Sunday, May 30, 2010

War Stories

I know that as a general rule war certainly isn't considered a humorous subject. However, war is part of life and in every part of life something funny can be found. Thank the Lord that's the case, because there are times when our only choice is to laugh or cry and laughter is often the best medicine. When I asked my Papa what he did in World War II he decided to make me laugh rather than make me cry, I think he had the right attitude.

For those of you who never had the pleasure of meeting my Mom's Dad I'll tell you a bit about Papa. He was truly a remarkable man, both wise and gentle, loving and considerate. I have rarely met anyone as dedicated to the Lord and the Christian path as my Papa. Many are the hours he spent with me telling me stories from the past or debating one subject of faith or another. All in all he was what a grandfather should be.

My Papa passed away just recently. He left behind him a large number of loved ones that miss him very much. He also left behind him a history that will be remembered after him. I feel certain that he has gone on to meet his reward and that he and I will see each other again. It is never “Goodbye” for us, but only “Until we meet again”. Until that time comes we have to remember those that have gone on before.

I thank the Lord that Papa decided to share some of his war stories with me, so that I, in turn, could share them with you. According to my Nana my Papa never talked about the war, that is to say, until I got interested in it when I was about ten or eleven. She once told my mother that she would sit and listen when he began to tell me about it so she could find out what actually happened to him. Papa hated the war and didn't even like to think about it. However, I think my blind innocence made him decide that he might as well satiate my curiosity.

To start with Papa was a radio operator in an M60 tank. He was in a division commanded by Patton himself. He had stood within feet of that famous general. Once he was also called aside with all the other “boys from Kansas” to talk to general Eisenhower. I once made the mistake of saying that Patton seemed to have blood lust or something like that. Papa unloaded on me. It must have been forty years after the war, but to Papa that was still his general and you didn't say anything that wasn't respectful.

When he first got back from the war he was definitely “shell shocked”. He never would come out with us to shoot fireworks and I never saw the man shoot a gun with my own two eyes. One day I asked him why he didn't like fireworks and he started one of his stories:

“Well, during the war I saw enough fireworks. The Germans liked to keep us on edge. There was a shell they used to shoot into our camps that was so small it would have had to land right on you in order to hurt you at all. It wasn't meant to kill us, just to scare us. It had a hollow face and had piano wire stretched across it. When they would fire them into camp it would sound like a screaming banshee. It also let us know they were close and that they knew where we were. They liked to fire them off at around two in the morning when everyone was really in a deep sleep. I don' know how many times my eyes shot open as one of those shell shrieked over our camp.

Of course, in time you did get kind of used to it. I remember one night the Germans were firing over our camp to hit another location a ways down the road. It had just gotten dark and you could see the tracer shells flying above us. One of my friends grabbed a couple of signal flags and climbed up on top of one of the tanks.
He started giving signals that were telling the shells to keep on going that there wasn't a landing spot where they were. Finally one of the officers saw what he was doing and told him to get down off that tank. He said 'But Sir, if I don't wave em on they may decide to stop here!' Needless to say this gave all the boys a good laugh, including the young officer.”

That was one that Papa told me I don't know how many times, but every time he told it he laughed. Even in the middle of a situation like that our soldiers found something to smile about. It made me proud to be kin to some of them.

Another thing Papa told me about was daily life as they drove all over Europe. It was hard to go without the comforts of home and they did as much as they could to improve their lots. Papa and the men in his tank went to some effort that was certainly above and beyond the call of duty.

“Most of the US soldiers stuck together pretty tight, we were all in this together and were going to have to work together to get out of it. As a general rule we didn't steal from each other or cheat one another. However, in every group of men you can find someone who is only out for himself.

Once one of the guys in my tank ended up getting a pack of cigarettes stolen. The officer over us got furious and you can understand why. It's not like there were any enemies in the camp to steal our stuff. One of our own soldiers had robbed him. He did his best to find out who did it, but no one would say. Finally he got mad enough that he told all the men that if anything went missing from his boys they would get twice as much back.

However he managed it, he was good to his word. Later that day he brought by two packs of cigarettes. This continued as the months went by. If a shirt of ours went missing we got two. If someone stole a belt from us there were two given to us. Before long the inside on the tank was filled up with our stuff. Finally we decided something had to be done.

The plan was simple: we had to build a trailer. We began to collect parts where ever we could find them. Now, the problem was that you couldn't just hook a wagon up behind your tank and start dragging it around like a gypsy caravan. The army had regulations and tanks were only allowed to tow army issue trailers. The problem with that was that the army wouldn't just give you one and you weren't allowed to make your own.

We worked out a design that looked just like the army trailers. Then we took the parts we had scraped together and built a very good look alike. After it was done we painted it to look just like any of the other army trailers. I even painted a the set of numbers it was supposed to have on the sides. The numbers were completely made up, of course, but I figured no one would take the time to check. After all, there was a war on.

When we were done with it very few people could have spotted it for the fake it was. We hauled it around behind our tank for months as it slowly filled up with stuff. We had spare uniforms, cartons of cigarettes and loads of stuff we had gotten here and there.

However, one faithful day we ran into trouble. We were stopped somewhere and the brass decided to do a general inspection. One of the officers noticed our little trailer and began walking round and round it. He took note of the numbers and went to check them. A few moments later he returned.

'Is this trailer US Army issue?'

'No Sir.'

'I thought not. Disconnect it from your tank. It stays here.'

'Yes Sir.'

We loaded as much of our stuff in the tank as we could, but it wasn't much. It was with heavy hearts that we disconnected our little trailer. When we pulled out that day we left a trailer full of loot behind us.”

