My Mind

My Mind
This is my mind

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Passing stranger...

A lone figure ambled slowly down the road.  He carried a ragged bag over his shoulder which slumped as if the weight were unbearable. His shoes scuffed the pavement with each dragging step. I heard it from my position midway upon the short street where I lived.  One other thing was completely different about him, probably the first thing most in this neighborhood would notice, he was a black man. His face was wrinkled with the years. An old slouch hat sat upon hoary hair that followed the line of his chin and lip in a matted beard.
We ignored him as we played cowboys and Indians in the front yard.
“Bang! Bang!” my friend shouted with his pistols aimed down the road. Our youth was displayed in the enthusiasm of our game.  The old creosote pole planted on the road side of the ditch was the perfect hiding place for my buddy. 
The bush in the yard was my cover. I knelt behind it peeking around the side with my gun in front of me.  His gun was aimed down the street at the stranger meandering in our direction. 
Our driveway was merely a patch of dry sandy earth devoid of grass or weeds.  The tire tracks were easily seen in the path leading to the road from the side of the house. The stranger was near the top of the drive where pavement broke down into dirt and weeds.
“How you bwahs?” he said as he turned to walk into my yard.
“Who are you mister?” I asked backing up toward the porch.
“I juss a wayfairin’ travelah, yungun,” he said looking straight at me. His dark eyes rimmed with wet, near tears.  His sack slid from his shoulder. He let it fall easily to the ground holding the rope to which it was tied.
“Whadda you want from us?”
He looked at me, a deep sadness in his eyes, lifting slowly with the smile inching across his face. The moment was shattered when my friend reached around the pole and shouted, “Bang, bang!”
He stopped still when the stranger’s eyes settle on him.
“You chillun wun wanna shoot a ole man, would ya?’ he asked turning back to me.
“No sir. We were just playing cowboys and Indians.  They’re just cap guns. Cain’t hurt nobody.” I holstered my six-shooter.  My buddy came over and stood next to me.
“You never said what you come into the yard for,” I said taking another step back.
“Well, yungun, I got a powful hungah and thirst.  Been walkin’ this here road fo’ long time. Yassuh, long time. An’ ain’t had no vittals fo’ long time neethah.  So I’s wundin’ if maybe you might hab some change on ya.”  He fiddled with the rope in his hand. His smile had a loneliness about it that even I could see.  I might not have understood it but it was something I could sense.
“We’re jus’ kids, mister.  We ain’t got no money. Our ‘llowances been spent since Saturday.   So, no sir, we don’t.’
“How about a sandwich?” my buddy asked me.  “You got stuff for a sandwich, ain’t you?”
“Yeah.  How ‘bout a sandwich mister?  I can fix you a sandwich,” I said with eagerness.
“Young man, that would be so good. Yes, please, an' a cup o’ watah to please.” His smile eked out of the sadness range for a fraction of a second.
“I can do that,” I said and turned to the house. “Come on, buddy.  You get the water while I make him a sandwich.”
The screen door slammed as we scurried into the kitchen. My friend reached for a glass in the cupboard. While I grabbed two pieces of bread from the bag he filled the glass with tap water.
“You take that out to him while I make the sandwich.” My order was in the air when he stopped.
“I don’t want to give him this.  My mom told me not to speak to strangers.”
“Mine did too but that man is hungry.  He needs our help.  For some reason I think it’s OK.  He just wants something to eat and drink.  He looks like he’s been walking forever.  He’s waiting out in the drive.  I’ll finish this up.  You go ahead.”
He took the glass out to the husk of a man in the drive while I slathered mayonnaise on a slice of bread.  I pulled three or four slices of lunch meat out of the package and slapped it on the mayo side.  It looked too dry so I put a layer of mayo on the second piece.  Then I remembered there was lettuce in the crisper. I grabbed a few leaves and piled them on top of the lunch meat.  I sprinkled salt and pepper on the mayo’ed slice and put it on the meat and lettuce. I picked it up and ran outside.  The screen door slammed as I held the sandwich in front of me.
