As Good As Can Be by William A. Glass Genre: Coming of Age, Historical Fiction
Dave Knight is a wayward child growing up in a military family during the 1950s. His older sister wants to kill him but settles for regularly beating him up. Other siblings join in the mayhem while their alcoholic father contributes to the chaos with his unique approach to parenting. As the Knight family moves from one army base to the next, Dave develops a give-a-damn attitude, which often leads to trouble.
In high school, he joins other delinquents in a series of escapades, some dangerous, others funny, and a few that would be worthy of jail time should they ever be caught.
After barely graduating, Dave is drafted into the army and sent to guard a nuclear weapons depot in Korea. There, he gets into trouble with his sergeant and tries to avoid dishonorable discharge.
Dave Knight is on his toes peering through a playroom window at the snow. It fell overnight, but there are already tracks in the fresh powder. They lead to the shallow end of the swimming pool. Several servants have gathered there, and now Dave sees why. “Uh-oh, Haji fell into the pool again,” he exclaims.
“Let me see,” Melissa says, shoving Dave aside. Haji Baba is her donkey, and she watches with concern as two houseboys cling to his tail. The driver, Mahmoud, is partway on the ice holding the animal’s neck. “Stupid donkey,” Melissa says. “Now he’s stuck.” She allows the curtain to close and goes out.
Soon Melissa is back holding a Coca-Cola bottle. “This is for you,” she says and gives the drink to Dave. He takes a swallow and immediately gags. As he regurgitates his breakfast, Dave’s nurse, Farah, rushes over and looks at what’s left of the drink. “You give brother soap water,” she says to Melissa. “Bad girl.” Farah spins Melissa around and gives her two bops on the behind. Then she takes Dave on her hip and carries him down the hall to the master bedroom.
Lieutenant Colonel David S. Knight Jr. answers Farah’s knock. He belts his uniform jacket while listening to Farah describe what Melissa did. Then the officer wrinkles his nose. “What’s that smell?” he asks.
“He throw up,” Farah replies.
“Well, get him changed, we have to leave,” Knight tells the nurse. “Stop sniveling,” he barks at Dave.
“You don’t have to holler at the poor child,” Bobbie Knight says to her husband. She’s still in bed, propped up on pillows having breakfast. “I wonder why Melissa takes such delight in tormenting him.”
Farah carries Dave into the bathroom to clean up. Then she takes him to the bedroom he shares with his brother, Dan, who’s sitting on the floor playing. The toddler looks up and blinks his brown eyes curiously as Farah gets Dave into a fresh set of clothes. Dan’s the only one of the children to inherit Knight’s dark good looks. The others all have Bobbie’s fair hair, light-colored eyes, and Celtic complexion.
While Farah gets Dave ready, Knight goes downstairs to the kitchen. His youngest child, Marie, is in a high chair being spoon-fed breakfast by the family’s cook, Aliya. “Where in the hell is Mahmoud?” Knight asks with an impatient glance at his watch.
“Haji fall in pool,” Aliya replies.
“Not again,” Knight exclaims. He stalks to the front door past Oscar, who’s wagging his tail in anticipation of a pat on the head. Knight ignores the dog and goes outside, where he’s momentarily stunned by the sight of the Alborz Mountains rising in front of him. With the sun just up, only the peaks are illuminated, so the icy spires appear to be floating. It’s a captivating illusion, but Knight now turns his attention to the swimming pool. “Where’s the goddamn rope?” he shouts after a quick assessment.
“I get,” Mahmoud hollers back. He beckons a gardener to take his place holding Haji’s neck.
As the driver makes his way to the stable through deep snow, Knight lights a cigarette. He watches Mahmoud return to the pool with a length of thick rope, loop it across the donkey’s chest, and then organize the other servants to pull on the ends. They quickly haul the animal out. “Put Haji back in the shed and lock the gate,” Knight directs. “What idiot left it open anyway?”
Flicking the cigarette away, Knight reenters the house to see Farah coming down the stairs with Dave who is once again properly attired. Melissa follows, holding the hand of her nurse. Knight shepherds both schoolchildren outside and into the backseat of the family car. Mahmoud closes the door behind his passengers then gets behind the wheel. “Don’t you people ever learn?” Knight asks as the vehicle gathers speed.
