Sunday, February 27, 2011

Man's Best Friend

Most of us got a puppy growing up. Those of us who did can remember our ankles being attacked, our socks begin destroyed and the smell of “puppy breath”. One of my more memorable dogs was Prince. He was born on my eighth birthday. So my birthday present was to go see my newborn dog. For six weeks we would go visit my puppy every few days. He had a little pink spot on his nose that none of the other puppies had, so it was always easy to pick him out of the crowd. Being a breed dog he only lived for around eight years. He got cancer and in the end we had to put him to sleep. Thinking of him always reminds me of that poem by Lord Byron:


Near this spot are deposited the remains
Of one who possessed beauty without vanity,
Strength without insolence,
Courage without ferocity,
And all the virtues of man
Without his vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning flattery
If inscribed over human ashes,
Is but a just tribute to the memory of "Boatswain," a Dog
Who was born at Newfoundland,
May, 1803,
And died at Newstead Abbey
Nov. 18, 1808.

The words of this poem certainly ring true. Prince had all of those qualities. It's no wonder that dogs are called man's best friend.

Prince was one of the biggest dogs in the neighborhood and, as pit-bulls had a bad reputation, people were a little nervous whenever he was around. Sam's first encounter with Prince, but without us, is worth relating. This goes back to when Sam was probably ten or eleven. He had just started hanging out at our house and he had been around Prince maybe two or three times. Sam felt perfectly safe around the dog provided that we were right there with him.

We wouldn't have deserted Sam to the dog willingly, at least not until he knew Prince better. However, Prince was very head strong and, on occasion, he would decide he wanted to explore the neighborhood without us. When that mood took him he would suddenly make a break for it without warning. It was during one of these getaways that he ran up on Sam.

Prince had decided to make a dash out of the yard just as Sam was walking up the street to our house from his grandmothers. He was about half way there when he saw Prince come flying down the road. It seemed to Sam that there was murder in the dog's eyes and he appeared to be running strait for him. He knew he had to react quickly or become the first kid in the neighborhood killed by a bloodthirsty pit-bull. There was no time to reach any of the houses around and beg for entry, he had do do something instantly.

He looked around and saw that his only real resource was a clump of trees beside the road. He grabbed hold of a nearby pine tree and began to climb with everything he had. He had gotten perhaps ten feet in the air when Prince reached the base of the tree. In a flash Prince flew past him without so much as looking up. Sam hadn't been the target at all, he just happened to be standing right where Prince wanted to go. If Sam had known Prince better he would have realized that he was actually safer with Prince around than without. After musing for a moment Sam climbed down and finished his journey to our house.

We all had a laugh when Sam told us what had happened. There were actually several occasions when Prince gave us a laugh at Sam's expense. The next one that springs to mind happened years later around the Christmas holidays. Sam, Joshua and I had been left home alone while Mom and Dad went and did some shopping. One of our duties was to make sure we took Prince out whenever he needed to go.

The faithful animal always started whining long before he actually had to go, so we always had plenty of time to get him outside. Of course, there were times when he simply wanted to get out and get a bit of fresh air. You could never be sure if he was whining because of one thing or the other. Usually we didn't chance it. If he said he needed to go out then we took him.

However, on this particular night we were playing with the video camera. As I said, Mom and Dad were gone to town, so we started making funny videos to show them when they got home. While we were working on that Prince began to whine. We were right in the middle of things and didn't feel like stopping so we gave him the “Love” treatment. Dad had taught the dog that it was time to be affectionate whenever you said “love”. So, at times, we would use it to distract him if he was whining.

Sam rubbed the dog down telling him “love” again and again until Prince was content. Then we went on with our recording. After just a few minutes he began asking to go out again. Once more Sam gave him the “love” treatment and once more he got quiet. This went on for perhaps thirty minutes. Prince had started whining every couple of minutes or so and we assured him that we would take him out as soon as we were done.

Sam gave him the treatment one last time. He put his hand on Princes head and rubbed all the way down the dog's back as he said “love”. Well, as Sam's hand ran down the creature's back it became obvious that the beast couldn't wait any longer. Prince had given Sam a steaming pile of “love” right on the living room floor. This put us into action at last. Josh and Sam took Prince out for a walk while I cleaned up the mess. For the most part he was a faithful, patient animal, but nature can only wait so long.

Of course, his patience didn't do anything for him when he was eating. He brought the expression “Inhaling your food” to life. I remember once Dad had given him the ham bone from Thanksgiving dinner. It still had plenty of meat on it and so we figured he would really enjoy it. Dad dropped it on the floor and we went about cleaning off the table. As I was going back and forth between the table and the kitchen I looked down and saw Prince laying on the floor, but no bone.

Dad said that if he swallowed it he would be able to digest it and we went on with what we were doing. A few minutes later Prince was walking around the house wheezing. He seemed perfectly normal. He was smiling his dog smile and wagging his stubby little tail. However, he wasn't breathing normally. His breaths were quick and short and wheezy.

As I was looking him over he suddenly threw his jaws apart as far as he could and made a loud puking noise. I saw the ham bone slowly working it's way up his throat. It came out of his mouth like a snake coming up out of a read basket and then dropped on the floor. Prince immediately began to breath normally again. I picked up the bone to throw it away and realized that it was basically as big around as the dog's throat and that it was hollow all the way through it. Then I realized that the dog had been breathing through the hole in the bone. That was why he had been wheezing. Needless to say, we never gave him another bone like that.

There were times, of course, when a mere bone wouldn't satisfy his hunger. I myself have seen him attack a cow. Well, he didn't really “attack” it I suppose, and honestly he wasn't trying to eat it either. I think Prince merely had a hunger for adventure that he was trying to satisfy. That would at least explain why he did what he did.

Joshua, Sam and I were all down at Mrs. Woody's house hanging out in the yard. As I have mentioned in other stories, Mrs. Woody was Sam's grandmother and her house was by one of the pastures for Folk's dairy. There were a number of cows out in the field that day. Mr. Folk would rotate them in and out to let the cows graze or the grass grow.

As we were playing in the yard suddenly Prince flew past us and ran under the fence that surrounded the pasture. The three of us ran to the fence calling the dog, but he didn't pay us any attention. He ran in amongst the herd of cows, jumped up on one and bit it right behind the neck. The poor animal began to “buck” (for lack of a better word) like no cow I had even seen before. It was like watching a rodeo. As soon as one cow had thrown him, Prince would jump up on another.

This continued for perhaps ten minutes with us standing on the sidelines yelling for him to come to us. In the end he cut out of the field heading a different direction.

“I have never seen anything like that... I've never even heard of anything like that...” I said as I stood there stunned.

“I have.” Sam replied, looking out over the pasture.


“I live here remember. I've seen Prince do that before...”

We burst out laughing and went back to our game. This is one of those things were I am glad there were witnesses. Most people might not believe even though three of us saw it happen, but if I hadn't seen it by myself I don't think even I would believe it. Still, “Truth is stranger than fiction” as they say.

All in all Prince was an amazing dog. I think all children should get at least one puppy growing up. Amazingly those dumb brutes can teach us a lot about the better parts of human nature. Prince has long been dead, but I hope and believe that I will never forget him. I can say in truth that he was one of man's best friends.

In closing I have to say that all good things come to an end. It may be hard to believe, but this is my fifty second post. That makes it a year since I started. I do have other stories to tell an one day, Lord willing, they will be told. However, for the time being I have to put these tales down to begin work on another writing project. It is my intention to try and have these stories published. If I can I may add a few more stories to the printed version. I would like to thank you all for taking the time to read these stories. I hope that you've gotten as much enjoyment out of reading them as I got out of writing them.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out

For those of you who may not know it “You'll shoot your eye out” is a quote from the movie “A Christmas Story”. It is a general warning to young boys that even a BB gun can be dangerous. Speaking for my own childhood I can attest to the truth behind it. As a child I often forgot that a BB gun wasn't just another toy. We certainly did things we shouldn't have and it was the grace of God that we didn't shoot our eyes out.

