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Gump and Co. Chapter 14

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Chapter 14

Then one day it happened. They shut us down.

Me an little Forrest got down to the dock one mornin an they is big ole signs posted everwhere, say Due to Pollution in the Water There Will Be No More Oysterin Under Penalty of Law Till Further Notice.

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Well, this come as bad news, indeed. After all, we is hangin on by just about a thread, but they wadn’t nothin to do cept go on back home. It was a pretty dreary night all around, an in the mornin I am feelin glum, settin at the breakfast table, drinkin coffee, when little Forrest come in the kitchen.

“I got a idea,” he says.

“Yeah, what?”

“I think I have figgered out a way to start harvestin oysters again.”

“How is that?” I ast.

“Well, I been studyin up on it,” little Forrest says. “Spose we can convince the state fish n wildlife people that any oysters we harvest is gonna be free of any pollution?”

“How is we gonna do that?”

“Move em,” he says.

“Move what?”

“The oysters. See, a oyster thrives in pollution, but you can’t eat em, cause it’ll make you sick. We all know that. But accordin to the research I done, a oyster purges itself completely every twenty-four hours.”

“So what?”

“Well, spose we tong up the oysters in the polluted water, an then move them out to the Gulf, where it is clear an clean an salty? All we have to do is sink the oysters in a few feet of water for a day or so, an they’ll be clean an pure an fresh as a whistle.”

“We can do that?” I ast.

“Yeah. I’m pretty sure. I mean, all we need to do is get another ole skiff an tow it out to one of them islands where the water is clear, put the oysters we tonged up here in it, an sink it for a day. Those oysters will have purged themselfs entirely of anything bad and I bet they’ll taste better, too, cause they’ll pick up the salt from the Gulf water.”

“Hey,” I says, “that sounds like it really might work.”

“Yeah. I mean, it’ll be a little more to do, account of we gotta move the oysters and then pick em up again, but it’s better than nothin.”

So that’s what we did.

Somehow we managed to convince the state Fish an Wildlife Service that our oysters wasn’t gonna be no threat to nobody. We started out movin em from the bay beds to the Gulf in the skiff, but pretty soon we was so busy we had to buy us a barge. An also, the price we got for our oysters went sky high, account of we was the only big-time game in town.

As the weeks an months went by, we added to our operation by gettin more an more barges, an we had to hire more people to help us in the oysterin bidness.

Little Forrest also done come up with another idea, an in fact, it was what made us rich.

“Listen,” he says one day after we brought in a big load of oysters, “I been thinkin – Where is the best place to grow a oyster?”

“In shit,” I answered.

“Exactly,” he says. “An where is there the most shit in the whole bay?”

“Probly by the sewage treatment plant,” I says.

“Exactly! So here’s what we do, we go out there an plant oysters! Thousands of em – millions. We can use planks or somethin to mature the spat – which is the baby oysters. Set the whole thing up on a regular basis with boats tongin up the new oysters an movin em to our barges out in the Gulf. I’ve even got a idea for a submersible barge, so’s we just take it out an sink it with the polluted oysters, then in a day or so pump it out, an presto, we got a bargeload of pure, fresh oysters!”

So that is also what we done.

In a year, we are harvestin more oysters by the sewage treatment plant than the law ought to allow an we have expanded our operation to include a oyster processin plant an shippin section, an we have also got a marketin division, too.

GUMP & COMPANY is what I have named ourselfs, an we is sellin premium-grade oysters all over the United States of America!

All this has cheered up Jenny’s mama so, that she become our receptionist. She says she feels “totally rejuvenated” an don’t want to go to the po house no more. She has even bought hersef a new Cadillac convertible that she drives around with the top down, wearin a sleeveless sundress an a bonnet.

As the months go by, we have got so big I went on a hirin spree. I located Mr. Ivan Bozosky an Mike Mulligan, an put them in charge of the accountin department, figgerin they have learned a lesson durin their terms in jail.

Ole Slim, from my encyclopedia days, I put in charge of sales, an he has increased our volume by five-hundrit percent! Curtis an Snake, whose football playin days with the Giants an Saints is over, I put in charge of “security.”

Now, ole Alfred Hopewell, from the new CokeCola bidness, I put him in the position of research an development. His wife, Mrs. Hopewell, whose circumstances have been considerably reduced since the riot in Atlanta, she is now our government liaison director, an let me say this: We ain’t had no problems with the state Fish an Wildlife Service since she got on the job. Ever time she have a meetin with them fellers in her office, I hear her Chinese gong sound, an know that all is well.