“No, you don’t, or you would’ve got the rope right away.”
“That’s what I mean,” Knight laughs. “You forget what worked last time and go back to what was not working last time; pulling on the poor creature’s tail, for Chrissake.”
Knight relaxes now that they’re on the way, and soon the vehicle is passing through the outskirts of Tehran. At first, there’s little traffic, but as they near downtown, the streets become congested. Wagons drawn by horses or donkeys intermingle with bicycles, pushcarts, automobiles, and trucks. Businesses housed in rudely constructed cinder block buildings line the road. In between are rubble-strewn vacant lots that shabbily dressed pedestrians cut through on their way to work.
Once past the commercial district, the neighborhood improves, and soon Mahmoud is turning onto the treelined street that leads to the United States embassy. It’s in a compound that takes up an entire city block. Enclosed within the walls are the ambassador’s residence, an apartment building, a dinner club, barracks for the Marines, and the multistory embassy building, which is topped with an antennae array. This electronic gear was installed by Knight and his command to spy on the Russians.
As the Knights’ car approaches the embassy entrance, a crowd chants anti-American slogans. Many of the protestors carry signs while others shake their fists. They crowd around the front gate, so a squad of Marines comes out to clear the way. Then a sergeant waves the vehicle through, and now, despite all the chaos at the house this morning, Mahmoud pulls up to the embassy building right on time. He springs out of the driver’s seat to open the back door, and the Knights go inside. Once past more Marine security, they approach a bank of elevators. Melissa and Dave take one down to the basement schoolroom, while their father goes up to his spacious corner office on the sixth floor.
Bill is a retired business executive now living in South Carolina with his wife, Bettina. She teaches high school German while Bill coaches soccer at a small college. Their three sons, Alex, Robert, and Gordon, have all graduated from college and moved away to pursue careers.
For recreation, Bettina and Bill enjoy hiking and camping out. Usually, they take their dog, Scout, along. When the weather permits, Bill commutes to work on his motorcycle.
THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR
Guest Post by William A. Glass, author of As Good As Can Be
As Good As Can Be’ is a work of fiction, but it draws from my experiences growing up in an army family. To keep the narrative moving, I left many interesting real-life happenings out. Some were easy to cut because they revisited ground already travelled. Below are summaries of two real-life episodes that I hated to leave out but did.
In 1955 my family including alcoholic father, ineffectual mother, and five wild kids, traveled to Europe on the SS United States. On the last night of the voyage, my parents were invited to dine with the captain. They left my sister, then 11, in charge of her five younger siblings. We played nicely until eleven or so when the fighting started. After a storm of complaints from neighboring cabins, the deck steward tried but couldn’t stop the mayhem. He called on a ship’s officer who also failed to halt the effusion of blood. The lieutenant reluctantly went up to the first-class dining room for a word with the captain, who then asked Lt. Colonel Glass to restore order in his cabin. My father had been charming the socks off of a Duchess (or so he claimed) and was so irate at being interrupted that he kept us children up for the rest of the night which meant we were all asleep that morning when the ship made a brief stop to let passengers off in Liverpool.Dadwas still awake, however, and went ashore. Later he rubbed it in that he saw England and we didn’t. The ship landed in Bremerhaven that evening, and the Glass family spent the next four years in Germany.
Another episode that occurred in real life and almost made it into the book is when I went to visit my older sister after she trapped a boy from college into marrying her. She was living with him, his mother, and her child on a beautiful stretch of the Chesapeake Bay on the Eastern shore of Maryland. The mother-in-law was a cold,blue-blood. The son was a spoiled rich kid who was more interested in his toys (airplane, sport-fishing boat, and race car) then the child. The three of them were living in an antebellum plantation house complete with African-American servants. In the morning, I went up in the plane with my brother-in-law, who tried mightily to get me to throw up. When that failed, he took to dive-bombing the house to wake my sister. I had a private chat with her before I left.Sheadmitted that things were tense in the house, and she felt isolated. However,anything was better than being at home with our family!
There were other scenes that were left on the cutting room floor in order to keep the length of As Good As Can Be within reason. The above ones were the hardest ones for me to get rid of!
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