Sunday, August 29, 2010

Still Waters Run Deep

Most people have childhood stories centered around the old swimming hole and I am certainly no different. My grandmother's pond was the source of many a story. Her house and yard in general were great fun, but that little body of water provided something more. Everywhere we went there were woods filled with adventure, but not everywhere had a pond. We went fishing and swimming as well as boating. It was a source of great fun.

To begin with we have to go back to a time when I still lived right beside that old pond. We lived in a trailer in Grandma's back yard at the time. I couldn't have been over six, because I was that old when we moved to Williston. The story takes place on an unusually cold South Carolina winter. It had gotten so cold, in fact, that the pond was frozen over. The ice was so thick you could walk on it.

I know that at this point many people will be thinking “So what... A frozen pond is no big deal!” Well, keep in mind this is South Carolina. I've stepped on top of a pond roughly three times down here and I'm over thirty years old. It's not something that happens to us every winter. It's like when you tell stories of how it got to be over one hundred degrees for a week that time. It's a big deal to you even if it makes us all laugh.

Dad was very excited about the whole thing. He still gets excited about things like a child would. I do the same in fact. It's important to hold on to your youth. (Dad has managed to do a very good job of it.) In addition to the frozen pond we had gotten snow. (Again, I know it's not a big deal to everyone, just run with me here.) As a result he decided that we needed to do something fun with it while it lasted. After a few minutes contemplation he went and got the hood of an old Volkswagen Beetle.

There are actually a few stories about that Beetle that culminate in it catching on fire and burning up Dad's dream, but that, as they say, is another story. The point for the moment is that the hood was left and that Dad had gotten it while Mom and me stood there looking around the winter wonder land. As soon as Dad got back he explained his plan.

“We can use this as a sled.” Said Dad as he started to walk up one of the hills beside the pond.

“I don't think that's a good idea.” Replied Mom. (Mom likes to say that to Dad every time he has an idea just to make sure he's serious about whatever it is.)

“Why not?”

“You're going to end up in the pond.”

“The pond is frozen. We've walked on it already.”

“I know, but you'll break through.”


“I don't know.”

Mom has never put together the fact that this kind of talk drives Dad on to do whatever it is he's set out to do. All she had done was make him more determined to slide down the hill and out onto the pond. He got to the top, put his sled down and hopped on. He flew to the bottom and out onto the pond in a blaze of snow. Needless to say that as soon as I had seen Dad do it I wanted to as well. While this in no way pleased Mom it made Dad very happy.

I walked up to the top of the hill with him. He climbed on board his Volkswagen sled and I sat in his lap in front of him. He pushed off and we flew down the hill. My added weight meant added momentum, so when we hit the pond we slid out further toward the middle than Dad had alone. Of course, my added weight also meant, well, added weight. So as we slid out to a thin spot we were heaver than Dad had been alone. The result was simple: we broke right through the ice.

Dad grabbed me and made for shore. Fortunately he could stand on the bottom where we were. Unfortunately he couldn't climb back up on the ice. It just broke before him as he tried to climb up here and there. Still, all things considered we were very close to the shore and in less than a minute we were both standing there soaking wet in the freezing cold.

“I told you that would happen!” Mom said as we headed back to the house.

I won't bother to record Dad's reply. It was one of the many cases where Mom had just happened to be right when she made a completely blind guess. Dad was also annoyed that the hood of the Beetle was now at the bottom of the pond. He never did get it back out. That was end of the sled and of the old Volkswagen.

The next tale takes place when I was a teenager. Sam, Josh and I had gone to stay with Uncle Grover and Uncle Hans for a few weeks in the summer. Almost every day found us out on or in the pond. We would often row around in the old john boat lazily fishing for an hour or so. We often had a good catch, but we weren't allowed to keep what we caught.

Uncle Hans and Uncle Grover didn't believe in killing things to eat them. Oh, they believed in eating meat whenever you could get it, but only if it was already cleaned and processed. Now, by this time Grandmother had already passed away so it was just us and the bachelors. They weren't as careful about feeding themselves or us as Grandma might have been.

Everyday we scrounged for whatever we could find to eat. Hunger was increasing each day and it was with increased pain that we put our catch back into the pond. Each night there was one light at the end of the tunnel. Uncle Hans was going to bake a cake. One night we had carrot cake, the next German chocolate. On and on it went for weeks.

In the end Sam and Josh finally cracked. They had been fishing on the far side of the pond and caught a big Bass. The view from the trailer to that part of the pond was blocked by a small forest of pine trees. They decided to take a chance. They landed the boat cleaned the fish and started a fire. They then roasted and ate the fish. Both of them claimed that they would have come to get me, but both were afraid of raising the alarm. After weeks of the cake only diet the fish seemed like manna from heaven in the wilderness. (Uncle Hans and Uncle Grover have never heard this story. I ask them to keep in mind that the fish killers were starving children and to look within their hearts to find forgiveness.)

All this is only to set the scene really. During that Summer we did all kinds of things to keep our minds off the hunger. (Some of you may be wondering why we stayed in this starving condition. Well, UG and UH were and are great fun. It was more than worth loosing twenty pounds. Even when you hadn't weighed a hundred to start with.) One of the things we were allowed to do was to dig through everything Uncle Grover and Uncle Hans owned provided that it wasn't actually in their bedrooms. Even there we were allowed to mess with almost everything.