Mister McGivver, from the pig-farmin enterprise, was havin trouble findin a job after the Exxon-Valdez disaster, an so I put him in charge of our oyster barge operations. He has quit drinkin, an none of our barges have had so much as a bump on the bottom, now that he is in control.

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However, he still enjoys talkin like a pirate, which I figger might help keep his crews in line.

Ole Colonel North is also havin a bit of trouble of his own, an I give him a job runnin our covert operations department, which is basically makin sure that our oysters come up fresh an pure, an have no taint or stain to em.

“One day, Gump,” he says, “I am gonna run for the U.S. Senate, an show them bastids what common decency is all about.”

“Right, Colonel,” I tell him, “but meantime, just keep our oysters’ noses clean down here – You know what I mean?”

I was gonna try to hire the Ayatolja to run our moral an spiritual relations department, but he gone an died, an so I got the Reverend Jim Bakker for the job. He is doin pretty good, blessin all our boats an barges an everthin, but his wife, Tammy Faye, don’t get along so good with Mrs. Hopewell an her Chinese gong, an so I am gonna have to do somethin about that.

As crew for our harvestin an processin operations, I have got the entire staff from Reverend Bakker’s Holy Land: Moses from the “Burnin Bush,” Jonah from the whale scene, Jacob an his “Coat of Many Colors,” an all of Pharaoh’s Army are now our oyster shuckers. Also, I have got the feller that played Jesus in the “Ascendin into Heaven” act an Daniel with his lion from the “Lion’s Den” attraction, thowin out oyster spat in our maritime farmin bidness. The lion, who has gotten kinda ole an moldy, he just sets outside the door to my office, an lets out a roar sometimes. He has lost most of his teeth by now, but has developed a taste for oysters on the half shell, which I spose is all to the good.

Miss Hudgins, from my Ivan Bozosky days, is now our chief shippin dispatcher, an Elaine, from Elaine’s restaurant in New York City, is one of our main customers for Gump & Company farm fresh oysters. The venerable old New York law firm of Dewey, Screwum & Howe represent us in our legal matters, an the prosecutor, Mr. Guguglianti, who has found hissef another job, is a sometimes “adviser” on criminal matters – assumin we have any.

I have also found jobs for all members of the army football teams in Germany, the Swagmien Sour Krauts an Wiesbaden Wizards, who do various things around the plant. An Eddie, the limo driver from my New York tycoon days, I put in charge of transportation. Furthermore, I have offered jobs to ole Saddamn Hussein an General Scheisskopf, but they both wrote back nice letters sayin they had “other weenies to roast.” Saddamn, however, says he is keepin his “options open,” an may be back in touch later.

Finally, I hired good ole Sergeant Kranz to be my plant manager, an it is good to see the ole sergeant again, an get his ration of shit.

But actually, I am savin the best for last. After we become successful, I got up the courage to write to Gretchen. Lo an behole, after a week I got a really beautiful letter back from her, tellin me all about hersef an how she is comin in the university, an the letter is in such good English I can hardly read it.

“Dearest Forrest,” she writes, “I have missed you every day since you left for the war and was terrified something had happened to you. I even checked through the American Embassy here, and after some research, they told me you were now out of the army and were well. That was all that mattered…”

Gretchen gone on to say that aside from English, she is workin on a bidness degree an hopes one day to open a restaurant, but that she would sure like to see me. She got her wish. In two weeks she was settin right down in our plant in Bayou La Batre, headin up our international operations division. At night, we’d take long walks along the beach an hole hands like we did in the ole days, an I was finally beginnin to feel sort of happy again. Kinda like I have a purpose in life, but I am takin it slow.

Meantime, Bubba’s daddy was kinda lookin for a job, so I made him processin supervisor, and let me say this: He rides them oyster shuckers hard.

An so, here we all are, growin, tongin, bargin, shuckin, processin, cannin, an shippin oysters. An makin money hand over foot! Above my desk I have a quotation that little Forrest has had done up for me. It is solid gold on a face of black velvet an is from the ole writer Jonathan Swift, an says: “He Was a Bold Man That First Ate a Oyster,” which is, of course, too true.

Only problem is, ole Smitty an his crew are not likin our bidness one bit. I even offered em jobs, but Smitty say his people don’t work in no “integrated” positions, an so we are havin sort of a Mexican standoff. Ever so often, somebody will cut our boat lines at night, or put sugar in our gas tanks, or other chickenshit stuff, but I am tryin to take it in stride. After all, we is doin so good, I do not want to blow it by gettin in a personal feud.

So far, the months is goin by fairly peaceful, when little Forrest one night ast the question, what about ole Wanda?