Papa thought of this as one of those funny little things, just as I do now. However, when I was a child I was furious. I thought of all the effort they had put into that as well as all the swag they were forced to leave behind. I couldn't stand the thought of it. Papa used it as a teaching opportunity.

He explained that they could have asked for a trailer and if the army had given them one there would have been no problem. He also explained that it was a war, not a game. That officer wasn't sure how that trailer would handle in the mud or at the tank's top speed. It hadn't been tested and might not have been safe. The officer had done what was right. I understand that as an adult, but I still wish there had been some way to save all the goodies.

To wrap up with I am going to recount the story of how Papa won the bronze star and how he actually deserved the purple heart. I had found his bronze star in a drawer one day. I don't think he ever told me that he had it and I wasn't sure what it was. So I asked him and this was his explanation:

“That's just a medal they gave me during the war.”

“What is it?”

“It's called the bronze star.”

“Why do they give them out?”

“It's for action above and beyond the call of duty.”

“Wow! How did you get it?”

“Well, the truth of the matter is that I don't really deserve it. You see, it was near the end of the war and we were passing through an area where we didn't think any Germans would be. As we were going along we ran up on a Tiger tank. Now one Tiger was trouble and so we tried to maneuver out of it's way. I was on the radio reporting our location and situation. As we were running from the one Tiger we ran up on two more.

The real problem with that was that one Tiger could probably take out three M60s. We were in a single M60 facing three Tigers. So, we did the only thing we could and ran for it as fast as we could manage. The entire time I had my head down over my radio giving our side the information they would need to help us out of the mess we were in.

Suddenly the tank came to a stop. I sat there on the radio doing everything I could to get support. A little red light flashed up on my control board to let me know that I had lost radio contact. I pulled my headset off and turned around to ask the boys if they knew what was happening. When I looked up the tank was empty. The hatch was hanging open and daylight was streaming in. I was alone.

A moment later I heard a noise. 'Ping ping ping ping' I realized the the tank was being hit with machine gun fire. Then it hit me: I had lost radio contact because I didn't have any antennas and I didn't have any antennas because they had been shot off! I waited for a pause in the fire and then jumped out of the tank. It had been parked right beside a building and my comrades in arms were yelling at me to hurry up and get inside. I didn't hesitate!

As it turned out the Germans must have been out of shells for there main canon. They strafed us with machine gun fire, but probably wouldn't have punched through the tank with it. In just a few minutes later our support showed up. The Germans headed for the hills and we were rescued.

I was given the bronze star because I stayed in the tank while everyone else had bailed out. I kept providing information until the radio antennas had been shot off. However, I didn't do it on purpose. If one of the guys had thought to tap me on the shoulder I would have been out of that tank as fast as I could have been. So, like I said I don't really deserve it.”

I disagreed with Papa then and I do so now. He did deserve that bronze star as the duty he preformed was above and beyond the call of duty. The fact that the Lord saw fit to keep him from knowing what he was doing until after it was over doesn't change a thing. Many men have done heroic things by instinct and never taken time to consider them until they were over. That doesn't make them any less heroes.

I later asked him if he gotten any other medals and this was one of the stories he told me:

“Well, I was supposed to get a purple heart, but I didn't really deserve it so I didn't make a fuss when I didn't get it.”

“What's the purple heart for?”

“For being wounded while in the service. You get one if you get shot or something like that. Of course, you can also get one for sitting on a bayonet by accident.”

“You were wounded?”

“Yes, but like I said I didn't deserve a purple heart. I was wounded by our guys not by the enemy. You see, the hatch on my tank slid around to the side to open rather that opening strait up. When we felt there wasn't any danger we would open the hatch and poke the top of our heads out of the tank to help the driver watch the road. Each of us would take a turn helping the driver watch.

When you opened the hatch there was a pin you put in place the keep the hatch from sliding closed on someone's head. You never wanted to forget to put that pin in place. It happened one day that the first guy on watch did just that. We had been riding down a straight road for hours and so no one had noticed that the hatch was loose. However, right after I started my watch the driver took a sharp turn at high speed.

The weight of the hatch caused it not to turn as the tank did. The result was that it slammed on my head with so much force that it cut the straps of my helmet. The driver saw my bloody head gear rolling down the front of the tank and slammed on the brakes.

'I think I just cut Gene's head off!' he yelled.

The boys flew into action and got the hatch opened. I had a gash on both sides of my head and was pouring blood. Fortunately a group of medics were on the road right behind us. They got me patched up in no time. One of them said he would submit the medical report so I would get my purple heart. I told him I didn't think I deserved it, but he said that I clearly did.

However, it was the end of the war. We were all on our way home. That medic forgot to fill out the report and I never got the medal. Since I didn't really deserve it I never mentioned it to anyone. It was just one of those funny things that happens.”

I remember wishing that Papa had gotten that medal. I wanted to look at it. Now, I see that he was right. The medal wasn't important. What was important was my Papa's life and what he did with it. I don't have that bit of ribbon and metal, but I have the story that would have been behind it. The memory means much more to me than some award ever would have.

I hope you all enjoyed this. Happy memorial day everyone!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chris Tuttle: We can do that...

Many are the tales of Christopher Tuttle. I'm afraid I have forgotten many, but those that linger still make me smile. I hope that as I walk down memory lane I'll uncover long forgotten old side roads and be able to bring up even more events from the past. That is what happened with these first two CT stories in fact. I hadn't thought about them in years, but blowing the dust from my mind brought them back to light.