As we were digging through one of the sheds we stumbled upon some old diving equipment. It was like finding a pile of gold to us. Each of us had always wanted to go scuba diving. We pulled everything we could find out and piled it up. We were ecstatic! There were some old face masks, a number of wet suits and some old respirator equipment. Then it hit us... No air tanks! We stayed calm. All we needed to do was wait until Uncle Grover got home and then ask him where the tanks were.

“We found a bunch of your old scuba equipment today.” I started when he came home.

“That's good.” He replied.

“You don't care if we use it?”

“What? No, go ahead!” He said with a smile. (Honestly, neither UH or UG ever stopped us from doing anything that wasn't dangerous.)

“So, we couldn't find the tanks. Do you know where they are?”

“Oh... I gave them away.”

“To who?”

“Some guy. I don't remember.” He said laughing.


“Well, I mean I gave them to one of my scuba friends. It could have been...” Here he started to list a bunch of people that I had never heard of.

“So, no chance of getting them back.”

“None. Sorry!”

Well, it was a setback, but we generally accepted such things with quiet dignity and grace. The next day we decided to pull the wetsuits out and see what we had. Josh and I had found tops and bottoms that would fit us and were soon wet-suited up. Sam went with a one piece suit that zipped up the side. After he had slipped into it he looked like a Scottish Jacques Cousteau. As soon as we were all attired we went and jumped in the pond.

It was my first experience with a wetsuit and I have to say it was amazing. At first cold water poured into the suit and it was freezing. However, as soon as it was full of water it started to warm up to body temperature. Once it was warm it stayed warm. We swam around enjoying the sensation for about an hour. It was just the three of us and we weren't willing to swim out too far in the old pond. Occasionally you would see alligators around, so it was best to stay close to shore.

Finally we all climbed out and started stripping off our wetsuits. Josh and I had no problem. The separate tops and bottoms came off just like shirts and pants. Sam on the other hand ran into a little trouble. His zipper unzipped about eight inches and got stuck. He pulled at it furiously for a minute or so and then realized he couldn't handle it alone.

“Hey Germ, help me with this zipper.” Sam said still fighting with it. (Germ was one of my childhood nicknames. Sam and Uncle Grover still use it.)

“No problem bro!” I replied as I stepped over to help him.

I pulled as hard as I could, but the zipper would move.

“It's stuck!”

“Yea, I know. That's why I asked for help...”

“Ok, hold on.”

I jerked on that zipper with everything I had. It didn't budge.

“It's not going to move. We're just going to have to get you out of the unzipped part.” I said.

“There's no way! It's like eight or nine inches tops!”

“Well, it's that or stay in the suit. I ain't cutting it up.”

“Fine. How do we go about it?”

“Let's get your arm out first.”

Here it will be impossible to describe what happened. The twisting, turning and squirming was fantastic to see, but to write it out would take pages. Imagine someone trying to win a gymnastic, limbo and interpretive dance competition all at one time. Slowly we worked and pulled and stretched the suit. I almost had one of Sam's arms out when it slipped from my grasp. The rubber was stretched out and it slapped Sam's arm down to his side. His upper arm, elbow and lower arm were all out of the suit, but his shoulder and wrist were still in. The resulting position left him looking like a modernized Gainsborough's blue boy. It might have been entitled “Gainsborough's scuba boy” or something. (I know that not all of you may be familiar with the painting which is why I posted it in the blog.)

For a few minutes all I could do was laugh. Sam stood there yelling and straining against the rubber, but the more he fought the more I laughed. He spun around in a circle waving his elbow like a chicken wing as he tried to pull his wrist out. It was no good, he couldn't do it himself. Finally I got myself under control and again started helping Sam out. I got his arm out, but the result was that the suit was stretched up on one side and, if anything, even titer on him.

“We're going to have to go all the way and try to get your head out next.”

“Fine! I'm burning alive in this thing!”

We had been standing in the summer sun for twenty minutes fighting this suit with all our energy. The fact that it was jet black didn't help keep it cool. Sam was begging to understand how meat in a crock pot felt.

We began to pull and shove and stretch again. Slowly, but surely, he got his head twisted around to the hole. He jammed his face into it with all his strength. As his head began to emerge it pulled the skin back on his face, made his eyes roll back in his head and pulled his lids back as far as they would go. His mouth was pulled open and he was yelling with everything he had as he put every once of strength he could into gaining freedom.

It looked as if some wild dark animal was giving birth to a possessed Scotsman. Had I walked up on something like that in the woods I would have run for my life. As it was I had to stop helping because I was laughing so hard. At last his head popped out and after that, just like in a normal delivery, the rest was easy. He lay there breathing in the free air for a moment while Josh and I laughed until we were about to cry. Sam had won his freedom and he never again dared to put on that accursed suit.

It's been a long, long time since we went down to that old pond. We all grew up and got busy. I still think of it though on hot days when I wish I could take a dip or go fishing in that old john boat. I can't go back to those days, but I carry them on with me as memories. That's where most of reality is, in our past. Moments fly by too fast for us to truly consider them, but as we look back at them as memories we are able to consider all their shades. As I sit here quietly contemplating these deep thoughts it proves the old saying: “Still waters run deep”.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Walk Like A Man

Every young boy aims at manhood. Each goes through certain rights of passage whether or not they are defined by the culture he lives in. In some countries of the world boys are stretched out on a table and slowly tattooed in a painful process that covers most of their bodies. In other countries, like America for instance, there is no predefined ritual. You go from boy to man on a single day. The reward is registering with selective service and the ability to vote and the right to hold a full time job. Plus you are allowed to buy cigarettes because of all the stress you're under due to the life changes you've had in the last twenty-four hours. They still don't allow you to drink because the changes have been so sudden that it would make too many alcoholics.