“Well,” I says, “I reckon they probly treatin her pretty good up at the zoo in Washington,” but he ain’t satisfied.

“Well,” I says, “let us write them a letter an see if they will send her back.”

So that’s what we did.

Few months later, there come the reply.

“The National Zoo does not return animals that rightfully belong to it” was pretty much the gist of it.

“Well,” little Forrest says, “that don’t seem fair. I mean, after all, we raised her from a piglet, didn’t we?”

“Yup, I reckon,” I says. “We just lent her to the zoo while I was away with the Ayatolja.”

Anyway, we went to see Colonel North, who was operatin out of a guardhouse he had built on our grounds, an tole him the situation.

“Them bastids,” he began, employin his usual tact an diplomacy. “Then we will just have to organize a clandestin operation to get Wanda back.”

An we did that, too.

Colonel North spent months preparin for the clandestin operation. He has bought all sorts of camouflage clothes, an greasepaint for our faces, an scalin wire an hacksaws an knives an compasses an stuff. When I ast him what the plan is, he says we will figger it out when we get there.

The day finally come when we get to Washington, an we went out near the zoo an hid out in a park till nighttime. By midnight, all we can hear from the zoo is the bears an lions an tigers growlin an an occasional bellow from the elephant.

“Anight, it’s time to saddle up,” says Colonel North, an the three of us begin to sneak into the zoo. We have just gone over the wall when all of a sudden seemed like ever light in the place come on, an sirens go off an bells clang, an in no time, we is surrounded by about fifty police.

“I thought you was sposed to be a expert at this sort of thing,” I says to the colonel.

“Yeah, I thought I was, too,” he says. “Maybe I’m just a little rusty.”

Anyhow, the colonel, he tries to get us out of it by tellin the police we is spies practicin for a top secret clandestin operation in the Iraqi zoo in Baghdad, so’s as to capture some of Saddamn Hussein’s animals an hole them hostage, an a bunch of other shit like that. The head policeman an everbody else begun laughin so hard that it give little Forrest time to slip away in the confusion. Finally, they was loadin us up in the paddy wagon, when a shout broke out in the night, follered by a oink.

It was little Forrest an Wanda, who he had hacksawed out of her cage. They run by us so fast that the policeman drop everthin an go chasin after, which also gives me an the colonel a chance to escape. The police, I guess, do not know that one of the few things little Forrest inherited from me is my speed, an he gone sailin into the night like a bat out of hell. Colonel an me take off in the opposite direction, an finally we meet up at our secret hideout in the park, as we have agreed to do. Little Forrest an Wanda is already there. “Goddamn, Gump!” shouts the colonel, “we done pulled it off! That was a brilliant clandestin operation on my part, huh?”

“Yeah, Colonel,” I says, “you was slicker than owl shit.”

Anyway, we sneaked out of the park an down by the railroad tracks just about sunup, an lo an behole, they is a boxcar there on a sidin filled with pigs.

“This is great,” says the colonel. “What could be a better disguise than to hide in there?”

“For Wanda, maybe,” I says. “I ain’t sure about us.”

“Well, Gump, it’s the only game in town. Climb aboard,” he says.

So that’s what we did, an let me say this: It was a long an uncomfortable ride home – especially since the boxcar was headed out to Oregon, but somehow we made it, an the colonel, he is pattin hissef on the back the whole way.

Anyhow, we got on home with Wanda, an little Forrest seems happy as he can be, now he has his pet back. Ever day, ole Wanda sets outside my office door, across from the lion, which, fortunately for Wanda I guess, ain’t got no teeth. But he looks at her all the time in a kinda longin manner, sorta as if he wanted to marry her, or somethin.

One day, little Forrest comes up an wants to talk. We gone out to the dock, an he says what’s on his mind.

“Listen,” he says, “we been workin pretty hard here lately, haven’t we?”

“Yup.”

“So I was thinkin, maybe it’s time for a vacation.”

“What you got in mind?”

“Well, maybe we can get away from this bay, ya know? Maybe go up to the mountains. Maybe go river raftin, or somethin, huh?”

“Yeah, okay,” I says. “You got some particular place you want to go?”

“I been studin up,” he says, “an they is a place in Arkansas that looks pretty good.”

“Yeah, what is it?”

“It’s called the Whitewash River,” he says.

So that’s what we did.

Before we left, I took ole Sergeant Kranz aside an gave him his instructions as plant manager.

“Just keep things movin,” I says, “an try not to get into any shit with Smitty or any of his people. We got a bidness to run, okay?”

