Articles/Essays – Volume 36, No. 2


When he was seventeen, David Thatcher Williams and his cousin Cleon, who was also seventeen, hopped a freight in the Provo yards to start a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit David’s Aunt Doris, his dad’s sister. Just before they started back, Cleon was offered a job and decided to stay (good summer jobs were hard to get in Provo in 1940), so David came home alone. He knew that if he stayed at night in the big hobo jungles, he would be safe enough. David’s Uncle Charley, who had hopped freights to Denver, Cheyenne, and Los Angeles the summer he graduated from Provo High, gave David and Cleon a lot of good advice. 

When David left Washington to return to Provo, his Aunt Doris gave him three dollars, which he carried in change to pay for his food. In the jungles the hobos cooked together, and if a hobo wanted a bowl of stew or soup, he had to put something in the pot or chip in a nickel, a dime, or maybe even a quarter. A dime bought a loaf of bread in those days. 

David lived three blocks up from the railroad yards. Hobos knocked on his mom’s door to ask for food. His mom, Mary, always fed them; they sometimes did odd jobs for her. When David and his friends were younger, they rode their bikes down to talk to the hobos in the jungle at the bottom of Second West and listen to their stories, and the boys also hopped freights for short rides. Most of the hobos had families and were looking for work. Some were college graduates who had good jobs before the Depression. At night falling asleep in his darkened room, David listened to the whistles of the passing trains. 

David’s dad, Frank Thatcher Williams, ran the laundry at the State Mental Hospital in Provo, and hobos who had gone insane were brought to the hospital. David’s dad sometimes brought patients to the house for holidays or family picnics. Some had to be told to eat or, at Christmas, to open their presents. One patient who had been a hobo sat staring at the front room wall for two hours, his eyes blank. Sometimes he couldn’t remember his name. In the hospital medical wards patients lay in bed for years, fetal and wearing diapers. 

The Herald occasionally carried a short article about a hobo found dead in a jungle or along the tracks, his body mangled. Some bodies carried no identity papers of any kind, and the sheriff could not always be sure if the death was accidental. The county had to bury these men. In the bigger jungles the hobos organized committees to keep order. Men who preyed on other hobos were called wolves. 

At seventeen David was tall and thin with thick curly blond hair just like his dad. David was a hopeful, happy boy and always smiling. He was an Eagle Scout, sang in the high school a capella choir, played basketball and softball, and dated any number of girls. Before David and Cleon left for Washington, David’s dad brought their families together to kneel in prayer and ask the Lord to watch over the two boys and bring them home safe. 

David’s mom was expecting a baby, and David wanted to be back home before it was born. David’s mom smiled when he said to be sure and have a boy. He had three sisters and wanted a little brother. 

The third day coming back alone from Washington, David was in Nebraska outside of a little town called Gothenburg. It was the last week in August. The corn in the vast dark fields was high. It was late evening, almost dark. David walked the tracks looking for campfires in the wide band of willows bordering the cornfields. A hundred yards out, parallel ing the tracks, a creek cut through the willows. 

Hobos liked creeks so they could get cleaned up, wash their clothes, and have water for cooking. David had been told there was a jungle along the creek. He’d also been told it was a good jungle; people from the small towns sometimes dropped off surplus vegetables from their gardens for the hobos to eat. But in some towns the police would threaten the hobos and drive them away if they were found walking the streets or begging for food. 

Although above him the night sky was clear, far to the south David saw flashes of lightning and heard distant thunder. Going out to Washington, he and Cleon were caught in storms in Nebraska and Iowa. They’d never seen so much rain before in their lives, the rain coming down in sheets for hours, flooding the land, the thunder terrible and constant, the flashing lightning turning the skies bluish white, the wind lashing the corn and willows. 

David saw two fires flickering deep in the willows and trees, which were already black in the fading light. He hesitated; he knew it wasn’t the big hobo jungle he was looking for. But he’d been walking for hours. He was tired, dirty, and hungry; he hadn’t eaten all day, and he didn’t carry any food or cooking utensils with him, just a bowl and a spoon, which every hobo had to have. He didn’t want to be caught out in the open if the storm hit. 

David decided if the group of hobos was big enough to need two fires, he would be all right. He figured he knew what he was doing; he and Cleon had made it all the way to Washington without any trouble, and he was better than halfway home now. 

He dropped down the grade but couldn’t find the trail through the high, dense willows. Knowing the general direction to the fires, he pushed through. Finally, ahead of him he saw the fires flickering. 

