Sunday, October 31, 2010

She Was A Witch You Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ice, Water and Mud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Prince doesn't seem to think so.”

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

“So what? He's just not used to it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I'm sorry, I didn't see you.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, not by the gate.” Sam replied.

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

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

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

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

“What?” Both Josh and I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We need to find another way in.”

“I agree, but how?”

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

“What if we get caught?”

“We'll be careful.”

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

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

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

“We jumped the gate.” Sam replied.

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

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

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Smoke If Ya Got Em

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

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

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

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

“That's up to him.” Dad said smiling.

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

“Let me get you one.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Change The Channel

I've explained about my Dad's, shall we shall, overexcited behavior in several of my earlier stories. Here I am going to share another example of Dad loosing his cool, blowing his top, flipping his wig, whatever analogy you want to use really. I also hope to use it as an opportunity to show that Dad was often provoked into doing whatever it was he did. In fact, Dad often just did what most people would have done had they not been afraid of social stigma, financial loss or jail time. So, a lot of the things that look like the actions of a complete crazy person could be construed as rather misguided courage instead.

It all started with Dad very calmly doing one of the things he loves to do. He was watching TV while laying on the couch in the living room. There may have been an empty milk glass with a banana peel in it around there somewhere, I can't remember. (Dad used to drink a glass of milk while eating a banana then stick the peel in the empty glass and stick the glass somewhere. It drove Mom nuts.) Either way, Dad was watching some murder mystery show that had been on for what seemed like hours. It may have been part of a mini-series or have had far too many commercials in it or both.

Whatever the cause Dad had been watching it for a long while. The entire time it had been on Mom had been sitting there quietly reading a magazine. Here I have to take a moment and say that Mom and I hated these kind of shows. Mom has a gentle spirit and certainly doesn't want to see anyone get brutally murdered on TV. As for myself I was set down to watch 'An American Werewolf in London' at age five. Some friends of Mom and Dad said it was kid safe. I ran into the room where Mom and Dad were bleached white after one of the gore scenes and never liked those kind of movies again. However, this movie wasn't a gore fest it was low key murder mystery where the villain was sure to get his in the end. I still didn't like it, but it was squarely in the “ignorable” category.

Both Mom and I had been ignoring the show the entire time it had been on. After hours of suspense and mystery the show had finally culminated in a chase scene. The heroine was running from the villain having finally put it together that he was the common denominator behind all the deaths. The music picked up to help set every nerve on edge as the camera flashed back and forth between the running damsel and the pursuing monster. Tension was crackling in the air. Would the police arrive in the nick of time? Would she find an old shotgun and blast him through the door? Would he catch her and her unsolved murder be the setup for the sequel? We'll never know...

At the moment of truth Mom looked up at the TV and for the first time in hours her pupils focused on something other than her magazine. For a moment she sat there in silence. Her brain was slowly changing gears from “What a lovely fabric!” to “Why is that girl running through that building? And who is that man?” I blame the change in music myself. I think she could have sat there quietly until the end if her nerves hadn't started to warn her. “You hear that? Something's wrong!” Those composers are amazing. Little did that guy know that he had betrayed my dad when he wrote that piece. He was just trying to play up the drama of the scene. Oh well... Once Mom's mind had locked onto what was going on she decided to put a stop to it.

“Change the channel!” She said in a nervous voice that expressed how badly she wanted the young girl to get away.

“Hold on! This is the very end of the movie.” Dad replied, not daring to look away from the screen.

“Change the channel!”

“No. It's almost over.”

“I don't care. Change the channel!”

“Barbara, be quiet. It's the very end and I want to hear it.”

“I don't! Change the channel!”

“I've been watching this for hours with you in here!”

“I don't care. Change the channel!”

“Just go in the other room. It'll be over in ten minutes!”

“No! Change the channel!”