“Sure, Gump,” he says. “An I meant to tell you, I sure appreciate the opportunity here, ya know? I mean, my retirement from this man’s army after thirty years wadn’t somethin I was lookin forward to. An now you give me my first real job. I just want to say thanks.”

“It’s okay, Sergeant,” I tole him. “You doin a fine job. It’s good havin you around. After all, we been together more or less since them days in Vietnam, with Bubba an them, an that’s been more than half my life ago.”

“Yeah, well, that’s so, I guess. War or peace, I guess I can’t get rid of you, can I, Gump?”

“Let’s just hope they ain’t no more wars to fight, Sergeant,” I says. But in fact, they was one more, though I didn’t know it at the time.

In any case, little Forrest an me, we got packed up to go to Arkansas an the Whitewash River. Ever since we got in the oyster processin bidness, little Forrest an me have had a sort of uneasy truce. I mean, he is on his best behavior, an has saved me from mysef an my own stupidity more than once. He is vice-president an chief executive officer of Gump & Company, but in truth, he really runs the bidness, cause I certainly ain’t got the brains to.

Well, it is a cool spring day when me an little Forrest get up to the Whitewash River. We hired ourselfs a canoe an packed it with pork n beans an Vienna sausages an cheeses an bologna an bread for sambwiches, an off we went.

The Whitewash River is very beautiful, an all the way down it, little Forrest is explainin to me the geologic history of the area, which you can see cut into the riverbanks from time to time. Like he says, it is to be seen in fossils – like me, I guess. We are close to the beginnin of the famous Smackover Formation, he says, which is where all the awl in the whole southeastern United States comes from.

At night we’d camp out on the banks of the river an build a little fire from driftwood an set around an cook our pork n beans an eat our supper, an I am thinkin that this is the first vacation I have ever had. Little Forrest is pretty cheery, an I am hopin me an him can get along better as the days go by. I sure am proud of the way he has growed up an taken charge of so much stuff at the Gump & Company oyster plant, but I am also worried that he is growin up too fast. I mean, I wonder if he has ever had a real boyhood, an got to play football an stuff like I did. I ast him about it, but he says it don’t matter.

One night he give me a big surprise. He reaches in his knapsack an pulls out a ole harmonica, which in fact is the one I have kep all these years when I played it over in Vietnam an later with Jenny’s band, The Cracked Eggs. To my amazement, he done begun to play some of the ole tunes, an he played em sweeter an prettier than I ever could of. I ast him how he learned to play the thing, an he just says, “Natural instinct, I guess.”

We is almost finished with our trip down the river when I seen a feller on the banks hollerin an wavin at us an motionin to come over. So that’s what we did. We pulled in at the bank, an he come on down an grap our bow line.

“Hi,” he says. “You fellers new in these parts?”

We tole him we was from Mobile, Alabama, an that we was just passin through, but he says we gotta come up an look at some property he is tryin to sell on the river. He says it is the best property in the whole state of Arkansas, an will give it to us real cheap.

Now, I tole him we was not in the property buyin bidness just yet, but he is so persistent that I figgered it wouldn’t hurt to foller him to his property, so as not to hurt his feelins. Well, when we got there, I gotta admit, I was somewhat disappointed. I mean, it was nice land an all, but they was a lot of sort of shabby buildins aroun, an people with car gardens an rubber tires in they yards, painted white. It kinda looked like a place I might of lived in mysef – at least till a year or so ago.

Anyhow, he says to just call him Bill, an not to worry about how the “outstructures” looked, account of in a week or so they would all be torn down an replaced by million-dollar houses, an so if we signed up now, we would be the first to get in on this good deal.

“Let me tell you fellers somethin,” Bill says, “I am a politician in these parts, but politician don’t pay enough, an so I have made the investment of my lifetime in the Whitewash River enterprise, an I guarantee it can’t bring none of us nothin but satisfaction and success. You know what I mean?”

Well, ole Bill looked like sort of a nice guy. I mean, he seemed pretty genuine an had a husky down-to-earth voice, white woolly hair, a big ole reddish nose look like Santa Claus’s, an a nice laugh – an he even introduced us to his wife, Hillary, who come out of a trailer wearin a granny dress an a hairdo look like a Beatle wig an brung us some Kool-Aid.

“Listen,” Bill says in almost a whisper, “I ain’t sposed to say anythin to anybody about this, but the truth is, this Whitewash River property is right over the Smackover Awl Formation, an even if you don’t build you a house here, if you buy it now, afore anybody else finds out, you will be millionaires a hundrit times over, account of the awl.”