The stranger smiled and slowly reached for the food. His smile was like sunshine for a moment making me smile as well.
“Thank you, yungun.  An’ God Bless you two chirrun.”
Half the sandwich entered his mouth. He chomped and chewed while we watched.  Dust covered his shoes and pants to the shin.  His shirt was a ragged affair devoid of color if it ever had any.  He wore a jacket with seams frayed at the shoulders. The cuffs were two inches shy of his palms.  It used to be a dark material but weather and wear had reduced it to a threadbare patch of matted earth and leaves.  It was as if he slept in the same clothes at night.
He finished the sandwich in three bites chasing it with the remainder of the water in the glass.  Pulling his arm across his mouth left a trail of crumbs and wetness giving evidence of how his clothes became such a mess.
“Do you want another one?” I asked.
He looked at me slowly and deliberately. His gaze held me until he looked to the sky for a brief second.
“My boy, you have given me above and beyond. I am grateful to both of you. Now I can begin my journey once more.”  With those words he lifted his bundle and slung it over his shoulder.  He turned to the road looking back where he had been and then forward to where he was going.  Before moving he looked at us once more.
“You chirrun be careful now.  God bless you f’ yo’ kiness to a ole man.” The bag once more seemed to weigh down on his shoulder as he bent to accommodate it. The first step had a spring to it but the second took on the shuffling gate I had seen when first spying him down the road.
“Bye mister!” We yelled to him. A smiling glance met out shouts.
“Bang! Bang!” shouted my buddy, his cap gun drawn and waving in my direction.
My hand flew to mine. With a quick draw Billy the Kid would admire I was shooting back. 
“Bang! Bang!” I yelled running to his last hiding place, the creosote post.  I stood straight to utilize the best advantage behind such a slim pole. For a second I peeked down the road. It was empty. It was empty in the other direction as well.  The stranger was gone.  Completely gone.
“Hey, buddy?”
“Yeah,” came the answer.
“Where’d the man go?” I asked him.
He stepped out from behind the porch.
“He’s right down the road there,” he said.
“Nu uh.  He ain’t there.”  He came to my hiding pole.
Staring down the road he said,  “He only just left.  He should be just up the street there.”
“Think he cut across somebody’s yard?”
“No.  There ain’t no way to get through the yards.  Nobody’d let him pass anyway.” We both walked up the road a piece to see if he was anywhere around.
“He might have stopped at somebody’s house for a handout.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
We continued to walk along the path taken by the stranger.  He was nowhere to be seen.
“I gotta go on home,” said my buddy.  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“OK.  See you then.”
I walked back to the house thinking over the last hour or so.  I had never seen a stranger in this subdivision before.  Not to mention he was not a white man either. 
My folks got home a couple of hours later.
“Hello, Rickey,” called my mother as she walked through the door.
“Hi, mom. I’m in here watching Woody Woodpecker.”
“How was your day?” she asked as she passed me to go to the kitchen.
“It was alright,” I answered.
A moment later my mother poked her head around the corner.
“Yes ma’am?”
“Would you come into the kitchen for a moment?” she asked.
That tone always brought on wariness in children my age. Not that it was followed by harsh punishment or anything but it always alerted the senses to be careful in answers that might be forth coming.
She was standing at the counter when I came through the doorway. Her toe was tapping the floor.  I must have messed up somewhere, I thought.
“What’s all this?” she was pointing at the open mayo jar, the open bag of bread and the bits of lettuce on the floor and sink.
“Oh, I made a sandwich for the man.”
“What man?” she asked. A new look of concern came upon her face.
“The man that as walking down the road.”
“There was a man walking down the road that you made a sandwich for?”
“Yes ma’am.” Having answered I turned to go.
“Whoa, wait a minute young man.  What man was this?”
“He was an old man who looked like he was on his last leg, momma.  He asked for money but we didn’t have any so we made him a sandwich.”
“How often does that happen?” she asked. “Do strangers often come up here to the house while we are gone?”