We spent a good deal of time outside and we spent many hours shooting at inanimate objects. As a general rule we weren't allowed to shoot anything living and if we did we had to eat it. It was a simple rule and kept me from ever wanting to shoot rats or mice or any other generally unwanted little rodent. All of us were fairly good shots. One Christmas we went around shooting mistletoe out of the oak trees in the neighborhood. It wasn't easy because you had to cut the stem with a BB. However, our aim was accurate enough that we ended the day with a garbage bag of mistletoe.

One fine spring day Danny Flint and I were out playing in the back yard with a couple of BB pistols. They looked very cool, but they weren't worth much as guns. Their aim was terrible and they had absolutely no power. He and I were out shooting at this and that when a little bird landed in the top of a nearby tree. We decided that it would be fun to scare it away and started shooting near it. I felt certain that even if we hit the bird it wouldn't do any damage at that range.

I never found out whether or not those pistols had enough punch to kill a bird. While we were standing there shooting again and again Josh walked up behind us with his BB rifle. He took one look and said “You guys trying to shoot that bird?” We both said “No!” in unison, but it was too late. In a flash he had raised his rifle, pulled the trigger and killed the bird.

An argument ensued because Danny and I really didn't want to hit the bird. However, Josh pointed out that if we hadn't meant to hurt it we shouldn't have been shooting at it. He made a very good point, so we got quiet. Having killed the bird there was only one thing we could do. Yes, we cleaned it, cooked it and ate it. To be honest, it was very good. There wasn't much meat on the little guy, but it had a good flavor and was very tender. Considering the fact that we had only roasted it over a little camp fire and didn't even have any salt it was truly excellent.

Still, in truth Williston was and is a bird sanctuary. We shouldn't have killed the little thing and I knew it. I made sure we all knew it after that. For many years none of our BBs ended the life of any little animal. However, one time Josh forgot his own rule. We were walking down the road and he saw a dove land on a telephone pole perhaps two hundred feet away. Josh was carrying his BB rifle. He decided to shoot at the bird even though he knew he was too far away to hit it, much less kill it.

He aimed carefully, pulled the trigger and the dove dropped off the top of the telephone pole like a stone. We all expressed our own version of “No way!” as we ran over to take a look at it. Josh picked it up and looked it all over. There wasn't a mark on it.

“Maybe my shot got so close that it fainted and then the fall killed it...” He said turning the dead bird over and looking for any obvious wound.

“What!?!?” I replied with a half-laugh.

“Well, look at it!” He said and handed the bird to me.

There wasn't a scratch on it. No open wound, no blood, nothing to indicate that it was injured at all.

“Maybe it had a heart attack at the same moment you pulled the trigger.” Sam suggested.

“What are the odds of that?” I asked.

“Well, look, the bird is dead and there's no bullet hole. Something weird happened!”

I had to agree with that, but I couldn't believe the bird just happened to up and die just as Josh shot at it. We continued to search the bird all over. Finally Sam found a small hole and a little blood right inside the bird's arm pit. (Not that bird's have an arm pit, but if I wrote “wing pit” no one would know what I was talking about.) What had apparently happened was that third bird had lifted it's wings just as Josh fired. The BB happened to hit in such a weak point on the bird's body that it went strait into it's heart and killed the bird almost instantly.

We were all amazed. The odds were astronomical. However, that is exactly why you shouldn't play with guns. My Grandmother used to say “Never point a gun at someone you don't intend to kill.” and she was right. Josh had forgotten the cardinal rule and the dove paid the price. (Cardinal... Dove... sorry, I couldn't help it.) That was the last bird we ever killed by accident. After that we didn't point a gun at one unless we were hunting. However, it wasn't the last time we did something we shouldn't have with a BB gun.

A couple of years before Josh accidentally killed that dove I learned a valuable lesson of my own. I had borrowed a pump BB gun from Jim Melvin and Josh and I had gone out and done a little shooting. On the way back I picked a handful of small seeds from a little bush growing on the side of the road. They were just small enough to fit down into the barrel. This gave me, what I thought was, a very clever idea.

I decided to cram several of the seeds into the barrel at a time and pump the gun up a good bit in order to make a seed shotgun. In case you don't know, a pump BB gun is more powerful than a regular BB gun. It has several pressure levels and the more you pump it the more power it has, up to it's maximum pressure. So, I crammed a few seeds in the barrel, gave it a few pumps and fired. The seeds shot out just like I had hoped. It was fantastic.

Having done a successful test I thought it would be funny to shoot Josh. I figured the seeds we fairly soft, at least compared to a BB. It seemed to me since there was more than one it would also make them fly slower and therefor not hit as hard. It felt safe enough to me, so I crammed about ten seeds in the barrel and pumped up the gun. I thought it best to give it ten pumps, which was the maximum, just to make sure it hit him hard enough for him to feel it.

Josh had been playing around near me the entire time, but hadn't really noticed what I was up to. We were out by the close line and Josh had been jumping up and hanging from one of the cross bars. I waited for him to do it again and as soon as he did I shot him in the lower legs. He was wearing a pair of high socks and I felt that if there was any chance of it hurting him the socks would stop it. I was wrong...

He let out a scream, dropped from the bar and ran in place for a moment. As soon as he could move in a single direction he flew into the house. There he began to explain to Mom, between fits of screaming, that I had just shot him. He pulled down his socks to reveal a number of large whelps. I felt terrible and apologized immediately. Josh accepted like a gentleman, as soon as he could speak properly, and then asked me something along the lines of “What in the world is wrong with you?!?!?” to which I had no answer.

That moment cemented the fact that BB guns are not toys, but rather small guns, in my mind. Seeing what those seeds had done to Josh showed me just how dangerous a simple BB gun could be. One would also naturally expect that Josh would have learned the same lesson, him being the victim of my mistake. However, the next story clearly shows the such was not the case.

Joshua, Brandyn, and Jeremiah Berson decided that it would be great fun to have BB gun wars when they were teenagers. They would go out into the woods and shoot each other until one of them gave up. None of them bothered to wear face masks of any protective equipment other than heavy clothing. I suppose that they felt not trying to shoot each other in the face was safety enough.

One hot summer day the three of them headed out for a fight. Each of them had a different kind of weapon. Jeremiah had some kind of semi-automatic rifle. Brandyn had actually gotten a CO2 powered BB machine gun that would fire a hundred BBs a minute or so. Josh had a single shot pump BB/pellet rifle. They decided the only way to be even slightly fair was to break up and go their own way for a few minutes and then start hunting each other.

Each of them picked a direction and started walking. Josh knew that he wasn't going to get many shots, so he found a place to hide and waited for them to hunt him. After just a few minutes he heard a fire fight between Brandyn and Jeremiah break out. In a mater of seconds he heard Jeremiah screaming and running through the woods. The BB machine gun was winning.

As Brandyn made his way through the woods he was calling out to Josh as he randomly shot one group of bushes after another. Josh didn't move, he just waited on Brandyn to get closer. He had decided that, as he only had one shot, it had better be something special. So, he loaded it with a pellet pointing backwards. A pellet is kind of shaped like a shuttle cock used in badminton. So loading it backwards pointed a small lead cup right at your target. He also gave the gun a full ten pumps, just to make sure it hit good and hard.

Brandyn ended up walking strait for where Joshua was hiding. He fired his BB machine gun right into the clump of bushes that my brother was using for cover, but managed both to miss Josh and still not see him. As Brandyn got closer and closer Josh lay there silently waiting for the moment to strike.

Here I have to take a moment and explain one of the differences between my brother and Brandyn. As I mentioned earlier it was a very hot summer day when they decided to do this. Each of them had put on a different level of protective clothing. Josh had the sense to pack himself in so much cloth that even if he got hit, it wouldn't be very damaging. He had gotten into a place to hide and laid in the heat without so much as moving a muscle. Brandyn had started very lightly dressed and once he had gotten good and hot he even took his shirt off. So, by the time he pushed into the bushes where Josh was hiding he was completely bare chested.

