My John Wayne Moment (a “Burger to Go” re-run from 2006

May 7, 2010

OK, this is from back in 2006. I haven’t posted anything in a while, for which I apologize. This one was published in Flagpole, and entertainment and politics weekly newspaper in Athens, Ga., with an excellent hand-drawn illustration that I have on my backup drive and haven’t retrieved yet.

Anyway, a friend saw something on facebook that reminded her of this story, so here it is:

I read recently about a former Marine who was attacked by four armed thugs – two of whom had guns – as he walked home from his job at an Atlanta restaurant.

Thomas Autry, who is 36, was jumped as he was walking home from work. He called for help and pulled a knife out of his backpack, and got busy. The upshot: One attacker dead, one in critical condition, and two in custody.

Only a Marine would take a knife to a gunfight and walk away the victor.

Police, sensibly enough, did not charge Autry. Of course, Atlanta is the South, where I grew up, and, for good or ill, the South has always viewed weapons of any kind as educational tools and instruments of attitude adjustment.

I guess every guy dreams about having his own “John Wayne Moment.” I had one once. There is a song that says “life is different than it is in your dreams.”

My John Wayne Moment came late one summer in the late 1960s. My wife and I lived in a little wooden farm house on Turkeyfoot Road in Clarke County, Ga… The house sat back in a clearing in thick pine woods, at the end of a long dirt driveway.

We were hippies, sort of, and the house was small and isolated, but had most of the modern amenities. Well, there was an outhouse that you had to chase the copperheads out of when you needed to go, and the electricity was limited to a single light bulb hanging from the center of each of the rooms. But it did have running water, though no water heater and we had to bathe in a washtub on the front porch.

Still, it was $50 a month and we liked it. Until the strange car started showing up.

It was an old white Ford Falcon station wagon, not in good repair. There were always three or four guys in it. The car would drive to the edge of the clearing, stop, and just sit there, idling.

The men just sat there, watching. I approached them the first time, thinking they might be lost. They backed up and left. They came back several times over the next few weeks. I didn’t like the way they looked at us, especially the way they looked at Mary. They always had beer.

We did not have a telephone.

After about the third visit from the Falcon, I drove to my parent’s house and dug out my old Stevens .22 automatic rifle and a couple boxes of cartridges.

And a good thing, too.

In the small hours of the next day, the Falcon was back. This time, it drove right up into the yard. A man got out of the front passenger side, and strode right up on the porch. He walked right past the bedroom window. In the moonlight, I could see he had a knife.

It was hot, so the door was open, the screen latched. I heard him cut through the screen.

I don’t remember this part, but Mary said I rose up off the mattress, cursing and praying in the same breath, and, scooping up the rifle, ran toward the porch.

I was a good shot, back then. My buddies and I used to hunt rabbits with .22’s. This was a fat man in a white shirt on a moonlit night. I figured he was mine.

The man jumped off the porch and ran toward the far side of the clearing. I ran out into the yard, raised the rifle, and fired all 15 rounds at him.

At that point, I remembered the Falcon wagon and the fat man’s three friends. The car was about 10 feet to my left.

This was my John Wayne Moment. One bad guy, I thought, perforated in the piney woods. Three drunk bad guys and a ton or so of steel to my left.

And me, long hair sticking straight out every which way, wearing nothing but a St. Christopher medal, a Timex watch, and an empty rifle. Not even a cowboy hat.

It was a moment, all right. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more naked.

I don’t know how long we all stood or sat there, respectively. Seemed like a long time to me, but I didn’t check the Timex. The driver of the Falcon threw the battered old heap into reverse and tore down the driveway without bothering to turn around. I guess he didn’t realize my gun was empty.

Suddenly, there I was, all alone, under the moon in the piney woods, standing barefoot in the red clay dust, wondering if I had made the whole thing up. I mean, it was the 60s, after all.

I think Mary came and got me back into the house. I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure I did not sleep.

Nothing ever came of it, except the white car stopped coming around. I never called the Sheriff to report the event. The guy was, after all, running away from my house, so if I had hit him, I would have been the one going to jail.

I got a bunch of friends to come over and walk around looking for a fat guy with a lot of holes in him, but we never found him. I finally had to admit that I was so angry and afraid that all of my shots had gone wild. I have to say, though, that I never saw a fat man move so fast.

© 2006 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

PS: Do you know anybody else who might like to receive “Burger to Go?” Send me their email address and I’ll put it on the list. Thanks!

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