Just about then, a ole feller shows up on the scene, an when I seen him, I like to of fainted dead away.

“Fellers,” Bill says, “I want you to meet my partner.”

It was Mister Tribble, my ole chess championship mentor, who everbody says was the one that stole all the money from me in the srimp bidness way back when.

When he seen me, Mister Tribble jumped back an looked sort of like he’s gonna run off, but then he got hissef together an come up an shakes my hand.

“Well, it’s good to see you again, Forrest,” he says.

“Yeah,” I says. “What you doin here?”

“It is a long story,” he says. “But after your srimp bidness went bust, I needed a job. So I heard the governor, here, needed an adviser, an he took me on.”

“Governor?” I ast.

“Why, yes, Bill is the governor of this state.”

“Then how come you out sellin real estate?” I ast him.

“Cause it’s the steal of a lifetime,” Bill says. “Why, all you gotta do is sign here an the deal is done. An ole Mr. Tribble here, he will make his commission an profits, an we will all get rich.”

“We is already rich,” somebody says. It was little Forrest done piped up at last an said that.

“Well, then, you can get even richer,” Bill says. “Why, it is rich people makes the world go around. I love rich people. Rich people are my friends.”

Kinda sounded to me like he was runnin for president, but then, I am just a poor ole idiot. What in the world do I know?

“Now, I guess, Forrest,” says Mister Tribble, “you are wonderin what happened to all your money from the srimp bidness?”

“Well, it crosses my mind, from time to time,” I answered.

“Frankly, I took it,” Mister Tribble says. “I mean, you were away assin around in New Orleans, an when the srimp begun to run out, I figgered I’d better put it in safekeepin for you.”

“Yeah? How’d you do that?” I ast.

“Why, I purchased this lovely tract here on the Whitewash River. It is the investment of a lifetime,” Mister Tribble says.

“That’s bullshit,” says little Forrest. “This land ain’t worth a peehole in the snow.”

“Ah, now, who are you, son?” Mister Tribble ast.

“Name’s Forrest – An I ain’t your son.”

“Oh, I see. Well…”

“An what you’re sayin is, we own this dump?”

“Ah, well, not exactly. You see, I used the srimp company money just for a down payment. I mean, a man has to live on somethin. So with the exception of the one-point-seven-million-dollar loan I had to take out, you own every square inch of this place.”

“Yeah,” Bill says, “but don’t worry about the debt or anythin. After all, you know how federal savins and loan bidnesses are. They don’t care if you pay it back or not.”

“Issat so?” I ast.

“Never will, if I ever get to be president,” Bill says.

Well, after that, we took our leaves from Bill an Mister Tribble, an little Forrest is hoppin mad.

“You oughta sue them bastids,” he says.

“For what?”

“For stealin your money an puttin it in that hole of dirt, damnit! Can’t you see that place is one of them scam real estate deals? Who the hell would want to live there?”

“I thought you liked this river. You could go campin out on it ever night.”

“Not anymore, I don’t,” he says. An so we paddled down the Whitewash River the rest of the day, an little Forrest, he ain’t sayin much. It look like I am in the doghouse again.

Well, like it will happen, spring turned to summer an the summer to autumn, an the Gump & Company bidness is still goin great guns. It almost seems like we can do no wrong, an sometimes I just can’t believe it, you know? But me an Gretchen is doin fine together, an little Forrest seems to be happy as a clam – or a oyster. One day I ast Gretchen an little Forrest if they wanted to go see a football game. Actually, I first thought about astin just little Forrest, account I remember all Gretchen used to say about football was “ach!” But this time, she didn’t say no such thing.

“I have been reading about your football now, Forrest, and I’m looking forward to the game” was how she put it.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a game I took them to, it was more like a event. This was the Sugar Bowl down in New Orleans where the University of Alabama was to play the University of Miami for the national championship on New Year’s Day.

The University of Miami players was runnin all over town before the game braggin about how they was gonna whup the Crimson Tide an make us ashamed to show our faces anyplace. Kind of sounded like them cornshucker jackoffs from the University of Nebraska that we had to play in the Orange Bowl when I was on the team. But that was a long, long time ago, an gettin longer.

Anyhow, we gone on to the game, an let me say this: It was a sight! They play the game these days inside a big ole dome on fake grass an all, but they ain’t nothin fake about the game. In fact, it was a war. I had me a private box an invited some of the rinky dinks I had assed around with over the years, includin good ole Wanda from the strip joint down in the quarter. She an Gretchen got on just fine, especially when Gretchen tole her she’d been a barmaid back in Germany.

“They all just want one thing, honey – but it ain’t a bad deal” was how Wanda handled the situation.

