josh's boyfriend was an older, very wealthy fellow. He had been a guest at the resort in Montana where Josh was working. He came for a week and kept extending his stay. Finally Josh turned in his resignation and went home with the guy. He dropped out of Morehouse and enrolled in a college in California where his boyfriend lived.
Janice disapproved. Keith said he wasn't sure whether her disapproval was of the particular boyfriend, an older boyfriend or just any boyfriend.
Labor Day over, it was back to school. There was all the senior nonsense this year. Part of it I participated in--pictures, yearbook—and some I did not. I didn't pay my prom dues because I wouldn't be in College Park for the prom, same with graduation invitations, ordering a cap and gown, things which I wouldn't be needing since I would not be at East River for graduation. Dad had suggested I make arrangements with the senior sponsor at Coldsprings High—where I would be going after Christmas—to have graduation things ordered. I also found I could exchange my class ring, but didn't bother. I seldom wore it and knew I wouldn't wear a Coldsprings one either.
Keith and I had spent the summer together, often just the two of us in the cabin. For me it was a lot like things had been before I revealed I was gay and before LaTasha and Derrick had entered our lives. We often sat for a very long time without speaking and when one or the other of us broke the silence, it was as if he knew what the other was thinking. We were, as we had been since birth--with a little time out--the closest possible friends.
A new English teacher at East River was a volleyball nut and wanted to get a varsity volleyball team started. Keith suggested we join and we did. It put us in contact with a new group of students since we were the only members who played baseball and the only seniors.
I discovered I loved the sport as did Keith and we both became pretty good players. For a new team, I think we did well against older, established teams winning just less than half the games we played.
Aside from volleyball, school was essentially a bore. I had decided I'd not do zero period after Keith questioned it's value. We were threatened with loss of the math-science seal on our diploma, but that proved an empty threat to me since I would not be graduating from East River. It was an empty one for Keith as well since he had all the classes he needed to get it without zero period.
Without zero period, we had to rearrange our schedules and ended up needing one more class and the only one available was called Contemporary Issues. Turned out, it was the bright spot in the school day.
The class was a discussion of issues in the news at the moment. Took a couple weeks for Mr. Greene to lead us through the principles of logical and rational argument. He had a real struggle making it clear that emotion and feelings were not valid reasons for supporting or disagreeing with an issue. He also had to lead us through the argumentative fallacies and still students fell in to the fallacy trap. Probably the trap tripped most often was the one where “all,” “always,” “never,” “none,” “every,” “everyone,” and other all inclusive terms were used.
I knew sooner or later the question of gays would come up in one way or another: in the military, gay marriage, discrimination in the work place, on sports teams, AIDS. There were plenty of possibilities. What finally brought it up was an event at East River involving a teacher who was serving time for sexual abuse of students.
The case had been splashed all over the papers when a student finally had enough guts to expose one of the science teachers who was sexually exploiting him and several other students. The teacher was convicted and sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison. He was all but forgotten about when an associate no one knew about was arrested for peddling tapes the two had made of the students the science teacher had gulled.
Had the students in the class been asked to vote, the two would have at least been castrated if not worse. In the course of the “discussion”--it was more of a shouting match--all sorts of gay stereotypes were flung around carelessly. After class, Keith and I discussed whether or not I should reveal I was gay and we both had mixed feelings about it.
We talked to Joe and Trey and their advice was to make sure we realized what was involved in either keeping silence or speaking out, “Be damn sure you understand what's involved if you speak out,” Trey said. “Remember, you're in an essentially all African-American school and believe me, we brothers really know how to treat our gay brothers like shit.”
“That I think I realized,” I said.
“Yeah, you sure as hell did, didn't you,” he responded.
I had spoken without breaking down and felt it marked a milestone in my getting over Derrick's death—well, not getting over it since I guess you never “get over” the death of someone you love. You just learn to deal with it, to live with it.
I was pleased and surprised when the way to speak up was paved for me by Scooter Hicks and Antwone Jackson, co-captains of the football team. One of the women in the class, Sharon, kept going on about queers this and faggots that. Mr. Greene had asked her before to exercise care in the terms she chose.