So, when Josh fired directly into Brandyn's chest there was nothing at all to protect him. The pellet stuck right in his breast bone. The result was that Brandyn threw down his gun screaming and began to work on getting the pellet out of his chest. Josh jumped up and helped him and in no time the pellet was removed and only a little bleeding circle was left behind. After that the game was over and Josh was declared the winner.

I would like to say that it ended there and that they never did it again, but that would be untrue. I don't know when they got old enough to decide that getting to shoot your friends wasn't worth the pain of being shot, but they did eventually outgrow it. As you can see it truly was the grace of God that we all kept our eyes intact. Before I give any of my children a BB gun I am going to have to give them a firm lecture on how you can, in fact, shoot your eye out.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Always Expect the Unexpected

I'm not sure where I first heard that phrase. “Always expect the unexpected!”, it sounds like the kind of thing Inspector Clouseau would say right before he broke something. I suppose it's good advice, although, I don't know if anyone alive could actually do it. My Dad certainly couldn't. There were plenty of times when Dad was going along, minding his own business, when the unexpected hit him like a freight train. The following two stories show my Dad's two basic reactions to unpleasant surprises.

The first tale begins with me deciding that we needed to dig yet another hole in the yard. On this particular occasion we made the mistake of digging it a bit too close to the house. We jammed our shovels into the ground around a hundred feet from the back door and began to dig with a will. In a few hours we had dug a mighty pit down into the earth. It was probably five or six feet across and perhaps five feet deep at the lowest point.

When Dad got home Josh, Chris and I were laying in the hole, resting and admiring our work. Surprisingly enough Dad didn't want that huge hole dug right in the middle of his back yard. He immediately went through the normal list of questions: “Why had we done it?”, “What were we thinking?”, “What was wrong with us?”, “Did our mother know what we were doing?”, etc. We, in turn, replied with the usual answers: “We don't know.”, “We don't know.”, “We don't know.”, etc.

On this occasion Dad decided that we needed to be taught a lesson. He insisted that we bury the hole immediately. He wanted the hole gone before the end of the day. We had no choice and so our lovely hole began to disappear one shovel full at a time. After only a few minutes we realized that the burying was going to be worse than the digging. We were already tired and we had a long way to go. Finally Chris chimed in with an idea.

“We should fill this hole with junk.” He said as he paused for a moment leaning on his shovel.

“What's the point of that?” I asked, throwing another pile of dirt into the pit.

“Well the more junk we throw in it, the less dirt it will take to fill it up.”

“I see that, but where will we get the junk?”

“From behind Uncle Fritz's shed! There's all kinds of junk there.”

I had to admit that he was right. Dad was a collector of all kinds of things that young boys might consider junk. Also, it was stuff that we were allowed to do basically whatever we wanted with, so I figured Dad couldn't have cared much about it. Within a few minutes we had dragged all the junk we could find across the yard and thrown it in the hole.

“That's hardly made a dent....” I said looking down at our micro-landfill.

“Well, it's not as deep as it was.” Chris replied.

“No, we've filled it up maybe a foot between the dirt and the junk, but we're out of junk.”

“No, we're not. What about those old freezer lids?”

Again, Chris was right. Dad had worked for years at a plant that made chest freezers. He had gotten a large number of defective lids and used them for all kinds of things. They weren't really complete lids, they were just the metal shells that would have become lids had they not been defective. They were both light and strong and we had a load of them sitting at the back of the shed.

“OK, so we have a bunch of those lids. They will never fit down in that hole.” I said, pointing out the obvious.

“They don't need to fit in it, just over it.”


“We can lay the lids over the hole until it's completely covered. Then we can bury the lids and we'll be done in a snap.”

I stood there thinking it over for a moment before I spoke.

“Brilliant!” was my simple reply.

We went to work and in moments the lids were laid across the hole. A few minutes more found the pit completely covered with a mound of earth. When we got inside Dad was surprised at how quickly we had gotten finished. He went out and looked over every thing and was completely satisfied. We felt that we had done a great job and had even out-thought our problems. Everyone was happy.

However, we now have to push on through time. The pit had been dug and buried in the fall and before long spring arrived. Grass had grown up in the back yard and it was time to mow. Dad got out the old tractor and began merrily cutting the grass. It was one of the rare times when he just walked out to the shed, cranked the tractor and began to mow. This should have tipped him off that something was wrong, but sadly it didn't.

He had no idea as he headed for that low mound of grass covered earth that he was actually heading for a pit trap filled with old junk. There was no way for him to know in advance that those earth covered lids wouldn't hold up the weight of the tractor until he was right over the middle of the hole. It wasn't until the lids buckled and he found himself, and two-thirds of his tractor, down in a pit that he knew something was wrong.

At first he was a bit stunned. He had just been driving along mowing a moment before. Now, he was sitting on a tractor that was sitting in a hole filled with dirt covered junk. The wheels in his mind slowly turned as he figured out what had happened. Here many people would expect Dad to have one of his explosions, but he didn't. Over the next few hours he got the tractor out of the hole, got all the junk out that he felt he needed to and then reburied the hole properly.

Josh and I had been gone the entire time, so we knew nothing about it when we got home. Dad began to tell the story and as he did so he got more and more excited. It all ended with him yelling “You will never be allowed to bury another hole in this yard as long as you live here!” It strikes me as an odd thing to say, but he stuck to it. Over the following years we dug a few more holes, but whenever it was time to bury them Dad took care of it himself.

That was an example of Dad calmly dealing with the unexpected. He got a little worked up after the fact, but at the moment of action he handled the situation very well. I don't think many men would have been nearly as calm about having fallen into a pit trap dug by their sons. Of course, where as Dad might handle an extreme situation with grace, there were other times when a much smaller problem would get a much bigger reaction. Needless to say this next story is about that.

During my teen years I constantly had self-induced car trouble. One day my Mustang might overheat because I hadn't put water in the radiator (It used to leak a little.) Another day would find me stranded on the side of the road having run out of gas (I broke the gas gauge at one point.) Most of the time I could sort these problems out myself with the help of whoever happened to be riding along with me. I did open the radiator when the car was hot once, but first degree burns on my face kept me from ever making that mistake again. All in all I rarely needed help to get my car back on the road.

On the day that this story takes place that was not the case. The car had overheated a little and wouldn't crank after I had given it some time to cool off. That struck me as a bad sign, so I decided to call Dad. We were right across the street from a gas station, so getting to a phone was no problem. He told me to wait with the car, so that's exactly what Brandyn, Ron and I did. We were only a few miles out of town and Dad got to us within about fifteen minutes.

He got out of his brand new car and closed the door behind him. (It was a hot summer day, so he decided to leave the car running and the air-conditioner on.) Having looked my car over calmly, he said he didn't think anything was really wrong, that we probably just needed to put some water in the radiator. It was decided that he would drive across the street to the gas station and get something full of water and bring it back over. He walked over to his car, pulled the handle and then it happened.

The door didn't open. He pulled the handle again and again with the same results. Then it struck him. He had locked the door as he stepped out and left his key in the ignition. Now, in most cases, this would be a minor annoyance, but not this time. Dad had just gotten that car and was filled with “new-car love”, he had also been working crazy hours and didn't feel like having to deal with any unexpected aggravations. What happened next was amazing to see. It began with Dad talking to himself.

“Of course! I've locked my keys in the car!” He said as he stood there pulling on the door handle.

“We can just call Mom to bring the spare set.” I suggested.

“Oh no! You see the car is running and it will overheat and blow the engine up before she gets here!”

“I don't think it will blow up that fast.”

Here Dad began to have a genuine meltdown.

“Oh yes it will! Because this is a new car! I'm not supposed to have a new car! I'm supposed to ride around in junk! I'm supposed to work all the time and never have anything!”

