In Cold Blood by Truman Capote


  This was during depression time. I was working on W.P.A. very small wages. I owned some property and small home at the time. Perry and I lived together peacefully. My heart was hurt, as I still loved my other children also. So I took to roaming to forget it all. I made a livin for us both. I sold my property and we lived in a “house car.” Perry went to school often as possible. He didn’t like school very well. He learns quick and never got into trouble with the other kids. Only when the Bully Kid picked on him. He was short and stocky a new kid in school they tried to mistreat him. They found him willing to fight for his rights. That was the way I raised my kids. I always told them dont start a fight, if you do, I’ll give you a beaten when I find out. But if the other kids start a fight, do your best. One time a kid twice his age at school, run up and hit him, to his surprise Perry got him down and give him a good beating. I had given him some advice in wrestling. As I once used to Box & Wrestle. The lady principal of the school and all the kids watched this fight. The lady principal loved the big kid. To see him get whipped by my little boy Perry was more than she could take. After that Perry was King of the Kids at school. If any big kid tried to mistreat a small one, Perry would settle that rite now. Even the Big Bully was afraid of Perry now, and had to be good. But that hurt the lady principal so she came to me complaining about Perry fighting in school. I told her I knew all about it and that I didnt intend to let my boy get beat up by kids twice his size. I also asked her why she let that Bully Kid beat up on other kids. I told her that Perry had a rite to defend himself. Perry never started the trouble and that I would take a hand in this affair myself. I told her my son was well liked by all the neighbors, and their kids. I also told her I was going to take Perry out of her school real soon, move away to another state. Which I did. Perry is no Angel he has done wrong many times same as so many other kids. Rite is Rite and wrong is wrong. I dont stick up for his wrong doings. He must pay the Hardway when he does wrong, law is Boss he knows that by now.

  YOUTH—Perry joined the merchant Marines in second war. I went to Alaska, he came later and joined me there. I trapped furs and Perry worked with the Alaska Road Commission the first winter then he got work on the railroad for a short while. He couldn’t get the work he liked to do. Yes—he give me $ now and then when he had it. He also sent me $30.00 a month while in Korea war while he was there from beginning until the end and was dischard in Seattle, Wash. Honorable as far as I know. He is mechanically inclined. Bulldozers, draglines, shovels, heavy duty trucks of all type is his desire. For the experience he has had he is real good. Somewhat reckless and speed crazy with motorcycles and light cars. But since he has had a good taste of what speed will do, and his both legs Broke & hip injury he now has slowed down on that I’m sure.

  RECREATION—INTERESTS. Yes he had several girl friends, soon as he found a girl to mistreat him or trifle, he would quit her. He never was married as far as I know. My troubles with his mother made him afraid of marriage somewhat. Im a Sober man and as far as I know Perry is also a person that dont like drunks. Perry is like myself a great deal. He likes Company of decent type—outdoors people, he like myself, likes to be by himself also he likes best to work for himself. As I do. I’m a jack of all trades, so to speak, master of few and so is Perry. I showed him how to make a living working for himself as a fur trapper, prospector, carpenter, woodsman, horses, etc. I know how to cook and so does he, not a professional cook just plane cooking for himself. Bake bread, etc. hunt, and fish, trap, do most anything else. As I said before, Perry likes to be his own Boss & if he is given a chance to work at a job he likes, tell him how you want it done, then leave him alone, he will take great pride in doing his work. If he sees the Boss appreciates his work he will go out of his way for him. But dont get tuff with him. Tell him in a pleasant way how you want to have it done. He is very touchie, his feeling is very easily hurt, and so are mine. I have quit several jobs & so has Perry on account of Bully Bosses. Perry does not have much schooling I dont either, I only had second reader. But dont let that make you think we are not sharp. Im a self taught man & so is Perry. A White Colar job is not for Perry or me. But outdoors jobs we can master & if we cant, show him or me how its done & in just a couple of days we can master a job or machine. Books are out. Actual experience we both catch on rite now, if we like to work at it. First of all we must like the job. But now hes a Cripple and almost middle-aged man. Perry knows he is not wanted now by Contracters, cripples can’t get jobs on heavy equiptment, unless you are well know to the Contracter. He is beginning to realize that, he is beginning to think of a more easier way of supporting himself in line with my life. Im sure Im correct. I also think speed is no longer his desire. I notice all that now in his letters to me. He says “be careful Dad. Don’t drive if you feel sleepy, better stop & rest by the road side.” These are the same words I used to tell him. Now he’s telling me. He’s learned a lesson.

