Retire Mechanical engineer. Student at California State university Channel Island studiyingAbout Me

July 27, 2015

The Town of Pergama

The Town of Pergama by Behcet Kaya

The small southern town of Pergama is situated in a lush valley setting, as typical and as atypical as any small town in America can be.

My profession as a traveling salesman affords me the opportunity to observe both the natural beauty of the landscape, as well as the intricacies of human nature.

In my travels, I have learned much about the native plants and trees of the Deep South.

One of my personal interests is to look for local wild flowers and revel in the beauty of spotting a Pinkneya bracteates, Cyrilla rasemiflora, Oconee-bells and admire the majesty of the tall southern pine and cypress.

As my train slowed to enter this lovely town, I spotted Silvia lariat, Vinca major, Viola rostrata, Tradescantia viginiana, and Commelina communis. In the distance, dogwood trees dotted the landscape. Fields of sugar beets and peanut trees marked the two major crops of the area and a nearby river supplied ample water for irrigation.

Prior to arriving in the small towns I visit, I research as much as possible to understand who my potential customers might be.

With a population of just over eight-hundred inhabitants, Pergama is outwardly a peaceful and prosperous town. There is one church, a school that includes elementary through senior high and one large grocery store owned by the town's wealthiest resident.

Arriving just after noon on a warm spring day, I stepped down off the train onto a narrow platform. Immediately, the headline on the front page of the local newspaper, Pergama Today, caught my eye:

"Sputnik Launched by Soviet Union, Now in Earth's Orbit"

I picked up a copy and walked into the coolness of the station. The waiting room was small and the front entrance door was propped open. I saw only one car visible, masquerading as a taxi.

By the time I'd collected my luggage, another passenger had grabbed the vehicle. As the taxi turned the corner, one of the shop owners ran out into the street, yelling, "Come back here! There's another passenger waiting!"

The driver waved his arm and stuck his head out the open window, acknowledging that he'd heard, yelling, "I'll be back!"

The shop owner returned and began closing his tobacco stand, hanging his OUT TO LUNCH sign on a hook. He turned to me and introduced himself.

"I'm Beauford Dexter. Welcome."

"Tumby Bickford, shoe salesman. Nice town."

"Thank you." Mr. Dexter indicated to me to have a seat in the waiting room and resumed closing up.

As I waited for the taxi to return, a young man who looked to be around twenty appeared in the doorway and started to approach me. My first thought was, 'Oh, no. Not another wanderer.'

His hair was disheveled, his beard weeks old, his clothes were dirty and frayed, his shoes torn to the point that his toes were visible. Over his dingy, white, torn shirt was a large red tie, wrinkled and spotted with bits of dried food.

He stared at my luggage and timidly asked, "Are you from the film company?"

I looked at the young man with curiosity, thinking he must be mistaking me for someone else. But I answered neither a yes or no. Instead, I asked him, "Why? Do I look like a filmmaker?"

He seemed to ignore my question and continued on with his own thought process.

"Only filmmakers, actors and actresses come here. They rehearse their scenes and play instruments like guitars and drums. They are supposed to arrive tomorrow night by train. When they come, you will see beautiful girls dance. And there's also a comedian."

The young man spoke demurely, as if he were a five-year-old child who was just beginning to properly express himself. He was in his own unknown world, drowning in his own ideas. To see, to listen, and to understand were not in his agenda.

Indeed, he looked, acted and sounded like someone completely carried away by a mystical experience.

The tobacco shop owner walked over to us. "Leave the gentleman alone," he admonished, but with a kind tone in his voice.

Even with the sound of kindness, the young man hung his head in shame and, dragging his worn out shoes, walked away.

The shop owner pointed his forefinger, "He's not right in the head. Did he ask you if you were a filmmaker?"

"Yes. How did you know?"

"He asks everyone who comes here. His name is Durham Morsel. Such a sad story, really. He's the son of a prominent local land owner. On the outside he looks like a retarded derelict, but to the contrary, he used to be a smart student; finished high school and had a great future ahead of him."

The shopkeeper sighed and sat down on the bench, apparently in no rush to get to his lunch. I sat next to him, hoping he would continue with the young man's story.

He took his time, but finally began.

"If only the Hollywood people hadn't shown up. Republic Pictures came here to film a movie and they stayed several months. Everyone thought it was good for the town's economy. That it was, but it also brought indecency along with that Hollywood culture. Several of our young men left their wives and ran off with the actresses. This young man fell in love with one of the actresses, who ended up taking all his money. If his father had still been alive, he wouldn't have let the situation go that far. Without a father figure, there wasn't anyone to guide him. His mother was a sensible girl, but she couldn't manage a son. I don’t know the whole story, I just know that Durham lost it when the film company and the actress left town."

The storytelling stopped for a moment as the shopkeeper seemed to be searching his memories.

"The way I remember it, his mother and several of her friends tried to find the young man a bride with the hope that he would forget the Hollywood girl. And there was someone, an orphan if I recall, living with one of the neighbors. So, eventually he and the girl became engaged and everyone hoped for a happy ending. So much so, that his mother decided to sell some of the land she and her late husband owned, with the purpose of giving the proceeds as a wedding gift to the young couple. As fate would have it, Republic Pictures came back to re-film part of their project, with the same crew and actors along with the actress who had broken Durham's heart. The young man returned to his passionate love once more, spending all the money from the sale of the land on her."

Again the sad tale stopped as the story teller gathered his thoughts.

"As stories do, the film company finally did finish and move on, but they left this town with a broken young man. We all look after him as best we can, but it is as it is. Day after day his situation worsens. He refuses to eat, to sleep, to bathe. He frequents this train station, waiting for the film crew to return. He asks the same question of each new face he comes across, 'Are you with the film company?' always in his torn, dirty, white shirt with his wrinkled, red tie, dressed up to greet his love."

The shopkeeper was silent for a few moments more. I thought perhaps he had finished his story, but he hadn't. He shook his head in weariness.

"I fear for our small town and what's happening to us. Not only us, but all our small communities, and I sense that sexual freedom will become full-blown in the coming decade of the 1960s. I can’t believe Playboy magazine is in its fifth year of publication, and growing with huge success, immersing the culture of the country in another level. Traveling theatre companies are dying out, and the movies are increasingly becoming the preferred entertainment. Many of our young men and women are flocking to Hollywood wanting to become a 'star.' A few succeed, but for the majority of the wannabe's, life passes them by before they realize it."

We heard the sound of the returning taxi. "I've kept you long enough with our sad tale. Best of luck to you."

I thanked him, gathered my luggage and walked out to the waiting taxi, my head full of emotions.

My thoughts seemed to end in one conclusion.

I believe the young man is very lucky to be a part of the community of this small town where each member still has respect for their fellow human beings. That common courtesy and kindness of a smile or a hello from a passer-by, small talk with strangers in the grocery store checkout lines, and the freedom to be yourself and let others do likewise.

What a contrast to larger cities where people no longer acknowledge one another. No hellos, not even eye contact.

The same is true at the gas station and, yes, even in the churches. A person is insignificant, invisible, less valued. How many of us living in the big cities are crying out from loneliness?

For Durham Morsel, he most assuredly wouldn't have survived in a large city. But here, in the midst of the kindness of this small town, he is free to live out his life.

What is the least that could happen if we all extend a little kindness? What is there to be afraid of?

Apathy may be contagious, but so is kindness.