Again, for the sake of those that don't know him I'll describe Chris Tuttle. First, like my cousin Louis, Chris was a giant. He was four years older than me and big for his age. Needless to say I was like a grasshopper in my own sight when I stood next to him. He was, as I've mentioned before, an instigator. He was constantly trying to stir things up just to see what would happen. He was also a fun loving bully. He pushed me around and beat me up, but all in the name of having a good time. He was very much like a over powered teddy bear that didn't know his own strength. Of course, when you consider the things he got into he was a very mischievous teddy bear...

I'm going to open this tale with a little painless mischief we got into and then move onto to a more sore subject, as it were. I need to explain one fact about the young Jeremy Ethridge that all of you may not know. For me things were real or they weren't. It took years for me to grasp the concept that something was a toy and that toys were just to play with. Playing pretend wasn't my cup of tea, I wanted everything to be real.

My Nana and Papa got me a toy skill saw when I was three or four. It was the kind with a pull rope that sounded like it was cutting wood. You would pull the cord a few times and it sounded like it was running. When you pulled the trigger it would sound like it was cutting wood. I was so excited when I got it that I ran out in the yard, grabbed a 2x4 and started pulling.

I ran the toy across the board as it made all the sounds of a working skill saw. The board didn't cut. I tried again. Again, nothing happened. Just to make sure that I wasn't imagining things I tired one last time. After a third failure I threw the saw down, explained that it was broken and never played with it again. I don't really remember this. I remember Papa laughing as he was telling me about it.

Another time my Dad built me a model airplane out of wood. I was amazed with it. Then I said: “Make it fly.” My Dad always wanted to please so he went to work. He shaped the wings so they would get lift. He attached a string to it and whirled it around his head showing me that it could fly. Then he brought it for a smooth landing to see what I thought. I was very impressed.

To show Dad how much I thought of it I jumped up on the wings and said: “Now make it fly!” Needless to say the wings broke right off which surprised me. My three year old self fully expect Dad to spin me around flying. Dad had to explain that it would never fly again. I took it well and told him not to worry that I knew that he had done his best. Some people might have gotten angry at me, but not Dad. He knew what I was like long before he went to the trouble to make the plane.

All this leads up to another project Dad took on. I thought submarines were awesome, so Dad decided that I needed one. He took a bunch of cardboard boxes and built them into what looked like a submarine. He had worked out at the ship yard and had very good idea what a submarine would look like if it was made out of cardboard. The finished product was really something to see. He had even made a cardboard periscope. It was truly awesome.

For most kids this would have been an excellent toy. However, you have to consider that I wanted things to be real. As a general rule I thought whatever Dad gave me was certain to work out in real life. Chris knew this fact about me and took advantage of it in order to get up to something.

“This submarine is awesome!”

“Yea, Dad really did a great job!”

“Yea... but it's not really finished...”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it hasn't submerged yet... Who knows how it will work in the water...”

“It'll work fine! My Dad made it!”

“Well, if you're sure then we should get it out in the water and test it.”

“Fine with me!”

Now, here I have to mention that this wasn't just idle talk. Our little trailer was right beside my Grandmother's pond. Only a few feet separated us from our watery ambitions. Without further ado we headed out carrying the sub with us.

I suppose you could say that Dad was lucky. At least he got home in time to see it sinking below the waves. When he asked me what had happened I told him we had taken it out for it's first dive. I explained to him that it hadn't made it. It had been a very good submarine in most respects, it just wasn't seaworthy. Still, I did my best to build Dad up. I told him not to worry about it, I knew he had done his best! Dad took it with quiet resolve. He never got mad at me for being who I was.

This next tale involves a little more in the pain category. As Chris was always stirring things up he was always trying to get me to do things that I wasn't supposed to. He would often combine that with things that would get me hurt. He never really wanted to do damage, he just wanted me to feel enough pain to make things funny. Chris loved slapstick humor, as long as he wasn't the one getting slapped. My Mom used to believe that Chris felt that my screaming was beautiful music.

To set the scene I first have to describe a tree house that Dad had built for us down in Moncks Corner. Dad always wanted to make sure that we got the most out of childhood so he was always building something or another for us to play with. He also loved to tinker around building this or that. So, building things for us was to combine two great loves. For those of you who don't know Dad the epithet “He never does anything small” certainly applies to him.

Out behind the old trailer there weren't a lot of trees to make use of. However, Dad was never discouraged by such things. There was one large pine tree to make use of and so make use of it he did. He actually built a platform around the tree supported by rubber gaskets that were connected to the tree itself. This was during his “Nails hurt the trees” phase... We actually climbed up a ladder built onto the tree and then could step out on the platform. He walled it in and it even had a roof. To finish it up he put a window in so we could look out and see the sights as it were.

To all this tree house fun had added a sand box. Not in the tree, obviously, but on the ground below. It was an actual sand box framed in with wood and filled with nice clean sand. I'm certain that it was the proximity of the sandbox to the tree house that first attracted Chris's attention. I suppose he had been mulling over the fact that you could jump out of the tree house window and into the sand box for some time before he mentioned it to me. Finally he breached the subject one day while we were up in our arboreal abode.

“You know you could jump out of this window and land in the sandbox.”

“Could you?”

“Sure, it would be a piece of cake.”

“I don't know, that doesn't seem safe to me.”

“What? It's perfectly safe! Think about how soft that sand is.”

“It still seems like it would hurt to me.”

“Well, obviously you would have to do it right.”

“What do you mean?”

“It's all about how you land in the sand!”