The lack of a set ritual causes boys to make up their own. It also creates a situation where boys have to defend their macho image at all costs. Once your manhood has been challenged you have to do whatever it takes to defend it. That is what these stories are about. They deal with gauntlets that were thrown down and how they were picked up.

Mainly these tales are centered around Chris Tuttle. He, as I have mentioned before, was an instigator. He loved to shake things up and then watch them slowly settle so he could shake them up again. He truly loved the snow globe of life. This first brief tale open with he and my cousin Louis having a discussion.

“You think you could swallow a sand spur?” Louis asked as he held a stock covered with them in between his fingers looking at it.

For those of you who don't know what a sand spur is it's one of the curses of the South. (They may be all over the country, but I live down here, so I wouldn't know.) They are a type of grass that house their seeds in spiked shells. The spikes are horrid and if you ever step on one you will never forget what they are. Each seed pod looks like the end of a medieval mace that has been warped by a nightmare. It was one of these that Louis was contemplating.

“I'm sure I could if I wanted too.” Chris replied dryly.

“You sure you wouldn't be afraid of choking?”

“I'm not afraid of much.”

“Well... Why don't you swallow one then?”

“That sounds like a good idea, actually. I'm sure you'll join me.”

“Of course.”

Chris picked his own head of sand spurs and pulled one off. He stood there considering it for a moment and Louis decided to encourage him.

“We don't have to if you're scared.”

“No, no. I was taking my time to enjoy the moment.”

“Well, after you.” Louis said with a smile.

Chris put it in his mouth and made a series of outlandish faces as he slowly worked it down his throat.

“Excellent. Now it's your turn.”

“Of course.”

Louis put one in his mouth and somehow choked it down.

“That was good.” said Chris beaming.

“Yes, it was. We'll have to do it again sometime.”

“Yes, we will.”

Needless to say they never did. Chris later claimed that it must have jammed right in the bottom of his throat and that he could feel it for days afterwards. Chris and Louis were constantly questioning each other's manhood in the most outlandish ways and these challenges were always answered.

I remember ending up somewhere with them when they had a bag of boiled peanuts. I asked if I could have one and they told me to help myself. So I grabbed one, shelled it and ate it. Now, under most circumstances that action wouldn't merit comment. However, when Chris and Louis were around one could never tell.

“Look at the way he eats them.” Chris said chuckling at me.

“What?” I asked.

“Well, you took the shell off.”


“That's what children do. Men eat them shell and all. Isn't that right Louis.”

“Oh yes, they're much better for you that way.” He replied.

“They taste better too.” Chris added.

“Absolutely.” Louis agreed.

Many young boys might have just grabbed one up and eaten it shell and all to prove he was a man. I didn't. I knew Chris and Louis far too well to trust them. So I continued the discussion.

“So, you like them shells and all?”

“We do.” They agreed.

“Show me.” I said innocently.

Without a moment's hesitation show me they did. Each grabbed a few and threw them in their mouth and ate them. The entire time they were commenting to each other about how good they were with the shells on. This was enough to persuade me to try it. I did. My recommendation to you is simply this: Don't try it. It wasn't like eating a lemon peel or anything, but it was a lot like eating a piece of hemp rope. As I pulled it out of my mouth I expected them to laugh at me. It seemed obvious that all this had been the build up for a joke. However, no laughter, only comment.

“Can't eat them, eh? Well, you're still young.” Chris said encouragingly.

“Yea, you're tastes will change in time, no doubt.” Louis added.

You see, I thought the joke had been on me, but I was wrong. The peanut shells were another gauntlet of manhood. Chris had thrown it down to Louis, not to me. Once the challenge was accepted there was no going back. Between the two of them they finished the entire bag, shells and all. This is a good example of why our culture needs some definite right of passage for manhood. If Chris and Louis hadn't grown up fast enough it might have resulted in things like “A real man can drink twenty cups of coffee in thirty minutes” or “What makes a man a man is the ability to get hit in the head with a croquet mallet and walk it off”. The fact that the in-between period didn't last long is probably the only thing that saved their lives.

That's not to say that these challenges stop once a man is grown. No, in some areas the battle still rages and the gauntlet can still be thrown down. No man wants to be regarded as the weak one. So when a challenge comes calling most men try to meet it.

Five of us had to head down to Summerville to rent tuxedos for my wedding. Chris was driving. Jonathan was riding shotgun. Joshua, Brandyn, and I were riding in the back seat. It was February and a little cold, but we were all well prepared. In fact after we we done at the tailor's we all climbed in the car wearing heavy winter coats. Chris turned the heat on full blast and we started the two hour ride home.

We had been riding along for a few minutes with the car getting hotter and hotter and I realized that Chris was distracted and hadn't turned the heat down. Just as I was about to ask him to turn it down he spoke.

“You guys aren't getting hot are you? If you can't take it I can turn it down.” He said smiling at us in the rear view mirror.

I realized immediately that the heat was a challenge. He wasn't going to turn it off until one of us asked for it.

“I'm good.” I said.

“I as well.” Josh chimed in.

“Brandyn?” Chris asked.

