Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Greatest Gift

Seeing how this is the week of Christmas I decided to try to come up with something a little Christmas themed. I could have gone in several directions. I could have talked about memorable Christmases of the past or things I did with the presents I got over the years, but I decided to go a different route. I finally decided to tell a couple of stories about the greatest gift ever given to anyone.

Now, it may seem that what constitutes the greatest gift would vary from person to person, but it doesn't really. The gift I am talking about is the gift of life. It is the gift without which no other gift matters. Our Lord gave us life and then went even further by making it possible to attain eternal life through the spilled blood of his Son. Being that we celebrate the birth of Jesus and his life here on earth at Christmas I am going to focus on life in the here and now. Plus, of course, I've never been dead, so my stories about the afterlife are limited.

I suppose I could start these stories at my birth, but I don't really remember it and it's not very funny. I've decided instead to focus on the Lord preserving my life. The first tale opens many years ago when I was around four years old. I believe at the time we were living down in the old trailer in Moncks Corner. On the particular night in question I had decided that I wanted some lime Jello, but Mom had said that she didn't feel like making it at the moment.

I did what many children have done throughout history when presented with “Not right now.” from his or her parents. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I got a chair (or something to climb with, it was almost thirty years ago and it wasn't very memorable.) and climbed up on the kitchen counter. As I was trying to open the cabinet door above me I slipped and fell.

Normally this wouldn't have been a big deal. A less than three foot drop wasn't the kind of thing to give me much trouble most of the time. However, this time Dad had put a big mason jar up on the counter top. It was a jar I had broken earlier that day while doing something else. When I slipped and fell I landed on it. I slid down the broken edge, which sliced deeply into my jaw bone, and landed with a thump on the floor. (In fact I still have a dimple in the bottom of my chin and have to explain to each of my children what happened to Daddy once they get old enough to notice.)

I hadn't turned on the lights when I went into the kitchen for some reason. It may have been that I was trying to be sneaky or I might have simply felt that there was enough light coming from the living room, but I can't remember. The important thing is that I couldn't see. This is important because I also didn't feel any pain at all. Most of the time when someone cuts a gash in one of their bones they feel at least some small amount of pain. I felt nothing. I didn't feel numb or anything like that, I just felt normal.

After a moment I noticed that my chin was wet. I put one hand up and rubbed my chin and then looked at my hand. I couldn't see anything. I thought that it might be something wet or that it might be my imagination. Being a child I did the same thing with the other hand. Again, I could see nothing. My hands and chin might have been wet or they might not as far as I could tell. I knew that it was possible that I was bleeding so I decided to go ask Mom and Dad.

Having rubbed both my hands all over my bleeding chin and throat I must have looked like someone out of a horror movie when I walked into the living room threw my head back and asked “Am I bleeding?” My mother screamed like a crazy person and Dad began flying around the room like a madman. In a flash Dad had checked me and found that it was just my chin that was bleeding and that I had fallen on the jar on the counter. I started crying during all the havoc. I was asked if I was in pain and I answered truthfully. “No, but Daddy is going to spank me and that is going to hurt.” That statement was met with laughter and I was assured that I had been punished enough.

A quick trip to the hospital got me sown up with no more permanent damage than a scar. However, the way that the jar had broken it could have been much worse. It was only the grace of God that saved my life. The jar was like a two edged knife blade sticking strait up. If I had been over the jar a fraction of an inch more I would have slipped down the other side of that glass blade. The result would have been that one of the arteries in my throat would have been cut. I would have been dead before anyone could have done anything.

I suppose all of us have a number of near-death experiences throughout our lives. That was the first one of mine that I remember. The second was years later. I was somewhere between thirteen and fourteen years old and we were coming home from having gone to visit grandma down in Moncks Corner. We stopped at some store along the way and I saw my first Flip-It knife. I thought it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen, so I begged Dad to get it for me. All things considered it was a rather inexpensive knife so he bought it for me.

For those of you who have never seen a Flip-It knife I'll do me best to describe one. They work very much like a lock blade, except when they are closed the entire blade is hidden in the handle. Part of the handle is the “lock” and you have to pop it up with your finger nail in order to open it. You then pull that part of the handle up, slide it around and push the blade out. Once that is done you push the handle down to lock the blade out. Once the knife is opened it most resembles a long razor blade on a plastic stick. This was the knife that I couldn't wait to get home to try out.

Sadly by the time we had gotten home it was dark. Mom didn't want me wandering around in the woods looking for a stick to whittle on, so I was going to have to wait until the next day to try out my new knife. Now, as many of you may already know, patience has never been my greatest virtue. After a few hours of looking at my new knife I had gotten bored. I began considering all the possible ways I could use it that night. Finally I came up with an idea.

I got an old piece of news paper and spread it out on the coffee table with most of it hanging off the edge. Then I put a book on top of the edge that was on the table in order to hold it in place. The result was a long bit of news paper hanging in the air. I took out my new knife and began shredding the news paper one stroke at a time. As I sat there slicing through the paper Josh and I got into a conversation. I don't remember what it was about, but he asked me a question about something. In answer I raised my left hand in an “I don't know” gesture and went back to cutting my paper.

I was looking at Josh, waiting for him to continue what he was saying, but he didn't. He turned as white as a sheet and slowly pointed a very shaky hand in my general direction. “What?” I asked him. He began to mumble and sputter a bit, but didn't say anything anywhere near English words. This got on my nerves and I raised my voice a bit as I again asked him “What?” His shaking hand and quiet burbling told me something was wrong and I was beginning to get concerned. I raised my left hand in another gesture and blood sprayed all over me.

I looked down and was met with another horror movie scene. There was blood all over the table, the paper, the knife, and me. I looked at my left wrist and blood was shooting out of it like a fountain. I had sliced into it when I had raised my hand. Again, I was seriously injured and again I felt no pain at all. I might have sat there and bled to death if Josh hadn't been there simply because I wouldn't have known I had cut myself.

Now, I had been a boy scout long enough to know a slashed artery when I saw one and I reacted immediately. I dropped the knife in my right hand and gripped my left hand as hard as I could. There was blood pouring out between my fingers, but I had at lease stopped the spraying. I jumped up and stepped over to Mom and Dad's bedroom door. I knocked as firmly as I could with my left hand while cutting off the blood flow with my right. I then said “Mom, Dad, I think I've cut an artery.”

A sound came from the room as if a tornado was going through it and before a complete second had passed Dad had thrown the door opened. He grabbed my wrist and told me to let go of it. When I did we were sprayed with a shower of blood and Dad clamped down on my wrist with his hand instantly. “Yep, that's an artery!” He said.

He led me into the bathroom and began washing out the wound. Mom brought him some paper towels and some scotch tape in order to make a tourniquet. While he was working on that I was watching my blood pour down the drain in the sink and slowly my vision started to fade.

“I'm going blind.” I said calmly.

“That's shock. It's from the loss of blood. You'll be all right.” Dad replied confidently.

“Are you going to be sick?” Mom ask as I stared into nothing.

“No, I'm fine. I just can't see.”

“Well, if you feel like you have to throw up don't try to stop yourself.”

“OK, but I'm fine.”

Right after I got through saying that some of my vision started to return. I could see the dirty clothes hamper. Without warning I turned and threw up into it.

“I guess I am sick.”

“It's just the shock. It will pass.” Dad reassured me.

In less than an hour we were at the hospital. A rather young medical intern removed the tourniquet and tried to get my wrist to bleed. He couldn't. Dad had collapsed the artery so far back in my forearm that it couldn't get the blood through. Because of this the intern was sure that I had cut a vain. We argued with him, but he insisted on sewing it up as it if were just a vain.

The result of that decision was that two days later the artery broke loose and years later I had to have reconstructive surgery on that artery. I ended up with two scars and a bit of exposed nerve because some intern didn't take the eye witness accounts of the people who saw what happened. The moral of that is not to be pushed around by your doctor. If he won't even look into what you are talking about go somewhere else. Keep in mind, you are the customer. In the end, however, there was no great damage done. It could have been much worse. In fact if I had been unable to get help I very possibly could have bled to death.

It may seem that all the blood in these stories would have been more appropriate for Halloween rather than Christmas, but they remind me of how great a gift God has given me. Life is a wonderful thing and eternal life will be even better. That is what Christmas is all about. That is what the birth of our Lord brought to this world. As the Lord said himself, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.“ God saw fit to give me life and has preserved it for me even when I haven't done such a good job of preserving it myself. Life is a gift he has given to each of us. Eternal life is something he wants us all to have. That is something worth thinking about. Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Some Men You Just Can't Reach

It's a famous movie quote. “Some men you just can't reach.” In my own experiences it has certainly been true. There are people in the world that you can tell not to touch something because it's hot who won't touch it because they don't want to get burned. Then there are people who will only touch it once, just to make sure that you were telling the truth. Then there are the kind of people that will pick it up again and again each time hoping it's cooled off already. I mention this observation of mine because Ron Smith had a hard time learning lessons when he was younger. He was a boy who was just plain hard to reach.

One of the hardest things Ron ever had to learn was that it usually wasn't worth getting into it with Sam. Whenever there was any kind of minor confrontation Sam would have to escalate it just a bit. He had to have the last word or strike the last blow. In fact, Sam is still like that. At a recent birthday party Sam and Ms. Pat (His mother if you'll recall) got into an argument about whether Sam would pull the table cloth off the table with things still sitting on it. She said if he did it she would hit him with a chair. So... he did it and she threw a chair at him and actually managed to hit him. (Of course he would never have done it if his mother hadn't told him not to, but she was determined to tell him. I wonder where he gets his hard head from....)