Keep in mind that he had been working inhuman hours at the plant for weeks at this point. He was so tired he couldn't think. In fact, as he was explaining how bad the situation was going to be I think the speech center of his brain must have shut down.

“Then we'll have to!! And that's going to cost!! How can we!! I don't believe!! And!!! New!!!! AHHHH!!!! AHHHHH!!!!”

At that point he jumped on the ground and started kicking his feet in the air and slamming his fists into the dirt as fast as he could. Even I had never seen Dad loose it to that extent. Brandyn and Ron looked at me hoping that I had some idea. Only one came to mind: “Run” I yelled as I set the example by flying down the side of the road as fast as I could. You see, I felt that Dad had actually lost it and that it would be better for us if we were out of the area. He had been a golden gloves boxer, back when he was younger, and could have easily killed the three of us if he wanted to. I wasn't sure how far off the deep end he had gone and, at the time, discretion seemed to be the better part of valor.

We ran for over a mile. Finally we found ourselves, panting for breath, at Brandyn's door. We were there discussing the situation and trying to get in touch with Mom for about ten minutes before Dad pulled up in the yard. He got out as if nothing had happened.

“Are you alright?” I said as he stepped out of the car.

“Of course,” He laughed, “why?”

“Well... I mean... I thought you might have had a heart attack. I've been trying to call Mom to tell her we might need an ambulance.”

“Because I got a little upset. No, we don't need an ambulance. Anyway, it was your mother that brought me the spare key.”

“How did she know she needed to?”

“I called her.”


It turned out that as soon as we had run off Dad decided that he was acting like a child. He got up, brushed himself off, walked across the street, and called Mom. She certainly drove past us as we were running down the road, but didn't even see us because she was so focused on taking the keys to Dad. He opened the door and turned the car off. Then he took the time to go get the water, fill my radiator and test crank the car. It started without a problem and so he came to get us. He knew to go to Brandyn's because the next closest house we could have gone to was miles more down the road. The entire affair was wrapped up in about half an hour.

As you can see he reaction to that particular unexpected event was a little more explosive than it needed to be. Although I had never seen Dad get that upset, and never have again, it was always the little things that upset him the most. Something big he could handle, because you have to handle it. With little things he gave an almost open vent to his emotions.

Although you can't expect a particular unexpected event you can come to understand that unexpected things are going to happen. Once you make the decision to deal with whatever comes your way calmly you'll be better equipped to do just that. We always need to keep in mind that whatever comes our way, the Lord has a handle on it. He, at least, always expects the unexpected.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tarzan Boy Scouts 2

I'm sure the title will give away the fact that the following stories return to the theme of our wild boyscout troop. In truth it might not be fair to call most of them stories. They are merely snippets of the kind of wild things we did during our years as scouts. Still, they make me laugh when I think about them, so I believe they belong here.

Out of our entire troop Sam was probably the biggest slob. He was as un-tucked, un-brushed and often as un-washed as a boyscout could be. However, no one could argue with the fact that he was the rugged outdoors type. One morning we were running late and hadn't had breakfast before Dad said it was time for us to roll out. Sam had just cracked a couple of eggs into his frying pan and said that he had to finish them before he could go.

“Eat them now then, but move!” Dad said as he walked past.

With less than a second's delay Sam lifted the frying pan to his lips and drank the eggs raw. He said that he wasn't marching on an empty stomach. One of our scout mothers almost threw up, but the rest us thought it was great.

Jim wasn't near so rugged, but he was still good for a laugh. Once when he was reciting the boyscout law, which goes “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”, he got confused and looked to me for help. I tried to mouth the next one to him, but he misread my lips.

“And a scout should be naval!” Jim said confidently.

Dad stared at him for a moment before asking “What does it mean to be naval, Jim?”

Jim opened and closed his mouth like a fish a few times before confessing that he didn't know. We all burst out laughing and “Be naval!” became a saying amongst us for a while.

Of course, Jim didn't always make the rest of us want to laugh. There was at least one occasion in particular when he called down the wrath of the troop. You see, there were times when the entire troop decided that one of us had done something that had to be punished. It almost always came in the form of mockery and we certainly never hurt one another, but we all made sure to show our disapproval to the offending member.

Jim's offense had simply been being a wimp. Jim was the biggest of us and arguably the strongest, but he didn't have the “Never give up!” drive that most of us had. On the particular day in question we had gone out on a hiking trip. Dad was showing us all how to use a map in the woods, which is a lot trickier than it sounds. You have to know how to use your compass to line the map up and get your bearings. Poor Dad probably spent close to an hour trying to show us how to do it before we started marching through briar and bramble.

The idea was to lead us all a fair distance out in the woods and then have us navigate our way back out. For the first couple of hours we were enjoying it, however, as time wore on our packs got heavier and heavier. We were carrying all of our equipment as if it had been a normal march. Part of the exercise was to get us used to hauling our packs through the woods for hours at the time. Jason, in particular, was loaded down like a pack mule. He probably had more in his pack than any two of the rest of us.

As we pushed on our weariness increased and the troop began to complain. We had been on the march for a good long time before we came out of the woods. As soon as we hit the road our spirits rose. All we had to do was march down it back to the cars and we were done. Most of us picked up our spirits and pushed ourselves on step after grueling step. Not Jim, however, he collapsed on the side of the road and said we could pick him up on the way home. Needless to say we all began to make fun of him and do our best to get him to march on. He refused to move an inch. So, we marched on without him.

When we got back to the car all the boys agreed that we shouldn't stop for Jim, but should wave as we drove by. Our plan was to drive ahead where he couldn't see us and park for a minute or two and then go back to get him, just to mess with him. However, Dad backed out at the last minute and stopped to let Jim in. The rest of us were furious, but there wasn't much we could do other than make fun of Jim about it for months.

On another occasion we decided to pretend to punish Jermaine in order to mess with my Dad. Our scout headquarters was in a small building on the edge of Folk's pond. We came up with the idea that Jermaine would say something and that the rest of us would react to by dragging him outside and throwing him in the pond. Of course, we weren't really going to throw him in, we just wanted Dad to think we had.

We got a cinder block and a couple of bricks and put them right down by the edge of the pond for easy reach. Then we went inside the building and started our fake conversation. When Jermaine said his line we all grabbed him and dragged him out of the door yelling “Into the pond!” As soon as we got out of the door we put Jermaine down and all grabbed our bricks and block. We threw them on the count of three and Jermaine began screaming about how cold the water was.

Dad flew out of the building, nearly tearing the door off it's hinges and was met by his entire troop laughing. Dad looked the scene over and saw Jermaine standing there bone dry. He quickly put two and two together and joined in the laughter with us.

However, there was a day not to long after that when Kevin Dial actually did fall into the water and nobody laughed. The troop had gone to Edisto Memorial Gardens for some reason, although now I can't remember what it was. For the most part we boys had been left to do whatever we liked and we spent a majority of the time running around the woods and playing near the Edisto river.

Kevin had gotten right up to the edge of the river and was looking intently into the water. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to give him a good scare. So, I crept up behind him, slapped him on the back and yelled “RAA!” right in his ear. I never expected him to do what he did. I mean, most people would have jerked a bit or screamed or something like that. Not Kevin, no, he jumped out into the middle of the river like a frog.

He also went to the extra trouble of sinking like a stone. Under most circumstances Kevin could swim, at least a little bit. However, I suppose the current of the river and the pounding of his terrified heart were working against him that day. Whatever the cause he didn't swim a stroke. In the movies when someone falls in the water and is drowning they splash around screaming for help and taking gulps of air before they sink below the waves. Kevin didn't do anything like that. As soon as he hit the water he sank up to his hat and stayed that way.

