The Parking Lot Full of Incredibly Clean Automobiles
I seldom looked for it, but trouble had a way of landing smack dab in the middle of my lap. Ray Lamontagne could have been thinking about me when he sang, “Trouble been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born.” It seemed like I was always getting caught in my mischievous hi-jinks, dragging others along in my wake. Eventually, word got around town: “Don’t run around with Bay. No matter what he’s doing or who he’s with, he always seems to get caught doing something he’s not supposed to.” Even when I wasn’t caught, there were often unpleasant circumstances surrounding many of those adventures, one of which I will relate here, and many of which I will leave out to protect the innocent among my friends.
At a certain age, around seventh grade, kids begin to ask their parents a question that will be repeated numerous times over the next few years: “Can I spend the night with ‘fill in the blank?’” The answer usually depends on who “fill in the blank” happens to be, and a follow-up question from the parent is something like, “Did ‘fill in the blank’s’ parents say it was okay?” Another one of those strange parent questions. Why would ‘fill in the blank’ ask me to spend the night if it wasn’t okay with his parents?
Well, it finally became my turn to ask the question of my parents, so I did. “Mom, can I spend the night with Jim?” Mom asked the required parental follow-up question, “Is it okay with Jim’s parents?” Trying to avoid a yes-or-no answer, I evaded the question with “He said it was.” Mom then did what moms of all generations have done; she deflected the decision and said, “Did you ask your father?” Why did Mom have to do that? She always made the mountain that much more difficult to climb, and I hated to ask Dad permission to do anything, mainly because he was often prone to say no, and I wasn’t partial to that response.
I finally worked up enough nerve to ask Dad if it was okay to spend the night with Jim, and he had his usual questions. “Who’s going to be there besides you and Jim?” You see, Dad was not only keenly aware of all my friends and their shortcomings, but he was also savvy and liked to put me on the spot. Even though I knew there would be others, others that weren’t on the approved list, I lied and responded, “Just Andy,” knowing that Dad would react favorably to that name. Not only was I a known liar, I also knew when to leave out information that would be detrimental to my agenda. If I told him that Jimmy would also be there, the whole deal would be off. Whereas I was a sheep and usually followed the other sheep off the cliff, Jimmy was known to be a leader, a mischievous one at that, and Dad assumed that where Jimmy led I would probably follow. He knew and trusted Jim and Andy, so his answer was favorable, but with one condition; I could not leave Jim’s backyard at any point during the night. I knew better than to challenge his restriction and also knew that our intent all along was to leave the backyard, so I agreed to the stipulation.
Once the four of us had finally settled in the backyard, tent up, sleeping bags in place, and Sam, the dog, ready to have some company out by the doghouse, we began to plan our escape from the fenced-in backyard prison. We didn’t have any grand plans; we just knew we weren’t staying there all night. Jim’s mom should have been suspicious when he asked her if there were any spare bars of soap lying around, but if she was, she didn’t let on. As usual in these “spending the night” affairs, we didn’t sleep, but spent the first few hours talking and teasing each other, with girls, sports, and life in general being the topics of conversation. We had to give Jim’s parents plenty of time to fall asleep once the final light had been switched off.
When the right moment finally arrived, we each, bar of soap in hand, headed out the back gate, and down the street we went. The first thing we saw was a “For Sale” sign in someone’s front yard. The sign called out to us, “Please don’t leave me here,” so we didn’t. It was removed from one yard and planted in the yard of another, a few houses down the street. We really thought we were hooligans. We hadn’t gone very far when we noticed an apartment complex down a side street. For our soaping plans, this complex was a veritable gold mine, with multiple cars parked out behind the building.
We slipped into the parking lot and noticed that the complex was dark, and then each of us took our bar of soap and began soaping car windows, whispering instructions to each other and giggling as we lathered up car after car. After quite some time, we returned to the street with our bar of soap worn down to a small stub, and then we stood back and surveyed our masterpiece— satisfied at the work we had done. The windows in every car in the parking lot were covered in soap (Ivory, Dial, and Zest fully clean!). We figured that since all of the cars were dirty and needed a washing, our soaping, instead of being a detriment, would assist each owner in keeping their cars clean.
The first sign of daylight had yet to arrive, but we noticed lights being turned on in the windows of the apartments, and we ran back to Jim’s house, through the backyard gate and into the sleeping bags, and once Sam was settled back down, fell off to a short morning of sleep. Since the lone tent was a “pup” tent, most of us slept on the open ground under the stars. We discovered that waking up in a sleeping bag covered in dew is a chilling experience. When the sun became visible in the eastern sky, we packed up our sleeping bags, deciding not to stick around for breakfast. Then each of us walked or rode our bikes back to our own homes where we crawled into bed to get some much-needed sleep.