Ron had known Sam for years and they had gotten into many arguments and more than a few fights. He could never do what I did with Sam. If Sam and I got into it I finally reached the “Whatever” stage where I would ignore whatever Sam did or said. The choice was that or shoot him because he's too hard headed to realize that when you start stabbing each other with needles over what channel the TV is on you've gone too far. Ron never understood that the options were to kill Sam or leave him alone. Sam would just keep escalating things until you stopped or died. So, the best thing to do was let Sam have the last word and go on with it. Ron could never do that.

Ron also didn't have another of the advantages I had in dealing with Sam. When Sam and I got into an argument I was right at least as often as I was wrong. If I was right Sam's having the last word didn't matter (and it was often something like “takes one to know one!” which I could ignore) and if Sam was right he deserved the last word so, again, it didn't bother me. Ron had the gift of almost always being wrong when he got into a fight with Sam. As unreasonable as Sam could be at times he usually looked like a saint when dealing with an incensed Ron Smith.

One sunny summer afternoon Ron and Sam started getting into it. I don't remember what it was about, but Sam was basically minding his own business when Ron started getting louder and louder and up in Sam's face, as the saying goes. Sam must have been in a good mood, because he ignored Ron for a good while. Finally he decided he was going to have to shut Ron up.

Now, I have to take a moment and explain why it was that Sam had a machete on him that day. It was actually very common. We spent so much time in the woods and going here and there that each of us kept our woodsman's tools about us. I would often have my long wooden staff in hand, Josh usually had a knife on him and Sam would walk around with his machete stuck down in one leg of his pants. At any given moment on any given day you would be likely to find us armed with our tools.

It was because of that fact that Ron wasn't at all surprised when Sam pulled a machete out of his pants. What was surprising was the conversation that took place between them:

“Ron, you don't want to talk like that to man with a machete in his hands.” Sam said after he had drawn his blade.

“Why not? You ain't going to do anything with it!” Ron yelled defiantly.

“I might, if you don't get out of my face.”

“You ain't gonna hit me with a machete!”

“You keep thinking that.”

“Well then do it, if you think you're man enough!”

Chop! Right in the leg. Ron howled and jumped around cussing at Sam, but he didn't do anything else. Sam had barely broken the skin, but he had in fact, chopped Ron with the machete, just like he said he would. Ron had seen countless examples over the years and should have know better than to start something with Sam over nothing. In stead Ron kept raising the ante until he was the one who got hurt. Once he was in pain he calmed down and stopped fighting. However, even pain couldn't reach him in the long run.

We have to fast forward to another beautiful summer day to find Ron's next lesson in not messing with Sam. Once again Ron had started an argument with Sam and gotten louder and louder while Sam maintained his quiet countenance. To drive one of his points home Ron had jammed his forefinger right in Sam's face. That was just a bit too much.

“Ron, you better get your finger out my face.” Sam said calmly.

“Or what!?!” Ron replied waving his finger right under Sam's nose.

“Or you're not going to like what happens.”

“You ain't gonna do nothing Sam! I'll put my finger where ever I want.”

As he said that he shoved his outstretched digit once more into Sam's face. As quick as lightning Sam grabbed Ron's finger and snapped it strait up. Now, there has been some debate about whether on not the finger was actually broken. It might have merely been that the tendons were damaged and that the bone itself didn't break. However, if the scream that Ron let out was any indication it might very well have been that the bone did, in fact, break. Once again, screaming was Ron's only reaction. Well, that and keeping his fingers out of Sam's face. One would think that he would have learned his lesson from all this, but no it took more than that.

Years later both Ron and Sam were living with Jesse. I should actually say they were living with Jesse's parents because Jesse was still at home. They stayed there together for several months. Here I must take a moment to mention why Ron finally got thrown out. Jesse had a job and Ron was living there and looking for work. One night Jesse had to work overtime and so he got home after dinner. He opened the fridge to get out the plate his Mom had put in there for him, but it was gone. “What happened to my dinner?” Jesse asked aloud. “Oh, I ate it because you weren't home from work yet.” Ron replied. That night Ron had to find another place to sleep.

In any event, the point is that Sam and Ron were living there together. One night Sam was sitting out on the porch talking to his future wife Becky. Once again, Ron had gotten mad at Sam and was walking back and forth in the front of the porch cussing at him. For a good while Sam ignored him and continued to talk on the phone with Becky. Finally Ron got loud enough that Sam was having trouble hearing the phone, so he decided something had to be done.

“Hold on Becky, I have to go slap a B****....” Sam said and then laid down the phone.

“Oh! You have to slap a B**** eh Sam? Why don't you come slap me then boy? Why don't you do that and find out what's going to happen?! I want you to!!”

As Ron said all this Sam walked to the screen door, opened it and walked slowly down the steps. As soon as Ron was within arm's reach Sam pulled back and slapped him down onto the ground. Then he turned silently went back up onto the porch, sat down and picked up the phone.

“Where were we?” Sam asked.

Ron jumped up rubbing his face and again began to cuss at Sam full volume.

“Hold on, some people just can't learn the first time. I'll be right back.” Sam said and laid down the phone.

“I didn't expect that! You hit me like a coward! I'm ready for you now boy! Try that again and see what you get!” Ron bellowed as loudly as he could.

Sam walked down the steps without speaking. Then he reached back and slapped Ron down onto the ground again. Once more he turned went up on the porch and picked up the phone.

“Back.” He simply said.

As far as I know that was finally enough for Ron. He never bothered starting anything with Sam again. So, I guess in the long run, Sam did reach him. This story certainly does have a moral and I believe it's a good one. Don't get slapped down again and again before you learn your lesson. If someone tells you that something is hot don't touch it. The faster you learn the less pain you are likely to go through. That is certainly something worth learning.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Dad Works Construction

As some of you may already know, I decided to build a house a few years ago. It seemed like an excellent idea at the time. There were a large number of pros that couldn't be ignored. First, you can save a lot of money by building your own house. Second, you can make sure the quality is as high as you like. Third, you will get a lot of exercise. When we added these things together the decision was made, we planned to build rather than buy.

What we didn't take into consideration was the fact that there was one serious drawback. That drawback was, of course, that we had to build a house. It's funny how you can over look little details like that when you're overwhelmed with the idea of moving out of the single wide and into a real house. (Not that there was anything wrong with the single wide, but by the time the house was done we had five children living in it.) Having looked at the pros and never even considered the cons we pressed on and began to build.

The Lord blessed me and I managed to get a number of co-workers lined up for the job. There was myself, obviously, Josh, Jonathan Cooper, Adrian Fealty and Jake Anderson. Before long we had two more on the construction team and that was Joshua Fealty and my Dad. These stories are actually about Dad as a construction worker on the house, if you hadn't already figured that out from the title.

Now, I do need to set the scene a bit before we proceed. All of us construction workers had different levels of experience. Josh Ethridge and Josh Fealty had done a number of odd jobs and knew a good deal about house construction. Adrian and I could do a little carpentry. Jonathan and Jake could pull the hammer out of a pile of miscellaneous tools in less than three guesses. Now, Dad could handle electrical, plumbing, duct, and wood work. He knew a lot about all the essentials, but had never done much drywall, tile or flooring work. (Not that he couldn't, it just hadn't come up a lot.)

Out of all us Dad was probably the most flexible and he was willing to do whatever needed to be done no matter how bad the job was. Considering his experience he was given the electrical and plumbing work, as well as planning out the duct work. The electrical work was a piece of cake. Dad decided where things went and I pulled the wire for it and hooked up the outlets. We were done in no time. The plumbing turned into a nightmare that I can finally laugh about. More than anything else it was frustrating. In fact, there were a lot of things that we thought would be easy that turned out to be very, very frustrating.

I don't remember how many days we had been working since our last real break. We only worked on the house five days a week, but the weekends were never enough to rest us up for the long days of house building. As we got more and more worn out we all got more sensitive to aggravation and more easily angered. I have mentioned in earlier stories that my Dad has gotten more and more calm over the years. Well, these months of long, hot, frustrating days had worn that calm away just a bit. There were times when he would fly off the handle as if he were in his twenties again. Except for the screaming it was good to see the vigor of youth in him again.

Joshua Fealty had kind of grown up with us, but he had rarely seen Dad loose his temper. I know in these stories it seems like Dad is doing it all the time, but that's not an accurate depiction of the man. (It's simply a matter of him being funny when he was angry.) For the most part Josh was used to a calm, caring, gentle Dad. So he wasn't ready when Dad had finally had enough.

The rest of us were taking a break in the garage. We were all lying around on piles of flooring resting up for the next big push. We could hear Dad in the kitchen fighting with the cabinetry. That was also a frustrating job because things had to be just right. Because of the delicacy of the job Dad had ended up with it. As we sat there talking Dad began to get louder and louder. There was closed metal door between us, but we could have repeated every word that he said if we had wanted to. Joshua Fealty sat there with a concerned look on his face. Finally he decided to speak:

“Is he going to be all right?” He asked looking at the closed door.

“Who Dad?” I asked, surprised by the sudden introduction of the subject.

“Yea, your Dad! Don't you hear that?”

“Oh, yea. He gets like that, he's just frustrated.”

“You're sure?”

“Yea, bro. He's been my Dad for thirty years. I know the man.”

“Well, OK.... Seems to me that he could have a heart attack or something.”

Here Jake Anderson decided to chime in. He had been working with us on the house since the beginning and had seen Dad get angry a few times all ready. He wanted to assure Josh that Dad would be fine.

“Man, you ain't seen nothing yet. I mean, he hasn't even started throwing things.”

As Jake finished his sentence we heard something rattle across the floor and slam into the kitchen wall. We all burst out laughing. Jake and Dad couldn't have timed it better if they had been working on it for weeks. However, since Dad had reached the “throw things” stage we all piled into the house to help. It turned out to be a piece of trim he was working on that wouldn't fit into place no matter how he cut it. Of course, five minutes later he had it cut and in place.

