The Life and Times of Jameson Jones (Chapter Three): In Unremembered Season by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Destiny is capricious: one day, you’re on a course that’s bright and straight as a Saharan sunrise; the next, it all turns out to be a mirage, ephemeral as moonlight…

Jameson Jones, newly-minted college graduate, isn’t quite sure what to do with himself. Camelot has crumbled and The Great Society has lost its luster. Martin is dead; Bobby, too. Richard Nixon has grabbed the spotlight and the orders of the day are racial strife, drugs, cultural wars, peace signs, and this thing called Vietnam. Jameson has a pretty high draft number (210), but the future is fuzzy. Only one thing makes any sense: Jameson hopes for the best and, still wrapped in Kennedy’s afterglow, joins the Peace Corps.

He looks the part: long hair, Fu Manchu mustache, bell-bottom jeans. He is assigned to a sports development program in a country he has barely even heard of: Tunisia. It’s a soft spot on the North African littoral, a slice of lemon wedged in between two giant neighbors. But it’s perfect. At the end of training, Jameson is offered a comfortable post in a coastal city, a tourist destination, but he stuns his supervisor when he opts to coach basketball and teach physical education in a small village in the remote mountainous corner of the country hard by the Algerian border. He’s all in.

His house in Kasserine is a few spare rooms off on open courtyard covered by a grape arbor. It has a cold water tap and a privy. The kitchen is a hot plate running off bottled gas. When Jameson wants fresh bread, he goes straight to the baker’s oven. He buys eggs in groups of four. When the open-air butcher shop has meat, the head of a slaughtered beast signals what is available that day. When he needs a warm bath, he spends an afternoon hour or two with the men in the hammem, the village steam bath where he is pounded, stretched, and scrubbed by one of the attendants. He recovers with an orange and a glass of mint tea. In summer, there may be no rain for months; in winter, a freezing wind blows down from the mountains. He is invited to a student’s home for a holiday feast and watches as a sheep is ritually bled and slaughtered in the street out front. He attends a friend’s wedding and waits with the other men until the marriage has been honorably consummated. At night, he plays cards with old men, drinking glasses of tea in a cafe. He is supremely happy.

One day, news trickles into town: a movie company is filming in another village down in the desert. Jameson is curious. On a whim, he heads south and when he arrives in the town, he is greeted by a stunning French women who is working with the production crew. She takes one look at his 6’4” frame and inquires if he wants a role in the film: “We need a tall alien.” She takes him out to the set and he sees dinosaurs and strange underground dwellings. It would require several days of filming and there’s even a modest per diem that sounds like a fortune to Jameson. But he has school to teach and a team to coach so he declines. Plus, the whole concept seems a little far-fetched. “What’s the film called?” he asks his host. “Star Wars,” she replies as Jameson boards the bus back home.

And so Jameson’s life remains on its modest arc. There will be no movie career, no Hollywood. Several months later, when the day comes that his tour is up and it’s time to finally leave the town, he is overcome by a beautiful sadness. As his bus pulls out of town, he is reading a passage from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet:

“If this is my day of harvest, in what fields have I sowed the seed, and in what unremembered season?”

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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