He stood back in the willows and looked into the clearing. He saw three men, one sitting, smoking and reading, the magazine turned to catch the light from the fire nearest a lean-to, one smoking and playing a game of solitaire at a table, and one standing by the cooking fire and eating from a bowl. Under the lean-to, which was covered by canvas, was an old mattress with a blanket spread on it. The three chairs and a table had been made from lumber scraps. Laundry hung from a rope stretched between two small trees. Steam rose from an open pot and a covered coffee pot on a grill over the cooking fires. 

David was surprised that four or five men weren’t around each fire, yet everything seemed okay. The three men had made an effort to build themselves a home out in the willows, but then David was just a tired, dirty, hungry, green seventeen-year-old kid anyway. 

He stepped into the clearing and helloed the fire. A hobo had to get permission before he could walk up to a fire. 

All three men stood up. “Come on in! Come on in and welcome!” The tall man, who had been eating, put the bowl down on the table and waved David in. The two men smoking took the cigarettes out of their mouths. As he got closer, David saw that the three men hadn’t shaved for at least a week. Their pants and shirts were shabby with wear. Two of the three looked middle-aged, maybe a little older; the third, the smallest, looked much younger, perhaps not yet twenty. The two older men carried folding sheath knives on their belts. 

“Hello, kid. You look all worn out. You alone?” The tall man stepped around the fire. 

“Yes, sir. I need a place to camp for the night, if that’s okay. I saw your fires. I can go on though.” 

“You’re more than welcome, kid, more than welcome. Not a good idea to camp all alone out here. Take your pack off. Must be heavy.”

The three men gathered around him. The tall man asked David his name and where he was from, and David told them. They did not tell him their names; they did not offer to shake hands. Hobos liked to get to know a person before they talked much about themselves.

All three men smiled. 

“Yeah, they’re real happy to see you,” the young man said, “real happy, real happy. Yes sir, real happy. So am I, real, real happy. Yippee.”

“Shut up.” The tall man turned back to David. “He’s a little simple. You look hungry, kid.” The tall man turned toward the fire where the pots were steaming. “Why don’t you have a bowl of stew and then take a bath in the creek. You look like you could use a bath. There’s a nice hole for taking a bath.” 

“Thanks. I’d like to get cleaned up. I’ve got a dime to pay for my supper.” 

“Oh, that’s okay, kid. You keep your money. Sit down and eat. Got a bowl and a spoon?” 

“Yes, sir. Thank you.” 

The tall man offered David a cup of coffee, but he said he didn’t drink coffee. 

The tall man talked to David while he ate. The young man stood next to the table, grinning but silent. After David finished the first bowl, the tall man filled his bowl again. 

“There’s plenty, kid, there’s plenty. Got to keep your strength up.”

“You sure do. You sure do. You sure do.” 

“I told you to shut up.” 

The camp was deep in the willows; David didn’t see any path out. All the big jungles had worn paths through the willows and weeds.

After David finished eating, the tall man walked him back to the creek. 

“You got some soap, haven’t you, kid?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“Good. Come back to the fire when you’re ready.” 

The tall man came back twice while David was standing in the waist deep water. 

“Just checking, kid. Don’t want you to drown. You’re taking a long time.” 

“It’s really nice to be clean again.” 

“Sure it is, kid.” 

When he finished taking a bath, David put on clean shorts from the clothes in his backpack and stood in knee-deep water next to the creek bank to wash his dirty clothes. He wanted to have clean clothes to put on just before he got home. He didn’t want his mom to think he hadn’t tried to stay clean. He wondered if the baby had been born yet and if he had a little brother. 

“Hey, kid.” 

David turned to see the two older men standing on the bank. The tall man had cut a willow and was peeling the bark off with a long-bladed folding knife. The other man carried a coil of thin rope. The tall man folded the knife and put it in the black belt sheath. 

“Yes, sir?” 

“Come on, get out. You take too long. What you washing your clothes for? Get out.” 

“Better do what he says, better do what he says, better do what he says. Better, better, better.”

David turned. The young man was on the other side of the creek.

“Have I done something wrong? I’ll just get the rest of my clothes on and go. I don’t want to bother you. I’ll pay for the bowls of stew.”

“Just get out, kid.” 

When he waded from the creek carrying the shirt he’d just wrung out, the man who stood behind him slipped a noose over his head and snugged it against his neck. 

“What are you doing? What. . .” 