That evening, upon Dad’s arrival home from work, he asked me how my previous night had gone. He seemed genuinely interested in whether or not I had enjoyed the experience. I told him that we all had a great time. The line of questioning then took an ominous turn as he said, “Did you stay in Jim’s yard like I told you to?”
As usual, in order to avoid punishment, I lied and said yes. Dad, knowing full well I was not being forthcoming about the previous evening’s events, continued, “Well, the reason I asked is the guy I work with lives over at the apartment complex, right down the street from Jim’s house. He was late for work today.”
There was a long pause as Dad stared right into my soul, and I grew nervous and suspicious at the same time. Dad continued, “He said that he had to remove a layer of soap from all the windows of his car. He also said that every other car in the parking lot had the same layer of soap on their windows. Are you sure you stayed in Jim’s backyard all night?” Dad was being gracious by offering me a second chance to come clean.
At this point, I was caught, and any further lying (I was a terrible liar anyway) would just deepen the hole I had dug for myself. In the remaining interrogation, it also came to light that it wasn’t just Jim and Andy that had spent the night—Jimmy was there too. I was in deep “doo doo,” which was par for the course with me. It would be a while before the subject of spending the night with anyone would be broached again. At least, there were a lot of cars driving around town with sparkling-clean windows.
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There’s something curious about the connection between the mind and the body. For some reason the connection in my case has, over the years, become tenuous. It seems my mind wants to and says I can do something, but my body wholeheartedly disagrees. And unfortunately, the disagreement doesn’t come into play until after I’ve done whatever it is my mind suggested. Which often leads to pain.
I searched for a definition for my malady, and one term I came up with is the term cognitive dissonance. Here is the definition: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. It isn’t an exact match, but it does speak to “behavioral decisions” being amiss. Another term, which fits even better, is dissociation, which includes this line in its definition: The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality. Yes, and there it is, a detachment from reality. Take for example the time I jumped off the roof of my house.
The boys and I were doing our chores one Saturday morning and our particular task was to clean the gutters and flower beds of all fallen leaves. They both hated crawling around in the rocks on their hands and knees, picking up leaves that within seconds of being removed would soon be replaced by another. Futility is how they described it. Anyway, my specific task was cleaning the gutters, which I didn’t mind at all, having a strange affinity for walking around on the tops of houses. I should have been a roofer.
While moving about on the roof, my mind began to wander back to the days of my youth. I remembered a time when, pretending to be Superman and thinking I could fly, I climbed up on the roof of our house and jumped off. I was seven and wasn’t that fun? I didn’t get to repeat the maneuver once Mom found out. She thought the act of jumping off the roof of our house was somehow unsafe. I didn’t agree with her, but fearing further repercussions when Dad came home, I acquiesced. But this time Mom wasn’t around and Julie was in the house and so at least for a brief moment I was the boss and could do whatever I wanted.
Grabbing a handful of soaking wet leaves and twigs, I looked down at the boys, who were in their early teens at the time, and said, “Boys, did you know I jumped off the roof of our house when I was a kid?” Their reaction wasn’t what I anticipated. Neither one said a word, but they did glance my direction and make a face as if to say, “That’s really cool Dad.”
I said, “No, I really did jump off the roof of our house out in California.” And that’s when the dissociation reared its ugly head and the detachment from reality kicked in. My next comment was, “You want to see me do it?”
Ron, being the cautious one said, “Are you sure that’s a good idea Dad?” Christopher however was up for the challenge and said, “Go ahead Dad. Show us.” He’s the one who eventually became a Green Beret, so jumping off roofs of houses was right up his alley. I looked down at the ground and tried to determine exactly how high up I was. I glanced at the basketball goal in the driveway and noticed the rim was about the same distance from the ground as the gutters of the house. Ten feet. That’s doable.
When I finally got the nerve to go I said, “Watch this boys,” and jumped, but no sooner had I left the roof than I began thinking about the impact. I’m sharp that way. Gravity hadn’t changed in the thirty-one years since I last attempted this feat, but my bones, muscles and ligaments had. Upon impact, I first felt a pain in my right knee as it was hyperextending and the same leg seemed to be driven high up into my hip socket. I fell to the ground and moaned for a moment or two and then regained my feet. As I limped back to the ladder I said, “See how easy that is. You guys want to try it?” The boys were laughing on the inside as they continued picking up leaves.
Before either could say a word, out the front door came Julie. When she asked what was going on, no one said a word about the acrobatic stunt I had just pulled. She surveyed the scene and based on the amount of leaves still remaining on the ground; she could tell that the boys had been distracted. After cracking the whip on them, she asked me, “How are the gutters coming? And why are you limping like that?”
Not one who lies well, although it isn’t because I haven’t had endless practice, I told the truth and said, “I jumped off the house.” The look on Julie’s face was typical. With a rolling of the eyes and a tone of anger in her voice she said, “You’re supposed to be the adult out here.”