“Well, how are you supposed to land?”

“On your stomach!”


“Yea, just like when you do a belly flop in the pool.”

“That doesn't sound right to me...”

“Well, it is! I do it all the time!”

Here I'll point out that Chris was lying. I am sure that all of you have already figure that out, but I was four or five and that idea never occurred to me. I can't be certain if he was trying to hurt me or if he really wanted to know if it could be done. One thing is certain, however, he didn't want to be the first one to do it.

“Why don't you give it a try?”

“No. I'm sure I would get hurt.”

“No you won't! I know you can do it!”

“I don't think I can.”

“Come on, don't be a scaredy cat!”

That was something that a five year old Jeremy couldn't let pass! Me a scaredy cat? Never! I climbed up on the window sill and looked down on the sandbox below. It was probably only eight feet, but it seemed like I was looking down from the Eiffel Tower. I stood there irresolute swinging between the sense of bravado and that of self preservation. Chris decided that I needed more encouragement:

“Remember to land on your stomach.”


“Just do a belly flop and you'll be fine.”


“I'm going to go right after you do, so hurry up.”

That was enough in my mind. If he was going to do it after me there couldn't be any real danger. I took a final breath and jumped for it. I landed perfectly on my stomach and created a rain of sand like a falling star hitting the earth. In spite of what you all might be expecting it actually worked! I'm not sure about the science behind it, but I probably only weighed thirty pounds soaking wet. I had enough surface area to break my fall in the sand. I jumped up victorious.

“You were right! That was cool!”

Chris looked down at me stunned. He couldn't believe it had worked. Now he was excited! It really had looked like a lot of fun. After a second or two's contemplation he climbed up on the window sill took a breath and took a dive. He hit the sand like a boat anchor. As I mentioned before Chris was huge. At eight years old he probably weighed something like one hundred and fifty pounds and could have boxed for the Navy. When all his mass hit the sand it drove every ounce of air out of his lungs.

As soon as he could breath again he started screaming and crying as loud as he could. My Mom came rushing out of the house to see what had happened. When she finally got the story out of me she laughed until she couldn't breath. She explained to Chris that he had gotten what he deserved for leading his cousin astray and that he needed to think about that in the future. You would think that he would have learned from it and left me alone. Needless to say, he never did.

I hope you all got a laugh!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Knight on a Charging Schwinn

As this tale opens one must imagine a very young Jeremy. In fact, I was six years old. We had recently moved from Moncks Corner to Williston and, as school hadn't started yet, I only had one friend in town. Jim Melvin lived right down the road from us and our mothers had gone to school together. As a result we were fast friends as soon as I moved to town.

Now, just as with most boys our age fights were inevitable, but as a rule we got along great. Jim was around twice my size in spite of the fact that I was a few months older than he was. I was a small child, but Jim was a colossal one. The great disparity between our sizes was more because he was border line giant than it was due to my being border line fey. (You may think of me as being around the size of some elf child in a Jim Henson production.)

Looking at us no one would ever imagine that we would ever fight. They would probably think to themselves: “Fight? No never! That ogre may occasionally become outraged and pick that elf up and slap him against things until he stops moving, but I'm sure there is never any fight about it...” However, life can be deceptive like that. Nature had given Jim a certain docility of nature and slowness of action. When he and I fought I knew it was about to come to blows a second before he did. As a result the first punch was usually mine.

Once the fight started I'm sure it was something to see. Being in the middle of it one had very little chance to consider it while dodging Jim's tree felling swings. He was as strong as an ox and if he managed to get a hold of me the fight was usually over. However, I was quick and I didn't make it easy to hit me. Still, there were times when I decided to think out conquering Jim rather than just jumping in and hoping for luck. I admit that it was a rare occasion when I was angry enough at Jim to plan out a course of action against him. This story revolves around such an instance, however.

It all began with Dad getting the job that brought us to Williston. Up until that point Mom and Dad had not been in particularly good financial shape. They hadn't been married long before they were blessed with the costly burden of a bouncing baby boy. As Dad's career moved upward my brother was born, so their finances were still in the tank. Once we moved to Williston all that started to change. Dad finally got ahead of Josh and I as an expense and there was a little extra money.

“What has that to do with anything?” you ask? “Who's telling this story?” is my counter question. Moving on: As Dad had a little extra money he decided to buy me a new bike. In fact at the end of the day he decided to buy me a new Schwinn. I was overwhelmed! I had never heard of Schwinn before, but Dad informed me that they made the best bikes in the world. That settled it in my mind. I might never have heard of one before I got my own, but now I felt like the owner of one of the best bikes in the world.

There was only one thing to do! I had to rub it in somebody's face! (I was six... I also think this was the last time I ever did this. In a moment you'll understand why.) I only had one face in town in which I felt I could justifiably rub my fortune. I hopped on my new bike and headed for Jim's.

“Jim, come out here man!” I yelled as I peddled past his front door.

He lived in a large two story home that had an eight foot hedge all along the road in front. The only holes in this hedge gave access to gates that allowed one to reach the road. Anyone stepping through the gate had his or her peripheral vision completely filled with hedge. I only mention it here as it popped in my mind. Although, it will enter into the story later. At last Jim came out to see what was going on.

“Hey, what's up?”

“I got a new bike and you don't!” I yelled riding past him as fast as I could.

“I have a bike!”

“Not a Schwinn!”

“What's a Schwinn?”

“The best bike in the world!”

“I didn't know that...”

“You wouldn't! You ain't got one!”