It may seem unkind to laugh at Dad's frustration, but it's not the frustration that's really funny. It's his reaction to it that makes people laugh. I mean, after they realize he's not going to have a heart attack or a stroke. Once they know he's alright, they can't help but laugh. The man is simply funny.

After the cabinetry was complete Dad had started working on the corners of the soffit. They were hard to get at, so we borrowed Phil Huggins' bucket truck. (Phil Huggins is a side character in some of my stories. I have known him since I was six and our families go back generations. Just a few years ago my Papa married his mother making us uncle and nephew by marriage. Papa was over eighty and she was over seventy. Isn't love grand.)

We had been using the bucket truck for a few days and everything had been going well. (For those of you who don't know a bucket truck is one of those trucks that men from the electric company use to get up to the power lines.) Dad had moved the operation around to the front of the house and had parked the truck on the driveway right in front of the garage. Now, the garage was raised up off the ground about four feet, so there is a steep hill at the very end of the driveway. It was on this hill that Dad had parked.

Normally this wouldn't be a problem at all. Once you've parked on a hill you take out the wheel chucks and put one in front of both the tires on the high side. Well, whoever chucked them (we never got a clear confession) did it as if the truck had been on level ground. When the truck is level you chuck the front and back of one tire so the truck can't roll either way. This doesn't work on a hill, instead you get a situation where one side of the truck can't move, but the other can.

Dad had actually backed the truck up to the garage so he could get the bucket up over it's roof. He wanted to be able to reach as far as he could before he had to move the truck again. This meant that the front of the truck was pointing strait down the driveway. The only thing between it and the road was the car Jonathan had just bought. Most of us parked on one side of the yard or the other. However, Jonathan liked to keep his car on the driveway. So the massive, improperly chucked, bucket truck was parked on a very steep hill looking down the driveway directly at Jonathan's beautiful car. What could have possibly gone wrong?

I'm not sure how long Dad had been working in the bucket before he decided to take a breather, but he had very good timing. He lowered the bucket down and got out on the roof of the garage. He was considering what he had to do next with the soffit when he decided to make sure he had a tool he needed in the bucket. He turned around to where he had just stepped out of it and it was gone.

It took his brain a moment to process the information. He was looking right where it had been. How far could it have gone? He did what anyone would do in that situation and looked around. The bucket hadn't vanished, it had just moved a few feet away from the house. At this realization I think a minor case of shock set it. As Dad was trying to figure out how a bucket could just start moving around on it's own it dawned on him that it was still moving. That revelation gave birth to the understanding that the truck itself was rolling down the hill strait for Jonathan's car and then the road.

My Dad has always been a man of action. His mind accesses the situation and almost instantly he comes up with a plan. As soon as he realized what was going on his brain began firing at full speed. What could he do? What resources did he have? Well, he was trapped on a roof roughly ten feet from a concrete stop at the bottom, so jumping was out of the question. He had a number of hand tools, none of which would keep a stationary truck from rolling down a hill, much less stop a vehicle in motion. The only thing he had that could be of any use at all was his voice. He knew in a flash his message had to be short and convey the idea of absolute urgency. Everyone working on the house heard his clear call ring out:

“AHHHHHHHH!!!!” Dad screamed at the top of his lungs.

Most of us were out working in the yard. I stopped what I was doing and looked to where I had heard the call.

“AHHH! AHHHHH!! AHHHHHHH!!!” Dad repeated as he stood jumping up and down on the garage roof while waiving his hands generally in the direction of the driveway.

Both me and my brother flew into action. We had no idea what we were going to find, but we were both running full speed. Dad saw that we were moving and decided the encourage us.

“AHHHHHHHHHHH!” He bellowed as we ran with everything we had.

I came around the corner of the garage and saw the truck rolling toward Jonathan's car. It was too far ahead and had gotten up too much speed. Even if I had been able to catch it I would never have been able to stop it in time. All I could do was stand there and watch as Dad made a number of inarticulate noises at full volume just above my head. I felt certain that Jonathan's car was a goner. There was nothing we could do.

However, at the last moment the truck made a hard right turn. It flew off the edge of the driveway and hit a pine tree. The tree was about six or seven inches in diameter and the truck pushed it to the ground with ease. The little pine did put up enough of a fight to stop the truck though. So there it was, sitting without a scratch on it, parked on top of a little tree. Nothing was damaged in the least, except maybe Dad's heart (and the poor tree, of course). We all stood there panting for breath as we considered the scene. After all the excitement everything was all right. There was nothing anybody could have done to stop that truck, but the Lord had a handle on it. We should keep in mind that he always does.

The house has been complete for a good while now. It was worth all the effort, all the blood, sweat and tears that went into building it. It has truly been a very great blessing. Among those blessings I count being able to work construction with my Dad pretty high. He is a very talented man and, what's even more important, he's a riot when he gets mad at inanimate objects.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Down At Mrs. Woody's

Mrs. Woody was Sam's grandmother. Both Sam and his mother moved in with Mrs. Woody when they first came to Williston. Now, those of you who know anything about Sam can imagine how much he enjoyed living with both his mother and his grandmother even as a little boy. He loves them both dearly, but they never were the type to let you get away with a lot. Because of that we all spent a great deal of time at my house. My Dad would let us do pretty much whatever we wanted provided that it wasn't unchristian or overly dangerous. (Sam's mother, Ms. Pat, felt like Dad knew what he was doing, so if he let us do something she never said much about it.)

Of course there were days when we were simply sick of hanging around my house or when Sam was on restriction and couldn't go anywhere but could receive company. On those days we all ended up over at Mrs. Woody's. We would often play on the road right beside her house. At the time skateboarding was a big deal and half the neighborhood would turn out to hang around skateboarding up and down the road. When we did that we always had to be on the lookout for Mrs. Woody.

I never felt like she could see very well, at least when driving. Sam said that she could see perfectly and that she simply wanted to kill us. Whatever the truth was you had to watch out when she was driving around in the neighborhood. Her driveway was on a bit of a hill and she had to back up in order to get out on the road. Every time she went anywhere you would hear the squeal of tires and see the smoke of burning rubber billowing up above her car.

As soon as her car touched the road she would whip the wheel around and slam her foot on the gas. It was even worse if she was coming into the neighborhood from a trip to town. You wouldn't get the warning signs that got when she was pulling out. Suddenly Mrs. Woody's car would be there flying down the road at full speed making strait for her driveway. More than once I dove into the bushes at the side of the road to keep from being hit.

I'm sure she never noticed. She would park and start carrying in groceries or whatever it was she had gone to town to get without so much as looking in our direction. I wouldn't have let any three-year-olds play on any road she was going to drive on, but all of us were old enough to know to get out of the way. We didn't spend all our time playing in the road either, so most of the time it didn't come up.

Her trailer was actually setup on a piece of property that belonged to her son Mr. Elbert. We spent many childhood days running around in that yard. It was right beside one of Mr. Folk's cow pastures and Mr. Elbert had a pool we were allowed to swim in during the summer. He also had a giant spool setup in the yard that was like a table for us kids. He had gotten it from the electric company or something like that. Over the years the spool rotted away and became two giant wooden wheels.

One day we decided to put one of the wheels to use. We thought it would be a good tool with which to cure our boredom. The idea was that we would get the wheel rolling down the hill and then each one of us would kick it until it fell over. At first the game went well and each of us got a chance to knock it down. As each round of wheel knocking passed we let it roll further down the hill. The further it rolled the faster it got and the faster it got the harder it was to knock over.

The last round arrived and we let it roll. Josh kicked it and it didn't fall. I kicked it and it didn't fall. Sam kicked it and it didn't fall. It ignored our attacks and kept rolling down the hill increasing it's speed with every rotation. We declared a free for all and everyone began kicking it with everything they had. The wheel wobbled, but it didn't fall down. Sam attempted to salvage the situation with one mad flying jump kick.

The wheel had already outdistanced most of us, but Sam managed to run it down. He threw everything he had into a single beautiful kick. He hit it right at the the top and then fell onto the grass. The spinning wheel leaned over as if it where about to collapse, but then gyroscopic forces pulled it up again as it continued rolling down the hill. There was no way to stop it, it had gotten too far ahead of us. We could only stand and watch.

It rolled faster and faster and was headed strait toward Mr. Elbert's shed. We were all yelling for the wheel to turn or fall over or something, but it ignored us and rolled on. At the end there was the crunch of wooden siding being crushed as the wheel struck the shed and stuck into the wall. The game ended with a result that none of us had expected. The wheel won...

Sam knew we were in trouble, so he decided we needed to get to work immediately to fix everything. (Keep in mind we were ten or eleven at the time.) We pulled the wheel out of the wall and rolled it back up the hill. Then we took lawn chairs and bits of wood, whatever we could find in or around the yard, and piled it all up against the side of the shed. When we were done we felt very good. There was a five foot pile of junk leaned against the wall and the long gash in the siding was completely hidden.

We were all a little surprised by the fact that as soon as Mr. Elbert saw our pile he instantly looked behind it. It amazed us all that a pile of junk piled against the shed made him suspicious. Having made the discovery he gave Sam a few good ones with his belt and then called my Papa to advise him to do the same to us. (Josh and I had gone over there after we left Mrs. Woody's. The two trailers were about a hundred feet apart, but Papa had a small pine wood that separated the two properties.) For some reason Mr. Elbert's suggestion incensed Papa and, although he and Mr. Elbert were great neighbors and good friends, Papa told him to mind his own business. Lucky for us, we only got a verbal warning. Of course, that was enough we never did it again.

