Even by age five, he was tall, good-looking, and could easily pass for a grade-school boy. While in Texas with his cousins, he was a boisterous risk-taker, constantly conniving new antics on tree limbs and livestock. But, during the move to California he turned introspective. Guess starting over without your daddy can do that to you. His mama’s friends named him Nushin’ because when asked his name, he’d whisper “nothing” in a quiet, Texas drawl.
Nushin’ was born in the middle of the Great Depression and his mother’s divorce didn’t help their finances. At a time when only 8.6 percent of mothers worked outside the home, she finally found work waiting tables at the local diner in downtown Lompoc. Nushin’ helped by peddling newspapers on the street corner a few blocks down.
Six days a week, a man in a Plymouth coupe taxied Nushin’ to that street corner and tied a leather nail bag around the boy’s waist before leaving both he and a stack of newspapers on the sidewalk. The nail bag served as the preschooler’s only cash register. Unable to count money, Nushin’ allowed people to drop their coins inside the bag and make their own change. By the end of the morning, with the papers depleted and the bag filled, Nushin’ walked to the diner to show his mama. The Plymouth man once told his mama that Nushin’ made more than any of his other sales boys.
That year, Nushin’s papers reported Hitler’s invasion of Denmark, Belgium and France. Headlines told of Winston Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and of the Italian invasion of Greece. Nushin knew little about such things as he had he own troubles at hand. A gang of older Chinese boys began to wait in a certain alley for Nushin’ and his nail belt — between his corner and his mama’s diner. Fortunately, Nushin knew how to kick his long legs into gear and could out run the clique.
Eventually, Nushin’s uncle stopped by for a visit in-between deployments to Europe. Since Uncle was planning to hitchhike home anyway, it was decided that Nushin’ should join him. That trip to Texas was 1300 miles.
Once on the South Plains, Nushin was raised by his grandparents across the field from his cousins. He bucked horses that were supposed to be tamed, rode sheep that were supposed to be sheared, and sent a flaming arrow into a turkey well before Thanksgiving. At eighteen, Nushin’ joined the Marines, went to the Philippines, and spent most of his time in tactical scuba-diving combat. Knowing “the difference between try and triumph is a little umph”, Nushin’ became a pilot, survived two plane crashes, including a crop dusting plane that caused 2nd and 3rd degree burns to half of his 6’3” frame.
Nushin’ has been in my life ever since I can remember, though he was far from being nothing to me. At age six, I pledged my undying love for him and vowed to marry him when I grew up. The fact that he was already married to my sister little deterred my affection.
Ray is still tall and good-looking. Even at eighty, he still has a tendency toward the boisterous, especially when he tells a story or gives a hug. Today, if you ask him about life with cousins, he’ll tell you about the borrowed flour they spilled and tried to salvage from the brown West Texas dirt. If you ask him about the Marines, he’ll tell you about the life of a frogman before daylight in the cold South China Sea. And if you ask him about his year in California, he’ll tell you about a little boy named Nushin’ that couldn’t make change on the dollar.
All his life, Ray has made it his ambition to lead a quiet life, attend to his own business and to work with his hands. This little boy became a man who impacted many, many lives with his gentle servant-heart. I for one am glad I’ve known Nushin’.
How about you? Who is the Nushin’ in your life?