Copyright © 2014-2015 – Nicholas Hall
Particles of dust in the air, reflecting in the sunlight, gave the illusion of twinkly stars welcoming home a wounded, but weary traveler, seeking rest from travails of the world, lying in the midst of comfort and relief. The same mid-morning sun, dodging fully leaved and stately oak trees, cast shadows about the ground, bathing the newly dug gravesite in the adjoining cemetery with the warmth of late spring. Preparations were complete to give Pvt. Jeremiah Jackson Tolliver, Sammy's older brother, killed by an unknown enemy on some unnamed gravel road in a faraway foreign land, his final resting place.
From the death of one so brave, coming home to rest in a small southern Iowa town, came the growth of an organization formed to bring together those in need, those willing to share, and those willing to "love thy neighbor" in a story of community, gifts freely given, and a boys!
Join me, dear readers, in following the journey and lives of "The Boys of Nodaway Ridge."
Many years ago, during my most impetuous youth, having just recently received my law degree at the university and beginning practice in a small trial lawyer firm in a nearby city, I was practicing my opening remarks for a case scheduled to begin within the week. In my mind, the outcome, the decision of the jury, was a foregone conclusion due to the quality and quantity of my delivery.
Rehearsing before one of the more senior members of the firm, a trusted and venerated mentor, I envisioned myself delivering an oratorical appeal on the behalf of my clients worthy of the oratory of John Adams, laced with the learning of Thomas Jefferson, and containing the best of his eminence, Judge Learned Hand. Coming to an exhausted close, convinced no jury could but award my clients the maximum allowable in actual and punitive damages, I looked at my aging mentor for tacit approval. He cast me a look of anticipation, expectation, questioning, as if I had more to say. His look was one, not of disapproval, but not of approval either.
I naught else to add, to what I thought in my most limited of experience, was nothing less than stellar, pure brilliance, so I posed to him the most studious of all questions, "What?"
I received no response from him in what seemed hours, although in reality was only in the space of a few short moments.
"My young friend and colleague," he began, "your arguments are strong, your facts indisputable; your eloquence is grand, but….."
"Oh, shit," I thought, "he hated it."
"….. you failed to tell me your client's story. Any fool with a license to practice law can regurgitate facts in a most agreeable manner, but it takes passion to tell someone else's story. What story is there to tell? You must tell the story of how your clients come to be here in the first place; the story that explains what they expect and; the story of how their plight can only be healed by justice, but also heal the problems of all those others infected with the same problem, and make them whole. It is the passionate telling of that story which sets apart the truly successful trail lawyer from those who 'do well' at the profession."
It is a lesson I never forgot. It's a lesson we could all heed and take to heart. Each and every one of us has a story and the telling of that story is important, begging to be told. I returned to my roots, the small community where I was born and raised, after years of practicing corporate law in a large city. Although the money was good, it didn't give me the personal satisfaction I needed and desired. Circumstances in our lives changed, making me realize I was lonely for the small town life and the familiarity of the rural people and environment in which I was raised. The law practice I opened in Central City and Nodaway Ridge would not have supported us, but, with the county seat and the various cases that came before the county court in my limited practice and Frank's accounting business and our investments, we weren't poverty stricken as many were. Those extras of criminal law and minor lawsuits were nice to have, adding to the various wills, deeds, and other personal and family law issues needing litigating in the greater Nodaway Ridge area, if you could say there was a greater Nodaway Ridge in this poor section of Southern Iowa. Folks just didn't have a lot of money. These folks needed someone to help them with their legal problems, without much cost to them. Things hadn't changed much since when I was a boy.
I've already mentioned that people have stories, but did I include small towns as well? I think not; small towns have their own stories also and within those small town stories exist a myriad of interconnected and interwoven stories of life and death; of growing up and growing old; of loving and being loved; of companionship and loneliness; of confusion and clarity and; of self-fulfillment with another person.
Nodaway Ridge, tucked away in the hill country of Southeast Iowa, is probably no different than many other small towns across America, but there existed then and exists now, a small group of young men, growing up together, sharing their secrets, their passions, their adventuresome spirit, their most private, intimate, and tantalizing physical parts, tied together by a loyalty, a friendship so deep, deeper than family ties, that it begged for the longing for each other they felt and feel to this day. I would suppose it belies understanding, unless you were and always would be one of those special boys.
It was here, in this land oft neglected, but beautiful in people and scenery; where the last vestiges remain of the now long gone "Pony Mines," where from the ridges and hills of this beautiful land, coal was extracted; where quail, deer, ducks, geese, and a myriad of other wildlife continue to provide for the needs of the people much as was done for generations before and; here where people were without pretenses, plain, simple, but knowledgeable in the ways of life; the place of my Mother's home and mine for many years to which I returned.
Therefore, I begin my story of Nodaway Ridge and some of the young men who lived there; a story of a small town, the inhabitants, of life and death, of growing up, and growing old, of loving and loneliness, of confusion and clarity, and of self-fulfillment with another person or persons. It is a story that's probably not unique to many others, but for to tell it is to know it; to know it is to live it and; to live it is to feel it with passion and understanding and so, I invite you to share with me the story of our small town and the people who live there.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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