Well, not to get to describin things too far, let me just say that the Crimson Tide of Alabama whupped them Hurricanes from the University of Miami so bad they left town with they tails between they legs, an so I finally got to see my ole alma mater win a national championship – an so did Gretchen.

Little Forrest was beside hissef – especially when they announced my name at halftime as bein one of the ole fellers present – but Gretchen, now, she like to of gone crazy!

“Defense! Defense! Defense!” was all she could shout, an lo an behole, our defense got so good it would literally snatch the ball out of the hands of them Hurricanes.

When it was over, we all hugged each other, an I could see that whatever else happened, we was all three gonna be friends forever. Which is good, account of I am always fond of havin friends.

One day it is sort of misty on the bay, an I been thinkin that now is the time for me to do my thing with ole Lieutenant Dan an Sue. Poor ole Sue.

So I got out the little ashes cans General Scheisskopf give me back in Kuwait that day, an I gone an got me my ole skiff an untied it from the dock an started to row out of the bayou. I had tole Gretchen an little Forrest what I was fixin to do an they both ast to come with me, but I says, no, this is somethin I gotta do by mysef.

“Hey, Mr. Gump,” somebody shouts out from shore. “Why don’t you take one of these new boats with the motors on em? You don’t have to row no boat anymore.”

“Aw, sometimes I kinda like to,” I called back to him, “just for ole times’ sake.”

So that’s what I done.

All through the channel an out into the back bay I could hear the foghorns of boats an bells from the buoys an things, an the sun is settin like a big ole red biscuit through the mist. I rowed on out to our new oyster beds by the sewage treatment plant. Everbody else done gone home by this time, so I got the place to mysef – an man, it shore smells ripe!

I drifted downwind a little an then pointed the bow of the skiff up a bit so’s to have some room, an where I figgered the biggest an fattest oysters would be growin I open the little cans an I begun to say a prayer that Dan an Sue was gonna be okay, an then I thowed em overboard, into the dark waters, an while I ought to of been sad, I wadn’t, somehow. They done come to the end of their journey, was the way I looked at it. Actually, I would of preferred to have a jungle to leave Sue in, but since there ain’t any around here, I figgered the oyster beds was the next best thing. After all, he’d be down there with Dan, who was his pal. I watched the tin cans sort of flutter to the bottom, an for just a moment, they kind of shined back up at me like stars, an then they was gone.

I turned the skiff around an was fixin to row back when I heard a gong from one a them big ole bell buoys, an when I look up, there is Jenny settin on top of it, slowly rockin back an forth, an lookin as beautiful as ever. Good ole Jenny. She always seems to be there when I need her.

“Well, Forrest,” she says, “I guess you finally listened to me, huh?”

“What about?”

“Way back when. About payin attention to Dan.”

“Oh,” I says. “Yeah, I spose I did. Pretty good, huh?”

“Yes, I’d say it was. You just needed somebody to keep repeating ‘oysters’ to you, and finally you’d get the picture.”

“Well, I hope I don’t screw it up this time,” I says.

“I don’t think you will. Not this time.”

“You look kinda sad,” I said. “Somethin wrong?”

“Nope. It’s just this time might be our last, you know? I mean, I think you’re really all right now. An I got other fish to fry – or oysters to shuck – if you get my meaning.”

“But what about little Forrest? I thought it was all about him?”

“Nope, not really. It was always about you. Little Forrest is a fine young man. He can take care of himself. But you, you needed a little lookin after.”

“I ain’t sure he likes me,” I said.

“I think he does,” Jenny says. “It’s just kids. I mean, remember how we were at his age?”

“It’s been a long time ago.”

“Now, what about Gretchen?” Jenny ast. “How’s that comin along? You know I told you I liked her a while ago. She’s, well – she’s real people.”

“I dunno,” I says. “It’s kinda embarrassin, you astin stuff like that.”

“It ought not to be. After all, we had our run.”

“Yeah, well, not all the way. I mean, it kinda got cut short.”

“That’ll happen. Memories are what counts in life, Forrest; when there’s nothing else left, it’ll be the memories that mean everything.”

“But, is what you’re sayin is, I won’t get to…?”

“Probly, but look, you got the rest of your life in front of you. An I think you’re okay now. I don’t know how you’re gonna do it, but would you say good-bye for me to my mama an little Forrest – just in your own special way?”

“Well, sure, but…”

“I just want you to know that I loved you, and also, Forrest, you are very fine.”

“Hey,” I says, but when I looked up, they was just the big ole bell buoy rockin back an forth in the mist. Nothin else. An so I rowed on back to shore.