  As I see it—Perry has learned a lesson he will never forget. Freedom means everything to him you will never get him behind bars again. Im quite sure Im rite. I notice a big change in the way he talks. He deeply regrets his mistake he told me. I also know he feels ashamed to meet people he knows he will not tell them he was behind bars. He asked me not to mention where he is to his friends. When he wrote & told me he was behind bars, I told him let that be a lesson—that I was glad that it happened that way when it could have been worse. Someone could have shot him. I also told him to take his term behind bars with a smile U done it yourself. U know better. I didn’t raise you to steal from others, so dont complain to me how tuff it is in prison. Be a good boy in prison. & he promised that he would. I hope he is a good prisoner. Im sure no one will talk him into stealing anymore. The law is boss, he knows that. He loves his Freedom.

  How well I know that Perry is goodhearted if you treat him rite. Treat him mean & you got a buzz saw to fight. You can trust him with any amount of $ if your his friend. He will do as you say he wont steal a cent from a friend or anyone else. Before this happened. And I sincerely hope he will live the rest of his life a honest man. He did steal something in Company with others when he was a little kid. just ask Perry if I was a good father to him ask him if his mother was good to him in Frisco. Perry knows whats good for him. U got him whipped forever. He knows when he’s beat. He’s not a dunce. He knows life is too short to sweet to spend behind bars ever again.

  RELATIVES. One sister Bobo married, and me his father is all that is living of Perry. Bobo & her husband are self-supporting. Own their own home & I’m able & active to take care of myself also. I sold my lodge in Alaska two years ago. I intend to have another small place of my own next year. I located several mineral claims & hope to get something out of them. Besides that I have not given up prospecting. I am also asked to write a book on artistic wood carving, and the famous Trappers Den Lodge I build in Alaska once my homestead known by all tourists that travel by car to Anchorage and maybe I will. I’ll share all I have with Perry. Anytime I eat he eats. As long as Im alive. & when I die Ive got life insurance that will be paid to him so he can start LIFE Anew when he gets free again. In case Im not alive then.

  This biography always set racing a stable of emotions—self-pity in the lead, love and hate running evenly at first, the latter ultimately pulling ahead. And most of the memories it released were unwanted, though not all. In fact, the first part of his life that Perry could remember was treasurable—a fragment composed of applause, glamour. He was perhaps three, and he was seated with his sisters and his older brother in the grandstand at an open-air rodeo; in the ring, a lean Cherokee girl rode a wild horse, a “bucking bronc,” and her loosened hair whipped back and forth, flew about like a flamenco dancer’s. Her name was Flo Buckskin, and she was a professional rodeo performer, a “champion bronc-rider.” So was her husband, Tex John Smith; it was while touring the Western rodeo circuit that the handsome Indian girl and the homely-handsome Irish cowboy had met, married, and had the four children sitting in the grandstand. (A
nd Perry could remember many another rodeo spectacle—see again his father skipping about inside a circle of spinning lassos, or his mother, with silver and turquoise bangles jangling on her wrists, trick-riding at a desperado speed that thrilled her youngest child and caused crowds in towns from Texas to Oregon to “stand up and clap.”)