This dialog continued while I rode back in forth in front of him trying to make sure his face was adequately rubbed. After a while he headed back into his yard and I began riding back and forth in front of his house yelling.

“I got a new bike and you don't!” “It's too bad your old bike isn't a Schwinn.” “Maybe one day you'll get a real bike!” Etc.

I admit on reflection that it was far from my finest hour. Again, I remind the reader that I was six. In fact, even at that age this was somewhat against my nature. However, the idea of picking on Jim overcame all my better instincts. After perhaps five minutes Jim reappeared at the gate. He just stood there looking at me. I decided the time was right for a fly-by so I rode past him so close I could reach out and touch him.

It seems that was exactly what he had been waiting for. He jerked his arm up and threw a lasso made out of carpet string around my neck. Before I could even think of putting on the brakes he jerked the string with all his might. Between my forward momentum and his backward pulling I flew off the bike, into the air and onto the ground in an instant. Jim didn't wait for my rebuttal, he disappeared silently into the hedge as I lay there crying and trying to get my breath back. (Keep in mind Jim was six as well.)

Now, as a grown man I can reflect on the fact that Jim had given me exactly what I deserved. He had provided me with a healthy opportunity for reflection. I like to believe that in this point in my life I would be thankful for the buffet and make use of the experience for self improvement. However, at six years old I felt differently. Even if Jim was right (and even then I suspected he was) that wasn't the point. It was the principle of the thing. Jim couldn't just lay me out and expect to walk away unscathed. In fact I made it my goal to see that he was scathed a bit above the average.

I picked myself up, got on my bike and slowly peddled home. I sat thinking about what I had to do to even this all out. Jim had laid me out so I had to do at least as much to him. The problem with this was the “How?” involved. As I mentioned before Jim was like a small pale gorilla. I could beat him in a fist fight sometimes, but completely lay him out... never. I had to give it to him with no chance of a return from him. I had to take and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. (I never took the time to consider the fact that I had started all this. That was beside the current point.)

I began to take stock of my resources. I had my bike, obviously. I wanted to include the bike in my revenge in order to put a little more rub on Jim's face. With a little looking around I found an old mop handle. In a flash I was reminded of the knights of old charging across the battle field on their proud steeds. What better revenge could there be? I would ride Jim down like the peasant he was!

I got the mop handle and held in my right hand while I steered with my left. I rode over to Jim's house and put myself in a position where I could see the gate, but where Jim couldn't see me. I stood with my feet on the ground, my left hand on the handle bars and my right hand holding my lance up at rest. I called my massive adversary:


He was still out in the yard.

“Yea, what do you want?”

“Come here, I need to show you something.”


“Come on! You don't need to be like that!”

“I'm not coming out there!”

“Why not? Look, just come here and let me show you this real quick!”

“Well, alright...”

I planned to show him something alright, just as soon as he showed his face through that gate. I couldn't have spaced myself from the gate or timed things any better. As soon as Jim said he was on his way I was on mine. I had just gotten up to full speed when he stepped out of the gate. I shifted my lance aiming right for his head!


I hit him right in the temple! He dropped like a sack grain. Having looked over my shoulder to satisfy myself that he was down and out I rode off into the sunset!

Looking back I can see how dangerous this was and that I could have easily killed him. Thank the Lord he didn't suffer any permanent effects. In fact I'm not certain that he remembered what happened to him after he woke up. All I know is that he didn't tell his Mom and the next day we acted like nothing had happened. I suppose he may have figured turn about was fair play. I feel we both learned a valuable lesson. He learned that I could be very dangerous if angered and I learned that rubbing things in people's faces wasn't a good idea.

I hope you all got a laugh!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

They say it rules the world. That is, they say “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”. I certainly feel that saying has a good deal of merit. Of course, like so many things in life, it's a matter of the fine print. Who's hand is it? Who's in the cradle? Etc. I think it's fine as a general rule, but you can't expect it to always be true. My Mother, for example, had no thoughts of ruling the world. When I was a child she was doing her best to hang on to her sanity with both hands. Now that we're grown you can see that Mom did a good job. Almost all of her sanity is still left. Well, a good deal is. To be fair let's call it half.

Still, I think she did a wonderful job considering who her two sons are. It's not easy to keep your grip on reality when everyday you have to face a young Jeremy and Josh. We were always getting into something. I argued like a lawyer and Josh was as cunning as an international jewel thief. Between the two of us we could have frazzled anybody.

Mom could bear up under it most of the time. To the outside observer it would seem as if she rarely lost her cool. However, you can't just go from the outside. You can't feel that a person must be alright just because when you ask them how they feel they say “alright...” You have to learn to look below the surface. You have to see past the proud front people put up. The old saying “Actions speak louder than words.” is right on the money. If you want to know how a person is feeling you can't trust what they say, you have to watch what they do.

This is important to understand as I unfold this tale. My mother may have always seemed like she was keeping things together. It may have seemed that she was never at the end of her rope. You just can't trust appearances. As you read you must open your mind and consider the question “What would make a person do that?” Then you will have some insight into what my brother and I did to our mother's mind.

We were heading to Allendale one beautiful spring morning. Papa (my mom's dad, as it were) was preaching there at the time. Strictly speaking he was retired, but he loved to preach and people loved to hear him, so it was for the happiness of all concerned that he became a preacher in Allendale. This trip had been made once a week for months if not years. Every aspect of the road was completely familiar to our entire family. This is important to note because the more familiar one becomes with a road the less likely they are to pay attention as they drive down it.