“No ma’am. He was the first one I’ve ever seen.” Once again I turned to go.  Once again she spoke.
“He asked for money?”
“Yes ma’am. But my allowance was gone since Saturday.  I didn’t have any money so we asked if he wanted a sandwich. He said yeah, so I made him one.”
“Did you bring him inside?” A frown settled on her face as she continued to ask questions.
“No ma’am.  He didn’t want in.  He waited in the drive while I fixed it and my buddy took him a glass of water.”
“So you fixed him a sandwich and a glass of water while he stayed in the yard?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“Rickey, it sounds like you did the right thing but it could have been dangerous.  You know I’ve told you never to speak to strangers.”
“Maybe next time you should call your grandmother or somebody if a stranger walks into the yard like that. Will you do that for me, please?”
“Yes ma’am. I will.”
She smiled with relief then said, “Now clean this counter off so I can begin dinner.” She kissed the top of my head as I put the lid on the mayo jar.
Later that night when it was time for bed she came to tuck me in.
She pulled the sheet and blanket over me. Leaning over me she brushed her lips across my forehead.  Then she sat for a second on my bed.
“Rickey, please remember what your daddy and I have told you about strangers.”
“Yes, ma’am. Don’t speak to strangers.”
“That’s right.  Today you and your friend should probably have run inside and locked the door until he was gone.”
“If I hadda he’d still be hungry and thirsty.”
She looked at me with a kindness only seen in a mother’s eyes.
“Yes, I guess you’re right,in this instance. Ok,” she said rising.  “You get a good night’s sleep and we’ll see you in the morning.”
“Yes?” She stopped at the door placing her hand on the frame and turning to me with her beautiful smile.
“Doesn’t the Bible say something about being kind to strangers because they might be angels?”
She looked at me then smiled again, “Yes, dear. It does.”
“Do you think he might have been an angel?”
“God says we won’t know so we should treat them with kindness.  You did just that, dear.  You and your friend treated him with kindness the best you could.  That warmed God’s heart whether that was an angel or not.” She kissed her hand and blew it toward me.  “Good night, my love.  Sleep tight.”
When she turned out the light and left the room I lay thinking.  My buddy and I fed an angel today.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

By the light...

“Don’t forget the butter, Rickey,” said RB as we pedaled up to his driveway.
“Butter?” I backed my pedal to brake. Standing astride my Columbia, I looked at him quizzically.
“Yeah.  Don’t you remember Camp Ho-Non-Wah?”
“You mean that camping trip when I touched the top of the tent during a downpour?”  Nobody told me.  How was I to know?  It looked like a hole in the top of the tent, so I touched it.
“Uh huh. Don’t you remember before the rains came and we cooked our dinner over the fire?” RB talked about that moment a lot.  It really stuck in his memory.  I could see him drooling now.
We had both bought new canteen items prior to the trip out to the Camp grounds.  Those grounds had been used by scouts for ages. They always learned the art of self-sufficiency on those camping trips.  Merit badges were in the offing for those who mastered so many camping skills.  The camp’s name was supposedly an Indian name but I was never told the significance of it.
“You know, Rickey. We had steaks.  Thick juicy steaks just for that night.  And when we built the fire to cook them.  Remember?  Sticks rubbed together over a pile of kindling until the friction got ‘em hot enough to burst the stuff into flame?”
“I think you did that,” I said. “I never could get those sticks hot enough so I cheatd and used a match.  Still haven’t got that badge.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said in exasperation.  “Anyway when we got our fire going you slapped a slab of butter in the hot pan and tossed your steak on top of it.”
 I swear there was a touch of drool creeping out the corner of his mouth.
“Yeah, so?”  I still had no idea what he was on about. “That’s just the way my mom cooks.  Monkey see, monkey do.”
“You let me have some of it to cook mine.” He looked at me as if that should turn on the light.
“That’s why you want me to bring the butter?” That was my question but there was no answer I’d get that would clear up the fog in my mind.