  Until Perry was five, the team of “Tex & Flo” continued to work the rodeo circuit. As a way of life, it wasn’t “any gallon of ice cream,” Perry once recalled: “Six of us riding in an old truck, sleeping in it, too, sometimes, living off mush and Hershey kisses and condensed milk. Hawks Brand condensed milk it was called, which is what weakened my kidneys—the sugar content—which is why I was always wetting the bed.” Yet it was not an unhappy existence, especially for a little boy proud of his parents, admiring of their showmanship and courage—a happier life, certainly, than what replaced it. For Tex and Flo, both forced by ailments to retire from their occupation, settled near Reno, Nevada. They fought, and Flo “took to whiskey,” and then, when Perry was six, she departed for San Francisco, taking the children with her. It was exactly as the old man had written: “I let her go and said goodby as she took the car and left me behind (this was during depression). My children all cryed at the top of their voices. She only cursed them saying they would run away to come to me later.” And, indeed, over the course of the next three years Perry had on several occasions run off, set out to find his lost father, for he had lost his mother as well, learned to “despise” her; liquor had blurred the face, swollen the figure of the once sinewy, limber Cherokee girl, had “soured her soul,” honed her tongue to the wickedest point, so dissolved her self-respect that generally she did not bother to ask the names of the stevedores and trolley-car conductors and such persons who accepted what she offered without charge (except that she insisted they drink with her first, and dance to the tunes of a wind-up Victrola).

  Consequently, as Perry recalled, “I was always thinking about Dad, hoping he could come take me away, and I remember, like a second ago, the time I saw him again. Standing in the schoolyard. It was like when the ball hits the bat really solid. Di Maggio. Only Dad wouldn’t help me. Told me to be good and hugged me and went away. It was not long afterward my mother put me to stay in a Catholic orphanage. The one where the Black Widows were always at me. Hitting me. Because of wetting the bed. Which is one reason I have an aversion to nuns. And God. And religion. But later on I found there are people even more evil. Because, after a couple of months, they tossed me out of the orphanage, and she [his mother] put me some place worse. A children’s shelter operated by the Salvation Army. They hated me, too. For wetting the bed. And being half-Indian. There was this one nurse, she used to call me ‘nigger’ and say there wasn’t any difference between niggers and Indians. Oh, Jesus, was she an Evil Bastard! Incarnate. What she used to do, she’d fill a tub with ice-cold water, put me in it, and hold me under till I was blue. Nearly drowned. But she got found out, the bitch. Because I caught pneumonia. I almost conked. I was in the hospital two months. It was while I was so sick that Dad came back. When I got well, he took me away.”

  For almost a year father and son lived together in the house near Reno, and Perry went to school. “I finished the third grade,” Perry recalled. “Which was the finish. I never went back. Because that summer Dad built a primitive sort of trailer, what he called a ‘house car.’ It had two bunks and a little cooking galley. The stove was good. You could cook anything on it. Baked our own bread. I used to put up preserves—pickled apples, crabapple jelly. Anyway, for the next six years we shifted around the country. Never stayed nowhere too long. When we stayed some place too long, people would begin to look at Dad, act like he was a character, and I hated that, it hurt me. Because I loved Dad then. Even though he could be rough on me. Bossy as hell. But I loved Dad then. So I was always glad when we moved on.” Moved on—to Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, eventually Alaska. In Alaska, Tex taught his son to dream of gold, to hunt for it in the sandy beds of snow-water streams, and there, too, Perry learned to use a gun, skin a bear, track wolves and deer.

