Campfire Video Transcript

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[edit] Transcript of the Campfire Story

My great-grandfather came out to Randsburg when he was seventeen to work at the Yellow Aster Mine. And though he passed on when I was still quite young, I remember him vividly. He was unlike anybody else in my world, unlike anyone I ever met, and whenever he visited it was as if he'd just wandered in from some kind of barren and blasted land that was out there beyond our own.

He was a big man; he moved slowly, with great deliberation. And he had this voice that was from another time, or another place. He used to tell stories of his life in the desert that were unbelievable. I don't mean to say that they were invented or exaggerated, because I don't believe the man knew how to lie, and he certainly never saw the need to fortify the truth. I just mean that looking at that great, gray man, it was hard to imagine he had ever been a seventeen-year-old kid - some skinny kid - or that this land had ever been that wild. And sometimes when he was telling his stories, you could see that he could hardly believe it himself.

Some of his stories were funny, but some were so sad. And some seemed pointless to me. But one he came back to frequently, so frequently that sometimes I'd say "Grandpapa, I've... I've heard this one before," and he'd look at me and say "You listen now, boy," and he'd fix me with those watery blue eyes, and I would listen. It was years after he died before I realized that he was not telling me that story; he was giving it to me like a lesson, or a gift... or a warning. And now, I'm giving it to you. It's the story of Grayson Ozias the Fourth.

Grayson Ozias came out here to try and pull a fortune from the land, like so many other men before him. But with him, there was this kind of sense of inevitability, as though all he had to do was to set his mind to it, and he would make it happen. It wasn't cockiness, my great-grandfather assured me. Grayson seemed to show little concern for the fortune he was bound to reap from this desert. It was more part of his attempt to be like other men: men looked for gold, Grayson was a man, so Grayson looked for gold. And if Grayson Ozias looked for something, he damned well was going to find it. He was that kind of guy.

In fact, my great-grandfather met him totally by chance one day, and that self-same day he quit his job at the Yellow Aster Mine - a good job - to go to work with this stranger on a no-name claim, based entirely on Grayson's... conviction, I guess you'd call it, his sense of certainty. And that's how it happened that my great-grandfather was in the mine with Grayson when his find came in. And he told me that that moment was for him still the most vivid memory of his life, something he admitted with a little bit of sheepishness, given the fact that he'd had three marriages and many children, many grandchildren, and even a few great-grandchildren.

They were working the mine around midnight, although down in the dark of that mine, by lamplight, it could've been anytime at all. They had been going all day, and my great-grandfather was pretty well spent, so he had stopped to take a breather, was leaning on his pick, and watching Grayson. He saw Grayson haul off and hit a point of rock, which broke away in one piece, and laid bare this kind of gleaming strip of... like nothing he had ever seen before. It didn't look like what he expected it to, but the moment he saw it, he knew exactly what it was: paydirt. He said his voice filled that room like the yells of a drunken madman. And he looked over to catch Grayson's eye and share this moment with him, and he saw Grayson's expression by the lamplight as he looked down at this vein of ore. His eyes were cold and lifeless, like a snake. My grandfather - my great-grandfather - quieted up pretty quick, and watched Grayson as he reached out to touch this vein, hesitantly, almost as though he was almost afraid it might burn him, as if it was made of fire. He ran his finger along it and he seemed to be waiting for the gold to transform him, somehow, into the kind of man who could be content with the things that contented other men: riches, wealth... He knelt down to get close to it. He stared at it. He closed his eyes and waited... nothing. Then he opened his eyes and looked at my great-grandfather and said "Well, John, I guess that wasn't it after all. So be it." And with that he stood up, picked up his pick and got back to work.

That find turned out to be the most lucrative claim in all of Randsburg apart from the Yellow Aster Mine itself. It got a lot of notice in town, and probably would've caused a lot of jealouly for Grayson had it not been for the fact that he himself was totally unconcerned with money, uninterested. And in fact newcomers to the town often mistook my ever more dapper and dandy great-grandfather for the owner of the mine, rather than just the really well-paid hand that he truly was.

By day, Grayson worked at the mine; at night, he started playing his fiddle up at the saloon. People said that he'd never looked happier than when he was playing a reel and folks were dancing around and their feet stomping on the wooden boards. And that's how it went for a while: he worked in the mine by day; by night he was up at the saloon, sawing on a fiddle.

But there was another side to him, a darker side that not so many people saw. And in these bleak moments, you could find him clinging to his tattered and treasured volume of Leaves of Grass, poring over the pages, looking for some wisdom in the pages, trying to find something in these verses that he'd long since memorized, that could help him out in his situation.

And then one day he came to my great-grandfather and announced that he had sold his claim to Frederick Moores, and he took three-quarters of the money that he'd made from the mine and from the - from the sale of the claim. And he gave it to my great-grandfather with a - with a quote from Whitman. He said "Here's 'My Legacy'... my bundle of poems."

Grayson told my great-grandfather that when he realized that gold wasn't the answer he'd been looking for, he thought maybe he could find it in the work, or maybe he could find it in the camaraderie of friends, or maybe he could find it in the sense of belonging to this community. So he soldiered on. He worked the mine, he swung the pick. He played his fiddle. He danced, he drank, he sang. but in the end he had to admit to himself - he had to come to terms with the fact that there was no one place in this broad country where he would ever be at peace... that, in fact, the entirety of it was his home, and only through constant movement would he ever feel whole.

So he took the remainder of his money, he packed it up in a simple crate, and one frigid morning he loaded that crate onto the back of a pack mule along with some provisions and his fiddle, and then he saddled up his favorite colt and he rode out of Randsburg without a backwards glance.

My great-grandfather believed that certain men were chosen, like Grayson, to be forever restless in seeking something that could never be known, until the seeking became the thing itself. He felt that Grayson was a gift to us, someone we could learn from and profit by, and that the restlessness was the way that this gift was expressed.

"Let it be as if I were there with you." Those were Grayson's last words to my great-grandfather. And many years later, that was how my great-grandfather said goodbye to me.

So, one day in 1896 Grayson Ozias the Fourth rode east out of Randsburg and was never seen again by any who spoke of him. But I believe that from the day he left New York in 1890 'till the day he left this world forever, he spread behind him hope, like petals spinning in the wake of a great boat. That is who my great-grandfather told me Grayson Ozias the Fourth was. Let it be as though he were here with you.

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