In fact, it may have been that hat that saved his life. You see, as soon as Kevin was in the water the entire troop was at the river's edge screaming for help and trying to save Kevin. Within moments the adults were right at the spot where Kevin had jumped in an were trying their best to find him. I noticed that Kevin's hat was slowly floating down the river and an idea hit me. I felt certain that the hat was still on his head. However, in all the panic and amongst all the screaming I didn't take the time to explain, I just ran along the edge of the river following the hat.

After what seemed like forever Kevin's hand shot up out of the water and grabbed a stone on the river's edge. In a flash I grabbed his hand and a moment later I had pulled his gasping form up out of the river. As soon as he was on dry land I yelled to everyone that he was safe and the panic was over. As they were drying him off he was asked how he came to fall in the river. I had to confess that I had scared him into it. The entire event was used as an example lesson for us boys. You have to be careful when you are playing near the water. After that I was a lot more careful about where and when I scared anyone.

As you can see, my time in the boy scouts was filled with adventure, excitement and the occasional dose of danger. We all had a great deal of fun and learned a great deal about taking care of ourselves and each other. That is something all boys need to learn in order to become men. They don't have to do it in the boy scouts, but they have to do it somewhere. You can protect a little boy so much that he will never really become a man. You have to let him take risks and deal with consequences. If everyone understood that fact the world would be a better place. At least, that's my humble opinion.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

That Old Time Religion

Now, those of you who don't know me may not realize that I am a very religious man. Even amongst the dedicated Christians of the Southern United States I consider myself a devout Christian. As a result I certainly don't think of making fun of the Lord as acceptable. Nor do I like making fun of Christians or Christian ceremonies as a general rule. However, the Church is made up of people and people do funny things. I believe it is perfectly acceptable to laugh at someone who does something funny whether he's a Christian or not and whether or not he's in a church building at the time.

I mention these things because the following stories touch on that old time religion. I wanted my views known so that I wouldn't offend anyone who's religious scruples are a little more sensitive than my own. I find humor where I find it and I certainly don't intend to offend anyone. Now that I have the disclaimer out of the way we can move on the the meat of the matter.

As young men Sam, Joshua and I would often discuss things of a religious nature. More times than not these conversations led to religious mysteries that no one alive can answer. I'm sure most of you are familiar with the old “How many angles can dance on the head of a pin?” discussions. (If you aren't familiar I would suggest looking it up. It's an interesting piece of history.) We would bring up similar questions and talk about the possibilities.

Sam, like many young Christians, was obsessed with the book of Revelations. It's depictions of Armageddon, and what most people believe to be the end of the world, have fueled the fires of many a young imagination. Sam was giving vent to those fires one night as we lay on the roof of the house looking up at the stars.

It was a warm summer night and we had stayed up until after Mom and Dad had gone to bed. For whatever reason the mood struck us to head up to the roof. As we lay there looking up at the sky the conversation naturally turned to the beauty of nature and from there it was a short step for Sam to move to Revelations.

He had a flare for setting your nerves on edge while he talked about the beast and the abomination that causes desolation. We had been discussing the subject for about half an hour when I decided I wanted to take a walk. From some reason talking about the end of the world filled me with nervous energy. We all three climbed down and started out on one of our usual romps around the neighborhood. As we walked under the street lights Sam continued the discussion. He had just introduced the subject of demons when I saw two points of red light shining out of the bushes.

“One sec bro!” I whispered, interrupting Sam mid-thought.

“What it is?” He asked.

“Am I seeing things or are there two red eyes watching us from the bushes?”

Sam took a careful look and replied “No, you're not seeing things. They are there....”

“What do you think we should do?”


“AHHHH!!!!” We all three screamed together as we ran back to the house as fast as we could.

Once safely home we discussed the situation and decided that if those had been demon eyes we would have all been dead. So, there was only one thing to do: We had to arm ourselves against any animal attacks and go find the whatever-it-was. We each took something with which to fight off whatever wild animal the thing might turn out to be and headed back to where we had seen the eyes hoping to pick up the trail from there.

We returned to find the eyes still sitting there looking silently out over the night. I had seen many animal eyes in the dark before. The reflective blues, greens and reds of dogs and cats and other animals. These eyes were nothing like those. They were a deep ruby red and they glowed more brightly than any eyes I had ever seen. I was also certain that they hadn't moved an inch. They were still where they had been, almost as if they had been waiting for us to return.

The three of us stood in a tight group and slowly advanced on the unblinking eyes with our weapons at the ready. Suddenly Sam stopped, squinting ahead into the darkness. Then he burst out laughing.

“They are reflectors!” He said.

“What?” I replied.

“It's those two reflectors on the sides of that driveway back into those woods. You must have seen them a thousand times.”

Immediately I realized that he was right. I had, in fact, seen them thousands of times during daylight hours. Josh and I joined in the laughter and I blamed Sam for the whole thing. He had gotten us all worked up about the end of the world until we thought we were seeing demon eyes. It was a lesson in keeping our imaginations in check. When the end of the world comes there won't be any question, everyone will know it.

This next tale opens years before our little demon hunt. We were at church along with a number of my cousins. We would all run around in what amounted to the church parking lot after services while the adults stood around talking. We had just come out of evening services and it was dark enough that the adults who were standing on the porch of the church building couldn't see what we children were doing.

Here I need to mention the fact that we were very young at the time. I don't remember what age we were exactly, but we were young enough to think that mooning was one of the funniest things in the world. If you don't know what mooning is I have to wonder where you've been all your life. However, so there won't be any confusion, I'll tell. Mooning is the art of dropping your pants at just the right moment to make someone look at your naked butt. As I say, we were young and this was something we found very funny at the time.

Somehow the conversation turned to mooning and how funny it would be if people driving past the church building were saluted with a row of children's butts. We all agreed that it would be hysterical because of all the places you wouldn't expect to be mooned the church yard is pretty high up on the list. After a few minutes discussion we decided to do it. A row of us lined up with our backs turned to the road. The next set of headlights that came along was greeted with a number of little wagging behinds.

We did it again and again as one car after another drove by. Each time we laughed a little harder. Now, this story doesn't end with any big bang. If you have read many of my tales you may expect it to end with us begin caught or someone pulling over to find out why we were doing that, but it doesn't this time. Nothing at all happened. A number of people were mooned from the church yard one night and we children laughed until we almost cried. We never did it again. Somehow when we looked back at it the thing wasn't as funny as it had seemed before. We had outgrown it. I suppose that's the real moral. You don't always have to catch your children doing everything you don't want them to so you can stop them. Some things they will just outgrow if you give them time.

Of course, there are things that are funny no matter what age you are. I have found, for myself, one of those things is someone trying not to laugh. The moment I can tell that someone is trying to keep themselves from laughing it makes me try not to laugh myself. The result is almost always that I laugh, which makes them laugh. This only ever happens when people aren't supposed to be laughing which makes the whole situation even funnier, at least to me.

I remember once when Joshua, Sam and I were serving The Lord's Supper and Sam had to try his best not to laugh. For those of you who don't know, The Lord's Supper is something that we Christians do in remembrance of Jesus Christ. Some Christians call it the sacrament, others call it other things. We call it The Lord's Supper. It's not a particularly somber ceremony, at least to me. In a very real way it's a celebration. However, it does celebrate the last meal Christ had with the apostles before being crucified, so one does tend to turn their thoughts to the crucifixion which is a very somber subject.

In any event, The Lords Supper is a ceremony where one doesn't often hear laughter. In fact, one doesn't hear much of anything. A number of prayers are said, but other than that it is mainly silent. It was a prayer in fact that caused Sam to have to try not to laugh. Joshua was saying one of the prayers and said:

“Thank you for sending your son to be murdered for us.”

Now, that isn't really funny at all and it is something we should be thankful for. However, it's not usual in a prayer like that to use the word murdered. The normal phrases are “to die for us” or “to shed his blood” or even “to receive our stripes”. If you're not a regular church goer you probably have no idea what I'm talking about, but trust me, “to be murdered” is something you hear very rarely.