“I'm just a little cold.” He replied as he bundled up in his coat. (Of all of us he was dressed most warmly.”

“Jonathan?” Chris continued.

“No, no, I'm fine.” Was his firm response.

So we continued along. Mile after mile, minute after minute, as the car got hotter and hotter. No one dared to take off their coats or complain about the heat. I remember sitting there covered in sweat feeling sorry for Brandyn in his thick Starter jacket. Chris seemed to think Brandyn would be the first to crack.

“You alright Brandyn?” He asked a few minutes later.

“Can you turn the heat up?” He responded.

“No, it's as high as it will go.”

“It's all right. I can take the cold.”

So on we continued, avoiding the subject of the growing heat. The minutes seemed to begin to stretch out. It didn't take long for the thirst to set in. The amount of water we were loosing through sweat was considerable. One couldn't help but begin to envy the people who were outside on that cool February day. Each of us knew that all he had to do was say “I'm hot” and the heat would be turned down and everyone would be glad. None of us would though. None of us were willing to be the one to fail the challenge.

At last we pulled up to Chris's house. As soon as the car stopped the doors flew open and we poured out like water. Each of us threw his coat off and started taking as deep a breaths as he could. We all confessed that we probably couldn't have gone another fifty feet while we were standing out there in the yard. I've never again had cold feel as good as it did that evening.

You may be thinking that we did a foolish thing by getting out of a hot car and breathing ice cold air as deeply as we could. However, you have to remember that cold doesn't make people sick, germs do. Of course, Brandyn did get a cold and Chris and Josh got the flu, but Jonathan and I were alright, so it's probably just a coincidence.

The moral of all this is simply that a man will do a lot to keep his masculine image. It's very important to him. No matter what the experts may believe it's just part of man's nature. In places where there is a defined right of passage boys go through whatever it is to become men. Where there are no defined rules each boy makes up his own measure for himself. I can't help but wonder what my boys will do when it's their turn to become men. Whatever it is, it will probably be worth laughing at.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Not Guilty

I've known a few people that claimed they didn't do it right up to the point where they were convicted. After they served their times, payed their fines or worked off their debt to society there was no longer any point in lying about it so they confessed. However, I only know one man that was actually innocent every time he got pulled up in front of the judge and yet never got let off. Not that I blame the judges he certainly looked guilty. If the judge had known what I knew he would have been acquitted.

The first couple of charges that Jesse got nabbed for certainly weren't his fault. I'm going to gloss over the details here because I don't want to stir anything up. In point of fact I've changed the names of everyone except Jesse. (Using person A and person B is too much trouble.) The main points are these: Jesse was given a prescription by Suzie Q (not her real name). This prescription was for pain medication. The medication needed picked up from the pharmacy. At the pharmacy Jesse was arrested for passing fake prescriptions.

This would be enough to annoy anyone. Jesse was no exception. No one wants to be arrested for running up town for their kinfolk. He did the only thing he could think to do. He squealed. I think he was absolutely justified and completely right to do just that. The problem was that he didn't have any evidence. So, as he was the one that handed the prescription to the pharmacist he was the one that had to pay the debt to society.

His second conviction was similar. Again he was given a prescription. This time by Juliette (Again, not her real name.) What Jesse didn't know was that Juliette still trusted Suzie Q. So, when Suzie Q asked Juliette to get a prescription filled for her she had no problem saying she would. When Jesse showed up at Juliette's place, he was asked to run a prescription up town for her. He did it and was again caught for passing a fake prescription.

After that Jesse didn't take prescriptions up to the pharmacy for anyone. I certainly agree with his attitude. Fortunately Jesse was still a minor at the time and so he only got a couple of slaps on the wrist. His next conviction could have been much more serious even though it was no more his fault than those first two.

It all began with Brandyn dating some guy's x-girlfriend. This guy was big, bad and mean and passed word through the grapevine that he intended to kill Brandyn. Now, most threats like that a man can ignore, but I will point out that Williston is a tough town depending on which side of it you're on. Brandyn was the type of guy that was usually on the wrong side. (I'm sure at this point most of the Willistonians are laughing because I said Williston is a tough town. Let me ask you this: how many murders do you remember hearing about around here? Exactly! It's safe enough if you mind your own business and don't go getting into things you shouldn't. However, you can end up dead if you mess with the wrong people.)

In any event Brandyn decided it would be best to take precautions. Now, a logical person would have avoided this guy like the plague or got the police involved or some such thing as that. Some might even think that a rational person wouldn't get involved with a girl that had been involved with a guy like that. Still, Brandyn was known for many things, but not for reason and logic. He decided the best thing to do was to take his twenty gauge shotgun and cut most of the barrel off with a hack saw. That way he could hide it in his jacket and if this guy jumped him he would be able to defend himself.

Now, if any of this was known to Jesse it was only by the vaguest rumor. So, when he and Brandyn and Josh decided to head down to Charleston, Jesse had no idea that Brandyn had hidden a sawed off shotgun in his trunk. It might seem a difficult thing to do, sneaking something like that in someone's trunk without them knowing it. However they were riding in Jesse's Mustang at the time so it was simple matter for Brandyn to throw the gun over the back seat and into the hatchback trunk. It's important to keep the thought that Jesse had no idea about the gun on the tip of your brain. It will make what happens next easier to understand.