So I gone back into the processin plant that afternoon. Most everbody else has went home now, an I sort of wandered around by mysef, feelin a little bit alone. In a few offices I could see lights on, people workin late, so’s we could have a successful bidness.

They was one little room in the plant that I liked. It was where we kept the pearls. It wadn’t no bigger than a closet, but inside, with some tools an other stuff, we kept a bucket. Actually, it was the workers that kept the bucket, an in the bucket was the pearls.

They weren’t much as pearls go. Japanese oysters got all the nice pearls, but ever so often our shuckers will find a ole pearl or so, usually kinda funny-shaped or ugly-colored, but by the end of the year, they would usually be enough pearls that was usable for us to sell em an get enough cash for a beer bust for the shuckin an floor crews, so that’s what we did.

But when I gone by the pearl closet, I heard a odd sound comin from it, an when I opened the door, there was Sergeant Kranz, settin on a stool, an when I looked at him, settin under a twenty-watt bulb, I could see his eyes was red.

“Why, Sergeant, what’s wrong?” I ast.

“Nothin” was what he said.

“Sergeant Kranz. I have known you for many years. I ain’t never seen you cryin before.”

“Yeah, well, you won’t again, neither. Besides, I ain’t cryin.”

“Uh-huh. Well, I am the head of this here operation, an it is my bidness to know what’s wrong with my people.”

“Since when have I become ‘your people,’ Gump?” he says.

“Since the day I met you, Sergeant.” An we kind of stared at each other for a moment, an then I seen big ole tears begun to roll down his cheeks.

“Well, damn, Gump,” he says, “I just guess I’m too ole for this shit.”

“What you mean, Sergeant Kranz?”

“It was that Smitty, an his crew,” he says.

“What happened?”

“I gone down to check on our boats, an he come after me with his gang. An when I was checkin the lines on our skiffs, he begun to pee in one of my boats, an when I said somethin, he an the others grapped me an begun beatin me with dead mullets…”

“They done what!”

“An Smitty, he called me a nigger. First time anybody ever done that to my face.”

“Issat so?” I ast.

“You heard what I said, Gump. Wadn’t nothin I could do – Hell, I’m fifty-nine years old. How I’m gonna defend mysef against eight or ten big ole white boys, ain’t half my age?”

“Well, Sergeant…”

“Well, my ass. I never thought I’d see the day I wouldn’t of fought them. But it wouldn’t of done no good. I’d of just got beat up – an that wouldn’t of mattered, either, cause of what he called me – except you tole me not to get into any shit with Smitty an his bunch. I would of tried, but it wouldn’t of done no good.”

“You look here, Sergeant Kranz. That don’t matter now. You just stay here till I get back, you hear. An that’s a order.”

“I don’t take orders from privates, Gump.”

“Well, you’ll take this one,” I says.

An so I gone on down to see about this Smitty bidness.

All my life I have tried to do the right thing, the only way I saw it. An my mama always tole me the right thing is not to start pickin fights with folks, especially account of I am so big an dumb. But sometimes, you cannot let the right thing stand in your way.

It was a long walk down the street in Bayou La Batre to where the docks is, an so I spose Smitty an his people seen me comin, cause when I got there, they is all lined up, an Smitty is standin in front of the bunch.

Also, I din’t notice it, but a lot of the folks from our Gump & Company oyster plant has follered me down there, an the ones that can, are lookin unhappy, like they mean bidness, too.

I gone up to Smitty an ast him what happened with Sergeant Kranz.

“Ain’t nothin to you, Gump,” he says. “We was just havin some fun.”

“You call a gang of you beatin a fifty-nine-year-ole man with dead mullets fun?”

“Hell, Gump, he ain’t nothin but a ole nigger. Whatsittoyou?”

An so I showed him.

First I grapped him by the jacket an lifted him off the ground. Then I thowed him into a pile of seagull shit that had been collectin on the dock. An wiped his nose in it.

Then I turned him around an kicked his big ass over the dock into one of his own oyster boats. An when he landed in it on his back, I unzipped my pants an peed on him from the wharf above.

“You ever fool with one of my people again,” I tole him, “you will wish you had been brought up as a vegetable or somethin.” It was probly not the wittiest thing I could of thought of to say, but at the moment I was not feelin witty.

Just about then somethin hit me in the arm. One of Smitty’s men has got a board with nails in it, an let me say this: It hurt. But I was not in no mood to be screwed with. So I grapped him, too, an they happened to be a big ole ice machine nearby, an I stuffed him into it, headfirst. Another guy come at me with a tire tool, but I seized him by the hair an begun swingin him around an around until I let him go, like a discus or somethin, an last time I looked, he was headin for Cuba or maybe Jamaica. All them other goons, after seein this, they backed off.