  “Christ, it was cold,” Perry remembered. “Dad and I slept hugged together, rolled up in blankets and bearskins. Mornings, before daylight, I’d hustle our breakfast, biscuits and syrup, fried meat, and off we went to scratch a living. It would have been O.K. if only I hadn’t grown up; the older I got, the less I was able to appreciate Dad. He knew everything, one way, but he didn’t know anything, another way. Whole sections of me Dad was ignorant of. Didn’t understand an iota of. Like I could play a harmonica first time I picked one up. Guitar, too. I had this great natural musical ability. Which Dad didn’t recognize. Or care about. I liked to read, too. Improve my vocabulary. Make up songs. And I could draw. But I never got any encouragement—from him or anybody else. Nights I used to lie awake—trying to control my bladder, partly, and partly because I couldn’t stop thinking. Always, when it was too cold hardly to breathe, I’d think about Hawaii. About a movie I’d seen. With Dorothy Lamour. I wanted to go there. Where the sun was. And all you wore was grass and flowers.”

  Wearing considerably more, Perry, one balmy evening in wartime 1945, found himself inside a Honolulu tattoo parlor having a snake-and-dagger design applied to his left forearm. He had got there by the following route: a row with his father, a hitchhike journey from Anchorage to Seattle, a visit to the recruiting offices of the Merchant Marine. “But I never would have joined if I’d known what I was going up against,” Perry once said. “I never minded the work, and I liked being a sailor—seaports, and all that. But the queens on ship wouldn’t leave me alone. A sixteen-year-old kid, and a small kid. I could handle myself, sure. But a lot of queens aren’t effeminate, you know. Hell, I’ve known queens could toss a pool table out the window. And the piano after it. Those kind of girls, they can give you an evil time, especially when there’s a couple of them, they get together and gang up on you, and you’re just a kid. It can make you practically want to kill yourself. Years later, when I went into the Army—when I was stationed in Korea—the same problem came up. I had a good record in the Army, good as anybody; they gave me the Bronze Star. But I never got promoted. After four years, and fighting through the whole goddam Korean war, I ought at least to have made corporal. But I never did. Know why? Because the sergeant we had was tough. Because I wouldn’t roll over. Jesus, I hate that stuff. I can’t stand it. Though—I don’t know. Some queers I’ve really liked. As long as they didn’t try anything. The most worthwhile friend I ever had, really sensitive and intelligent, he turned out to be queer.”

  In the interval between quitting the Merchant Marine and entering the Army, Perry had made peace with his father, who, when his son left him, drifted down to Nevada, then back to Alaska. In 1952, the year Perry completed his military service, the old man was in the midst of plans meant to end his travels forever. “Dad was in a fever,” Perry recalled. “Wrote me he had bought some land on the highway outside Anchorage. Said he was going to have a hunting lodge, a place for tourists. ‘Trapper’s Den Lodge’—that was to be the name. And asked me to hurry on up there and help him build it. He was sure we’d make a fortune. Well, while I was still in the Army, stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, I’d bought a motorcycle (murdercycles, they ought to call them), and as soon as I got discharged I headed for Alaska. Got as far as Bellingham. Up there on the border. It was raining. My bike went into a skid.”

  The skid delayed for a year the reunion with his father. Surgery and hospitalization account for six months of that year; the remainder he spent recuperating in the forest home, near Bellingham, of a young Indian logger and fisherman. “Joe James. He and his wife befriended me. The difference in our age was only two or three years, but they took me into their home and treated me like I was one of their kids. Which was O.K. Because they took trouble with their kids and liked them. At the time they had four; the number finally went to seven. They were very good to me, Joe and his family. I was on crutches, I was pretty helpless. Jus
t had to sit around. So to give me something to do, try to make myself useful, I started what became a sort of school. The pupils were Joe’s kids, along with some of their friends, and we held classes in the parlor. I was teaching harmonica and guitar. Drawing. And penmanship. Everybody always remarks what a beautiful handwriting I have. I do, and it’s because once I bought a book on the subject and practiced till I could write same as in the book. Also, we used to read stories—the kids did, each one in turn, and I’d correct them as we went along. It was fun. I like kids. Little kids. And that was a nice time. But then the spring came. It hurt me to walk, but I could walk. And Dad was still waiting for me.”

 
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