They had pulled up to a gas station to get a few drinks and what have you. They were in a hurry and so Josh ran in by himself. Jesse and Brandyn decided that it would be a good idea to talk to this bum that was hanging out at the station in spite of the fact that it was around midnight. I'm not sure exactly what they said to him, but it was enough to merit dropping his disguise.

Yes, the bum turned out to be an undercover cop, or narc as we called them, and he thought three teenage boys out in the middle of the night were probably up to no good. To be fair to the cop I'm certain they were up to no good, although I don't have any proof of that either. I feel certain that the Narc was just going to give them a hard time and let them go. I believe he just wanted to put a little fear in them.

He searched them and asked them where they were headed and why. Then he started searching the car. He asked Jesse if he could search first of course and Jesse, knowing there was nothing in the car, told him to go ahead. When he got to the trunk he went to open it, but it was stuck. Jesse's Mustang had a small problem with the latch and it would often stick. Now, the cop was ready to give up on the trunk and let them go, but Jesse wouldn't hear of it.

“Here, let me show you.” He said as he stepped up to the car and hit it just right.

Jesse loved to show people how much he knew about his car. Every quirk, every tick and every tiny little problem, he knew each one. His car was unique, just like he was. He liked to look like an old salt watching someone throw up over the rail on their first blue water voyage. That's why it was that he stepped up with a smile, hit the car and popped the trunk.

It's amazing that Jesse still has a lower jaw. I imagine it almost fell off when he opened the trunk to find a sawed off shotgun prominently on display. The cop was also amazed. He stood there for a moment. I imagine he was thinking “What's with this kid? I was going to let him go before he decided to show me his felony...” The cop picked up the gun and began the interrogation.

“Who's is this?” He asked as he lifted it out of the trunk.

It was at that moment that Brandyn intoned these immortal words:

“It ain't my gun!”

“Well, who's is it?”

“I don't know, but I ain't mine.” replied Brandyn.

Josh and Jesse didn't speak and the cop looked them over.

“Son, is this your gun?” he asked Jesse.

“No Sir.” Jesse replied.

“It ain't mine!” Brandyn shot in.

“Well, Son, the law says that the driver of a car is responsible for anything found in that car.”

“I know that Sir.”

“You want to tell me who this gun belongs to?”

“It's not mine Sir.”

“It's not mine either!” Brandyn added.

By this time the cop was staring at Bradyn. He would have done much better to shut his mouth, but that wasn't Brandyn's way. With every denial he was underlining the fact that it was, in truth, his gun. The cop thought a moment and then pulled Jesse aside.

“I want to tell you that I know who this gun belongs to.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“I can't do anything about it though unless you name him yourself.”

“I can't do that Sir.”

“I understand, but if you don't I'm going to have to take you in.”

“Yes, Sir.”

And so it was that Jesse got hauled off to jail with Brandyn screaming “It ain't my gun!” into the night. Now, many of you may be sitting there stunned silent by the fact that Jesse didn't just rat Brandyn out, but you have understand Jesse. He was and is true blue. He is as faithful as a hound and sometimes just as bright. He wasn't going to betray Brandyn even if Brandyn was betraying him. Plus, Jesse also thought Bradyn would have a change of heart before the end and tell the truth.

“Brandyn was just scared at the moment. He's going to tell them the truth at the trial.” He said to me.

He was over at the house filling me in on his side of the story after he had gotten out of jail.

“I don't know bro. It seems that if he was going to do that he would have done it before now.” I replied.

“Oh, he'll do it. He won't leave me hanging.”

Jesse talked like this for a while. As his court date drew nearer he got a bit more nervous. Brandyn had begun to back down a bit. Just a few days before the trial Brandyn told Jesse it was off. He couldn't confess and risk going to prison. Brandyn had just turned eighteen before it happened, Jesse was still sixteen. A very angry Jesse ended up at my house days before the trial.

“Let me tell you something!” He started out.

“Ok.” I said.

“I am going to get on that stand and sing like bird! I am going to to tell the court everything I know about Brandy!”

“That sounds reasonable.”

“I'm going to tell them that it was his gun and that I had nothing to do with it!”

“Good idea!”

As he spoke he was getting more and more angry.

“I will have my justice!” He yelled at the top of his voice as he slapped his hand down on the table. “I will have my day in court!”

A few days later:

“Sixty hours community service.” The judge said and then banged the gavel.

All Jesse's confessions and his best ratting out didn't save him. He had no evidence by that time. The arresting officer actually showed up at his trial and testified that he had good reasons to believe that the gun did not belong to Jesse. That's one of the reasons that Jesse got off so easy.

The Lord does work these things out, however. Jesse had learned not to be too trusting and had stood by his friend until Brandyn proved he wasn't that good a friend. The community service was actually something that Jesse enjoyed doing. In fact, it gave Jesse his first experience with heavy equipment. Years later he managed to get a job doing construction and was actually able to list his community service as job experience.

It's been many years since all this happened. Jesse hasn't had a run in with the law in I don't know how many years. Our wild days are gone and have been replaced by better, if more placid, days. Still, I hope I never forget the look on Jesse's face or the sound of his voice when he slammed his hand on the table and yelled “I will have my day in court!”

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pop Tuttle

If you've taken the time to read many of my stories it may seem that I only remember things that made me laugh. It may also seem that I mainly laugh at other people being hurt. I can understand how a person would get those ideas, but neither is correct. I laugh at a great number of things, it just so happens that slap-stick comedy is a common denominator. Almost everyone loves to see someone get hit in the face with a pie. That is why I share those kinds of stories. I also remember a number of things that weren't all that funny, but were memorable for some other reason. The following tales are an example of those memories.