It certainly wasn't a case of Josh being wrong to put it that way, Sam just didn't expect it. As a result he started to laugh. He caught himself immediately, but I heard him make a sound like an engine about to crank. Before I knew it I was making sounds myself. I had a huge smile on my face and I was very glad that everyone's eyes were closed.

Again, Sam made a sound, no doubt in response to mine and I had to do everything I could not to snigger again. Then I head someone in the crowd do their imitation of a car that wouldn't crank and that pushed me over the edge. I laughed, but just a bit. That, of course, caused Sam to laugh. Fortunately by that time Josh had finished his prayer. He said “Amen” and was met with waves of laughter. The entire congregation burst out laughing. Everyone in the crowd had been doing their best not to laugh during the prayer. Once it was finished no one could hold back any longer. As soon as the laughter died down we had The Lord Supper as usual, but there were a few more smiles than normal.

Now, there are some people that might think it was terrible to laugh during such a serious Christian ceremony. However, I disagree. God has given us many things to be happy about and Jesus laid down his life so that we could be together forever. The Lord wants us to be happy and what we were laughing at was one another, not anything Holy. Laughter is one of the great gifts God has given to man. I think it's wrong to mock the Lord, but not to laugh when our fellow men do something unexpected or outlandish. Not all Christians see eye to eye on this. It seems to me that some of them think of Christianity as a burden rather than a gift. For myself I can't help but feel that “My soul was lifted at Calvary” and one of the things that makes my spirit soar is a good round of laughter.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bad Days For Brandyn

I've had a few bad days over the course of my life. I'm certain that most of us have. However, Brandyn Boatwright specialized in them. I've already recorded the histories of a few of his bad days. If you haven't read “Brandyn Ninja Carpenter” or “That's Gonna Leave a Mark” you may want to do so. They will help demonstrate what I mean. He often brought things on himself, but not always. The tales that follow represent a little of each side of the coin.

On the particular day of calamity in question we were all in school. Joshua and I had been put in private school shortly after I started the ninth grade. Brandyn Boatwright and Jesse Dicks quickly followed us. Since we had all been friends for years outside of school this made for a wonderful educational setting. Every day was more like going up to the clubhouse than going to school. Plus the guys at school were great and we all became close friends. Each day found us playing some sport during every one of our breaks. On this particular day tag football was the game of choice.

Now, as a general rule, tag football is one of the safest games in the world. For the two people on earth who have never heard of it I'll explain, just in case they decide to read this. Tag football is just like regular football except all the tackles are replaced by tags. That is to say you only need to touch whoever has the ball in order to “tackle” them. Now, if you are asking yourself what a “tackle” is then I can't help you. You'll have to look up some information on football. I don't have room for all that here....

In any event, we were all out playing tag football. Brandyn had gotten the ball and was flying across the field toward the end zone. I fell in behind him and ran right up on his heals. Literally. You see, I was a great deal faster than Brandyn. I had closed the distance between us in no time and was running right behind him just toying with him. My plan was to let him get within about ten yards of making a goal and then tag him. However, when I stepped on his heal it tripped me. I was so close to him that when I fell I landed right on him. The result was that I actually tackled him.

Normally this wouldn't have been a problem at all. Brandyn was as tough as nails. I had seen him take some major hits and recover without so much as batting an eye. On this particular day that was not to be the case. As Brandyn fell the ball slipped from his fingers. It hit the ground a moment before he did. He landed with his forearm laid right across it. So, when I landed right on top of him it dropped the weight of both our bodies right onto his arm which was stretched across the ball. It snapped the bones of his forearm like twigs.

To say that he screamed doesn't really convey the emotion which Brandyn displayed. He did something more than simply scream, if we have a word for it in the English language then I don't know what it is. There was the terrible sound he produced to which he added a general flailing and a kind of Curly-esk running around while laying down. (If you've never watched the Three Stooges then you don't know what I mean. Find a DVD and watch it, but only if you are male. Women seem to hate the Three Stooges for some reason...) Mrs. Lane, our teacher, tried to help him to his feet, but was met with some rather unpleasant language as she grabbed his broken arm in order to lift him up.

We finally managed to get him into a car and on his way to the hospital. The next day he showed up at school sporting his new cast. Sadly for Brandyn this was going to be another day that didn't end very well. It was the very end of the school day when things took a bad turn. As usual Brandyn brought it on himself by begin stupid.

Joshua and I would occasionally catch a ride home with one of the other guys from school. Charles Elledge had offered to give us a lift in his truck that day. Charles was a lot of fun and played music so loud that your ears would almost bleed, so we immediately accepted his invitation. If we had just ridden home with Mom or if Charles had been driving a car Brandyn might have been spared a little pain, but it was not meant to be.

Just as Charles was backing up Brandyn jumped up on his bumper, grabbed the tailgate with his good hand and began waving his broken arm above his head as if he were a cowboy riding a wild stallion. We came to a stop at the end of the driveway waiting to pull onto the road until Brandyn had hopped off. However, Brandyn just stood there waving his broken arm in the air. Charles yelled for Brandyn to get down, but Brandyn ignored him.

“What should I do?” Charles asked as he watched Brandyn in the rear view mirror.

“Drive on. He'll get down.” I said with confidence.

Charles pulled out onto the road and started getting up to speed. Brandyn continued to cling to the tailgate with his good hand and wave his bad arm in the air. We got up to ten miles an hour, then fifteen with no change in situation.

“What do think?”

“Keep going, he'll jump for it before long.”

Charles pressed the gas and we got up to twenty. Brandyn began to yell for us to let him off.

“Should I stop?”

“Nah, he had his chance. Let him jump for it or ride home with us on the bumper.”

Before the truck got to twenty five Brandyn jumped off onto the road. He hit with so much force that he rolled around on the pavement like a piece of old trash. He actually rolled off the road and down into the drainage ditch right beside our school.

“Oh my gosh! Should I stop?”

“Nah, he'll be fine. Drive on, Charlie, drive on.”

Drive on he did. The next day at school Brandyn yelled at me with everything he had in him. He had actually cracked his cast in several places from where it had slammed into the pavement. Needless to say his broken arm had not enjoyed the treatment it had gotten.

“Well, you shouldn't have hopped up there in the first place.” I said with a bit of a laugh.

“I was just playing around! You could have killed me!”

“Jumping from a vehicle that is only moving twenty five miles an hour isn't enough to kill you Brandyn. Besides, what makes you think we even saw you back there?”

“Oh, you saw me!!!!”

This discussion was met with laughter on all sides. When all was said and done Brandyn was laughing as loud as anyone. Brandyn always liked to look tough in front of the ladies. His little jump from the truck certainly made him look tough. Not very smart, but tough.

It may seem to the casual reader that we were very cruel to Brandyn. This was not the case. We were his best friends, we just liked to ruffle his feathers a bit. Had Mother Teresa been there she would have laughed along with the rest of us. Brandyn was fun to be with, but given time he would get under anybody's skin. Joshua and I were the score settlers. We made Brandyn pay the piper for all the things he did to other people. It may seem hard to believe, but Brandyn really did bring these things on himself.

It was on another day, not long after, that Brandyn annoyed Joshua and me until, yet again, he found himself in the middle of a bad day. Joshua and I were headed to the mall and then a birthday party in Aiken and Brandyn wanted to come along. By this time Brandyn was already a smoker, ever though he was a little under age. Joshua and I didn't smoke and we didn't like to be around it. Knowing that Brandyn wouldn't be able to refrain from smoking for the hours we planned to be gone we told him we wouldn't take him.

Our decision was met with pitiful pleas and assurances that he wouldn't smoke the entire time he was with us. I found this hard to believe, but figured I might as well give him the chance to prove himself. I felt that if he went without smoking that day it would be good for him anyway. A few minutes later we picked Brandyn up and a few more minutes found us all in the mall parking lot.

As soon as we got out of the car it began.

“I'm going to have a quick smoke as we walk in.” Brandyn said pulling a pack out of his pants pocket.