At this point Dad decided to stare at the TV and do his best to hear it over Mom or at least read the actor's lips. He had gotten down to the last five minutes and he was missing it arguing with her. When Dad stopped replying Mom realized she would have to use another approach. Unless something happened immediately she was going to inadvertently see the end of the movie. Why didn't she just get up and leave the room you ask? Good question! Moving on! She decided to take a more direct approach.

“Change the Channel! Change the Channel! Change the Channel!” She said over and over as fast as she could.

Dad sat there for a moment waving his hand back at her as if he were trying to knock the sound away from his ear before it reached him. This just made Mom get faster and louder.

“Change the Channel! Change the Channel! Change the Channel!”

I wish that I had gotten a video recording of the whole thing. I am sure we would have been able to go through it frame by frame until we reached the moment when it happened. “There! Right there!” I would be able to say pointing triumphantly at the frozen frame of video focused on my Dad's face. “That's the moment where he snapped!”

Sadly we have no video, no slow motion, no freeze frame. A great opportunity for scientific study in psychology has been lost. All we have to record the event is the human memory which is very useful for telling a story, but a bit short on the scientific necessities. For example if they were to ask me “How big did your Dad's eyes get in millimeters?” I could only say “Big!” “Could you be more precise?” “Real big!” It's all very well for amusement, but not much for the science of the thing.

In any event, even though the moment wasn't caught on video it had arrived. Dad snapped! He leaped up off the couch with the speed of a ninja (keep in mind it was the eighties) and jerked the TV up over his head. (This wasn't a small TV, it was our main living room TV.) He held it there just long enough for me to think to myself “Whoa! Seriously?” Then Dad threw it down on the living room floor with everything he had and, with Dad, that was quite a bit. The set exploded in a shower of golden sparks. I can still see the scene in my imagination. It was really awesome. They should put a scene like that in a movie one day.

Having completely destroyed the TV Dad glared at Mom and screamed at the top of his lungs:

“There! It's changed now ain't it!”

Mom looked up from the magazine she had immediately gone back to reading to reply:

“What do I care if you smashed your TV, I've still got my radio.”

“Is that so?” Dad said and walked out of the room heading for the back door.

Here again, I have to take moment to give you a little additional information. Mom didn't just have a radio. She had a house wide radio with speakers strewn everywhere. Whatever housework she had to do could be done while listening to whatever she liked on the radio. It was very nice and one of the things that sold them on the particular double wide model they selected. It was this radio that Mom was so happy to still have.

“With all do respect, that was the stupidest thing I have ever heard come out of your mouth.” I said starting at Mom in disbelief.

“Why? I do still have my radio.”

“You really think that don't you?” I said with a slight sad smile.

At that moment the back door flew open and Dad ran into the house. He had a hammer in his hand and as he came into the room he shook it with a “Hahahahah!” (I'm not making this up, he seriously did that.) He then proceeded to beat the radio out of the wall. When he was finished he turned to address us all.

“And we will never have another TV in this house as long as I live!” He screamed before collapsing on the couch.

The next day Josh and I were standing outside of school waiting for Mom to pick us up and discussing the entire affair.

“How long do you think Dad will make it?” I asked.

“I don't know. He was pretty upset.” Josh replied.

“A month, do you think?”

“A month! No, no. I mean he couldn't make it a month. I figure a week on the outside.”

“Yea, I hope it's not that long.”

As I said that the car pulled up. Mom was sitting in the passenger seat and Dad was driving. As we got in Dad spoke.

“We're going to town to get a new TV.” Dad said as we were buckling up.

“And a radio.” Mom added.

It may be that some of you think my Dad's behavior was inexcusable, but none of you were there. I was and I am here to tell you that you need to walk a mile in a man's shoes before you say too much about his actions. In truth the TV was very old anyway and Dad had been talking about replacing it for years. He just chose a dramatic way to get rid of the old one. What he did may not have seemed sane, but I'll tell you this, it was the last time he was ever pelted with “Change the channel!”