My Mom's Dad was called Papa by almost everyone he knew by the time I was born. It was his grandfather nickname. My Dad refused to call him Papa as he thought is was ridiculous (he goes by a very traditional 'Granddaddy' himself). He decided instead to call him Pop Tuttle. That name stuck for most of the adult population that knew him. We grandchildren always called him Papa, but after Dad came up with Pop Tuttle he was usually called that.

It may seem an odd thing to mention at the beginning of a story. You may very well be thinking “Papa, Pop Tuttle, whatever... just get on with it!” I see what you mean, but here it's important. Someone may very well come across this one day and suddenly realize that my Papa was Pop Tuttle. He wasn't world famous, but hundreds of people knew him around here. That's why it's important to mention. So, just to clarify, my grandfather on my mother's side was called Papa by the grandchildren and Pop Tuttle by everyone else. So, yes, Pop Tuttle was my grandfather.

Now that we have our naming conventions worked out we can move on. Papa was an excellent grandfather and a wonderful man. He was 'retired' shortly after I was born, but he loved to get things done so he never really stopped working. He had been a carpenter for many years and had a wood shop where he liked to go and work almost every day. If you were kin to Papa you could just about count on getting something out of that shop every Christmas.

He didn't just work holidays though; for his grandchildren he was always open for business. One of the first things I ever remember him making me was a set of nunchucks (they are two round hard handles connected by a flexible material. Ninjas use them all the time!). I was probably around six years old, and we had just moved to Williston and were living across the street from Nana and Papa's. Several of us grandchildren were over at the house that day. He made nunchucks for all and we wandered around the neighborhood swinging them around looking super cool (it was the eighties and the more ninja you looked the cooler you were).

Shortly after we had moved to town he and Nana moved. Fortunately it was just down the road, so we still got to see them a few times a week. Papa had bought a piece of property where he would have a bit more room to work on this or that. One of the things he did very shortly after moving there was build us a clubhouse. Its central structure was something like a dog house that was up on five-foot legs. Connected to that there was a set of monkey bars that ran away from the back of the house about six feet. The monkey bars were connected to a ladder where we could get up to the bars. I don't know how many hours I spent playing on that thing, but it was worth the time Papa had put into it.

I remember that we weren't quite satisfied with the original design. We decided that it needed a secret door in the middle of the floor. Papa tried to dissuade us because it would be five feet off the ground and there was no ladder leading up to the middle of the floor. Plus, of course, when you can see people jumping up to the bottom of a house and disappearing, it isn't very secret. We were unconvinced: good idea or not we wanted a secret door. So, Papa did what he almost always did in those situations: he gave us just what we wanted. It turned out to be a terrible idea and we never used it, but it was there. It was reassuring to know that if anyone asked, “Does your clubhouse have a secret door?” we could honestly and unashamedly say “Yes!” Things like that are important when you're young.

As I got older I got interested in carpentry myself. I wasn't very serious about it at the time, but I did learn to use a hammer and saw. Both Dad and Papa encouraged Josh and me to learn a bit about woodwork. The little we learned when we were young allowed us to build our fantastic tree house. We've learned a bit more since those days. In fact we've built a house together. There are a few stories about that as well, but I'll save them for another time.

One of the woodworking projects I picked as a child was the making of a wooden glaive. You may have never heard of a glaive, but that's hardly surprising. It was a fantasy weapon used in the movie Krull. I thought it was one of the coolest movies ever when I was young, and in fact, I still do. The glaive was a five-pointed star with a long knife blade at each end. It was magical and when thrown it would spin like a saw blade. When it was done killing whatever you threw it at, it would come back. I explained to Papa what a glaive was and that it needed to come back when I threw it.

He thought on that for a few minutes and came up with a design for it. He laid out a sort of five-pointed boomerang. He sketched it out on a piece of wood for me and left me to it. It took me a couple of hours, but finally it was done. I was the only kid in town with a glaive. I hadn't made the blades quite right, so it never would come back, but it certainly did fly well. I spent many hours playing with that thing. Papa was always willing to take the time to help you make something.

In fact, he kept an old woodpile at the back of his shop for us grandchildren. Whenever we wanted to build anything we could just go grab what we wanted and start building. Papa told me one time that he thought that was our favorite game as children. Not building anything, no, no, but grabbing the wood. He said that we would spread the wood out evenly across the yard and then stop playing with it. However, as soon as he cleaned it up we would get in it and spread it evenly across the yard again. I remember that we did start a lot of building projects that never went very far. I'm certain that from his point of view it just seemed that we like to throw wood out in the yard.

Papa was also a master of saying funny things. He would ask you how much wood a woodchuck could chuck. There was also this thing he used to say about a fiddling grasshopper, and he could sing “The Battle of New Orleans”. Sometimes his funny sayings would confuse me a bit. I remember one Sunday down in Allendale when I asked him a perfectly normal question and got an answer I didn't expect.

“Papa, do you have a knife?” I asked.

“Does a cat have climbing gear?” he asked me.


“Does a cat have climbing gear?”

“Does a what?”

“Does a cat have climbing gear?”

“Does a cat have what?”

“... Yes... I have a knife.”

“Could I use it for a second?”