Now, Dad drove everywhere we ever went at any time for any reason. Like most rules though it had it's exceptions. If Dad were sick or something like that Mom would have to drive. She didn't like doing it, but she would if she had to. Some of you may think that Mom didn't like to drive out of some natural timidity. Allow me to set that point strait at the onset. Mom drove where ever she needed to when Dad wasn't around. It was only when Dad was in the car that she didn't want to drive. Again, some of you may get the wrong idea. The mind naturally leaps to the possibility that he criticized her driving. Well, he didn't.

So, why didn't she like to drive with him in the car? Well, you would look like a crazy person if you sat there saying things like: “You're about to miss the turn!” “That light's red!” “Watch that squirrel!” while you were the one driving. Yes, Mom loves side seat driving. It seems to me that she enjoys it much more than driving herself. She is of a nervous disposition and, once you've known her for a while, you have to wonder if she doesn't like it that way. She would get out of the car shaking all over with her knuckles white from holding on to the edge of her seat after trips up town with Dad when they were just going to get milk.

For those of you who have never ridden with my Dad I have to tell you that he is an excellent driver. I don't think he has ever been in an accident with another vehicle from the time I was born. He could lull wild tigers to sleep with his calm, cool driving on most occasions. That is to say when Mom isn't in the car. When she is there barking orders and adding in “Oh my goodness!” every thirty seconds things begin to break down for Dad. He can only take so much before the car begins to bob and weave like a champion fighter. I have been there for some close shaves that you wouldn't believe.

All this is really beside the point, however, because on the day in question Mom was at the wheel. Dad did not do to Mom what Mom did to Dad. She didn't drive as well as him, but if she was driving he minded his business. Of course, as a passenger one has a duty to point out anything that the driver may have missed that could endanger all concerned.

So, when Dad looked up and saw a cow standing in the middle of the road he thought it best to mention it.

“Do you see that cow?”


“Ok. I only asked because you weren't slowing down.”


At this point one would have thought she would have slowed down, but no. This concerned Dad a little. He was all for letting her drive her way, but he didn't want to hit a cow. So, overcoming his repugnance for side seat driving he spoke again.

“Babara, do you see the cow?”


“Well, why aren't you slowing down.”

“Do I need to?”

Keep in mind that during this exchange we were all in a car moving at roughly fifty-five miles an hour aimed straight at a cow. I am certain that Mom's last response threw dad off a bit. He paused for a second. It was probably running through his mind that his wife was trying to see how close she could get to the cow before slamming on the brakes. It was an odd game of chicken for a forty year old woman to be playing. After just a few moments Dad decided that he disapproved.

“Barbara stop!”


At this point we were almost up to brake squealing distance from the cow. Dad realized he was going to have to change strategies if we were going to be saved. Even Joshua and I realized something was wrong. Each of us took up his own section of the chorus. Dad came in with the simple bass line:

“Cow! Cow! Cow!”

I added my own at a slightly higher pitch:

“Mom there's a cow! Mom there's a cow! Mom there's a cow!”

Josh took up the high notes:

“Cow in the road! Cow in the road! Cow in the road!”

It was something right along those lines anyway. After what seemed like an eternity the switch in her brain finally flipped. She stomped on the brake peddle as if she were trying to kick it through the bottom of the car. The vehicle came to a screeching halt and smoke billowed around us. The cow looked slowly up at us and then finished crossing the road. After a chest clutching pause Dad decided to ask Mom why she had gone about things the way she had.

“Why did you wait that long to hit the brakes?”

“I didn't see the cow!”

“Ah... Then why did you say that you did see the cow?”

“I thought you meant one of those cows in that field!”

“Ah... Why would I have warned you about the cows in the field? They are in the field, not in the road.”

“Well, I would have warned you about them!”


That was really all anyone could have said in reply. She was being perfectly honest. Mom didn't realize that Dad was warning her about a cow in the road because she would have warned him about the cows in the field. Since she was looking at the cows in the field she didn't see the one standing in the road. Now, all that makes sense from a certain point of view. That point of view is, of course, insane, but I suppose it's still a point of view...

Now, no one can tell me that a woman who is driving down the road at fifty-five miles an hour heading strait for a cow while watching other cows frolic in a field has complete control of her faculties. Whatever her mind had wandered away to it was not on the road with the cow in it. However, in her defense, I can see how living with Dad, Joshua and myself would do that to a person. Still, the fact remains that Mom didn't always have all of her marbles. So those of you who thought differently now know better.

I have also decided to include a story to instruct certain members of the public who generally misunderstand my Mother's disposition. Many people that I have met seem to believe my Mother is “Saint Barbara, patron of putting up with other people's abuse with quiet dignity and grace”. Now, I am here to tell you that my Mother, although an excellent woman, is no saint. (At least from the Catholic definition.)

There are times when my Mother could make the buddha say “I finally have a desire! I want you to shut up!” Gandhi himself might very well have drawn his hand back to strike her before his better qualities stopped him. Mom sometimes reminds me of that verse from the Bible about a nagging woman being like a constant dripping. Again, my Mom is one of the best women I've ever met, but nobody's perfect!

I was on the cusp between sixteen and seventeen. Mom had been following me around the house nagging me about a long list of things that I can't remember. I was getting ready for school and was quickly getting annoyed. I began to mock her more and more as my level of annoyance increased. Finally I said something that really offended her. She drew back and swung at me as hard as she could. She meant to slap my teeth out!

Now, Mom is four foot ten or so. She claims she is one inch too tall to be a midget. My wife says that Mom lies and that she is, in fact, legally a midget. Either way, the point is that “as hard as she could” wasn't really all that hard. Plus, of course, I was much bigger than her (not big by any means, but bigger than her) and was used to sparring with guys my age who were much bigger than me.