In point of fact we were never really up to any mischief. I mean to say that we never meant to be up to no good, we were just trying to find things to do. Had we imagined for a minute that we would have smashed a hole in Mr. Elbert's shed we would never have played with the wheel. Our real problem was that we didn't think far enough ahead.

My family knew this and, in general, let us pretty much do what we wanted. Sam's family was a little different. They always suspected us of being up to much more than we were. By the time Sam was a teenager Mrs. Woody began to suspect him of dealing drugs or something like that. She kept a very steady eye on him and checked up on him whenever possible. As Sam lived with her it was very possible most of the time. I know she was just looking out for him and trying to keep him out of trouble, but it got on Sam's nerves.

Finally Sam and Josh decided to put a stop to it. Every time Josh called Sam's house Mrs. Woody would put Sam on the phone and then go into a different room and pick up the other extension so she could hear what they were saying. Whenever Sam asked her about it she would say she hadn't been listening. However, her hearing wasn't great and she couldn't tell she was breathing loudly into the phone every time she was listening in. She thought she was as quiet as could be as she made a myriad of little noises in the other room.

This eavesdropping was the opportunity Sam intended to use for his humorous revenge. The phone rang and Mrs. Woody picked it up as usual. It was Josh calling Sam, so she handed the phone over to him and left the room. A moment later they heard the extension get picked up and Mrs. Woody's slow steady breathing on the other line. The stage was set and they began:

“Did it come in?” Sam asked with a certain urgency in his voice.

“Not yet, but it's supposed to tonight.” Josh replied

“Full shipment?”

“It's supposed to be.”

“Good. Who's bringing it in?”

“Same as always.”

“Excellent. We can meet them tonight and start breaking it up for distribution.”

“How are you going to get out of the house?”

“Sneak out, what else.”

“What about the old lady?”

“What about her?”

“I mean, what if she gets in the way.”

“I guess we'll just have to rub her out.”

Here they heard the phone in the other room slam down. Needless to say, Mrs. Woody never listened in on their conversations again. I know it seems cruel, but Mrs. Woody could drive people up the wall. As Sam himself pointed out, if she wasn't lying about being on the phone then they didn't scare her at all. It was some other eavesdropper who was having the heart palpitations.

It's only been a few years ago that Mrs. Woody went the way of all flesh. Now other family members live in the home that was once her own. They have no idea what wild adventures took place just outside their door, just as I have no idea what happened outside my own door a hundred years ago. The lives we live truly are like smoke. They can be seen for a little while and then they are gone. Although I know in time all these things will be forgotten it makes me feel good to know that they are not forgotten yet. You only have a little while to write things in the sand. Write something worth remembering.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I'm Thankful For Laughter

As most of you probably know this coming Thursday is Thanksgiving. Obviously, I wanted my story to be thank-themed as it were so I began considering all the things I am thankful for. Now, there are a load of things I could list that make me truly thankful to God. I could start with my wife and children then move on with more family and friends and continue with a long heart warming list. However, it wouldn't be very funny and would only interest a handful of people.

After a bit of mulling it over I decided that I should jot down a few stories about something that almost everyone is thankful for. Laughter is the only running theme in these few tales. It's something that makes almost everyone happy. I only say “almost” because of the few people out there who are determined never to find anything funny under any circumstances for any reason. The vast majority of us, however, should be thankful for laughter.

I am going to open this series of stories with a story that was told to me once while I rode along down the road with my brother, Jonathan Cooper and Chris Holland. We were discussing something (none of us remember what it was) when Chris decided to chime in with an amusing anecdote. As soon as there was a pause in the conversation he started.

“Yea, my uncle has a... no wait... he sold that...”

We all sat in silence for a perhaps three seconds. Then Josh, Jonathan and I burst out laughing in unison. By the time we had stopped making fun of Chris's story telling style (which took us a good twenty minutes) we asked what it was his uncle had owned, once upon a time, that had related to what we had been talking about. Sadly, he had forgotten what it was and we couldn't remember what we had been talking about before that. As a result whatever it was has been lost to history. However, we can feel good that I have recorded Chris's fabulous ten word story about it for posterity.

Chris has always been good at inspiring laughter, even if most of the time it's at his expense. Another member of our little group that was great at getting laughed at was Aaron Miller. I haven't described Aaron yet in these pages so I'll do my best to shorty sum him up. For the most part Aaron is a combination of every stand up comedian, funny movie and sit-com ever to be laughed at. I don't mean to say that he's that funny, I mean to say that he's seen them all and can repeat them like a parrot.

He would use the same joke so often that Joshua and I nicknamed him the Grim Jockey because, as the old saying goes, he would beat a dead horse. He would also occasionally say things that were original “Aaron”, but most of the time he didn't realize they were funny. For instance, one time Josh and he were walking through the mall and Josh spotted an attractive young girl. He tried to point her out to Aaron.

“There you go bro! There's a girl you could talk to. Look at her!” Josh said looking in the girl's direction.

“Yea. And look at her mom!” was his reply.

Needless to say we all got some good laughs out of that. Not that there is anything wrong with an attractive mother, I am married to one. However, as a teenage boy I wasn't looking for the mother of a teenage girl. Of course, Aaron made the whole thing funnier by trying to deny it later on. We still laugh at him about it from time to time.

Josh and I also loved to torment Aaron just because he would never see it coming. One winter it had snowed (As I pointed out in and earlier story snow is a big deal down here) and we decided to get out in it. There was an unusually large group staying at my house at the time. My cousin and some friends, including Mike Sanchez, were visiting and had gotten snowed in. We had walked out into a field that was very near my house and started rolling up a giant snowball as we were walking home. It had gotten to be over half my height and was getting to hard to push, so I decided I wanted to do something else with it.

“Josh,” I said as I stopped pushing the giant snow bolder for a moment. “I need you to do something.”

“Alright, what?” He replied looking me in the eyes.

“Well, it's very important that you do it immediately after I say it.”

“I can do that.”

“Speed is of the essence. You can't hesitate or think about it. You merely have to do it as soon as I have spoken.”

“No sooner said than done.”

Now, my cousin knew that when I said something like that out of the blue I was up to something. I think Mike was aware of it as well, but Aaron stood their like Gomer Pile without the slightest suspicion that something wasn't right. Having gotten reassurance from Josh I issued the order.

“Grab Aaron, throw him on the ground and hold him down.” I said with a smile.

By the time Aaron had managed to get a surprised look on his face he was on the ground, pinned. I asked Mike for a hand and we raised the snowball above our heads and slammed it right into Aaron's face. He got up covered in snow and laughing as loud as the rest of us. To him the funniest part was that he actually hadn't seen it coming in spite of the fact that we incessantly did things like that to him.

For another example of not seeing it coming I am going to go back to my early childhood. I was over at Marcus Stevenson's house. He lived right across the street from us and was four years older than me. Occasionally I would get to go over there and he would take me through the woods or fishing in the pond in his back yard.

On this particular day we had wondered around the in the woods and come out on the side of the pond that was opposite the house. Marcus's older brother Terry was out doing something in the back yard. Terry is considerably older than Marcus and was probably sixteen or seventeen at the time. I was somewhere between seven and nine. (I can't remember how much older Terry is than me) Marcus decided that since the pond was between us it would be safe to mock his older brother.

“Chunky Cheese!” Marcus cried out as loudly as he could.

“You better watch that boy!” Terry cried back.

At some point in time Terry had gotten the nickname Chunky Cheese. All the kids in the neighborhood would call him that if he was too far away to “get us”. As I said, he was almost a grown man at this point and I'm sure he didn't really care, but he would pretend to just for fun. However, with Marcus it was a little different. He wasn't just one of the neighborhood kids, he was Terry's little brother. Having been warned Marcus did the only thing he could and accepted the challenge.

“Chunky Cheese!” He yelled at the top of his lungs.

“I'm warning you, you better knock it of.”

“Chunky Cheese!” was Marcus's steadfast reply.

At this point Terry started to walk down to the edge of the pond. I am sure Marcus thought he was safe with the pond between us.

“Chunky Cheese!” again echoed across the pond.

Terry bent down near the edge of the water and started making a giant mud ball. Marcus didn't see this apparently and continued.

“Chunk...” was as far as he got that time.

Terry had thrown his mud ball all the way across the pond and hit Marcus right in the mouth with it. It hit him so hard that it knocked him down into the mud at the edge of the pond. Marcus jumped up and started yelling at Terry with everything he had as he brushed mud off of himself. Terry just laughed at him as he washed his hands off in the pond. Marcus's surprise helped make the situation funnier, but there was a fair amount of good old fashioned pie in the face humor. I can still see that giant, well aimed, ball of mud flying over the water. It always makes me smile.

Each of these brief tales make me laugh when I think of them even now. They say that laughter is the best medicine and I believe it. It's also one I have made it a point to keep on hand at all times. It's very akin to plain simple happiness and it certainly does a body good. In summation, this Thanksgiving I have decided to remember laughter with thanks and I would like to encourage you do the same. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tarzan Boy Scouts

The title of this story incorporates two themes that were mingled together in my childhood. The first is “Tarzan Boy” which is the title of an eighties song by Baltimora. The next is, of course, the Boy Scouts. Our Scout troop combined these two ideas. We seemed to be a group of wild boys that my Dad had caught in the woods and put into boy scout uniforms in order to show people how good the Scouts was at taming young men's wild instincts.

We were a wild looking crew. Shabby at best, but goodhearted and fun loving. We were also very good at all the activities that scouts were supposed to excel at, building fires and things of that nature. I remember one year we were at some regional weekend get together where a large number of scout troops were gathered to get to know each other and compete in a kind of scouting playoffs.