“YES. That was the best steak I ever ate.  I know it was because we cooked them in butter. Oh man I can’t wait to do it again.”
“OK.  I’ll bring the butter.”
“Great. I’ll be over about an hour before dark so we can get to the campsite.”
“OK.  I’ll get my stuff together and see you then.” I stepped into the pedal and began to roll along the paved road. 
It was Friday.  School was out for the weekend and we had been planning a campout since Tuesday.
RB, me and ID were hitting the hills beyond the pines along the marsh skirting Stono River.  We’d found the hills, as we called them, while hunting in the woods.
Beyond our houses was nothing but woods and marsh chock full of wild critters.  We would tramp through the trees in search of rabbits and squirrels throughout the summer time.  It was wide open with a thriving animal population.  Possum, squirrel and the occasional deer would pop out in front of us.  When they caught sight of two boys with rifles they would disappear quickly into the underbrush.  We rarely shot anything because they were so fast.  Usually we would plink at cans or pine cones since the animals fled at the sight of us.
We carried 22 single shot rifles.  RB had some shorts and I had bought a box of longs thinking they were better but they were just more expensive, a dollar for fifty instead of half a buck for fifty of the shorts. 
A bolt action single shot was what I had received for Christmas. I was stunned.  For as long as I could remember I had begged for a B-B gun to be told they were dangerous and I could shoot my eye out.  Each year I was disappointed.  I never got my Red Ryder.  I always shot Clyde’s since my parents thought them too dangerous for me.  I reckon they meant too dangerous to own because I always carried Clyde’s spare when we went shootin’ on the golf course.
Then, when I was around eleven, I saw a long flat package tightly wrapped in red and green shiny foil propped against the wall beside the red blinking light on the tree.  I looked at dad. He smiled at me.
“Go ahead,” he said, “open it.”
My mother frowned. The worry was evident in that face.
I turned to rush after my gift.
“A B-B gun. Finally a B-B gun!”  My foot caught on the gift beside my dad’s foot. Gravity took me straight to the floor, my head crashing into my beloved gift, my Red Ryder was finally going to be mine.
“Careful, son. We don’t want you going to the hospital on Christmas morning.” He smiled. I reached for that red and green package turning over at the same time. When I was sitting up I had the long box at hand. My fingernail snagged on the tape. It was our ritual to unstick the tape without tearing the paper. It was a game to see who could release the paper from its tight folds without damage.  I think it was a holdover from dad’s past.  Things were very dear during the depression and it had become drummed into him to be careful with everything that could be reused.  Christmas wrapping paper was one of those things.  Having watched him all my life carefully inch tape back without tearing the shine off it I did my best to copy him exactly. 
After a good fifteen minutes of prying and scraping I had the taped sections free and began to easily fold back the creases to reveal a cardboard enclosure.  I held the recycled wrapping toward my dad who carefully took it to lay beside his chair along with the other bits to be stored for next Christmas.
I put my weight on my knees and lay the box in front of me. The overhead bulb cast a yellow glow over the room. My shadow lay across the brown of the cardboard.  It was similar to a case and I lifted the overlapping top. Inside lay a walnut stock that reflected the blinking lights of the tree next to me.  The wood was richer and heavier than any B-B gun I had ever seen.  The bluing of the barrel looked professional. It had a bolt action. And that’s when I shook my head in a double take.
“This isn’t a B-B gun!” I shouted.
“No, it isn’t,” said dad. “That is a single-shot bolt action 22-calibre rifle.”
He smiled down at me. I looked up at him in complete bewilderment.  Thoughts began racing through my mind.  All these years dad told me B-B guns were too dangerous?  And now I get a 22?  Something that I could kill someone with? That’s even more than dangerous. It could be lethal. Out of my mouth shot,
“Wow! A 22! Wow! Dad! Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“Now listen, son. This is a weapon.  It’s powerful enough to kill so there’s great responsibility that goes with its ownership. I want you to take this booklet about gun safety and be able to tell me everything in here before you can shoot it.”