Come to think of it, she’s right. But that’s where the dissociation and “detachment from reality” come into play. For just a moment, the seconds before I jumped to be exact, my mind said I was a seven-year old. Unfortunately, my body confirmed my true age at thirty-eight. It only took a few days for me to heal and I don’t think there is any permanent damage.
(Nothing to Fear But…)
The year was 1933 and America was in the depths of the Great Depression. As our newly elected president was contemplating what to say in his inaugural address, here is what he and the nation faced: There was a 25 percent unemployment rate leading some people to starve and many others to lose farms and homes. This was the time of the hobo riding trains across the country (giving Jimmy Rodgers and Woody Guthrie something to sing about). People from the Midwest migrated westward in the hopes of striking it rich in the land of plenty: California. Times were tough and fear was rampant and real. Franklin Delano Roosevelt rightly sensed that Americans needed some confidence, some words of encouragement, a shot in the arm. In the midst of his address, he uttered this now famous line: “So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
My comment on that comment was uttered by an even more famous president, Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
With all due respect to Frankie, I have to side with Abe on this one. He may have fooled the others, but he doesn’t fool me. Nothing to fear but fear? You have to be kidding me. I was afraid of everything (this list is exhaustive, but not all-inclusive): needles, spankings, scary movies, doctors, dogs, lockjaw, fear itself, girls, neighborhood bullies, cows, loud noises, Dad, dying, etc. I had nightmares. I avoided going into certain places (anywhere dark to be exact). I was even known to scare myself; it didn’t take much to frighten me. Of course, like me but not as severe, were my three siblings who were afraid of a few things themselves, as the following story illustrates.
Some people would refer to the four of us kids as “a handful” (in the same way a trek up Mount Everest would be referred to as a “good stretch of the legs”), yet Mom seemed to maintain her sanity for the most part. There were times, however, when she needed to get away from us (not to be confused with us getting away from her); a time to engage in adult conversation with regular human beings. There was one hurdle to overcome: finding someone willing to babysit us, if only for a couple of hours.
After numerous phone calls to potential sitters, it seemed strange that they all had “sudden emergencies” to attend to during the two hours in question. Not to be deterred, Mom came up with another plan. She decided to drop us off at the movie theater and while we were safely in the care of the public, she would go to the beauty parlor and get her hair done. The timing couldn’t have worked out better for her.
The particular movie didn’t matter much to Mom, and as she drove away, the three of us turned to Vicki who had all the money. “Vicki, what movie ah we going to see?” Kathy asked.
“It’s a comedy called The Nutty Professor and stars Jerry Lewis and Stella Stevens.”
“Jewwy who?” Timmy wanted to know.
This movie seemed innocent enough; after all, Jerry Lewis was a comedian, so what could possibly be amiss? In The Nutty Professor, Lewis plays a nerdy professor who discovers a potion that when consumed, turns him into a suave, handsome, ladies man, and this allows him to pursue the girl he has a crush on, played by Stella Stevens. The movie was initially pretty boring for us kids until one particular scene. As the professor drinks his magic potion, the music begins to turn eerie, which perks up the attention of four little kids sitting side by side in the dark theater (other than us, there weren’t many people watching the matinée). Our eyes became as large as saucers when the camera panned to the professor’s hand, which began to grow thick brown hair and resembled something more like that of a werewolf. This was all I needed to see, and within seconds, I was out in the lobby (I could still hear the scary music and other sounds emanating from the professor out in the lobby and my imagination went into overdrive). If I had stayed in the theater, I would have seen the complete transformation of the professor as he knocked over test tubes and beakers, falling to the ground and finally emerging as Buddy Love. The entire scene only lasted around a minute, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
Out in the lobby, the young man at the concession stand asked me, “Hey kid, what are you doing out here? Are you going to buy some popcorn? Candy?”
Startled out of my daydreaming I replied, “What? No, I don’t have any money. Can I stay out here for a while?”
“No. You have to go back in the theater. You can’t stay out here.”
By this time, it was all four of us out in the lobby. We huddled together and weren’t going back into the theater until an usher came out and coaxed us back in. The movie was now back in the boring mode, so we stayed put for a while. When the scene switched to the laboratory and the music changed to scary, we didn’t wait around for the transformation, instead moving en masse to the lobby once again. This time, we were threatened. The usher was firm when he said, “You kids get back in there, or I’ll go get your mother.”
I flippantly replied, “Good luck if you can find her. She went to get her hair done, and we don’t know where she is.”
We stayed one step ahead of the usher by moving between the lobby and the bathrooms and even hiding behind the cameraman’s perch. When the movie finally ended, Mom was out front to pick us up.
Occasionally when fishing, we caught something other than fish, although not intentionally. One day at Horseshoe Pond, we were fishing for catfish; so it was earthworms on a treble hook weighted down to the bottom with a few split sinkers. With the pole placed in the V of a stick we’d pounded into the ground, Timmy and I sat staring out at the water.