Things really came to a head—so to speak—a couple days later when Sharon started again. She sniggered and said “Well, queers are responsible for a lot of problems. We all know their limp wrists and feminine mannerisms are just ways to hide their little dicks while they spread AIDS.”
Scooter looked at Antwone, winked and said, “Best I know, it's you heteros who are spreading HIV these days. And I don't know about your HETERO boyfriend, but my GAY boyfriend certainly does not have a limp wrist, isn't feminine acting and sure as hell doesn't have a small dick, do you Antwone?” Needless to say, that got the class' attention.
The bell rang before the discussion could go any further, in fact, before Mr. Greene got the class back under control. As Scooter and Antwone started past me and Keith—they were walking, holding hands--I said, “That took courage. I hadn't gotten mine up to that point yet. Thanks.”
“You and Keith gay?” Antwone asked.
“Just me,” I answered.
“But I know you know he doesn't have a limp wrist and I can testify, he's no needle dick,” Keith laughed.
“Let's get together after school. Meet you in the parking lot?” I asked.
“Sure,” Scooter answered.
I had driven so Keith and I were walking to the car when Antwone shouted,”Hey, guys, wait up!”
Keith and I had talked as we were walking to the car and I had told him I was going to out myself next class and he said, “Yeah, I guess you need to. How about we get you, Antwone and Scooter together, photograph your cocks and post them for the class to judge if Sharon knows what she's talking about.”
I punched him on the arm as Scooter and Antwone walked up.
“We'll let these guys judge my suggestion,” Keith grinned and told them what he had said.
“Yeah, sounds good,” Antwone said, reached out and grabbed Scooter's cock, leaving a clear impression of a “not small” dick. “Trouble is, Sharon probably would dump her needle dick boyfriend and try to take mine.”
We had a good laugh and Keith suggested we go to the Cool Place on the Square in East Point for ice cream. I said nothing and the two football players thought it was a good idea.
We got our ice cream, found a table and I was surprised I was doing ok--almost. I had not been to Cool Place since Derrick's death and he, Keith and I spent a lot of time there and I suspected it might trigger emotions I couldn't handle.
“Doing ok, my brother? Keith asked and when he did, I realized the three had been chattering away and I had said nothing.
I took a deep breath and said, “Yeah, ok. Just ok I guess.”
“Gee, I'm sorry. Something bothering you?” Scooter asked.
“Yeah. Remember Derrick Murphy?”
“Yeah,” Antwone said. “He died in an accident last year, right?”
“Sort of an accident. His stepfather shoved him through the railing of an upstairs landing. He hit his head and was brain dead when the machines were turned off. He was my lover. We spent a lot of time here.”
“Damn, you should have said something when Keith suggested coming,” Scooter said.
“No, Keith is very good about when to push and when to back off. I'm fine, just caught up in remembering. By the way, that's how far some African-Americans will go. His stepfather accused me of being a honkie faggot who turned Derrick queer.”
“Well, I can understand that,” Antwone said as he reached under the table and grabbed Scooter. “Scooter here turned me queer. Before I was just as straight as an arrow.”
“He's not lying,” Scooter laughed, “but after a good session with me, he was no longer straight as an arrow, but limp as a noodle.”
We all had a good laugh and then the three of us talked about how we knew we were gay and when, how I had dealt with Derrick's death, Keith and my friendship. I was having a wonderful time when Scooter said, “Look, Antwone and I know there are other gay guys at East River, but like our not knowing you were gay...”
“And my not knowing you two—football heroes at that—were.”
“There ought to be a way to let people know they are not alone.”
“Yeah, and folks like me who are straight, but think, gay or straight, we should all be treated like people, and not labels.”
“You never had any problem with Tom being gay?” Antwone asked.
“Well, I wouldn't say that,” Keith laughed and we told the two what happened when I kissed him.
“So you got over that problem,” Scooter said, “but I have an important question. Tell me, is he a good kisser?”
Antwone punched Scooter on the arm and we all had a good laugh. Then Keith started us laughing again when he said, “He's a good kisser.”
We talked some more and all decided we'd see if we couldn't find some way to deal with gays being isolated. Before we left the ice cream parlor, we agreed to see what we could find on the internet and get together after school the next day and pool our knowledge.