All I says was “Remember what you seen here. You don’t want it to happen to you.” An that was it.

It was gettin dark by now, an all the folks from Gump & Company was cheerin, an also booin Smitty an his collection of turds. In the dimness I got a glance of Sergeant Kranz standin there, noddin his head. I give him a wink an he give me the thumbs-up sign. We has been friends for a long time, me an Sergeant Kranz, an I think we understand one another.

About this time, I feel a tuggin at my sleeve. It is little Forrest, who is lookin at the blood on my arm from where the goon hit me with the board full of nails.

“You anight, Dad?” he ast.

“Huh?”

“I said you arright, Dad; you are bleedin.”

“What you call me?”

“I love you, Dad” was what he said. An that was enough for me. Yessir.

Yessir.

An so that’s how it ends, more or less. After the crowd drifted away I walked on down to the bayou where they is a point that looks out over the bay an the Mississippi Sound an then on out into the Gulf beyond it, an if you could, you could see clear down to Mexico, or South America. But it was still a little misty that evenin, an so I went an set down on a ole park bench, an little Forrest come an set beside me. We didn’t say nothin, cause I think it had been about all said, but it got me to thinkin what a lucky feller I am. I got me a job, a son proud an tall, an I had me some friends in my day, too. I couldn’t help but remember em all. Ole Bubba, an Jenny, an my mama, an Dan, an Sue, is gone now, but probly not too far, cause ever time I hear a big ole foghorn on the water, or a bell from a bell buoy, I think of them; they is out there someplace. An there is little Forrest, an Jenny’s mama, an Sergeant Kranz, an all the rest, still here. An I ain’t forgot what Jenny said about Gretchen, neither. An so, in a way, I am the luckiest feller in the world.

They is just one more thing to tell, an that is when they decided to make a movie of my life’s story. That is unusual, even for me. Somebody got wind of the fact that I am a idiot who has made good, an in these days it is what they call a “man bites dog” sort of story.

So one day these Hollywood producers come an inform me I am gonna be in the motion pitchers. Well, a lot of you know the rest. They done made the show, an everbody all over the world went to see it. Mr. Tom Hanks that I met in New York that night, he played my part in the movie – an was pretty good, too.

Well, finally it become the night to go to the Academy Awards show in California, an I took everbody that was my friends there, an we set in the audience – I even got to set with Bubba’s folks. An damn if the pitcher didn’t win most of the Academy Awards, an at the end, after they get through thankin everbody else, they decided to thank me, too.

They was a Mister Letterman, as the host, a nice feller with big picket teeth an a trick dog an shit, an as the last item on the menu, so to speak, he announces they is a special award for ole Forrest Gump, for bein “The Most Lovable Certified Idiot in America,” an I am called to the stage.

An after they give me the award, Mister Letterman ast if they is anythin I would like to say to the TV cameras. An in fact, they is, an I been savin it up. An so I look out there on all them fancy dresses an expensive jewelry an pretty women an handsome men, an says the first thing that comes to mind, which is, of course, “I got to pee.”

Well, at first, ain’t nobody clappin or commentin or nothin. I think they is all embarrassed, account of we is on national television an all. An after a moment or two, the audience begun a kind of deep mumblin an whisperin to theyselfs.

An Mister Letterman, who feels like he must be in charge, I think he ain’t sure what to do, so he motions behind the curtains for the hands to get a big ole stage hook, an haul my fat ass off the stage. An the stage hook has just grapped me behind the collar when all of a sudden, out of the audience, a missile sails across the footlights. Little Forrest, it seems, has got so excited he has chewed up his entire Academy Award program, account of they don’t serve no popcorn at the Oscars, an so he is armed with what might be the world’s largest spitball. An when they are tryin to pull me off the stage, little Forrest thows the spitball an hits Mister Letterman square between the eyes!

Gretchen is horrified, of course, an cries out, “Oh, my goodness!” But let me say this: It was a sight! All of a sudden, all hell bust loose. People begun jumpin up an hollerin an pointin an shoutin, an the nice Mister Letterman is flounderin around behind the speaker’s platform, tryin to pick the spitball off his face.

But then from out in the audience, I hear one shout above all the rest, an it is this: “That’s my dad! That’s my dad!” An I gotta tell you, that was enough for sure. So I reckon you can say we been there, an then the curtain comes down on all of us.

You know what I mean?

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