After a while, the undulating waves and the glare from the sun on the water created a mesmerizing effect, and we entered into an almost trancelike state. It was hard to concentrate on the line as it stretched out from the end of the pole to the point where it entered the water. To alter the effect, you either had to close your eyes for a few seconds or change your gaze from the line to the end of the pole. Again, fishing is all about patience, and fishing this way required all that I had to give. I have to admit that from time to time, I wandered down the bank, looking for something interesting along the shore; the tadpoles or spawning fish being a couple of examples, but even with the distraction, I would look back at my pole to make sure the tip wasn’t bent down, indicating that a fish was on.
Suddenly, I jumped up with excitement as the pole tip bent down and stayed there. The line was fairly taut, but it was not pulling like it usually did when a fish was on. I still thought something had to be on the end of the line. I grabbed the pole, thinking I may have on a large catfish, and began to reel it in. I shouted to Timmy, “I’ve got one! Come over here and see.” As usual, I yelled out that I had one, but knew that it could be a rock or stick that was causing the resistance, and just in case it really was a fish, my excitement level was amped up to fit the moment. Timmy had to interrupt his rock throwing so that he could see what was going on with me.
As I reeled it in, the look on my face was one of confusion. Whatever was on the other end of my line was heavy, but it wasn’t giving me much of a fight. The normal tug of war that ensues when a fish is hooked wasn’t occurring. I wondered if I had snagged a log or large rock. I continued to pull hard and reel even harder, and finally, something broke the surface. Timmy was helpful and said, “That’s not a fish. That wooks wike a wock with wegs covehed in mud.” It did look like a rock covered in mud until the rock began walking onto the bank. The snapping turtle without warning opened its large jaws, with sharp beak visible, and hissed. We both jumped back, and my initial instinct was to run, but I couldn’t; I still had the fishing pole in my hand, and it was now hooked to this large prehistoric looking creature.
By now, the “smart one,” Vicki, had walked up and commented, “That creature is the common snapping turtle, scientific name Chelydra Serpentina, not to be confused with the alligator snapping turtle. It is a member of the reptile family, and the female can lay as many as fifty eggs at a time. They can grow as large as eighteen inches in shell length, and this one looks to be among the larger ones.”
Timmy and I noticed that she was saying this from a safe distance, and due to her being herpetologically sophisticated, we didn’t question Vicki’s knowledge. What I saw was a scary-looking monster turtle—looking to inflict damage on anyone dumb enough to get within striking distance of that sharp beak at the end of its snout. It stood about two feet high from the ground to the top of its head. Chunks of mud were falling at its feet as it began to dry out in the hot sun, its color going from a moist dark green to a dry and dusty brown.
At this point, it was a standoff. The turtle stared at us, occasionally opening its mouth to keep us honest, and we stared at it, at one moment, thinking its eyes were a glowing red. Not sure exactly what we were going to do next, we did nothing. I just stood there, contemplating. Timmy thought of an easy way out and suggested, “Wonnie, bweak the wine and the tuhtuh wiwh go back into the pond.” I had thought of that option, but due to the limited availability of fishing tackle, I didn’t want to lose any just yet. I came up with another plan. “Timmy, go find a stick and try to knock the hook loose from its mouth.”
“Why don’t you twy it?” he replied.
Although he had asked a good question, I had a better answer. “I have to hold onto my pole and reel the line in when you knock the hook loose.” He fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.
As Timmy approached the beast with stick in hand, we all braced ourselves for the quick getaway, just in case my plan didn’t work. Timmy maneuvered the stick within inches of the turtle’s mouth, and then the turtle lunged forward with mouth wide-open, and chomped down on the stick, snapping it in half. Timmy ran one way, and Vicki another. I was stuck. The turtle glared my way as I was the only tormentor remaining. I didn’t take my eyes off the creature, and as the stalemate wore on, I knew that Timmy’s idea was going to be the only option in the end.
I finally pulled my line as tight as I could, in an attempt to break it and free myself, when the turtle jerked its head from side to side—and the line snapped. The giant snapping turtle realized its freedom and turned to walk back into the pond, to return to the muddy depths from whence it came.
We began throwing rocks at the retreating turtle, as if we were the victors in this encounter, and yelled a few epithets: “Go back to where you came from, you stupid turtle.”
“Yeah, we hate you.”
I’m sure the turtle was thinking: What a bunch of knucklehead kids. I made a mental note at the time to never swim in Horseshoe Pond. If creatures like that were lurking around unseen on the bottom of the pond, I wasn’t going anywhere near them. Vicki and Timmy approached the area once again, and we spent a few minutes recapping the experience. The ordeal left me drained, and Timmy asked me “Ah, we going to fish some moh?”