“Kid, we don’t want you to ask any questions. You just do what you’re told and we’ll all have a real good time.” The tall man had moved a little off to David’s side. 

“I don’t want. . .” 

The slashing blow with the willow across his back was so sudden, so unexpected and savage, that David dropped the washed shirt and almost fell to his knees, his vision blurring to white. 

“I told you, I told you, you better do what he says. He’s mean. He does things to people.” 

“Shut up. Now, kid, all you have to do is cooperate so we can all enjoy ourselves.” 

Understanding finally what they wanted him for, his whole body tightening and shrinking against that knowledge, for he had heard of such things, David said no again. 

The second blow across his back was more savage than the first, and then he felt the noose tightening around his neck, lifting him to his toes. The other man had thrown the rope over the limb of a small tree and pulled it tight. 

On the second night they started to torture David, and he knew they were going to kill him, had to kill him. They were drunk on three bottles of wine they’d sent the young man to town to buy with David’s money. They burned him with their cigarettes and with pieces of fence wire heated in the fire, laughing when he flinched, asking him how it felt. The tall man with the black hair whipped him with the shaved willow and threatened to cut him. 

The rope tied to the lean-to frame, the nooses still around his galled and bleeding neck, David was weak, in shock, but still conscious, still able to feel the pain when they burned him. But he didn’t scream any more. 

David did not fill his mind with hate, plan revenge, righteous murder, but he thought of his mom and dad, his sisters, the new baby, his grandparents, his uncles and aunts and cousins, his neighbors and friends, bringing their faces and their laughter to his mind. He thought of family parties, reunions, picnics, Sunday dinners, and fishing trips with his dad. He thought of Christmas and Thanksgiving and all the good food, and playing church basketball, and dancing with girls, and receiving his Eagle Scout badge, and going to church. But mostly he thought of his mom and dad hugging and kissing him when he left for Washington and telling him how much they loved him and to come home safe. David prayed, and he kept repeating his name to himself— David Thatcher Williams, David Thatcher Williams, David Thatcher Williams, David Thatcher Williams. . . . 

All evening and into the night he’d heard the thunder, the wind picking up, and then the rain came, great sheets of rain pounding the earth, putting out the fires, and then the fierce wind tearing the tarp off the lean-to. Outside the lean-to, drunken, falling down in the darkness, cursing the rain, the wind, each other, the three men searched for the tarp, their cursing rising to meet the pitch of the storm. 

The creek rose, the cool water coming up over the old mattress on which David lay in his shorts. Fumbling with the rope, David loosened the noose and pulled it over his head. 

David crawled slowly away from the wind-muffled cursing. In great pain, he entered the dark, bending willows, the water from the rising creek a foot deep. The palms of his hands were burned, so he tried to stand, but the soles of his feet were burned too, the cool water not easing his pain. He fell, stood up, fell, crawled, made his hands into fists to crawl, saw himself in the great flashes of lightning. He came to willows edging the flooding creek and crawled into it, the deep, fast water carrying him. David did not think about wanting to die, or needing to. 

He crawled out on the far bank. Standing now, walking on the sides of his feet, holding onto the willows, he pulled himself forward. He saw in the flashes of light the dark wall of a cornfield, the tops bending in the wind. He knew the three men would search for him there, spreading out to follow the rows until they found him. They had to find him; they had to kill him. He turned, moved into a wide band of waist-high grass and crawled into that, let the grass beat down over him, and lay staring up into the darkness. 

Fitful, sleeping, perhaps unconscious at times, feverish, the burns becoming sores, some already infected, the pain increasing now, David lay covered with the long grass, waiting until he saw finally the pale morning light coming down to him. The rain had stopped, but the dark clouds hid the sun. David heard yelling, cursing, as the three men searched for him, the voices fading and then coming back on the pulsing wind. 

He crawled into a thick patch of willows and lay curled. Listening, he waited, willed himself to wait. Mosquito-bitten except where he was covered with thick mud, the mosquitoes in grey swarms above his head, growing numb to pain, David slipped away into darkness and then came back, slipped away and came back. He heard the rumbling and whistling of nearby trains. He saw his arms, legs, stomach, the burn sores and red insect bites like the marks of a disease, the sores swelling, red and black, some as big as nickels. He prayed he would not die and that somebody would help him. 