We were bottom of the pile when it came to inspection because of our disarrayed uniforms, but in everything else we took first or second place. The things we took second place in our webelos (Sub-scouts, the rank between cub scout and boy scout.) took first place. I have to mention that this wasn't true of the tent competition. Most of us could put a pup tent up in the dark in roughly thirty seconds. (That's not an exaggeration, Dad drilled us on it after dark and thirty seconds was the goal.) Of course, the rush did occasionally lead to mistakes. One time Jim couldn't find the hole for the tent peg in the dark, so he hammered it into the ground right through the side of the tent rather than slow down.

For the competition we had to take the extra step of buttoning both sides of the tent together before we put it up. This was something we never did with our tents. In the Army each man would carry half a tent. Then they would button the halves together and two men would sleep in the resulting tent. All our test runs had been done with an already buttoned up tent, so we hadn't had any practice buttoning as a team. As we all worked to get the thing buttoned together as fast as we could Jason realized that we were one button off. So, he grabbed both sides and jerked them completely apart so we could start over. That lost us enough time that we came in last.

Of course, Jason and Jim were always bad with tents. Once Jason's Mom bought him a flame resistant tent. So, the two of them kept decided to test it by holding lit matches to it just to see the thing resist the flames. The end result was easy to understand and very predictable, they finally caught the thing on fire and burned a big hole in it. They were quiet a team....

It was late one night during that same gathering that Dad was summoned from his tent by a strange sound. It's hard to describe on paper and even when Dad tries to imitate it now it doesn't sound like anything you would normally find in nature. It was this low growling kind of a sound, but it didn't sound like any animal he had ever heard. Both Jim and Jermaine's Dads had come along on the trip, so my Dad hoped to have a bit of backup when he decided to go looking for the whatever-it-was that had crept into camp.

Jim's Dad had also been awakened by the noise. I don't remember if he and Dad had been sharing a tent or if they both happened to come out of their tents at the same time, but they ended up heading out to search for the thing together. They didn't want to wake everyone up, because the whatever-is-was didn't sound safe or happy. It was also hard to tell exactly where the thing was by the sound it was making.

They decided it would be best to go wake Jermaine's Dad up as well. As they got closer to his tent they noticed that the sound was getting louder. Finally they had the sickening realization that the whatever-it-was had actually slinked silently into Jermaine's Dad tent. After a moment's hesitation Dad decided to rush in swinging and do his best to save the man from the dreadful sounding whatever-it-was.

Just before Dad made his charge Jim's Dad stopped him and told him to listen carefully. He asked Dad if he couldn't imagine anything that sounded kind of like it. After a moment Dad said he thought it almost sounded like someone snoring, but that he had never heard anyone that loud or growly sounding. They stood outside the tent for a little longer, just to make sure. Finally they made the decision that the whatever-it-was was, in fact, Jermaine's Dad snoring.

The next day all us boys got a good laugh out of the story as Dad described the cold sweat on his forehead and how he had wished for a better weapon than the stick he had found. If Dad had taken a moment to think he could have armed himself from Jason's backpack. He might have had several knives a machete or two and possibly an ax tucked away in there.

Jason's Mom often got him more equipment than he would ever need. We called him GI Jason now and again. Out of all of us he was loaded down with the most junk. Not that it wasn't useful, all of it was useful. It was just that most of it would be more handy if you were lost in the woods a hundred miles from civilization more than when you were merely hiking through the woods. He was also as full of questions about anything we planned to do as he was equipped to do it when the time came. This always got on Dad's nerves. I remember one time when Dad had decided to nip all these questions in bud. He began with:

“All right boys I have something to tell you. Please wait to ask any questions until after I finished. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir!” Was the universal reply.

“Good! Now we are going to take a trip...” Here Jason's hand shot up. “Yes, Jason.”

“Where are we going?”

“I was just about to tell you that. You see, that's why I want you to hold your questions until the end. I may answer them in the explanation. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir!” Jason replied.

“Good! Now, we're going on a camping trip.... Yes, Jason.”

“When are we going to go?”

“Jason son, I was going to tell you. When you ask a question it interrupts me and slows me down. I am going to tell you where we are going and when, but you have to give me a moment. After I've told you everything I'll ask if there are anymore questions...” Jason's hand had shot up again, while Dad was saying this. Dad stared at Jason. I think he was trying to figure out what, if anything, was going on in his head. With quiet resolve Dad said “What is it Jason?”

“How are we going to get there?”

“You see Jason! I was going to tell you that!”

“You said you were going to tell us where we are going and when, but you didn't say you were going to tell us how.” Jason looked up with complete innocence. It may be hard for a normal person to imagine, but he was being completely sincere.

“OK, Jason... I am going to tell you everything I can think of and then let you ask questions when I am finished. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir!”

“And that's alright with you?”

“Yes, Sir!”

“So, no more questions until I'm finished?”

“No, Sir!”

“Good! Now, as I was saying, we are going on a camping trip two weeks from now.” Here Jason's hand shot up, but Dad ignored him and continued on. Jason began to wave his arm around as Dad pretended not to see him. He stood up waving his arm back and forth and still Dad carried on. Jason was actually hopping in place before Dad cracked “What is it Jason?!?!?”

“What do we need to bring with us?”

“I give up!” Dad said, and that was exactly what he did.

The rest of the explanation he handled by letting Jason ask every question he could think of and then answering it. It probably took longer than it would have, but no one had any questions after Jason was finished.

Those were wonderful days for us. I loved the companionship and the sense of adventure we often got from the Boy Scouts. I've never gotten involved with them as a grown man, which may be surprising considering the fact that I have two sons at the moment. Still, every Dad does his own thing with his own sons. For Dad and his sons it was the Boy Scouts (and camping and a bunch of other crazy things), for me and mine it's other things. Of course, I have to admit there is something about taking your boys out into the wild. Remembering all these things makes me think that it may be time for me to buy my own tent. Who knows what wild snoring animal my sons and I might stubble upon.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

More War Stories

Later this week is Veteran's day, so I thought it only fitting to record a few more of the war stories I've heard for posterity. These tales are centered around my Granddad Ethridge and my Great Uncle Grover. Each of them had his own outlook on military service. My Great Uncle said he didn't want to be eaten by sharks, so he joined the Army. My Granddad said he wasn't going to die face down in the mud, so he joined the Navy. This difference led to very different war histories for each of them.

We'll start with my Granddad because I only have one war story for him actually. As I mentioned, he had joined the Navy. He had been made cook on the ship he was on and so was in charge of all the comestibles. He and the first officer didn't get along at all. Now, knowing my Dad as I do I would have known never to provoke my Granddad, even though I never met him. The first officer had never met my Dad, partly because he hadn't been born, and so didn't have the advantage I would have had in dealing with cook Ethridge.

The first officer continually annoyed my Granddad without thinking about the fact that this was the man that prepared his food. Now, my Grandfather was not the kind of man that would spit in someone's food or give him something he was allergic to, so in that way the first officer was safe. However, Granddad also liked vengeance and a bit of the old eye for an eye. In this case of course it was annoyance for annoyance.

A very special night arrived. An admiral was coming on board and the first officer wanted to make a good impression. He ordered that a side of beef be prepared and served for dinner. The time arrived and the food came in. Hamburgers were set on each plate and the servers withdrew. Needless to say the first officer was furious.

He stormed into the kitchen and demanded to know what had happened to the side of beef. My Granddad explained that it had been tainted and that, as a result, he had to throw it overboard. The first officer had a conniption fit, but there was nothing he could do. As ship's cook my Grandfather had the first, last and only word on whether or not food was fit for human consumption. The side of beef was gone and the testimony of the ship's cook was unassailable.

Now, we'll never know whether that side of beef was really tainted or not. I like to believe that it was and that it wasn't my Granddad taking revenge, but rather one of those ironic twists of fate. Whatever the truth was behind it we know what the results were. Cook Ethridge was transferred off the ship and out of the Navy. He was put in what amounted to the coast guard for the remainder of the war. I, for one, thank God for that. As I said, my Dad hadn't been born until after the war.

My Great Uncle Grover's history was a bit different. After having joined the Army he became a career soldier. He went from the Army to the Army Air Corps to the Air Force as that branch of the service was evolving. He ended up in both the European and Pacific campaigns and was awarded more medals than his chest would hold. As one could imagine my Dad was fascinated by Great Uncle Grover's war record and, like most young men, amazed by all his medals.

Of course, my Great Uncle wasn't a huge braggart and was more than willing to explain away his medals. He said that all he had done to become a “war hero” was to try to stay alive so he could come home. To him those medals represented times he had to run or fight for his life and that was all. From his point of view he had done no more than any man would have under the circumstances. If he had been right about his fellow men the world would be a better place.

Of course, in truth, he was a survivor. He wasn't particularly interested in medals, but posthumous medals absolutely put him off. Most of his stories were about his avoiding death and being given a medal for it. One such example took place after he had gotten separated from his unit and had been wandering around alone for a while. This actually happened several times. Great Uncle Grover said it was hard to stick together in a group during a war. Soldiers would be going this way and that and before you knew it you were all alone.

Having gotten lost or having lost his unit, depending on how you look at it, he would always join up with the next group of US soldiers he ran into. In this particular case he wound up in a group led by lieutenant who hadn't been in Europe long enough for his last US haircut to grow out. While marching from one place to another the lieutenant decided it would be best if they took shelter in the upper room of an old church building for a bit of a rest.

There were probably only around twenty of them and the church building had ample space. The upper room had a window looking directly out over the road at the front of the church and another overlooking a section of woods out the back. After they had been resting there for a while someone spotted a group of Germans heading down the road that went right past the church.