It was probably close to an hour before it hit me that a cat always had climbing gear with it. I'm sure that may make me seem a bit thick-headed, but I wasn't expecting a counter-question. Plus Papa was always saying wild things. So you had to be careful how you answered him. Once he asked me about girls.

“Did you ever kiss a little girl all you wanted?” he asked me, smiling.

“No!” I answered (I was rather young).

“Why'd ya stop?”

Needless to say, I didn't have an answer for that.

As you can see, these things aren't wild slapstick humor, but they are things that I will probably remember until I die. I remember many things, most good, some bad, many very funny. I share those that I think are going to pass on the joy I feel when I remember them. I get a lot of joy out of people getting hit with pies, but that's not the only thing that ever happened around me.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In Cars

An important part of many a young man's life is getting his first car. It's a early step toward independence and responsibility. All at once he can both go somewhere his parents don't feel up to going and run up town at eleven at night to get a gallon of milk for his mother. The 'first cars' of our little group caused quiet a stir and spawned a few interesting stories. My first car was a 66 mustang. It has a lot of stories behind it, but I'm going to save them for later. For now I think it will be enough to share some of what happened with the other guy's rides.

Jesse's first car was a little truck that his Dad had given him. I don't remember what make or model it was, but it was small and primer gray and somehow it seemed to suit Jesse. It was as if that truck was made for him. By the time Jesse had gotten it I had wrecked my car, so while my mustang was awaiting repair we cruised around in Jesse's truck.

I do have to mention another ride that Jesse got later on. After his truck he got a Mustang of his own. With it he picked up a number of bizarre ticks that used to drive me crazy. For one thing every time we came to a stop light he would take it out of gear and wiggle the shifter back and forth until the light went green. He would also thump the gauges like some world war one fighter pilot in the movies. One day he thumped the oil pressure gauge and said:

“Looks like my oil temperature is getting a little high...”

That was all I could take.

“Three things Jesse! One: it's oil pressure you moron, not oil temperature! Two: anywhere in that line that is between the low mark and the high mark is normal! That's why it's labeled normal! Three: if you thump another gauge today I'm going to lay you out!”

It may seem that I went a little over the top, but you weren't there. I assure you that you couldn't have taken it as well as I did. I had grown up with him and was used to it. Anyway, the following stories don't touch his Mustang, but I had to mention it.

It was a blast going places with Jesse. When he was behind the wheel he was a different guy. He had a certain charm about him that you would never see when he wasn't in his ride. There was a confidence that was hard to understand or explain, but it was easy to see. I can't even describe it. Fortunately I can think of an example.

One day while behind the wheel of this tiny primer gray truck he was trying to get up a steep hill in Aiken. The old girl just didn't feel like climbing up and so was moving at around three miles an hour. A car full of beautiful young girls pulled up beside Jesse just as the truck had come to a stand still refusing to go any higher. Jesse looked over at the young women, smiled and yelled out to them “Too much power baby! Too much power!” as he revved the engine and the truck refused to move. You can't buy confidence like that! Needless to say the girls only laughed and drove away. Still, it was a beautiful thing to see a young man so full of self assurance, even if it was misplaced.

At the time Jesse and I went almost everywhere together. In fact we even started a little recycling business. The truck could haul loads of metal and we liked to ride so it seemed like the perfect idea. We would drive around town looking for scrap metal and once we had a load we would head out to Orangeburg to cash it all in. It was a lot of work and we didn't make much money, but it seemed better than working a real job.

We were out doing this one winter and we decided to ride down the old train tracks from Williston out to White Pond. Now, this may seem like a crazy thing to do, but two points should clear it up for you. One, we were crazy. Two, the tracks had been torn up years ago. The “old train tacks” was actually the “old dirt road” that nobody ever used. We just decided to ride down them and see where it took us.

It turned out to be far less interesting than we thought it might. It was just a long strait dirt road that was down in a valley between two hills most of the way. After we made it to White Pond we decided to head home. Jesse dropped me off and then headed out to his house. A few minutes later I got a phone call.

“Hey bro.” Jesse said as I picked up the phone.

“Hey, what's up?” I asked.

“We were seen by the police.”

“What do you mean?”

“When we were driving down the train tracks.”

“So. Is that illegal?”

“I don't know, maybe, but that's not why they are looking for us.”

Here I felt a sinking feeling. When talking about the police you rarely want to hear the phrase “looking for us”. Still, I was always an optimist.

“Why are they looking for us?”

“They think we are wanted criminals!”


“Well, I mean, they think that the truck was being driven by someone who is avoiding the police and moving from town to town in hiding.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I heard it on Mom's scanner!”

Mrs. Dicks was with the EMS service in town at the time and so she often had a police scanner tuned in to what was going on.

“Well what do they know?”

“They know the color of the truck and their searching all over town for us!”

“No problem! We just lay low until tomorrow. They are sure to think we've moved on by then.”

Jesse agreed and we stayed in our hideouts all the rest of the day. Fortunately nothing more came of that, but it wasn't the little gray truck's last run in with the police. I will here ask that any Williston or Barnwell police officer that reads this will laugh at it and then forget it. I don't know what the statute of limitations is on this, but it has to be a misdemeanor and it was over fifteen years ago.

We had ridden up to the courthouse in Barnwell together. Jesse had to go in to check on something. I don't even remember what it was about, but I had decided to come along. The parking spaces at the court house had to date back to the nineteen twenties, either that or they were supposed to be motorcycle parking spaces. Whatever the cause they were not wide enough for a real car, even a car as small as Jesse's truck.