Sunday, October 3, 2010

One Moonlit Night

Ron Smith is one the characters that appears here and there in my childhood stories. That's because he was kind of here and there in my childhood. He was certainly always one of our friends, but he lived a ways out of town and so, until we could drive, we only saw each other now and again. Once I had transportation Ron became a more permanent fixture in our group. This story begins with the fact that Ron didn't like the way I drove at night. If we were going anywhere after dark he wanted to be at the wheel.

On this particular night we were heading home from some Church get together. As usual Ron was driving. There was a beautiful full moon shining down on the deserted road we were traveling. Ron decided to to do something unusual that night. He made the observation that the moonlight was so bright that you could drive by it. In order to prove this, he turned the headlights off and drove along by moonlight. I thought that it was unwise, but the truth was that you could clearly see everything around us. Josh got tired of it after about ten seconds and opened a dialog.

“Turn the lights back on.” Josh said firmly.

“No. I don't need them.” Ron replied defiantly.

“I don't care, turn them back on.”

“No. I'm not going to hit anything.”

“I don't care about that. I don't feel like getting pulled over by the police.”

This argument escalated until two things happened. First, Ron did turn the lights back on. Second, he reached behind him and slapped Josh right in the mouth with the back of his hand. Now, I would have warned most people that hitting Josh was a bad idea, but Ron already knew it. Here I have to take a moment and explain one of Ron's limitations. He couldn't fight. I mean, he was strong, probably one of the strongest in our group. He was also ripped and looked tough enough when he pulled his shirt off. However, he hit like a girl. (There may be some big girls out there who would just love to show me how they hit, but I don't mean them. I mean princess-y type girls who love flying rainbow unicorns. Girls like my little girls... anyways, he hit like one of them.) I know that if Ron reads this he will deny it. Well, deny away, Ron, deny away.

For a moment nothing happened. The sound of Ron's slap was still hanging in the air. I could feel the moments ticking away. I knew that something was about to happen whether Ron had put that together or not. He had struck Josh in the face without even showing enough respect to look at him when he did it. Then he looked at the road as if there wasn't going to be a rebuttal. Poor Ron, he never saw things like this coming. After perhaps a second and a half it happened.


Josh had drawn his hand back as far as he could in the car and swung it with all his force. He hit Ron so hard that the side of his head slammed into the window. (Yes, I mean slammed, I don't use that word for effect. Had his head hit the window any harder it might well have broken.) The car swerved all over the road. With a sound of squealing tires Ron got the car back under control. He then opened another dialog:

“That is it! It is ON!” Ron screamed at the top of his lungs.

“Good. I hoped it would be.” Josh quietly replied.

“I am pulling this car over!”

“Good. I don't have room to beat your brains out here.”

“Wait until I get you out if this car!”

“There's a good spot. Pull over right there.”

The car skidded to a stop and Ron jumped out.

“Get out!”

“As fast as I can!”

Now, by this time I had decided that this had gone far enough. I stepped out of the car.

“You two stop it. Each of you has hit the other. Let's get back in the car and go.”

“Oh no, he's going to get it!” Ron shouted.

“Well, come on.” Josh said.

“Josh don't hurt him.” I said loudly.

“Hurt me!” Ron said derisively as he threw a kick right at Josh's face.

Josh decided that I was right and that there was no reason to hurt Ron. In a flash he had thrown one arm behind Ron's outstretched knee and the other in front of his shin. He had Ron's leg trapped between his arms. He pulled his leg up so high that Ron was standing on his tip toes on one leg. Josh began to explain the situation.

“See Ron? I got you. What do I mean by that? I mean I can move you this way.”

As Josh said this he began to pull Ron's leg to one side making him hop in order to stay balanced.

“Or I can move you that way.”

Josh moved Ron's leg to the the other side, and Ron couldn't help but hop along to remain upright.

“See Ron. I've already won. Don't get yourself hurt.”

After Josh said this he threw down Ron's leg. Ron stared at Josh and fire blazed in his eyes. He knew he couldn't take Josh fighting on his feet, but he wasn't ready to give up. Suddenly he sacked Josh. They both toppled over into a pile of briars and began rolling around, each struggling to get the advantage over the other. While this was going on I decided that diplomacy might be my best option.