In the late afternoon, the only sound the gentle wind, no voices, the clouds still hiding the sun, David followed the creek. Crouched, arms held out away from his body, he moved very slowly because of the numbness, kept stumbling. He lay down in the no longer flooded creek, but he dared not touch his body to rub away the dirt. He waded to the other side, where he knew the railroad tracks were, but stayed in the willows. 

He found a farm road, walked along the grassy edge, but he was falling down now. The fever, a heat in his face and head, was spreading through his body, bringing back feeling except for his numb feet. Stooped, he saw across a field a small man on a tractor. The man stopped the tractor and stood silhouetted looking at him. The man was short and thin and wore a hat. David stumbled forward. When he fell, he crawled until he could push himself up again. 

He saw a man walking down the road toward him. The man stopped and looked, bent forward, came farther. David saw it was a boy, not a man. He wore a yellow straw hat. The boy came closer. 

“Gee. Gee whiz. What happened to you? What’s your name?”

David looked at the boy. 

“Gee. I’ll get my mom. She’ll help you. She always helps everybody. She’ll bring my dad too. He’ll come, and my big brother, Will. Wait. Just wait. Don’t go anywhere.” 

The boy turned and ran up the road. He didn’t stop to pick up his hat when it fell from his head. 

Standing next to a barbed-wire fence, David reached out and gripped the tight top strand with both hands so he would not fall. It didn’t hurt. Flies lit on his lips and under his nose. They lit on the sores. He saw under the mud the red welts on his chest, stomach, and thighs where the tall man had whipped him with shaved willows. David’s whole body pulsed with the fever from the growing infections, the beginning delirium masking the pain. 

When the boy’s mother and father and older brother came, they had to pry David’s hands loose from the wire. 

“No, no,” the woman said, “no, no. The dear God, no.” 

She was a large woman. She wore a blue apron over her dress. She touched David gently. 

They broke a bale of straw in the back of their pickup truck and laid him on that. As the pickup moved slowly up the road, the woman knelt by him smoothing his hair, waving away the flies, and praying for him. He lay on his back. His elbows resting on the straw, he held up his bloody hands, the blood running down his wrists. The woman told him her name was Mrs. Meyers. David closed his eyes and slipped down into the greyness.

When he opened his eyes again, David lay in bed on a rubber sheet. Three women had pans of warm soapy water and they were washing him and putting salve on his sores. 

“What’s your name, son? What’s your name?” 

David reached out to touch the woman in the blue apron. He spoke very slowly. “Mrs. Meyers, Mrs. Meyers.” 

“No, your name, your name.” 

David looked up at the woman. 

“It’s the shock and the fever, Martha. It’s a wonder he isn’t dead. Look at his neck. Who could have done such a thing to a boy?”

“His poor mother.” 

A woman with a stethoscope around her neck was giving him a shot in the arm with a large hypodermic needle. Slowly the remaining pain ebbed and he slipped into the morphine darkness. For two weeks, delirious, he moved in and out of the darkness. He heard voices when he came up out of it and sometimes the whistle of a train far off, saw shadows, but felt no pain, his body vague, heavy, swollen, hot, indistinct. He could not speak. 

Whenever his eyes opened, the women held his head up off the pillow and made him drink. They spooned broth into his mouth, the warm liquid spilling down his chin and onto his neck and bare chest. He knew that under the sheet he wore a diaper. The women put salve on his infected sores, on his neck, and on the welts from the beatings. Some of the infected sores had to be lanced. His hands were bandaged. Three little boys stood in the doorway. David saw vases of flowers and sunlit windows. 

“You must eat, son. You must eat.” 

“What is your name? Where do you live? Who are your people?”

David did not know the answers to these questions. He remembered the boy coming down the lane toward him. 

David stared at the women. He sank back down again into the darkness. If his eyes opened in the night, he saw Mrs. Meyers sitting by his bed in her big chair. Her hand lay on his bare wrist. She would stand up out of her chair to kiss him on the forehead and smooth back his hair. She talked to him. He heard her prayers for him. He did not speak. In the darkness he felt his hands inside the bandages. His eyes closed. He heard the faint, far off whistling of trains. 

One evening he could keep his eyes open. He lay on his back under a sheet. He stared up at the white ceiling. He was very weak. He heard two women talking. One of them was Mrs. Meyers. He turned his head toward the voices. He saw Mrs. Meyers and another woman he’d seen before, but whose name he didn’t know. He watched them. He listened. He saw the black scabs on his arms. 

“Look, look, he’s awake. Martha, look.”

“Praise God—at last.” 