The lieutenant took a quick look and decided it would be suicide to fight. They were overwhelmingly outnumbered. I suppose it never occurred to him that the Germans didn't know they were there. It's possible that the idea of hiding out until they were gone completely escaped him. For all I know he was already tired of war and wanted to give it up. Whatever his motivations were, and before anyone could stop him, he was waving a white flag out the the front window as a sign of surrender.

Great Uncle Grover didn't say anything to him, he didn't hesitate a moment, in fact, I'm not even sure he took the time to blink. As soon as he saw that white flag poked out of the window he started running. Within a second he had crossed the room they were in a made a mad jump for the back window. He busted through and fell from the second story to the ground. As soon as he hit the dirt he was up and running through the woods surrounded by machine gun fire.

By the grace of God he wasn't hit as he serpentined into the woods and over the hills and far away. The Germans quickly gave up perusing him. It wasn't worth the effort to try to catch or kill one US soldier. My Dad asked Great Uncle Grover what had happened to the other men in the church. Uncle Grover replied quite honestly that he didn't know, but that they were probably taken prisoner. None of the others jumped out of the window and the white flag is a sign of surrender.

So, he used his instincts to avoid capture and live to fight another day. The same instincts served him throughout the war and allowed him to keep serving his country. My Dad asked him once if he had ever killed a man during all the fighting. He said that he didn't know that he had. Uncle Grover claimed that he did a lot of shooting, but that he never went to check to see what he had hit. Dad asked for a story about one of the times he might have gotten close. (Keep in mind that Dad was young and most boys go through a phase where they are fascinated by war before they understand what it means to take another man's life.)

Finally Great Uncle Grover decided to tell him about the closest he has ever gotten to knowing he had killed a man. It was near the end of the war in Europe and the group he was with at the time was very low on weapons and ammunition. They got into a situation where they needed to search a town for any remaining German soldiers, but they simply didn't have enough weapons to go around. So, they did the only thing they could. They drew straws. Uncle Grover said that he had been very fortunate when he got a flare gun, because it still had one flare left and a lot of guys ended up with nothing but a knife.

He took his flare gun in hand and started searching a section of the town with the rest of his fellows. He would kick the door in and call out for anyone inside to surrender and then make a quick search of the house. Door after door led to nothing. Still, he knew he couldn't let his guard down. If only one house in the town was occupied it could be deadly. He kicked another door in and cried out for surrender and again was greeted by silence. He stepped through the door to begin his inspection of the house and as soon as he was inside the door slammed behind him.

A German soldier jumped from behind the door armed with a bayonet. In a flash Great Uncle Grover raised his weapon and shot the German in the face with a flare. At this point in the story my Great Uncle grew silent for a moment. My Dad asked “Did it kill him?” Great Uncle Grover replied “Well, I don't really know. I ran for it. As far as I could tell he still had that bayonet and by my count I had only had one flare...”

So, yet again Great Uncle Grover lived to fight another day. He was a brave man, but not a fool. Having survived in Europe he made his way into the Pacific and was there during the storming of several islands right near the end of things. Once more he survived to do duty to his country and was rewarded with an every growing number of medals. However, as I said at the beginning he felt he wasn't a hero, he had just done what he needed to do to come home. That was what he felt every good soldier should do.

Our family was very blessed in the war. Both my Grandfathers and my Great Uncle went and came back again. Not all families are so lucky. It's not just the soldiers who sacrifice their lives for our freedoms that we need to remember. It's the families of those people who never come home. It is important to always remember what others have given up so we don't have to go without. We should be thankful to them for being willing to make that sacrifice. We should be thankful to God that their sacrifices haven't been in vain.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

She Was A Witch You Know

Not that anyone would have called my Great Grandmother a witch, they would have called her a fortuneteller or something like that. Dad's family called her a Ducamunger (If that's how it's spelled) which, I believe, is a word meaning fortuneteller. Needless to say, all of my knowledge of her comes from my Dad, Aunts and Uncles. She had gone to meet her reward long before I was born.

Most of you have probably put together the fact that today is Halloween and may have even guessed that I was likely to tell a ghost story or something like that. Well, this is something like that, but it's a bit different. These things didn't happen to someone, somewhere at sometime, they happened right in front of my Dad's family perhaps twenty years before I was born. You can look at them as lies if it makes you more comfortable, but you can't think of them as merely some old scary stories.

One of the first things that Dad ever told me about my Great Grandmother was that she made a living telling fortunes. She was good enough at it that people would come from as far as New York to the swamps of South Carolina to ask questions concerning future business deals and things of that nature. She had a little room off the side of her house where she did her work. It was dark, mysterious and filled with religious symbols like any good gypsy setup should be. (Yes, we are part gypsy. Part everything else really. We Ethridges see a pretty face and before you know it the next generation is part whatever.)

One day a man came in wanting to buy a totem. He wanted a charm to protect him from harm, as it were. Dad happened to be in the kitchen when my Grandmother and Great Grandmother started putting it together. It seems that the man had been seeing this other man's girlfriend or vice versa, either way he was expecting trouble and felt he needed protection. He was assured that for fifty dollars he would have a talisman that would protect him in the upcoming struggle.

Dad was standing right there when they started their work. They took a small silk bag and dumped some ashes in it. Then they took bits of this and that and threw them in along with it. The only bit Dad remembers with perfect clarity is that Grandma took a chicken bone and broke it almost in half with a certain twist and held it up for inspection. “How's that?” she asked and my Great Grandmother looked it over for a moment and replied “That should do.” The bone was then thrown into the bag which was quickly sown shut and given to the customer for fifty dollars. (Keep in mind this was in the fifties. I have no idea how much that would be today, but you can figure a lot.)

Later that week Dad was sitting on the front porch of Great Grandma's house when he saw that same man coming up the road with a bandage wrapped around his throat. He looked as if he had been hurt pretty bad. Great Grandma told Dad to go inside and she headed for her little room and awaited the former customer. As it turned out he had been hurt very badly. However, as he said himself “If it hadn't been for your totem that man would've cut my head clean off!” He was very satisfied and had come back to give her an extra ten dollars.

Did the totem save his life? I doubt it, but who am I to say. It might very well depend on how you look at it. What my Great Grandmother gave that man was confidence. It was confidence in the form of a talisman. Did that confidence save his life? Could be. So was it the totem, the confidence or coincidence? I am certain that most of you feel it couldn't have been that bit of ash and old chicken bone, but I'm not so sure. There were strange things that happened around that little old lady in the swamp.

Many years later my Great Grandmother lay in the hospital dying. A few members of the family were there with her while others were at her house packing up what was going to need to be moved after she died. It wasn't a case of if she was going to die, only of how many hours before she did. A few of the family were sitting in the waiting room talking when an old man in pajamas came in and sat down. After a few minutes they asked him if he needed anything and he said he didn't and that he was waiting for Great Grandma. They told him she was dying and that he might not be able to see her, but he said that it was alright and he would wait.

A little later they went in to see her and told her about the little old man. She told them that it was alright, that it was just Great Grandaddy who had come to wait for her. He had died years ago and so everyone figured she was a little delirious all things considered. Someone stepped out to invite the old man in, but he was gone. Now it could be that he was just some old man that happened to be in the hospital and knew my Great Grandmother who finally got tired of waiting and went back to his room. However, by the time they got back in the room to tell Great Grandma that the old man was gone she was dead. It's hard to be sure that he wasn't waiting on her and when she left this world so did he.

Shortly after Great Grandma had passed away the family members at the hospital called the family members at her house to notify them that she had died. No one at the house was surprised. This was for two simple reasons. First, she was very sick and they were expecting her to go any moment. Second, of course, was the scream that had echoed through part of the house.

There were a few things about that scream that made everyone think it might have been caused by Great Grandmother dying. It was a wild banshee like scream that made your blood run cold. None of the family would have been screaming like that at a moment like that, it might have been humorous enough at certain times, but this wasn't one of those times. The strangest thing was that everyone standing in the kitchen heard it. In fact it was so loud that it hurt their ears. However, all the family standing in the living room, which was right beside the kitchen didn't hear anything at all.

The combination of these two things made for a rather uncommon departure out of this world. The old man can be explained away by chance and the scream could have been lied about. However, the old man's timing was remarkable and a handful of the family uniting to lie about something like that scream is rather hard to believe. I guess you have to decide which thing is the hardest to believe and then believe the other.

There was another strange event that took place in that house years after Great Grandmother had died. My Dad was staying with my Great Aunt Sadie in Great Grandmother's old house. In the bedroom he was staying in there was a closet that was boarded up. It's odd to find a closet that has been sealed on the inside of the room by having three boards nailed across it. Dad thinks the boards had been put up because some of the closets in that house were connected and you could pass from one room to another by going through the closet. Uncle Tecky had his room on the other side of the room Dad was staying in. So it made a certain sense to board up the closet so that no one staying in that spare room could go through into uncle Tecky's room. I would have just asked people not to go through, but that's me. Whatever the real reason the closet was boarded up.

By this time Dad was eighteen or nineteen years old and his fears of monsters under the bed had long ago been put to rest. His first night in that room he climbed into bed and quickly fell asleep. He was awakened a little later by the sound of scratching. It sounded like something was pulling clawed hands across the inside of that closet door. Needless to say this bothered Dad enough to get up and take a look around. He turned the lights on and the sound stopped. A close inspection of the door revealed nothing, so Dad went back to sleep.

There were too many things that it could have been for Dad to be too worried about it. It might have been an animal outside scratching around that just sounded as if it were in the closet. A squirrel or some other small animal might have had a nest in the roof over the closet. It could even have been that he had dreamed it. All things considered he decided it was best to just crawl back in bed go to sleep.