“Not today,” I answered. “I’m out of hooks and sinkers. I’m going home and eat a baloney sandwich.”
My Sister’s Keeper
Speaking of freeways, Kathy, and candy, there was an incident on the San Gabriel Freeway that is still talked about today. The fact that we were banned from “playing on the freeway” made total sense (of course, at the time we had to ask “how come?”) and is probably why we were destined to end up there anyway. One day, Mom called me into the house and peppered me with this: “Ronnie, where is your sister?”
Being a bit of a smart aleck I replied, “Which one?”
Beginning to be irritated, Mom was a little more forceful, “You know which one. You were supposed to be watching Kathy. Where is she?”
By now I was becoming exasperated with the line of questioning and replied, “Am I my sister’s keeper? (I really didn’t say that, although it does fit). I don’t know where she is.”
Timmy, always helpful, added, “David P. said he was taking heh to his gwandma’s to get candy and ice cweam.”
Mom now turned her attention to Timmy, to my relief, and questioned him, “Where did they go? Where did he take her?”
Timmy answered, “He said they weh going to his gwandma’s and they weh wahking on the fweeway.”
Once again, Mom turned to me with instructions, “Ronnie, you go get your sister and bring her back home. Now!” Mom didn’t seem too worried about me being on the freeway.
Now David P., our next-door neighbor, was often times a little bit off (in the way that Jack Nicholson in The Shining was a little bit off). He had to take medicine to remain calm, if you know what I mean. We didn’t quite know the clinical term, but today, I think he might be considered mentally challenged. All I know is, when he wasn’t taking his medicines, we tended to play on the other side of the block. Just to give you a little insight as to David’s possibilities: one day, Kathy came home missing her ponytail. Mom saw the new hairdo and demanded of Kathy, “Kathy, what happened to your pony tail!? All that’s left of it is a rubber band!” Kathy, not knowing what else to say told the truth, “David cut it off.” (Maybe David thought we were in a game of cowboys and Indians and he was just claiming the white girl’s scalp). David, after the incident, was seen around the neighborhood with Kathy’s ponytail attached to his belt.
Anyway, David apparently convinced Kathy to go with him to his grandma’s house to get candy and ice cream (I indicated earlier that candy was Kathy’s kryptonite). It was news to me that I was supposed to be watching her, but then again, I was known to have selective hearing. I got on my bike and headed to the freeway, and I saw two figures walking on the shoulder of the freeway, about a half mile ahead. I rode real fast and caught up with them. As I jumped off my bike and grabbed Kathy’s arm I said, “Kathy, Mommy said you have to come home. I came to get you, so get on my bike and I will ride you home.”
Kathy was intent on the candy and tersely replied “No!”
Not to be deterred, I insisted, “Kathy, Mommy said you have to come home! Stop pulling and come with me.”
She too was insistent and adamantly replied, “I want candy and ice cweam.”
David and Kathy were pulling one way and I was pulling the other (a little tug-of-war by the side of the road, or better yet, Kathy was the wishbone and David and I wanted to see who would get their wish). Cars were flying by at seventy plus miles per hour, and the tugging and pulling spilled out into traffic. A woman in a passing car was heard to exclaim, “Honey, those kids are going to get killed!” Her husband, not near as concerned, said, “I wonder what they’re doing on the freeway?” His wife, in a moment of introspection said, “Probably looking for ice cream and candy.”
At this point, I gave up and turned around to head back home. I wasn’t sure what to tell Mom, but figured I might as well tell the truth this time. As I pulled into the driveway, a black-and-white police car was leaving (I waved at the policemen). When I got in the front door, Kathy was bawling, and Mom was staring at me with a mean look and a switch already in hand (at least I didn’t have to go get my own switch).
It was a typical hot summer day, and my friends and I decided to ride our bikes out to Carthage Marble in an effort to explore some of the abandoned caves. This would satisfy our desire for adventure and would also provide a way for us to get out of the heat; the caves being, on average, twenty to thirty degrees cooler than the outside air. They weren’t natural caves, but were leftover from the mining that had gone on when marble was still being extracted in Carthage Marble’s heyday. Eventually, the owner of the marble company would turn these underground caves into storage facilities; the steady, cool temperatures making them an ideal place to store perishable foods.
Everyone was instructed to bring a sack lunch, and after mine was made, I rode my bike the short distance to Jim’s house, and then the two of us rode to Andy’s, which put us at the halfway point. And then another rider or two joined in along the way. From there, we continued the trip, and somewhere along the way we stopped for the big challenge.
A brand-new package of Red Man chewing tobacco (since 1904), the leaf variety, was pulled from someone’s back pocket. The question was asked as to how many of us had chewed tobacco before, and even though most of us hadn’t, we all came up with names of people we knew that had; uncles, an older brother, or even a neighbor. It was important to maintain some credibility and familiarity with the experience, and just knowing someone who had chewed tobacco was almost as good as having chewed it yourself; this knowledge allowed you to be considered “in the know.”