They came to the bed. They talked to David. They sat on either side of the bed. Mrs. Meyers kissed him on the forehead and smoothed his hair. 

“What is your name, son? We need to know your name. Your family will be worried about you. You must tell us your name.”

He did not answer Mrs. Meyers. He couldn’t speak. He stared at her.

They talked to him, entreated him, begged him, asked repeatedly for his name, his father’s name, where he was from, but he did not answer. He stared at them. 

The other woman stood up. “He’s gone.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “He’s gone, Martha. Look, you can see it in his eyes. The poor boy. Little wonder, really. Such a nice boy too.” 

“No,” Mrs. Meyers said, “no.” She shook her head. Tears slipped down her cheeks. “It’s the shock, the fever. We have to be patient.”

“It’s as plain as the nose on your face, Martha. I’ve seen it before. My Delbert’s got a brother like that named Fred. I’ve told you about him. Nothing you can do, worse luck. Makes you worry about your own kids. Of course you’re not thinking about anything like that when you’re getting married. Funny. The families take turns bringing Fred home for Christmas. Just sits there at the table like a stump. You have to cut up his turkey for him; sometimes you have to feed it to him. You’re lucky if he don’t piss himself. Just like a baby, really. Makes the kids nervous. Of course I don’t mind. Used to it I guess. You can get used to anything. Have to.” She looked down at David. “Such beautiful hair for a boy. Too bad that he won’t be passing that on. He’ll end up in the state hospital in Lincoln or some other place. You’ve done everything you can to locate his family. Maybe he has no family. A lot of ’em don’t.”

“No,” Mrs. Meyers said, turning to David, putting her hand on his, “no, no, no, no.” 

“No,” David said, whispering the word, closing his eyes against a horror he understood only instinctively. Then louder, “No! No! No!” And then he was shouting, not at the woman, but at the possibility of what she had said. Forcing himself up on his elbows, finding the strength for that, he kept shouting, “No! No! No!” Mrs. Meyers took him in her arms, holding him, David holding onto her, shouting, until the shouting turned to weeping. 

In the night when David woke up, Mrs. Meyers sat in her chair, her head resting on the bed, both her hands on his arm. He thought her very beautiful. 

David became stronger. He no longer had to wear a diaper but could wear shorts and a T-shirt. Except for the lacerated palms of his hands, all the sores had scabs now. People brought him gifts of candy, flowers, new shoes, pajamas, and clothes.

David’s memory came back slowly, first what happened in the hobo jungle, his whole body stiffening against what he remembered. He tried to black it out, refuse to remember, pushing it back down deep. He closed his eyes, turned on the bed to push his face deep into his pillow, brought up his hands to wrap the pillow around his head. Lying awake in the night, staring up at the ceiling, he told Mrs. Meyers what the three men had done to him, his eyes filling with tears as he spoke. 

“Oh, dear God,” she said, “oh, dear God.” She took his hands in hers and kissed them. 

The sheriff came to talk to him. The bodies of two boys had been found in the last two years, one in Nebraska and one in Iowa. The boys had been tortured and murdered, their throats cut. There had been a short article about David in the county paper. 

A man from the big hobo jungle east of Gothenburg came to the house to talk to David about what had happened. David didn’t know even the first names of the three men who had brutalized him; they hadn’t used their names. The visitor asked David to describe their clothes, belts and belt buckles, their knives, teeth, hair, rings, scars, the color of their eyes, the sound of their voices, the color of their blankets, asked him the same questions two and three times, took notes. The man wore a felt hat, a brown suit with vest, a white shirt, and a tie—all shabby. The man’s name was Walter W. Simms. He said he was a member of a special committee of gentlemen selected to look into the matter. 

“Son, at one time I was a police officer in Chicago. We intend to see this matter out. There must be justice in such cases.” He wrote down the Meyers’ address. 

One afternoon sitting out on the Meyers’ front porch in the sun looking down at his open, healed hands, David knew that his name was David Thatcher Williams and that he lived in Provo, Utah. His whole life came flooding back to him so that he had to close his eyes and hold his head in his hands against the joy of it. 

His dad and Cleon came for him. They’d been searching for him for over a month, going from one hobo jungle to another between Provo and Washington, showing David’s picture. Cleon had quit his job in Washington to help search for David. The assistant superintendent at the State Hospital, a Mr. Startup, had loaned David’s dad his new Buick to drive. His friends at the hospital took his shifts in the laundry so that his dad was kept on the payroll while he was gone. 