However, the next night he was awakened again by the same scratching sound. As he laid there the sound got louder and louder. Finally he looked at the door. In the dim light he could see it bowing out towards him. The door creaked as it flexed and bent. It began to look as if it were made of plastic rather than wood. It bowed to the extent that it should have broken, but it didn't. Then Dad saw the impression of a clawed hand pushing out of the center of the door. Here Dad did what most of use would have done. He screamed his head off.

My Great Aunt came rushing into the room and turned on the lights. Just like in every other ghost story in the world, when the lights were on nothing was there to be seen. My Uncle and Great Aunt figured Dad had just been dreaming and had woken himself up when he screamed. I myself have yelled in a dream and woke myself up because I was actually yelling, so I know that it's possible. However, Dad wasn't convinced. He felt certain that something wasn't right about that closet and, grown man or not, he was going to take something in the room to protect himself, just in case.

The next day he got a short piece of two by four and put it in his room. He figured it was better than nothing and even if he started swinging a board around in the dark he wouldn't kill anybody accidentally. (You can't start shooting a pistol all over the place in the dark, somebody will often get hurt.) He laid down to go to sleep on the third night with his weapon close at hand. Once again he went to sleep and once again he was awakened by the scratching.

Again, the door looked like it was made of melting plastic. It bent and bowed and flexed in unnatural ways. Once more Dad saw the hand pushing out of center of the door. As he lay there watching he grabbed his board. He wasn't sure what was going to happen. He couldn't even be sure that he wasn't just having a nightmare. The clawed hand pushed out on the door and moved from place to place as if looking for a weak spot. Dad watched on in silence waiting to see what was going to happen. The sound of the creaking wood got louder and louder as the hand pushed further and further out of the door. Finally the door gave way in an explosion of wood. Whatever it was had burst into the room.

Dad was out of bed swinging his two by four in the flash. He didn't bother to yell, no one could have gotten there in time to help him. He swung wildly all around him. He hadn't seen the thing, but he had seen the door explode, it had to be in the room. Finally he hit something solid. It was a lamp. He busted it to pieces with the force of his blow. For a a few more seconds he stood there swinging away and then the lights flicked on.

There was my Great Aunt standing silently looking at him. There he was in a fairly trashed room, standing by a broken lamp with a bit of two by four in his hands. There was the closet door as solid and as boarded up as ever. Again, she tried to convince him that he had been asleep. This didn't hold much water with him. Someone might yell in their sleep, but get up and start swinging a board around, that was too much to believe. She assured him that there was nothing in that room that could hurt him, but he wanted a different room. My Aunt wouldn't hear of it and made him go back to bed. That was the end of it. Dad stayed there for a while, but the closet never gave him anymore trouble.

Many of you will laugh and believe that Dad was just dreaming. Me, I'm not so sure. That house had seen some strange things and my Great Grandmother was not an ordinary woman. There are those who believe that nothing super natural ever happens, but most of us know better. There's an instinct inside that says “Not everything that is can be seen with the eyes or touched with the hands.” There are a lot of things in this world that we don't understand. I sit here wondering just how much my Great Grandmother did understand. Still, for myself, I prefer to leave the unseen world unseen. The Lord has, in his great wisdom, hidden some things from his children. I think it's best not to go looking for them, even if my Great Grandmother would disagree.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ice, Water and Mud

It may never be as popular as Earth, Wind and Fire, but it gave us a few laughs as children. I am, of course, referring to the title of this story: Ice, water and mud. There was a lot of it my childhood. They are, after all, some of the basic play elements of the universe. Almost every child loves to play in the snow or walk out on a frozen pond. It's also a joy to take a swim or dance in the rain. Most of us have made a mud pie or gotten in a mud fight. All these things show up in most childhoods (at least where the climate allows for ice.) and they certainly showed up in mine.

The dawn that rose up over this first tale was cold and frosty. I can't remember if we had been snowed out of school or if it was just Saturday. However, the these two facts stand out: We were not in school and we were in one of those winter wonderlands that are so rare in the south. The main thing that I do remember was that Folk's pond was frozen.

That pond was a central theme for many of our childhood adventures. It was easily accessible and it was right down the street. It was also a place where we were allowed to trespass. That is to say that we thought we were sneaking onto the property. I found out years later that Mr. Folk knew all about us going onto his land and had OK-ed it with Dad. Even without the adventurous edge of sneaking around the pond it was a pond and therefor a lot of fun.

As I said, on this particular day the pond was frozen over. We had decided to take Prince with us that morning, so I had him on the leash. (Prince was a dog we had that was born on my eighth birthday. He probably deserves a set of stories written about him, but I haven't gotten to it yet.) We reached the frozen edge of the pond and started to walk out on it's solid surface.

“I'm going to see how far out I can get.” I said leading Prince out on the ice with me.

“Be careful, I think the ice get's thinner out there.” Sam said as he was carefully walking around the edge.

“Thinner? No man, it's as solid as rock!”

“Prince doesn't seem to think so.”

Prince had started to fall behind me. In fact he wouldn't get off the very edge of the ice and I was just about at the end of the leash.

“So what? He's just not used to it.”

“No, dogs can tell where the thin ice is. They won't step on it, so you can follow them safely.”

“You're out of your mind Sam. You pay to much attention to old wives tales. How can a dog tell...”

At this point I broke through the ice and was standing in close to knee deep, ice cold, water. I looked up at Sam and saw he and Josh and the dog staring at me with knowing smiles.

“Oh, shut up!” I said as I stormed back to the bank and started for home. Fortunately I didn't have to go much more than two blocks. By the time I got home the water on the outside of my shoes was frozen. Needless to say, my feet were a bit on the chilly side, but I was no worse for the wear. I was also able to put the entry “In case of being stranded on the ice try to find a dog to follow.” in my mental survival guide. All in all, the knowledge was worth the cold. Still, I suppose it could have been a coincidence, but it's not a chance I'll take again.

We now need to make the transition from winter to late fall. There wasn't ice anywhere, but it was still cold. Once again Sam, Josh and I had headed down toward the pond. On this particular day we decided to creep down to our old fishing hole and poke around. For whatever reason we decided not to go fishing that day. It seemed enough that day just to wander around looking at this and that.

Our fishing hole was right off of Folk's pond. In fact, it was where they had dug the spillway out years and years before. The pipe that formed the spillway was probably twenty feet above the land it came out into. The force of the dropping water had dug out the perfect fishing hole after a few years. It was one of the few places we went fishing where we always caught fish. Although, that is really beside the point at the moment because, as I mentioned, we weren't fishing.

I had walked down the hill to the edge of the little spillway pond and was messing around on the beach. There were all kinds of little creatures digging in the soft mud. It was more than enough to keep me interested for a few minutes. Sam and Josh had stayed up on top of the hill and so were out of my direct line of view. I could have seen them had I bothered to try to keep and eye on them, but I was busy with other things.

I'm certain Sam could have also seen me had he taken a moment to look, but taking a moment was never Sam's thing. He had found a huge piece of concrete laying there in the woods. It was like a cement bolder and was probably left over from the building of the spillway. Having found it he realized there was only one logical thing to do with it. He needed to throw it off the edge of the hill down into our fishing hole. If that doesn't seem the obvious thing to do then your mind doesn't work like Sam's. That's something to fell good about.

Here I have to underline the fact that this was a bolder. I don't just say that for effect. It was almost as wide as Sam's chest and probably weighed close to one hundred pounds. It's important to understand that, so you can imagine the size of the wave it would create if dropped into a pool from a height of around twenty feet. You can also apply your imagination and form an image in your minds eye of that wave heading strait for the pond bank, not ten feet away from it. Do you have an image of the wave? Good! Now keep it there for a moment.

“Lookout!” Sam screamed as the boulder flew out of his hands and he realized that I was on the beach below.

I looked up to see this giant concrete blob hurtling for the surface of the water. I knew there was no time to move so I bundled myself into a ball and awaited the inevitable. Now, take your imaginary wave and smack it into my small crouching body with everything you've got. What it looked like from my point of view was a tidal wave reaching far above my head. Fortunately my bundling technique had worked. After the wave had gone back out to pond I was still dry. That is to say, the fronts of my upper thighs were still dry. Everything else about me was soaking wet, but if I hadn't reacted so well and so fast I could have had soaking wet upper thighs as well.

“Why did you do that!” I yelled up at Sam.

“I'm sorry, I didn't see you.”

“Well, I was here all the same. Look at me!”

Sam and Josh took a moment to look at me and burst out laughing. Needless to say I had to walk home to change. Again, it was just over two blocks, but I was freezing cold by the time I got home and was done with the fishing hole for the day. At least I learned something I can share with other people. If you're ever about to be hit with a tidal wave pull yourself into a ball. That way your upper thighs will stay dry and warm.

Fortunately this next tale opens with everything dry and warm. It was a beautiful Spring day. It might even have been early Summer. The exact date slips my mind, but I can still see the green grass and the oak leaves blowing in the warm wind. So that takes Fall and Winter out of the running anyway. Once again, we had decided to sneak out onto Mr. Folk's property and take a walk. His land was beautiful and it was a gorgeous day so the obvious thing to do was to go out there and wander around.

It happened that this was a work day out at the Folk farm. That meant that there would be workers out there doing their jobs who might spot us. Normally we didn't go out there if anyone else was there doing anything, but that day was too good to let pass. We were just going to have to sneak past the guards. It is also important to note that the pond had been drained at the time for some repairs or cleaning or something. (Don't ask me what repairs or cleaning a pond could need. I just know that people around here drain them some times and when you ask why you get answers like “Repairs”.) So, what was usually the pond was a small sea of slick black mud.

“How are we going to get in?” I asked crouching down in the woods at the edge of the road watching a truck full of workers pull through the gate.

