Poor Charley

Ron Karpinski 1996


By the late 1950's, Uncle Charley had been retired from the navy for more than ten years.  He and Aunt Virginia lived in the dream home they built high on a bluff above the raging Rogue River in southern Oregon.  Life felt good.

Charley had seen enough of the world.  Now, he wanted nothing more than to live out his days in peace and quiet, puttering about the little ranch on the Rogue.  He relished the sweet smell of pine and the whispering wind in the forest.

Thirty years in the navy had instilled in Charley a penchant for routine.  To him, one day should be much like the next.  He arose early to sit alone and watch the sun rise, sipping a cup of coffee brewed to his exact taste.  Later, he donned a clean gray work shirt and blue dungaree pants and wandered out to his small workshop where each tool hung on the wall in neat and logical order.

All those years at sea, sharing close quarters with forty snoring men, had taught Charley to savor his privacy.  Disturb his habit or invade his space, and he would fuss.  When that happened, Aunt Virginia would look over and say, "Poor Charley, things aren't going his way today."

Charley did have his time alone much of the year, but not in the summer.  In the summer, kids were out of school, and the relatives, one bunch after the other, came to visit.  All wanted to breathe the pure, fresh air of God's Country.

Imagine, then, this pastoral scene: it is late June, and a still dawn breaks over Gold Hill, Oregon.  Tiny birds, outside the kitchen window, peck at crumbs on the sill and sing their songs of joy.  First rays of light warm the room.  Charley Plummer, a cheerful soul, sips his first cup of coffee and plans his day.

Not far off, the Karpinski tribe barrels up Lampman Road in an overloaded station wagon.  They have been on the road all night long, saving the cost of a motel room.  Tired and hungry, they look forward to breakfast with the Plummers.

Two strong forces are about to collide here.  Our visitors have not told the Plummers they are coming.  They like to surprise people.

As the station wagon rolls to a halt on the soft dirt path out behind the house, four kids pile out, shouting with glee.  The noise level in the Rogue River Valley shoots up ten decibels and stays there.  Charley spills coffee in his lap.

"What the hell is that?" he wants to know.  Poor Charley.  This day, and the next week, as well, will not go as he had planned.


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