A Prose Piece by Brian Barbeito
It happened a few times. I would say, without exaggeration, poetic license, or hyperbole, it happened five to seven times. We would be driving on long trips, and those were the long moments of youth where the old man would be expounding on this or that historical happening. He was a smart person endowed with an engineer’s mind, and could build anything from the ground up. He was fond of saying he had never read any books. The idea behind this was he would not pollute his mind one way or the other by anyone else’s ideas, philosophical leaning, school of thought, or agenda of any sort.
At that time, we were all into learning about wars and watching films about wars. We visited the surplus stores, watched films like Uncommon Valor and Bridge over the River Kwai, and also read books and comics that were war related. He knew about all these things somehow, and though the conversations differed, they often ended with the same topic. He told us the Americans had sprayed Agent Orange in Vietnam, that Dow Chemical had made this Agent Orange, and he kept asking us, “Do you know what that is? Do you know what that means?” He explained the details in simple terms he thought we could understand. His tone said it all though, a tone reflective and grave.
What he was trying to relate all those times, without coming out and saying it, was that what was done was wrong, plain and simple. He pointed out what it did, and how it was sprayed, and where. Then he would pause, and when someone who doesn’t use pauses for effect when speaking starts to use them, you can be sure they are striving to get a point across. And this was a man who was not soft, and knew the world well. Nevertheless, this topic bothered him and he kept coming back to it. He wanted to believe in certain things, but ultimately could not believe in them really at the core. We knew, because, as was said somewhere, kids somehow are like sponges and in a way, if even a very non-intellectual one, know very, very much.