She swung at me with everything she had. I caught her hand before she was within a foot of my face. I held her right wrist in my left hand and she couldn't begin to tear away from my grip.

“Look Mom, if you want to spank me that's fine, but you' can't slap me in the face.”

She stared at me with daggers in her eyes. As soon as I let her right hand go she swung at me with her left. Again, I caught it with ease. I stood there looking at her with her left wrist in my right hand this time. I actually laughed at her.

“Come on Mom. You're too old and I'm too fast. If you want to spank me I'll stand there and take it, but you aren't going to slap me in the face.”

Now, it was wrong to speak to my mother that way, I see that now. However, I am actually a patient person. Many of you would have already slapped her by this time. I know you don't believe me, but you weren't there!

During the end of this exchange I had actually been brushing my teeth. So after I had scolded her I turned my back on her in order to spit into the sink. She saw her opportunity. She jumped up behind me like some ninja dwarf and slapped me in the face from behind. In point of fact, she busted my nose. I was shocked! Up to this point I hadn't been angry, but that suddenly changed. I turned around bleeding to look her in the face. She was staring up at me beaming with the glow of success. I began my monolog:

“Well, I guess you can be proud of yourself! You did manage to hit me! Of course, you did it from behind, but we won't worry about that. Now, I offered to let you spank me, but that wasn't good enough for you, you wanted to slap me. Well, now you've busted my nose and I'm leaving!”

She threw her little body between me and the door.

“You're not going anywhere!”

“Now see, that's where you're wrong. I am your son and I love you, but I am much bigger than you and much much stronger. Now, you will get out of my way or I will pick you up and move you out of my way. Dad may beat me to death, but you're not going to stop me!”

Some of you may be thinking that at this point you would have put me in my place. Allow me to assure you that you wouldn't. I had been trained by both my parents not to take anything from anyone. I was as tough as nails and could have fought off several guys my size. Mom wasn't my size and didn't have half my strength. She could have gotten the shot gun and killed me, but I guess she felt that it would have been a bit extreme. She looked up at me considering the situation and then jumped to the side to give me a clear path to the door.

I stormed out into the yard and sat down on a stump while trying to stop the bleeding. Mom stood there looking at me through the door for a moment.

“Come inside.”

“No thanks!”

“You have to go to school.”

“No I don't!”

“Well, you need to.”

“I don't care! Even if you call Dad to come out here and beat me to death, I ain't moving! You hit me from behind and busted my nose. You go do whatever you want, I'm not doing anything but sitting on this stump and try to stop bleeding.”

This was too much for Mom. She really hadn't meant to bust my nose. It was simply a matter of her loosing her cool. When she ran into my absolute refusal to do what she told me she didn't know what to do. If she had called Dad he would have come home from work and beat my brains out, but at that point I was ready to let him and that's not really what she wanted. It upset her so much she started crying. Now, for those of you who don't know it, that's pretty much melts my resolve. Still, I kept up a bold face as best I could. She opened another dialog:

“Jeremy why don't you come inside?”

“I'm going to sit out here for a while.”

“Come in and you don't have to go to school.”

“Well, alright I guess. Just give me a few minutes.”

Josh had been watching this entire scene play out silently. At this point he broke his silence.

“Yes! No school!”

Mom replied:

“What do you mean?!? You go get ready! You're going to school!”

“Mom that's not fair!”

“I don't care! You get ready and get in the car before I cut your behind!”

Josh hung his head and walked away murmuring.

“Yea... The good kid, he goes to school! The bad kid, he get's to stay home playing! What a load!”

I have to admit that it wasn't fair. Mom had just had enough and wasn't going to take any flak from Josh. She took him to school and I got a “Stay Home Free” card because Mom had busted my nose. The point of the story is simple. My Mom is a great woman, but not a saint. If you try hard enough you can get her to give you a bloody nose!

Happy Mother's Day everyone!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Christopher Holland: Destruction's Handyman

This is a tale from my more mature years. It concerns that walking accident Chris Holland. For those of you who don't know him I'll describe Chris a bit. Imagine, if you will, a puppy. A loving, bouncing, cheerful, cuddly puppy. A puppy that is six foot one and weighs one hundred and eighty pounds. A puppy at the height of it's awkward stage that can't run three feet without tripping over the rug, tumbling into a table, knocking over a vase that is destined to roll into the path of some passerby tripping them down a set of stairs.

That, in essence, was and is Chris Holland. In fact, he became so famous in our group for it that the phrase “Chrised it up” was born. An example: “What happened here? There is water everywhere!” “Well, I was going to mop and totally Chrised it up...” When you combine his inability to walk in a strait line with his inherit desire to always be helpful you get a very rare thing. In short, you get Destruction's Handyman.

Right after Chris graduated he took a job working with Joshua, Jonathan, Adrian and myself. On his first day we decided to clean out the old camper we were using for an office. It was full of all kinds of junk that we didn't need and that was just taking up space. Most of this stuff was completely harmless. In fact, it was so harmless that even Chris couldn't hurt himself on it and that is saying something. However, one of the items was a small gas stove. It had a bit of a sharp edge and caught my notice as my brother and I were pulling it out of the camper.

Josh opened the dialog:

“We better set this well out of the way. With all of us going in and out of the camper somebody could trip over it or worse.”

“I was thinking the same thing. Especially with Chris helping us.”

“I know... That crossed my mind as well.”

