Father Joe's Articles
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Years ago now, maybe 11, his Granny died just after a terrible slum fire. That horrible night, teenager Gee carried Granny out of their shack and watched it burn.
They lost everything. Even Granny's antique betel nut chewing box. With no home, living "make-shift" on the street, Granny died only two days later. For roust-about young Gee, she was his only family.
He'd dropped out of school and grown up mostly alone in the slums and alleyways of Klong Toey. He spent some time with us here at the Mercy Centre, where he went to school for a while.
Over the next 11 years, he became a "kid fixture" around the bars and pubs of Soi Cowboy - loved by "aunts", girls and cops. Gee the survivor was always ready to run an errand, to help out. Everyone tried to take care of him as best they could - street-bar style, especially some good and kind policemen who saw him more like a son and not a thug or even a street kid. So they tried to protect him.
But then again, the law is the law. Everyone knew that their secrets were safe with Gee.
Now he works the Portable Four-Wheel Whiskey Bar on the sidewalk next to Soi Cowboy. Each evening at 8pm he wheels/pushes the portable bar from its daytime storage place and gets it ready for business.
One night at the portable bar Gee met his bride-to-be Miss Wandee, a fine woman with a face of "beauty beyond" - willowy and tall as Gee, her gik (living together mate), with lovely long black hair sprinkled with the tiniest hint of grey. She came to cashier at the Portable Four-Wheel Whiskey Bar.
His job is to get everything ready. He does the physical stuff, like get the ice and set up the four bar stools. Ms Wandee does the girl part - keeps the whiskey glasses shiny and clean, stocks the paper napkins and takes the money.
Then at 3am, when everyone is going home, Ms Wandee counts the cash, balances the books, cleans the whiskey glasses, counts the bottles of soft drinks sold, etc, while Gee closes down the bar. He drains the ice, stacks the four stools properly and pushes the bar back to the storage area. The sidewalk must be clear by dawn so as not to bother the daytime folks who mostly don't want a drink of whiskey before they go to work.
Part of roust young Gee's job at Soi Cowboy is to stick around until closing time. Just in case.
During the midnight hours, he plays his guitar and sings if any customers want to listen. His repertoire consists of five Thai songs and two in English. It brings tears to your eyes when he sings Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven's Door. He has most of the words down. Says he played it nightly for his Granny.
At first, Ms Wandee didn't pay him no mind. But during the slow times at the bar when there weren't many customers, they would chat. Slowly, they became acquainted. She asked him why he sang that song, Knock Knock Knocking on Heaven's Door each evening. So he told her about his Granny.
Granny loved him in her whiskey-drunk sort of way. Actually stopped drinking booze for him. The abrupt stopping gave her the DTs - trembling madness, shaking for weeks on end. That's love unbelievable. So that Young Gee could eat, at least most of the time, as there simply wasn't enough money.
Also she put him into school, even though she never had the chance herself. True, he began a couple of years late, but he remembers Granny saying: "Son, it's the learning what counts. How you finish. Not when you start."
Over the months, Gee and Miss Wandee fell in love.
Gee saved his money and one night before singing his song, he told Ms Wandee he'd like to dedicate it to her also. Would she be offended? She was pleased, and after the song, he asked her to marry him.
She said yes, and soon after they travelled the eight hours by train to the Uttaradit provincial town. She took him home to meet her mother.
Miss Wandee - her teeth not exactly perfect, but blessed with surpassing beauty - grew up with her momma. They were barely able to make ends meet, selling the green vegetables they grew on their farm to third class passengers on the morning train through the open windows. The train stops for six or seven minutes in Uttaradit before going on to Bangkok, eight hours away.
So now Miss Wandee is a blushing bride of 36 - almost 37. Long ago she bore two children from two different men, but on that day in Uttaradit she was a proper bride. You know, an old-fashioned wedding. Early morning making-merit to the monks. The groom's procession leading to the bride's house, where her parents accept the groom. Proper seating of the elders with the groom coming to sit next to his bride. The ritual counting of the dowry money and examining the gold neck chain, plus the ritually proper foods in both the procession and wedding ritual. The approval and blessing of the elders.