I had some trepidation in recalling my first experience with tobacco, the cigarette in California, and the ensuing violent reaction that resulted, but in front of this group, I couldn’t afford to show fear or apprehension of any kind. At this age, one of the worst things that could ever happen to you was to be laughed at. I would partake, but I wasn’t volunteering to go first.
Jim grabbed the first handful out of the pouch, pulling out a nice, moist mixture of tobacco leaves and stems, and after inserting the huge wad into his mouth, he resembled an old-time baseball player on a baseball card from times gone by. I studied Jim closely, wanting to make sure I did everything exactly right, and when it came time for me to load up, I grabbed a few leaves between my index finger and thumb and proudly stuck them in my mouth, trying hard not to make a face—a face that would indicate how much the taste of the tobacco was causing an immediate gag reflex. As long as I kept it to the side of my cheek, not actually chewing it, I was okay. Jim had a huge swelling in the side of his cheek, but in my case, you couldn’t really tell by appearances if I had any chew in my mouth at all.
I hid well the feelings beginning to overtake me, at least for a while. Having never chewed tobacco before and the package itself not giving instructions, I wasn’t sure whether to swallow or spit, or swallow and spit. So I did both. As we continued on our journey and rode the remaining distance to our destination, the heat and the tobacco began to take a toll on me. I was quiet as we approached our journey’s end and was quite relieved when someone said we should stop and eat lunch.
By this time, I was nauseous, but figured that a sandwich might just wash out the remnants of the tobacco and that I would begin to feel better. I was wrong. After eating the warm mustard and cheese sandwich, I took a few steps, and what I had been fighting for the last hour finally won, and I lost my lunch right there in front of all the guys. The laughter erupted from most of my “friends,” all except Jim (he did chuckle but only briefly). Being the kindhearted person that he was, and still is, he began to console me and came up with a few excuses for me as well: “He’s never chewed tobacco before” and “It is awful hot out here” and even “He should have washed the tobacco out of his mouth before eating.” His support shut down the humiliation, and everyone pretty much left me alone after that.
The truth of the matter is tobacco and I go together like oil and water. It wasn’t the first time for that to happen nor would it be the last. [At our twentieth school reunion, Jim, Andy, John, and I decided to go on a camping/canoe trip, and on the night of the camp out, for old times’ sake, chewing tobacco was passed around and I had a similar reaction—some things never change.]
Rather than pass on these occasions, I willingly took the risk in an effort to fit in with everyone else. Finally getting inside the caves, out of the sun and hot air, was an immediate relief, and I began to feel better. The ride home was uneventful, except for the second helping of tobacco. This time, discretion was the better part of valor, and I passed.
Today, if someone wanted to torture me, forget waterboarding, just wave an open pouch of Red Man under my nose, and I’ll cop to anything: “Yes, I put the cow manure in Mr. Harrison’s car seat” and “Yes, I broke the antenna on Dad’s car” and “Yes, I was the Zodiac Killer” and “Yes, I was on the grassy knoll that day in Dallas.”
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A story of a family. A story of a boy. A story of redemption. A coming-of-age tale. Siblings and best friends. Playing hide and seek and kissing your first girl. Going to the drive-in movies in the back of the family station wagon. Writing “I will not fight on the playground” one thousand times. Humorous. Heartwarming. Delightful. Wholesome. Stories that will make you think of simpler days and innocent times. You will laugh and you may cry, but you will enjoy these two books. If you haven’t read them, don’t wait. You owe it to yourself. Little Heathens and Always a Little Heathen. Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online retailers; available in Kindle and Nook versions.
A number of years ago I had a unique opportunity to spy on my two sons without them knowing I was anywhere around; something that most mothers can relate to, but that I rarely experienced. This was during one of the more stressful periods of my work career and my day off happened to fall during the week; while the boys were in school. They were eight and six years old then; an age range that I’ve always been very fond of and I’ve often stated that my favorite age was when I was seven years old. For some reason I remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Pelton, more than any other teacher from those early grade school years. She was raised in some part of South Africa and told stories of riding ostriches as a kid; her being under five feet in height I had little trouble imagining the scenes.
The grade school where the boys were enjoying class was only a few blocks from our house and I made plans to meet them at the school and walk them home; only they weren’t let in on the secret. I arranged it so that I would arrive at the school in plenty of time to see all the kids leaving as the final bell rang, only I decided that I was going to hide from them and surprise them once they came out of the school’s entrance.
Once I arrived at the school, I scoped out all the possibilities and I noticed that the school had two main entrance/exit doors; one in the front and one on the side of the building. I made an educated guess which door they would be coming out of and had a contingency plan in place in case I was wrong. I then found a position alongside the building, just out of sight of the doors, to await the final bell and the kids storming out of the building. I didn’t think, and seldom do in these instances, about what it might look like for me to be hiding alongside of the school building and if it had been today, the swat team might have poured out of the building and surrounding trees and thrown me in the paddy wagon. But those were simpler times back in the late 80’s.