David cried when he saw his dad. David’s dad, his eyes brimming with tears, hugged and kissed David. Cleon shook his hand and then put his arms around him and held him. David’s little brother had been born a week before his dad and Cleon came to Gothenburg. David talked to his mom on the phone. 

When they left Gothenburg, Mrs. Meyers hugged David and kissed him. Mr. Meyers shook their hands. David’s dad thanked Mr. and Mrs. Meyers over and over again for their kindness. David’s mom phoned and thanked Mrs. Meyers. The Meyers boys all said goodbye and brought David gifts. Mrs. Meyers had fixed them a big lunch basket for the trip. The family waved him out of sight. All along the road, neighbors stood by their gates to wave. 

It was early evening of the second day when they drove into Provo and turned up Third West from Highway 89. Neighbors stopped watering their lawns or left their newspapers and knitting on their chairs to walk down from their porches to wave to David. Some neighbors brought gifts of food or bouquets of flowers. His sisters came running out of the house, all four of his grandparents walking behind them. His uncles and aunts drove up in their old cars, his cousins jumping out to run over to him. Everybody hugged and kissed him and told him how wonderful he looked. 

David went into the house to his mom, who sat in the rocking chair holding his baby brother. She stood and, moving the baby to one arm, she kissed David on the lips. 

“He’s beautiful, Mom.” 

“Yes,” she said, reaching up to touch the red, indented scars on David’s face, “he is.” 

David’s mom took his hand in hers, turned it to look at the palm, and then pressed it against her cheek. David began to cry. His mom pulled his head down to her shoulder. She whispered to him and stroked his hair. She told him to sit down in the rocking chair, and she put his baby brother in his arms. 

Later David’s dad called all the family into the house to join in prayer and thank the Lord for David’s safe return. That night his dad came into his bedroom and lay beside David until he fell asleep. His dad did that every night for two weeks. If David sat too long, or started to cry, his mom asked him to help her; he took care of his baby brother a lot, changing his diaper, feeding him a bottle, and taking him for rides in the baby buggy. 

David didn’t want to go to church, but his mom said he was going. The ward members shook his hand, patted him on the shoulder, told him how good he looked, and said how nice it was to have him back home. Every week David went to Dr. Clark’s office to talk to him. Dr. Clark was the family doctor. He was past seventy. He’d had a practice in Provo for over forty years, but still made house calls night or day. Bishop Matthews came by the house to sit and talk to David and had him come to his office on Sundays to talk. 

David’s boyfriends came to get him to play basketball and softball and go to parties. David’s mom made him go. But David wouldn’t go on dates or go swimming. He started high school, but he had to drop out because he would suddenly start to cry in class.

David’s Uncle Harold, who was a plumber, hired David on his crew to dig trenches for water lines and sewers. He pushed David hard; it was all pick-and-shovel work. David liked the hard work. At night he did his high school lessons. His mom helped him. 

The other three men on the digging crew all swore, smoked, and drank. They were all older and couldn’t get better jobs. They were all divorced. Hank had been divorced four times. They told David funny stories about their own lives and the lives of other men they’d known. They were full of funny stories. David listened to the stories, but he didn’t often laugh. 

David’s dad brought a patient home from the State Hospital to share Thanksgiving and Christmas with the family. 

Two days after Christmas, David received a letter addressed to him at the Meyers and then forwarded, the envelope bent and smudged. David had just gotten back from an ice-skating party and was sitting at the kitchen table with his dad when his mom handed him the letter. David put down his glass of milk. His mom had made a fresh batch of oatmeal-raisin cookies. 

Inside the envelope was a clipping from an Iowa newspaper reporting that three men had been found hanged from a big dead cottonwood tree near the railroad tracks a mile west of the town of Grinnell. The men carried no identification. Their hands and feet had not been tied. The picture showed the tree with the three ropes hanging down. The nooses had been cut off. There was no note, just the clipping. 

David handed the clipping to his dad, who read it. 

“God rest their souls,” his dad said. “God rest their miserable, damned souls.” 

“What is it, Frank?” 

David’s dad handed the clipping to his mom. She read the clipping and put it down on the table. 

“What a terrible thing,” she said, “what a terrible, terrible thing.”

David looked at his mom and dad. He didn’t say anything. He took another oatmeal-raisin cookie from the plate, ate it, drank some milk, and took another cookie. 

David started back to Provo High in January. He didn’t want to go to gym and have to shower, but his dad said he didn’t know why not.