He handed me a booklet with illustrations. Gun safety, it read.
“Do you understand what I’m saying to you?” He was looking me square in the eyes. I noticed my mother was quite pale with her frown in the deepest mode possible.
“Please be careful,” she said.
“Oh, mom, I’ll be careful.  Clyde and I hunt all the time at grandma’s.”
“That may be,” said my dad, “but before you carry this around you better be able to tell me all the safety rules.  What is the one thing you never do with a gun?”
It was always his major rule with my cap guns.
“NEVER point it at anyone.”  It came out automatically since he had been telling me that since I shot my first cap.
“That’s right.  It’s very important with this rifle.  It’s not a B-B gun it’s a 22 and it shoots real bullets with power enough to kill.  The killing power is just as lethal whether it is on purpose or by accident.  So. No accidents, please.”
“Yes sir!” I shouted lifting my rifle to my shoulder. 
“Watch that barrel,” dad said.
I aimed it toward the pine outside the window. There was no click when I pulled the trigger. The bolt slid freely up and back. I jammed it into the barrel and pulled the trigger again.  Nothing.
“Something’s wrong,” I said.
“No, it isn’t. You just need to read the instructions. Spend some time with that book.” He tossed it at me.
“Yes sir.” I looked and there was the instruction to pull the firing pin at the back of the barrel. I did that and pulled the trigger which gave a satisfying click.
That had been the scene at Christmas the year before and I hadn’t accidentally shot anyone so I reckon I memorized the safety rules well enough.  Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away that year.  I never got to hunt with Clyde carrying my own rifle.
I packed my army surplus backpack with sleeping bag, mess kit and canteen. I threw in some swim trunks just in case and dropped in four boiled eggs.  I slipped a pork chop out of the freezer and into the bag.  Then I grabbed a stick of butter. Aluminum foil sat on the counter.  I pulled a long stretch of it and ripped it along the jagged edge provided to separate it in a straight line.  That butter had neverbeen wrapped as well as I did it then.  It sat under a triple layer of foil on all sides when I finished.
I dropped a Pepsi into the bag and filled my canteen with tap water. That, too, went into the bag. RB and I had decided to leave the rifles at home and spend time on merit badges. I pulled the belt on one side of the flap through the metal catch when I heard RB at the door.
“Be right there!” I yelled throwing the strap over my right shoulder.
“Mom!” I yelled again.
“Yes, dear,” she said from the back room.
I stuck my head through the door opening in the back.
“RB and I are going now.”
She got that worried look on her face again.
“We aren’t taking the rifles, mom.” A smidge of relief flashed across her face.
“I’m so glad to hear that,” she said. “You boys have a good time and please be careful.”
RB was behind me. “We will, Mrs. Croucher.”
We started down the hall.
“Oh yeah,” I said turning back to my mother. “Please keep Princess inside.  We don’t need her with us this time.”
“I will,” she said.
“Bye now.”
The screen door slammed behind us. We ran to the road.  The start of our camping trip had begun.  The sun was low in the sky radiating warmth and not heat.  It would be the perfect temperature this night.
ID was late but showed up on his bike at the top of the road.
“Hey, guys. You weren’t going to wait for me?”  His bike locked brakes skidding around in a half circle.
“We’re hiking to the site.  Take your bike to my place.  We’ll wait here.”
He shot up the road. He and his bike disappeared into the drive.  A few seconds later he was running to catch up to us.
“I hope one of you brought matches ‘cause I never can get sticks hot enough by rubbing them together.”
“Heck yeah,” RB and I shouted out. We laughed as we jumped the ditch to enter the woods.
The sun was slipping into its final goodbye for the day when we arrived at the hills.  This was an area that had been newly cleared of trees and shrubs. The hills had been formed by scooping dirt from a deep hole adjacent to them.  The hole was obviously deep by the height of the mounds we called hills next to it.  It had filled completely with water over the last few days which had brought rain.  The water in the dying sun appeared aqua for the few moments the sky changed from red to purple to black.  Overhead the moon, which had been pale in the sunlit sky, was now brilliant silver, lighting the scant clouds passing overhead.  It was full and gorgeous and perfect for a story about werewolves.