“This is ridiculous guys! Look at you! Now your both rolling around in the briars when we could be heading home. We're all friends here. What's the point of all this. Let's just stop and go home.”

As I was saying this I heard Josh's voice rise above the tussle.

“Ron, you are going to let me go or I am going to jam you eye out.”

Nothing happened. They were still struggling on the road side.

“One... Two... Three...” Josh counted out loudly.


“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Ron screamed with everything he had.

Josh got up out of the briars and began brushing himself off.

“I warned you Ron. You need to learn to stop while you can.” Josh said walking back towards the car.

Ron crawled up out of the briars with one hand over his eye like a pirate's patch. He stood there panting staring at Josh. Again, I tried diplomacy.

“See, this is going nowhere. We all just need to get back in the car and go home. This entire thing has been stupid!” I said.

Josh tried a different type of diplomacy:

“Yea, Ron, you lost. Plain and simple. So let's get back in the car before you really get hurt.”

As Josh said this he turned around and started to walk away. At that moment Ron drew back and sucker-punched Josh in the back of the head.

Now, this was Ron's second big mistake of the night. This time it wasn't because Josh was someone you didn't want to tangle with, but because I was standing right there. I am a calm, peace-loving type of guy. It's hard to make me angry and I don't like to hurt people. However, once you step over the line I'm not going to warn you about it, you're just going to have to deal with the repercussions.

In a flash I shot my right hand up from my hip and punched Ron right in the eye. There was a loud “Crack!” and Ron was reeling on the back of his heels. As he slowly straitened himself, moving from side to side as his brain was working out what happened, I again tried diplomacy.

“Ron, do you see what you made me do?” I said, gently putting both my hands against his chest. “You made me hit you. I didn't want to. I even warned you that you needed to stop, but you wouldn't listen. I don't want to hit you again, but if you make me I'm going to be ready this time.” Here I dropped into my boxing stance and waited to see what Ron would do.

Slowly his eyes stopped spinning around randomly and he regained the ability to focus. He looked at me considering the situation and then looked over at Josh. He was clearly furious, but decided to open a dialog instead of start another fist fight.

“So! I see how it is! Ganging up me!?!? Takes two of you to beat me eh!?!?! Well, that's just fine!” Ron yelled right in my face.

“Ron, it wasn't like that. You just punched Josh in the back of the head.” I said apologetically.

“Oh no! You two wanted to jump me, that's fine!”

“Come on Ron, get back in the car and let's go home.”

“What!?!? Get in the car with you two!?!? Forget it! I'm walking!”

“It's a couple of miles into town.”

“I don't care! It's better than riding with you!” As he said this he stormed off down the road with me calling after him.

When he was almost out of earshot Josh and I climbed back in the car and headed for home. There was nothing I could do, I had tried to keep something like that from happening the whole time. Josh and I both felt like he would be over it in a few days. Fight or not we liked Ron and we didn't want there to be any bad blood between us.

Ron got over it more quickly than we thought he would. As soon as we walked through the door the phone rang. It was Ron, he wanted a ride home. He had walked about a mile down the road to where a friend of his lived. So, Josh and I climbed back in the car and went and got him. When we got him back in the light we could see his eye. One side was about as black as a black eye gets. He looked like he was wearing half of the Lone Ranger's mask. Between Josh's thumb and my fist that poor eye had a rough night. Still, none of us were worse for the wear and none of us held a grudge. Josh and I even helped him hide his black eye with Mom's makeup the next time we went to Church. It's wasn't perfect, but it was better than nothing.

Again, there are a few morals one can find here. The lesson could be “Don't start nothing, and there won't be nothing” or perhaps “Always drive carefully and you're less likely to get hurt.” Of course the point that stands out more readily than any other is “Don't start a fistfight if you hit like a girl.”

Writing all this has been good for me. I'm becoming a regular Aesop.