The police themselves didn't seem to have a problem using these spaces, but then they used them all the time and usually only had to open one door when they were at the courthouse. Jesse never parked in these spaces and we needed enough clearance on each side to open both doors. As we were pulling in Jesse asked me for guidance. It was hard to see and he was pulling between two cars. One off them was a cop car.

“Am I good?” He asked as we crept forward.

“You're good.” I replied.

We moved a few more inches.

“Am I good?”

“You're good.”


“Am I good?”

“You're good.”


At some point my mind began to wonder and I just kept repeating the phrase “You're good.” again and again. Suddenly we heard the sound of metal scraping metal and I actually took a moment to look out of the window.

“You're not good.....”


“You just seriously scratched a cop car.”

We backed up and drove home. Jesse decided he could take care of whatever it that he was there for later. Once we had gotten to Jesse's house we started thinking it over. We felt guilty about not letting the cop know what we had done and were discussing going back and turning ourselves in. Mrs. Dicks sat there listening to us quietly and then chimed in.

“I'm very proud of you boys for wanting to the right thing. You did something you shouldn't have and have gotten away with. Now you want to go back and set things right. That's wonderful. It's also very stupid! You are now guilty of a hit and run. Learn your lesson, don't do it again and shut up about it!”

We considered the wisdom of this course of action and let it drop. I will say this: it was the last time either of us ever hit a cop car without turning ourselves in. So, in a very real way we did learn our lesson.

Jesse often did get the worst end of the stick when we were cruising around. Again, I have an excellent example. Joshua and Jesse and several other members of the old crew were out riding. I don't remember where they were going or why, but fortunately that doesn't have much to do with it. The point is that Josh needed a rest stop and the driver (I think it was Sam) didn't want to take one.

“We got to stop.” Josh asserted.

“We're not going to.”

“I have to pee.”

“Can't you pee out of the window?”

Here it is important to note a couple of things. Josh never said he couldn't do anything, so asking him “can't you whatever” was sure way to get him to do it. It's also important to know that it was hot that night, so everyone had their windows rolled down. (I know what you're thing and the answer is 'Yes, that is what happened'.)

“Of course I can pee out of the window!”

“Well then go ahead!”

So, he did. At fifty five miles an hour Josh started peeing out of the window. Suddenly Jesse began to yell and sputter.

“Stop! You're peeing in my face!” He screamed at the top of his lungs as he waved his arms around trying fend off the assault flying into his window.

“I can't stop! Roll up your window!”

Here Jesse sputtered a few things which may have been something along the lines of “I can't roll up the window with you peeing in my face!”, but we'll never know. He didn't say anything anyone understood, but the window didn't get rolled up. It was rather too bad all around, because after that they had to make a rest stop to clean Jesse up so Josh had peed out of the window for nothing. It was just one of life's little ironies.

So far this has all been focused on Jesse. I didn't intend for it to be, but he was very entertaining behind the wheel. To close I'm going to use Sam and my subject and his Mustang. (Yes, we all had Mustangs: Mine was red, Jesse's was black and Sam's was white.)

Sam was and is and probably always will be a “I can do that better than you!” kinda guy. It's all in good fun and he doesn't mean anything by it, but he loves the thrill of competition and nothing fires him up like a head to head bout. He used to get people driving through the neighborhood to race their cars against my motorcycle. The results were almost always the same: “I almost had 'em!”

After Sam got his Mustang he really did have them. He could blow most vehicles off the road. William Owens had gotten a 240 SX and Sam wanted to race him. Now, ordinarily that Mustang would have passed that 240 SX with no problems. Sam was a good driver and had the better machine, but William had a few tricks up his sleeve.

They decided to race from where they were through Williston down to Church Street Station. The Station was a place where most of the teenagers hung out at the time. Josh needed a ride and it was decided that he would ride with William. They got in their vehicles, cranked them up and were ready to start. Both of them sprang away from the line.

William was faster off the mark and got in front of Sam. He weaved down the road eating up both lanes and not letting Sam get around him. He managed to keep Sam behind him all the way to the red light down town. Josh decided to speak to William about his chances.

“You're never going to beat him on this straight away. The curves in the road were all the advantage you had.”

“Just wait.”

“We've got close to a mile to go on a perfectly strait road. That mustang is going to blow us away on the straight away!”

“Just wait.”

“There's no way we can beat him. Sam knew that before we started.”

“Just wait.”

So, wait they did. They light turned green and William slowly rolled out into the intersection. He sat there quietly as Sam honked his horn almost none stop. The light turned yellow and William sat there. Sam leaned on the horn as hard as he could. The light turned red and William slowly made his left hand turn and drove away.

Sam's mighty mustang had been beaten by a red light. I always thought that it was funny that Sam had no problem racing, which is illegal, but wouldn't run that red light in order to win. That's another funny thing about Sam though. He didn't particularly care about legality, but he did care about dangerous.

My children are growing up every day. It won't be long and my generation's sons are all going to be getting their first cars. When I think about what they are going to experience it makes me smile. I can't help but wonder what machine my oldest boy is going to want and what he's going to do with it. The cycle of life moves very fast. It seems only yesterday that I got my first car and before too much longer my firstborn will have his. Time truly does fly and life is very short, but it's also very wonderful. I thank God for all the moments I've had in the Sun.