“No you're not. That wasn't the deal.” I said looking Brandyn in the face.

“Well, I got to have one.”

“Well, then I guess Josh and I will just have to leave you here then.”

“You wouldn't do that.”

“Wouldn't we?”

“Let him have one.” Josh said with a smile.


“I think we should let him have one. Provided... he smokes it backwards.”

“I'm not doing that!” Brandyn said indignantly.

“Suit yourself. Go without all that lovely tobacco. What do I care?” Josh replied.

“Would you let me smoke one if I smoked it backwards?” Brandyn asked me.

“Sure, I guess. It would be interesting enough to make it worth while.”

Brandyn pulled a cigarette from the pack and put it in his mouth backwards. He then lit the filter end and began to smoke. As soon as he inhaled he began to cough his lungs up. Josh stood there encouraging him to go on. Reminding him of all that excellent tobacco just one filter away. Brandyn tried his best, but I'm not sure anyone could have done it. He had smoked about half the filter when he threw it down and stamped it out.

“I can't finish it! It'll kill me!” He said as he ground the smoldering cigarette into the ground.

“Ah well, that's too bad.”

“Can I smoke one normally now.”

“A deal is a deal and you didn't smoke the filter. I'm sorry Brandy, you'll have to forgo.”

We continued into the mall with Brandyn grumbling the entire way. I know that some of you (probably smokers) are incensed by now. You would no doubt have stormed off and let me drive away. Well, in truth I would have driven away without a second thought. A deal is a deal. Brandyn was famous for making deals and then going back on them. In point of fact, I myself would let him weasel out of his agreements, I just didn't make it easy.

We wandered through the mall until we ended up in Pipe Dreams. It was a neat little store that sold a number of things that included tobacco, cigarettes and cigars. As soon as we were inside Brandyn began again.

“Hey bro, buy me a cigar.” He said as he looked over the counter.

“What?” Was me predictable reply.

“Well, they smell good. You and Josh couldn't mind my smoking one of them.”

Here Brandyn had scored a point. My Papa had smoked cigars since long before I was born and I did like the smell. Still, there was the deal to consider. Brandyn was just trying to find a way to smoke. However, in all deals there is a bit of give and take. I decided that I would show Brandyn what it was like to take too much.

“I won't buy you one cigar, but I will buy you three.” I said with a smile.

“What? Well, that's generous.” He said smiling in return.

“On two conditions. First, should you smoke one of them you have to smoke all three back to back.”

“Back to back?”

“Come on bro, you can do that. It will take care of your smoking for the rest of the day.” Josh said joining in my mischief.

“What's the second condition?” Brandyn asked mulling the first over.

“We each pick one of the three. It's the only way to be fair.” I replied, my smiled broadening.

Brandyn stood there considering the offer for a few moments. He knew it was a challenge as much as anything else. At last he decided.


Brandyn selected what one might call a normal cigar. It was a Tampa Nugget or something like that. Joshua's selection was a little more exotic. It was a thin cigar perhaps nine inches long. I myself went for the fatty, as we use to call them. It was only about four inches long, but it was bigger around than my thumb. Having made our selections we checked out and were quickly on our way.

By the time we were done at the mall it was time for the birthday party. We arrived fashionably early and were mingling when Brandyn decided he needed to get his smoking over with. The party was at a bowling alley and I suppose he wanted to get his nicotine levels in a good place before we started to bowl. It wouldn't do to loose a game because he was nick-fitting.

Several of us headed outside with him to watch. It wasn't everyday that you saw someone smoke three cigars back to back. Brandyn pulled out the Tampa Nugget in front of the small crowd and lit it to the sound of cheers of approval. Everyone had heard about the deal and wanted to encourage Brandyn in his chosen feat of stupidity. He burned the first one away to ashes like a champion. He looked like a man that had been born with a cigar in his mouth. As he smothered the butt out he was met with warm approval from the crowd.

Then next smoke-able he selected was Joshua's long thin cigar. As soon as he lit it he observed aloud that it was a little harsher than he had expected, but assured us all that he would press on. As the brown cigar changed to ashy white, so did Brandyn. The color had begun to drain out of him as if he too were burning away to nothing. About half way through he began to complain.

“I'm not sure I can make it.” He said, a bit of cold sweat on his forehead.

“Nonsense! You're half way there my friend. You can't give up now, not in front of the ladies.”

Brandyn screwed up his courage and smoked on. More slowly than before, doubtless, but one breath after another left a shorter cigar behind it. Brandyn was met with cheers once again as his shaking hand snuffed the burning embers of the second cigar butt out. As the final cigar, the mighty fatty, was pulled from the bag concern spread across Brandyn's face.

“I can't get through that one, there's no way.”

“You can and will Brandyn, it's just a matter of getting started.” I said with a grin.

“No, really I can't.”

“Well, that would be to bad. Because if you don't smoke the third one then the deal is off. That means that you just smoked two of my cigars. For that I'm afraid Josh and I will have to rough you up.”

“You wouldn't do that!”

“Wouldn't we?” Josh said with a cold smile.

Here you have to understand that once again Josh and I were just giving Brandyn a bit of his own back. He was constantly aggravating people to the point where this crowd, filled with many of his best friends, felt no sympathy for him at all. The deal was the deal and he would smoke or face the consequences.

“Fine! Give it here!” He said at last.

As he lit the fatty the crowd cheered once again. Once more Brandyn followed the example of his cigar. As it burned lower and lower so did he. He smoked for a while sitting on the curb covered in a sweat cold enough to defy the summer sun that was beating down on his face. Each puff of smoke found him closer to the ground. At last Brandyn was laying on the curb with half a smoldering cigar hanging out of his mouth. With one final effort he spit it into the street.

“You guys can kill me... I'm not taking another drag...” He said slowly.

“What do you think Josh?”

“Hmmm, I call it close enough.”

The crowd went wild. Brandyn had passed the ordeal of smoke. I'm sure he would have been jumping with joy had he been able to jump at all. As it was, he had nicotine poising so bad he couldn't stand, let alone jump. In the end we had to lift him up and carry him to the car. He moaned the entire way home. Still, there was no permanent damage done. The next day he was back to his old self and smoking as much as ever. I had hoped the experience would kill his love of tobacco, but no such luck.

It may seem that we were a cruel lot, but we weren't honestly. Brandyn dished it out plenty of times, these stories are simply centered on when he had to take it. I suppose that is the moral of the story. Don't dish it out if you can't take it and don't buy three cigars if you can't smoke em.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jim and I

Here I have recorded a few more stories concerning Jim Melvin and myself. If you haven't read any of my previous tales about him I would suggest you take a look at “Fireworks Battle” or “Knight on a charging Schwinn” for a little bit of background. Of course, you can feel free to press on without it. Jim was a simple character to understand and it's easy to laugh at him with absolutely no background information at all.

For those of you who may not know it, I was just a little obsessed with gold and treasure when I was a child. I was constantly on the look out for hidden rooms or a secret map that was going to pave my way to riches. When I was four or five I got a book about divers bringing up sunken treasure. I would flip through the pages imagining myself in a diving suite picking up golden coins by the handful. The book actually had maps in both the front and back covers and I used to wonder if the people that made the book had printed those maps as a clue.

My mind turned toward hidden treasure and lost gold at every opportunity. When I was around nine years old I got another book. It was about rocks and geological processes. One of the pictures in it showed a rock being melted and turning into what looked like gold. What that page was actually about was super heated rock and lava and other geothermic transformations. However, to my nine year old mind it was a clue to hidden gold.

Having connected the dots in my mind I grabbed the book and headed for Jim's house. As soon as we were alone in his room I pulled out the book and began to explain.

“I've found something out!” I said as I flipped through the book looking for the right page.

“What is it?”

“It's a kind of rock that when it melts it turns to gold!”

“No way!”

“Then explain that!” I said triumphantly pointing to the picture of the melting rock.

“It does seem to be gold doesn't it!” Jim replied, getting almost as excited as myself.