We set the stove down say ten or twelve feet from the path we were using. It was our feeling that someone would have to go out of their way to run into it with it that far out. Knowing Chris as well as we did this was almost inexcusable. We should have immediately wrapped it up in old sheets until it was a large soft ball and then hauled it to the dump without delay. However, we underestimated him and didn't take the necessary precautions.

Perhaps ten minutes later I had sat down on a log with a load of video game manuals. (We worked for a video game company, so it was part of my job.) I was reading through them determining what we needed to keep and to trash. I saw Chris walk along and bump into the stove over the edge of the manual I was reading. I thought to myself that I should have seen it coming, but I ignored it. Chris walked over to me and stood there in front of me. I refused to look up and pretended to be completely involved in the manual I was looking at. I felt certain that whatever harm had befallen him it wasn't worth looking up over it.

After a moment Chris spoke:

“Bro, I'm hurt.”

“Are you?”


“Is it bad?”

“I think so. I don't want to look.”

At this I lowered my book. Immediately I wished I had done it sooner. The poor guy had managed to cut himself right below the kneecap. It was more of a gash really than a cut. I started yelling orders and we got Chris to a seat and started working to control the bleeding.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I'm not sure. I just bumped into that stove and it cut me.”

“Well, the bleeding isn't stopping. You are going to have to hold this paper towel on it long enough for me to go to town. We need some supplies.”


One quick trip to town later and we were back with saline, pain killer spray and butter fly bandages.

“First I am going to spray some of this pain killer on it, then the saline, then I will bandage it up.”


I sprayed the wound with pain killer.



“Ahhh! What is that stuff?”

“Pain killer...”

“Ahhh! Well it doesn't work!!!”

I sprayed the saline on it expecting him to really scream.

“Oh... much better. Wash that 'pain killer' off of me. Wash it with saline all you like, but please no more 'pain killer'...”

After a while we finally stopped the bleeding and called it a days work. One would think that at some point Chris would have begun to understand that he was a danger to himself and everyone around. One would hope that he would become more cautious. He didn't for as long as he was working with us, however. The next great project we took on was building a new office to replace the old camper.

For this tale I will pass by much of the story and get right to the next great Chris exploit. I was working on the roof of the new office. It was in the middle of a heat wave and I wanted to get done as quickly as possible. Chris had volunteered to help me in order to speed me along. I considered the offer for perhaps three one hundredths of a second before I rejected the idea. It was kind of him to offer, but there was no way he would speed me up.

I started rolling the tar paper out on the bare wooden roof. I only tacked it in a few places because I was in a hurry. I figured I was about to shingle the entire roof anyway, so the paper only needed to be tacked up. While I was working on it Chris popped his head up over the edge of the roof.

“You sure you don't need any help?”

“No thanks Chris I got it.”

“You sure?”

“Yea, this shouldn't take me long at all.”

He stood on the top of the ladder watching me work. I got one side of the roof tar papered in around five minutes or so and then went to the other side. I rolled out the tar paper and tacked it down. All that was left to do was to run a strip down the middle and then I was ready to start putting down shingles.

Here I need to mention the fact that the building itself was only twelve by twelve. That means that each side of the roof was close to eight feet. It important to note that Chris is just over six feet tall so he could cover most of the length of one side with his body. Now, you may be asking yourself why that is important to note. The reason will become clear soon.

Just as I got to the point where I could see over the peek of the roof I saw Chris. He was standing on the top of the ladder preparing to step off onto the roof. He had one leg completely stretched out to it's full length as if he was trying to get as far onto the roof as he could in a single step. I attempted to yell “Stop!”, but I was too late.

He dropped his foot like a lead weight. It looked more like someone throwing a board up onto the roof than stepping out onto it. His leg was as rigid as if it had been made of granite. As soon as his foot touched the roof, that is to say the tar paper, he shifted all his weight in order to make one mighty step.

The results were simple enough. The tar paper ripped and Chris slipped and slapped the roof like a flyswatter. The tar paper that wrapped around his feet took all of his traction and he began to slide off with amazing speed. He did the only thing he could think of and began to roll around as he descended. I suppose he was trying to find any part of his body that still had enough grip to keep him on the roof. It was no use. The more he rolled around the more he became encased in tar paper. By the time he reached the edge of the roof he looked like a tar paper mummy.

All this happened in a flash. All I had time to do was yell.

“Chris! Chris! Chris! Chris! Chris! Chris!”

There was nothing else to say...

By the grace of God he was barefoot. As he slid the last few inches that separated his behind from the edge of the roof he caught the ladder with one toe. I know it's amazing, almost unbelievable, but that's how it happened. He had caught the ladder with one pinky toe. It wasn't much, but it was enough. It stopped his slide long enough for him to slap a bare hand on the roof. He didn't fall!

As he sat there panting for breath and completely wrapped in tar paper I opened a dialog.

“Ok Chris, first start tearing off the tar paper and drop it off the roof.” He obeyed at once.

“Now, I want you to understand a couple of things. First, if I need your help I will let you know. I will say something like 'Chris, I need your help.' Then I will tell you exactly what I need you to do. So, you don't need to do what you just did again until you hear me say 'Chris, I need your help. Come up here and tear all the tar paper off the roof'.”

He hung his head and apologized. I don't remember if I laughed then, I was still shook up by the fact that he had almost fallen off the roof. However, I've laughed a lot about it since then. It was worth twenty five cents worth of tar paper and ten minutes work in one hundred and three degrees to get the story. Chris was and is something else...

I hope everyone enjoyed this.