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!

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