“Well, not by the gate.” Sam replied.

“We could go around the fishing hole and just step over the barbed wire fence.” Josh suggested.

“Nah, as soon as stepped out of the woods on that side we'd be right out in the open.” Sam pointed out.

“Well,” I said, “we need to stay close to the gate. If we go too far on either side our options are crossing swamp land or stepping out in the open.”

After a moment's silent thinking Sam spoke again. “We're going to have to army crawl through the pond.”

“What?” Both Josh and I replied.

“Yea, that's what we've got to do. We can cross the road real quick and throw ourselves onto the mud. Then we'll crawl along until we reach the fence on the left side of the gate. From that side we can easily cross the work road and be in the woods again before anyone sees us. We need to go one at a time. Josh is the youngest so I think he can go first.”

This plan actually seemed reasonable. Who would be looking over the edge of the road expecting to see a person crawling through the mud. Josh took on the mission like a soldier. He waited for a moment to make sure the coast was clear then he ran to the edge of the road and slipped over like a snake. From where Sam and I were we could see him, but only because we knew right where to look. No one driving along the road would ever have spotted him. This clear view of my brother is what gave Sam and I pause.

“He's doing great!” Sam said as we watched from the woods.

“Yea, but the sun is beating down on him.” I replied.

“That's true and it's very slow going in that mud.”

“And it looks pretty nasty too. It can't be pleasant slinking along in it.”

“No, I'm sure it's not. Plus, if we all three take this long it's going to be a while before we can get to exploring.”

“We need to find another way in.”

“I agree, but how?”

“We could just run up the road and jump over the gate.”

“What if we get caught?”

“We'll be careful.”

“You're right. We just need to time it right.”

With that Sam and I made a dash through the woods beside the road up to the gate. We looked around and no one was there so we hopped over and hid in the woods opposite the road where Josh was supposed to come up. After what like seemed like an hour we saw Josh's head pop up below the fence and look slowly left and right. We started waving at him from the woods and whispering for him to hurry up. He jumped up, crossed the fence and jumped in the woods with us. He was entirely coated with mud.

“How did you guys get in here?” He asked as he was brushing some of the moist back dirt off of himself.

“We jumped the gate.” Sam replied.

“You jumped the gate? You let me crawl on my stomach through five hundred feet of drained out pond and you jumped the gate?”

Josh went on for a while, but I'll spare you the details. Josh usually felt that we did things like that on purpose, but we didn't. That's just the way the cards fall sometimes. In life there are going to be times when you're the guy crawling face down in the mud and times when you're the guy jumping the fence. You have to take each as it comes.

In any event, ice, water and mud. They always were a lot of fun. It's something mothers need to remember. With my own brood I sometimes have to overrule Mommy's decisions about playing in the rain or wallowing in a mud puddle. I've heard it said that girls grow up to be women and that little boys grow up to be big boys. For my part that's true. Just because I don't go around building dams in the rain doesn't mean that I've forgotten how much fun it is. It's just that a wife can give her husband more trouble about dirty cloths than a mother can her son. So here I sit recording all this history with clean cloths on. I'm sure my mother will be pleased to know.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Smoke If Ya Got Em

As a child I was exposed to smoking by my Mom's side of the family. My Papa smoked. My Aunt Sharon and Uncle Jimmy smoked. My Uncle Ron and Aunt Diane smoked. Most of my cousins smoked as soon as they were old enough to get away with it. I'm sure that there are loads of people out there who would say that greatly increased the chance that I would smoke, but it didn't. For the most part I don't like the taste of tobacco. So, although I may have the occasional pipe or cigar or even cigarette, I have never been interested in taking up smoking as a habit.

However, I will say this, I was probably more interested in the idea of smoking because Papa smoked. He was not only the one who peaked my interest, he was also the one that killed it. I was around the age of ten and as I was walking out of his house one day for some reason we were discussing smoking.

“Any wimp can smoke. There's nothing to it.” I said as I was stepping out of the door.

“Come back in here.” He said before I had completely crossed the threshold. “Perhaps you would like a cigar then, if your Dad doesn't care.”

“That's up to him.” Dad said smiling.

“Sure, if you don't mind, then I'll have a cigar.”

“Let me get you one.”

Papa brought me one of his cigars and helped me get it lit. After a puff or two I decided that perhaps cigars weren't for me.

“I've had enough I think.” I said as I reached for the ash tray.

“Oh no, no. You can't waste a good cigar. You lit it, now smoke it.” Papa replied with a smile.

Papa let me off the hook before I had finished half of it. He wasn't really trying to make me sick, he just wanted to leave a bad taste in my mouth as it were. He succeeded. Although I have smoked here and there socially I never became a smoker.

Even though I was never personally tempted to pick up the habit I still found smoking interesting. One day I got the idea that we grandkids needed to make Papa a pack of cigarettes. Josh, Tara and me talked it over and decided that we would make him ten cigarettes or so and a pack to put them in. We went to work immediately. We took dried cherry tree leaves, bits of grass, a little pine straw and whatever else we could find that would burn. We used plain white notebook paper to roll our cigarettes up in and we used Elmer's Glue to seal the edges.

When we were done we had a nice little pack, that Josh and Tara had illustrated, full of the cigarettes we had made. We had been at Nana and Papa's while we made them, so when we were done we walked up to the trailer to give them to Papa. He was very touched that we had gone to the effort. To please us he stood there and coughed through one of the smokes he had just been presented with. All things considered they smelled nice. However, if one could judge by his face they didn't taste very nice though.

I was old enough that I considered the fact that Papa was probably just humoring us. I figured that the rest of them would be stuck in a drawer somewhere as a memento of us being young. I didn't care, we had made them for him to enjoy. If he enjoyed them in a drawer more than in his lungs who was I to complain. It was years later when I found out what had actually happened to the rest of that pack. I was asking Nana if she remembered us giving Papa those cigarettes. She laughed and said that she did. She also told me that he had smoked every one of those cigarettes, it took him a while to get through them, but he smoked every last one. It takes a lot of love to smoke through a pack of pine filled cigarettes, but Papa had plenty to spare.

When I was just a little older Nana had started taking me to a magic shop that was up in Aiken. She would buy me little things with which to practice the art of illusion. I actually had a few tricks that were worth seeing, but none that were worth talking about. However, the magic shop also sold things like flash paper and, you guessed it, cigar loads. I thought it would be great fun to put one in one of Papa's cigars.

Nana bought me the loads and then explained that I couldn't possibly use one on Papa. He had been in world war 2 and any sudden loud noise put his nerves on edge and she could never tell what he might do. She would often underline that warning with the story of how Papa had run out of the house with a German Luger in hand one night shortly after coming home from the war because some fireworks went off too near their house. We were never allowed to shoot fireworks near him either, so that point had been made. She also went on to explain that Papa's heart wasn't in the best shape (He had triple bypass surgery. Twice, in fact) and that a sudden noise like that could kill him.

Disheartened I had to admit that she was right. However, she gave me hope. All I had to do was ask him if I could put one in his cigar and see what he said. I felt like I had a good chance, so as soon as we got home I asked. Papa put a cigar in my hand and helped me get the load pushed into it. He then walked outside with Josh, Tara and me and smoked the cigar until it blew up in his face. We all cheered! We had gotten Papa to smoke a loaded cigar and we hadn't killed him! It was win/win.

Of course smoking cigars can lead lead to ill health. At least, that's what they say. I don't know that they have much in the way of pre-smoking medical history to go on, but we'll let that go for the moment. I have seen at least one cigar that I am certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt was bad for the health of the smoker. It was one Chris made himself.

He was probably twelve or thirteen at the time and was down at Nana and Papa's with Tara, Josh and me. For whatever reason he decided he was going to make himself a “Man's cigar”. To start with he took a paper grocery bag (Yes, there was a time when groceries came in paper bags. I mention this for some of my younger readers who have never heard of such a thing.) and slit it down the side. Then he filled it with leaves and pine straw. In truth, it was mainly pine straw. He wanted to make it fast and didn't take the time to search around for leaves. Papa's trailer was parked in the middle of a pine wood, so pine straw was always readily available. Once it was loaded down with combustible material he rolled it up into a giant cigar and sealed it with scotch tape.

The finished product was probably an inch and a half in diameter. Had it been made of pure tobacco I still don't think “Man's cigar” would have covered it. “Eight hundred pound guerrilla's cigar” might have truly represented it. Of course, when you keep in mind that it was probably ninety percent pine straw by weight the title “Cigar of death” springs to mind. Whatever you choose to call it the bizarre brown paper smoke-able was complete.

Now all Chris needed was a light. We all headed to the door of the trailer. Chris held his giant, ugly cigar behind his back. Nana came to the door as soon as we had knocked and asked us what we wanted. Chris said we needed a match and Nana asked why. (We were always allowed to have a match, we just had to explain why and bring the box of matches back as soon as we had lit whatever it was.)

“I want to light my stogie!” Chris said as he proudly pulled the cigar from behind his back.

Nana smiled and said “Alright, wait right there.”

She came back in a flash with the box of matches. Chris lit his monster and pulled as much pine smoke as he possibly could into his lungs in one long draw. Needless to say an eruption of teary eyed coughing immediately followed. Chris threw his wonderful creation on the ground and stamped it out. We all had a laugh at his expense and he learned that not everything that burns is worth smoking.

All in all my experience with tobacco resulted in humor, which I must admit is habit forming. Still, it is important to keep in mind that we, as children, watched the adults around us and imitated them. We in turn are being imitated by our children. That is why I try to make certain that the things I do are worth doing. Whatever you do you always have to keep in mind that there's a good chance your children are going to do it to. So save money! There's a thought!