All that being completed, then there is food and drink all afternoon into the early evening. The sleeping room for bride and groom is prepared with flowers. And as always, sometime during the meal, one of the eldest of the ladies presents - after a wee swallow of the amber liquid for courage sake - croons love songs of long ago, remembering her own wedding day.
Miss Wandee, so beautiful with her long black hair sprinkled with the tiniest bit of grey, wearing her full length white cotton dress. Gee says that tiniest sprinkling makes him love her more - makes her more special than any other of the girls on the street. And most certainly those around the Portable Four-Wheel Whiskey Bar next to Soi Cowboy.
For all her 36 years on the planet, Miss Wandee's been looking for someone to truly love her and offer her whole life to - every breath, every beat of her heart, every blink of her eyes. She's one of those all or nothing kind of girls. And she's found roust young master Gee.
She'd started her teen years gullible, not cool. First child at 16. The father? A Bangkok jock, visiting relatives. Sweet promises, but never returned. Second was worse, eight years later. Her momma said: "Girl, you should have known better."
Anyway, her angels were with her. She somehow escaped the Fatal Virus, as did her second baby daughter. But the man ... well, he's dead now. Aids. Gone on to heaven as they say. Miss Wandee and baby are healthy. The luck of the draw.
Miss Wandee hooking up with Roust Young Master Gee? In a word - brilliant!
Her two daughters, the oldest with a child of her own, accept Gee. But really, in blunt language, 24-year-old Gee married a grandmother - a young granny, but still a granny.
A 36-year-old, going on 37, country girl with long black hair with the tiniest sprinkling of grey officially marrying 24-year-old street kid Gee was a huge leap that only love can make.
Miss Wandee came to the Portable Four-Wheel Whiskey Bar in Soi Cowboy from Uttaradit provincial town by way of Samui island in the middle of southern Thailand. A five-year journey.
Times were desperate; impossible. Not enough money from the greens she and momma were hawking by the railway tracks. A girlfriend invited her to Samui island. Always room for one more girl at the bar. After a bit of sweat and tears, Miss Wandee became a part-time cashier at the bar. But one midnight, she had to run, not because she cheated - she didn't - but because the owner wouldn't keep his hands off her. His "live-in" was not pleased. Laid a loaded pistol on the bar counter next to the cash box. No words were said.
Miss Wandee, as she tells the story, didn't panic, but she took her purse from behind the cash box and walked out of the bar. Didn't look back. Didn't even go back to her rented room for her clothes. Went to the pier to wait for the morning ferry from the island to the mainland, enough money with her for the ferry and a bus to Bangkok.
She knew another girl working in Soi Cowboy. Got there, hung around a few days and by luck, the Portable Four-Wheel Whiskey Bar needed an honest cashier.
There is much more to say about both Gee and Miss Wandee. Teenage Gee playing lead guitar and singing vocals in his Baby Ghost Slum Band and the two gigs they played before he went back to reform school. His kicking a year-long glue-sniffing habit. Selling flowers on street corners. Becoming a monk for three months.
Miss Wandee was top in her class in grade school, but there was no money to continue. Always good in arithmetic, counting change for her momma since she was six years old, so momma didn't get cheated. There was the time the big python snake ate the neighbour's cat, but this and other stories are for another day.
Right now, they tell us that Ms Wandee is going to have a baby. Gee wants to make sure they have the name chosen before she goes to the hospital because when he was born, he was given the generic hospital name of "Kwan" - a name for babies who are abandoned, born to mums without proper documents or with no dad in sight.
Ms Wandee is happy. Wants to go home to Uttaradit to give birth because all her family is there, to help her care for the new baby.
Gee? He will be 25 soon, a full mature adult. He wants to play his guitar and sing his song Knock Knock Knocking on Heaven's Door the day their baby is born, so that his Granny will look down from the stars in heaven and bless them specially.