His birth name had been Eustace Gibbon – a name he hated growing up. His Pa said he gave him that name because and on account of his belief that a boy with an odd name had to quickly learn to stand up for himself on the school grounds. Which worked well for him and by the time he’d got to second grade, he could manage himself quite fine. At the same time, he was no rabble rouser either.
By third grade, even the tough kids from the Hollow called him “Eustace” in a certain tone that signified an air of muted respect. Older folks were deferential as well, only their approach to him led to asking him to do chores, and they paid him handsomely. Some said that with a name such as his it must mean the family had some civility that other families lacked.
When he was 17, he already knew what he wanted to do. He didn’t plan on returning to high school the following year. He’d saved up $500 (a tidy sum for a lad in those days) and went and bought old Putt Smith’s beat-up 10 gear standard shift Brockway Semi-trailer. He got himself his own phone number - the only person under 30 to have his own personal phone number in the entire county.
That summer, after doing these two things, he spent his spare time fixing the Brockway up. Come autumn he wangled some deal with the Ag-Tech school to give the cab a new crisp paint job; then had one of the Thompson Brothers carefully detail lettering on both side doors that read “Short Haul Gibbon” with that phone number below it, and he was in business! Just – like – that.
T’was the summer people who began to call him Short Haul directly; first because they didn’t really know his name. And he found this so much to his liking that by age 20, he filed papers in Probate to make the change legit and for the record.
When folks asked his Pa iffen this warn’t some sign of disrespect he told them that his boy made his own living, and that he was old enough to do as he pleased, that Pa was fine with this and whyn’t they just go and mind their own danged business.
Shortly after this, he began getting tattooed. Never said why, and we didn’t know from where since there were no places what did that kind of artwork around these parts. He was private about it, sort of. Except for a five pointed star right center on his neck, in that hollow between the Adam’s Apple and the collar bones, all his body pictures could be discreetly hid beneath his clothes .. except in the summertime, which is when I first saw then and took notice.
I first made his acquaintance the summer I had just turned 17. He was 28. I‘d been working on one of the Mennonite family’s farms helping thrash the hay. Short Haul took their custom made furniture that they made and drove it all up to Oberlin for them where they sold it to some fancy-dance appliance and household goods store. One day I working on their farmstead and doing heavy lifting, I was big for my age, muscular and full of spunk and vinegar and all sweated up, but it was clean, working sweat.
With an appraising eye Short Haul said I was just the sort that he needed working in his business – what with all the many tasks he was getting hired on to do. After all, he was getting older and he could no longer do all the work by himself.
My folks thought working for Short Haul would do me good. It was a step up and away from weekends drinking up on Cream Ridge Road with the Ag-Tech boys. You know – one of those secrets that nobody says much of by everybody knows. So I said yes right away. Besides, I was enthralled with those tattoos.
Truth be known, they was a whole lot more that the ink what got me curious ~ though I wan’t ‘zactly sure how to express myself about that then – not having learnt of greater mysteries beyond the Baby Jesus being born from a Virgin, and the odd noise that could be heard in the caves on Covenant Mountain.
Now, Short Haul was a right personable man. He could also be a real charmer. The ladies would just swoon over him, but he just kep his space from them, remaining real polite and keeping things to business. Given he was always hiring himself out for work I figured this to be pretty smart.
But I was working for him for just over a year when one day I asked him if he ever planned to take a wife. At first he looked at me plain flustered. Then, “Well, what brings that personalness up?” He asked in such a tone that I believe my first reaction was to blush.
And I thought about it. My sister, Emily, had goaded me into asking. Turns out she is friends with this shy deaf-and-dumb girl, Wisteria; her people lives just shy a mile down the road from us. They are our closest neighbors on the way to town. Anyway, Wisteria was sweet on Long Haul, it was no secret. It was almost painful to watch her when he came in proximity to her at the Agway.
And while my question was on that occasion, awkward, it also brought open a whole passel of subjects that we, neither he nor I – ever talked about until then. The question altered everything – not right away, mind you – but from that point on. The question was a beginning.
On that occasion, there was a long and uncomfortable silence as we drove a truck full of merchandise to Oberlin. Until we were just on the outskirts of town, when he took my inquiry one step further, and asked of me the same thing back. And it was the second time that day I blushed.