It was a beautiful, sunny fall day and I could hardly stand the wait. The feeling was the same feeling I felt whenever I was anticipating something exciting; like the feeling you have on Christmas morning before mom and dad are awakened. I was nervous and my heart was pounding; I was almost giddy with anticipation. I tried to act nonchalant and cool while I waited and luckily no one approached me to ask me what I was up to. Finally, the bell rang and I crouched into position.
As the little grade school kids poured out of the school building, I kept a sharp eye on each kid, trying to remember just what the boys had worn to school that morning. I didn’t want to screw this up and knew that they might recognize me before I did them. They weren’t the first ones out, nor were they the last, but I finally spotted them. They were walking side by side and talking; about who knows what. At first I was going to jump out from my hiding place and scare them, and enjoy the looks on their faces while we laughed about the trick I had pulled, but then I decided to just lay back and follow them; at a safe distance.
I took the risk that they wouldn’t turn around and notice me following them, and my risk paid off; they never turned around. I followed them for a few blocks, getting closer to them as we walked. I saw them find sticks along the way and pick them up and throw them, and they kicked rocks down the sidewalk, and I fully expected them to break into a skip; and if they had, I believe I would have too. I could hear their laughter and conversation, but never got close enough to hear exactly what they were saying. Their demeanor told me that they didn’t have a care in the world. I was enjoying them as much as they were enjoying the day, and it took me back to the hundreds of times I had walked home from school with various friends. Their carefree attitudes had rubbed off on me. Work was the last thing on my mind.
Finally, I couldn’t take the suspense any longer and I walked up behind them, placed a hand on both of their shoulders, and said, “Boo!” I reached out to hug them and they reacted like I thought they might, at first pushing me away, but soon they were laughing and chastising me for scaring them. We walked the rest of the way home together and I couldn’t wait to tell their mom what I had pulled off. For a moment there, and as an antidote to the stress of grown up life, I was a kid again. And it was glorious
It’s mid-morning on Saturday and Charlie is on the couch with a remote in one hand and his iphone in the other. He checks his favorite website for the listing of today’s college football games. This is going to be a great day. Games from eleven this morning until midnight. Everyone stay out of my way and leave me alone. Just then the doorbell rings and his wife leaves the kitchen to answer it. It doesn’t take long for Charlie to realize who’s at the front door, when his two grand-kids come running into the room and jump on the couch next to him. Sara is nearly three and her older brother Nathan is five. Charlie feigns enthusiasm as his daughter and wife enter the room. “Oh, hi kids! What are you two doing this fine morning?” “Hi Daddy” his daughter remarks as she bends down to give him a hug.
“What are you two ladies, and the kids, planning for today?”
His wife Judy answers him from the kitchen. “We were thinking about going shopping today, but we have the kids.”
Charlie doesn’t take the bait and pretends like he didn’t hear her. He remains focused on the television while the two little ones wander around looking for something to break. As he watches the pre-game shows, the women plot with muffled voices behind cups of coffee and blueberry scones.
“We really need to go shopping. Christmas is only eight weeks away and I wanted to show you some ideas for the kids. But I don’t feel like dragging them around with us.”
Judy is sympathetic. “I agree, but it’s too late to find a babysitter.”
Hanging around the two women in the kitchen is Nathan, and overhearing their conversation he pipes up, “What about Pops?”
His mother and grandmother look at each other and then break out in uncontrolled laughter. “Pops! Nathan, you are a funny little guy. We’d no more leave you with your grandfather than with a stranger down at the Quick Trip.” The two ladies continue laughing, but eventually the reality sinks in. “Who will we leave the kids with?”
“I know Mom, but Dad is dangerous. He won’t keep an eye on them. They’ll be running around in the street when we get home and Dad will be sitting on his couch, just like he is now.” The two ladies glance into the family room and sigh.
“Ashley, we really don’t have much of a choice. It’s either your father watches them, we drag them along with us, or we stay home.” They finally make up their minds and proceed with the next phase of their plan.
Still sitting on his couch, trying as hard as he can to concentrate on the pre-game blather, Charlie doesn’t realize what, at this very moment, is heading his way. Without warning the two ladies appear on the couch; one on either side.
“Charlie, your daughter and I have a huge favor to ask you.”
Charlie drops the remote and cell phone onto the table and leans back in his seat. “I don’t care what you do or say, I’m not watching these kids. I have games planned for the entire day and I’m not watching these kids.” Thinking he’s put the punctuation mark on this conversation, the remote and iphone are returned to their proper place in each of his hands.