Here I have to point out that neither Jim nor myself bothered to read what the book had to say about these rocks. Both of us were excellent readers and could have read the entire book in a matter of minutes, but that would have been of no use. We were looking for secrets. People don't just write secrets in a book and then publish them for the world to see. No! You have to learn to read between the lines. In this case a picture was worth a thousand of those in between words and what those words all said was GOLD!

“I have seen rocks like that before.” Jim said after a few moments.

“You have? Where!”

“In the swamp.”

“Can we reach them?”

“We can, but it won't be easy.”

Within a few minutes we had gathered our supplies and headed for the swamp. In truth, it was a few hundred acres of woodland right beside Jim's house. It did contain a few acres of swampland out in the middle of it, but it wasn't truly a swamp. We spent hours wandering in the woods as Jim tried to remember where he had seen those rocks.

The entire time I was filled with a nervous excitement. I was finally close. We were finally going to be rich. As soon as we found those rocks we could load them up, carry them home and melt them down into gold. As the hours passed I wasn't the least bit discouraged. However, Jim began to get tired and started complaining that he wanted to go home.

“What? We are practically rich and you want to give up?” I said with disbelief.

“Well, we can't find them.”

“They are here! We will find them! We just have to keep looking.”

“They aren't here...”


“I have never seen rocks like those.”

“Then why did you say that you had?”

“I felt certain we would find some in the swamp and I wanted you to come with me.”

“You could have just told me that!”


With that we headed home. At the time I wasn't sure that Jim wasn't lying about lying just so I would let him go home without fighting about it. As a grown man I realize that the volcanic rocks displayed in that picture are fairly rare in South Carolina. In any event, my dreams had been dashed for the moment. Jim didn't know where to find the secret rocks. Still, our friendship was too strong to be setback by anything as small as that. We had fun wandering around the swamp whether or not we found any gold.

Often times I ended up having more fun than Jim did in the end. My next tale, which opens years later at Wonderful Williston Weekend, is another example of that. Most small towns in South Carolina have some weekend celebration where the carnival comes to town. There are always a number rides to enjoy. There are the classics like the Merry-Go-Round and the Ferris Wheel and there's usually one that you've never heard of before. The last carnival I went to had something called the Zipper. It's hard to describe, but it scared one of my daughters so bad that she broke down crying after she got off.

One of my personal favorites was something called the Tilt-A-Whirl. If you've never ridden in one you've missed out. It consists of a number of free spinning cars attached to a platform going around and around and up and down. The result is that the cars spin at a variable rate in a variable direction. There is also a stationary wheel in the center of each car that the riders can grab hold of in order to slow or speed up the spinning of the car. Joshua and I only used that wheel in order to speed things up. We love to increase the g-forces.

In fact, as grown men we invented our own ride at some park. We had taken all the children in the family to a birthday party and, as usual, I was looking for something to do with myself while the children played. In the end I ended up sitting on a Merry-Go-Round while my brother, several of our friends, my Dad and a couple of Uncles stood around it in a circle spinning it as fast as they could. We each took a turn and all ended up very sore the next day. It was worth it. We always loved that spinning sensation.

In any event, that night we had been on the Tilt-A-Whirl a few times, but there was always room for more. Josh and I ran into Jim and we decided to run around together. After a brief discussion we decided to hit the Tilt-A-Whirl up again as soon as Jim had finished his second hotdog of the night. I didn't mind waiting because he was already half finished. He gulped the remainder down and in a flash we were all sitting together in one of the cars.

The ride began to move slowly picking us up to the top of the first little hill. We all three grabbed the wheel and waited for the first spin to start. Between the three of us we could apply a fair amount of muscle and we all intended to give it everything we had. As soon as the car began to move down the first hill it spun just a little. That was all we needed to get things moving.

We knew what direction to pull in and helped build up the momentum of the car. We fought to keep the car from slowing as we went up each hill and pulled as hard as we could to speed it up each time we went down. The other children in the car with us screamed with delight. As the g-force increased I focused all my attention on the wheel in the center. There was no ride, there was no world, there was only the wheel and my only purpose in life was to pull it with every once of energy I could muster.

(Here I have to insert a bit of a warning. Jim had just had two hotdogs and then climbed on the Tilt-A-Whirl, so you can imagine where this is going. If you easily experience nausea or find it disgusting you may want to skip a few paragraphs. I'll let you know when it's all over.)

As our speed climaxed Jim yelled to me above the general noise of the ride and the screams of our fellow passengers. “I don't feel very well!” He bellowed as loudly as he could. “Maybe we should slow the car down!” I yelled in reply. Jim didn't answer me. I think he tried to, but when he opened his mouth no words came out. Sadly a column of projectile vomit did.

Due to the spinning of the car the vomit didn't fly strait through the air. Actually I guess it did from a scientific point of view. We were spinning, not the stream of vomit that was flying through the air. However, from my point of view it looked as if Jim had spouted an arched rainbow of puke that ran directly from his mouth to my brothers chest.

For what seemed like minutes Jim continued to blow chucks in an uninterrupted stream onto my brother as Josh yelled at the top of his lungs for us to stop the ride. At last it all came to an end. The ride clunked to a halt and we climbed off. Josh was literally dripping with vomit while Jim was as clean as a spring rain. Needless to say, Josh and I headed home to get him a shower and some fresh cloths. After that night we christened that ride the Tilt-A-Hurl and we've called it that every since.

(It's over now. You can safely pick the story back up from here.)

On another occasion, not too distant in time from that night, Jim and I stood at the end of my parents driveway waiting for cars to come by. I had shown Jim that you could put alcohol on your hand and light it on fire without burning yourself. In truth, it may have been that he had showed me. It's been too long to remember which one of us first ran up on the fact, but I know for certain I was the one who came up with a use for it.

In case you don't know about this scientific oddity I'll briefly explain. If you pour rubbing alcohol on your bare skin you can ignite it without getting burned. As the alcohol burns away the process of evaporation will actually draw heat out of you. The fire will, in fact, cool you. There is an art to it and I am not recommending that any of you try it, but it does work.

That night we had gotten a bottle of Sea Breeze, which is a teenage skin care product that has a very high alcohol content. Jim poured a little on his hand and lit it on fire. As it burned away I got a brilliant idea. It was that idea that led Jim and I down to the end of the driveway.

As soon as a car came into view Jim would pour Sea Breeze all over his thumb. As soon as his thumb was sufficiently covered I lit it on fire. Jim used his flaming digit to try to thumb rides from passing cars. We stood there laughing at the thought of the drivers as they looked out of the window and saw a young boy trying to catch a ride with a thumb covered in six inches of open flame.

As a grown man I am amazed that nobody stopped to ask us what we were doing. Still, if I were driving down the road late at night and saw a shadowy figure with a flaming thumb trying to hitch a ride I might just drive on as well.

As each car passed Jim would quickly shake his hand and put out the flames. It worked well time after time right up until the point where it didn't. As the last car we pulled this on drove away into the night Jim shook his thumb to put it out. This time, however, it didn't blow out. He began waving his hand wildly as he screamed out in pain. Still the thumb burned on. Finally he had the presence of mind to rub his thumb all over his jeans. That did, in fact, extinguish his pore hand.

That was enough for both of us. Knowing that sometimes you might not go out kept us from lighting ourselves on fire again. We had gotten a few laughs and learned a valuable lesson. The only thing it cost us was Jim getting a tad toasted. All in all it was a success. It turned out a lot better than a lot of the things Jim and I had done together.

It's an odd fact of life that as you grow up you often grow apart. Jim and I were best friends for years on end. Then as we grew older we drifted apart. I ended up going to a different high school and then got married and each of us spun off in a totally different social circle. We're still friends, but I haven't even spoken to him for years now. Still, that's how grown up life is. The busy years fly by and some things simply get left behind. However, as long as we remember them they will always be part of our lives. That is why I make it a point to try not to forget.