“But Daddy, this is important. Mom and I have to do our Christmas shopping and this is our only chance before Thanksgiving.” Charlie looks into his daughter’s eyes and his defenses begin to deteriorate. Seeing an opening, his daughter continues, “C’mon Daddy. Mom and I will only be gone a couple of hours. And we’ll bring you back a large, turtle Blizzard.” Charlie knows that the two hours of shopping in reality will be eight, but against his better judgment he agrees. “Okay. I’ll watch the two little angels.”
Within minutes, the two women are out the door and down the street; not allowing for anyone to change their minds. Charlie sits on the couch and stares at Nathan and Sara. He can’t help but smile and soon his inner little boy takes over. At halftime of game one I can put them into the stroller and take them down to the park. They have swing sets and slides down there. I can show Nathan how to jump off the swing. This might be fun.
After loading the two little ones into the stroller, Charlie pushes them down the street. He makes sure to point out all the cool things he sees along the way. “Hey kids, look over there at that squirrel. See the walnut in his mouth. It’s almost as big as he is.”
Nathan asks, “Pops, is the squirrel going to eat it?”
Charlie, enjoying the child’s curiosity, answers, “No son. He’ll take it home and eat it later. He has to gather as many of those as he can, because once it gets cold and the snow falls, there won’t be any other food around.”
“Couldn’t the squirrel eat from your bird feeder?”
Charlie laughs. “He already does that, but he can’t count on me all winter. Gathering food for the winter is something that’s been built into him for centuries. All the animals do it. It’s natural.”
Once at the park, Charlie pulls the stroller up to the swing sets and takes Nathan to the swing specially built for little kids. He leaves Sara in the stroller and she’s content to watch the two of them play. After swinging Nathan high enough to elicit a few gasps and giggles, Charlie decides it’s time to show his grandson a few tricks. He mounts one of the “adult” swings and begins pumping back and forth. After reaching a maximum height, Charlie turns to Nathan and says, “Watch me Nathan. And you too Sara. This is how you really have fun.”
The second he leaves the swing, Charlie realizes that this isn’t one of his better ideas, and he begins to lose balance almost immediately. Instead of coming down on two feet, he lands on his right foot, but his body is moving quickly in the direction of the slide and jungle gym. Unable to slow himself and trying to regain his balance, Charlie begins to fall backward. And then the lights go out.
Charlie opens his eyes and the pain at the base of his skull is throbbing. After a minute or two, he begins to regain his bearings and slowly sits up. Looking around, he realizes where he is. The park. Why am I at the park? The kids! Regaining his feet, Charlie rubs his head and tries to remember what he was doing when he went unconscious. He recognizes the stroller over by the swing sets and is relieved to find Sara sitting exactly where she was when he last left her. He removes her from the stroller and gives her a big hug. He then realizes that someone else is missing. Where did I leave Nathan? He looks at the swings and remembers Nathan watching his tricks from the kiddy swing. But he’s not there. Charlie begins to panic. He spins around in a full circle, looking in all directions, but he doesn’t see anyone. “Nathan” he calls out. No reply. He calls again, but silence is the answer. Squatting down in front of the stroller he asks Sara, “Sara, where’s Nathan?” Sara stares at him in return and then giggles.
Alright. Think. How long was I out? Did someone kidnap Nathan? The girls are going to kill me. I may as well kill myself. Where would he have gone. Maybe he went home. Charlie grabs the stroller and quickly pushes Sara home, looking up and down both sides of the street and hoping the girls are gone longer than the two hours they promised.
Arriving home Charlie yells out for Nathan and checks every room in the house. No Nathan. After putting Sara to bed for her nap, he returns to the family room. Sitting on the couch, Charlie is near tears. What am I going to do? When he hears the back door open, Charlie thinks, I’m done. Turning toward the door to meet his fate, he sees, not the women, but instead, Nathan coming toward him with a big grin on his face. Charlie jumps up and grabs his grandson, and hugs and kisses him as if he hasn’t seen him in years. “Where have you been Nathan? I’ve looked all over for you?”
“I was playing hide and seek Pops. Like you taught me. You’ll never guess where I was.”
Charlie laughs and cries at the same time. “No I can’t guess Nathan. Where were you?”
“I was hiding on top of the slide. You walked right by me, but I kept real quiet. It was fun.”
As much as he wants to, he just can’t chastise his grandson. He’d only done what he’d been taught. What a wonderful kid. And what a knucklehead grandfather.
As the ladies enter the house, carrying bag after bag of goodies from the mall, they find a quiet house. Not a good sign. The television is on, but the sound is muted. They find Charlie stretched out on the couch, snoring away. Checking the back bedrooms, both kids are found; sleeping soundly and peacefully.
Judy turns to her daughter and says, “Honey, I think your father is amazing. Just think, we laughed at the thought of him watching the kids.”
Ashley smiles and shakes her head. “I think we’ve found a babysitter Mom.”