We unpacked our gear. We unrolled the sleeping bags which had been packed at the bottom of our shoulder bags.  RB began searching for wood for a small fire. 
We pushed and tugged at the top of the hills to make level space for our bed rolls. Stretching from the foot of the hills was a strip of marsh that glittered silver as it swayed in the breeze that had begun to blow.  Crickets and other night creatures filled the air with their song of life.
After leveling the top of the hills we sat.  RB placed the wood atop the kindling very carefully so that the flame would come up from beneath and ignite the mall branches we had broken into firewood. 
“Anybody want to try rubbing sticks together?”
ID and I shook our heads and handed him our boxes of matches. “Heck no,” we said together.
“No merit badge for you guys,” said RB. He laughed. The match caught on the striking strip.  Guarding it from the breeze he touched it to the kindling.  It went out.
“How about you guys sit over here and block the wind.” We scooted over on our knees gouging dirt out of the hillock. Clumps came loose and rolled down the side and into the water with a splash. I watched the still surface reflecting an over-sized silver disc break into a shimmering patch of rolling silver and black undulations.  Gorgeous, I thought.
“Did you see that?” ID whispered over to me.
“Yes, it’s really something isn’t it?” I said looking down from the heights into the mirror of waves below.
“No. Out there,” he said pointing toward the tree line.
We froze looking in that direction.
“Hah! Got you two to look,” shouted ID laughing.
“Cut it out,” I said.
“Yeah,” agreed RB. “Stop that and block the wind here.”
We leaned into the pile of wood.  The match scratch was followed by flame.  This time the kindling took and the single flame shot up to lick at the sticks lying crosswise.  As those caught alight we put heavier bits of branches over it.  In a few moments we looked at the yellow and orange flames flicker across our faces.
“OK. Let’s get out the fry pans and butter ‘em up.” Mine was in my hand and open so the handle locked into place. I unwrapped the stick of butter.  I held it toward RB who eagerly cut off an inch of the stick with his spoon. He dropped it into his pan. It sizzled and slid in every direction as he tilted it this way and that. When it was melted he dropped a steak into it. The sizzle grew louder.  His face took on maniacal features as he stared into the pan. The flames licked upward sending dancing shadows upon his eyes.  The sight sent a shiver down my spine.
I offered ID some butter which he took. I tossed a portion into my pan. We both heated them over the flame. When there was only liquid in my pan I unwrapped my pork chop and slipped it into the melted butter.  It sizzled sending out an aroma that made my mouth water.  We flipped them all at the same time practically and stared at the browned surface while the other side got the same treatment.  The aroma rose permeating the area until the breezes whipped it away. 
I offered one of my eggs to each of them. ID took one. RB refused. He skewered his steak and began to cut into it viciously with his knife and fork.  His fork disappeared into his mouth carrying a slab of steak and came out clean, shining in the moonlight.
“Oh, yeah.  Just like I remember it.  So good fried in pure butter.  Nothing better.” He continued to relish his steak as I cut into my pork chop. ID bit into his without the aid of utensils.  As he shook his head back and forth ripping at the steak he growled.  It was a bit disconcerting but RB and I ignored it enjoying our own.
The sky darkened over a bit as time passed.  The glow of the full moon was dimmed by heavier clouds covering its surface.
Mid chew I asked, “Did anyone check to see if it was going to rain?”
ID spoke up. “It might but we’ll be OK. Unless some wild beast shows up.”
“Oh shut up!” RB and I yelled. 
“Why do you have to make it seem so spooky?”
“I’m not doing anything.  It’s just a possibility.”
The moon disappeared for a short interval.  The darkness was complete and blinding since we had had the brightness of a full moon and its reflection in the water below.
“Ooo,” came a slow steady growl.  “There’s something out there.”
“ID if you keep this up you’re gonna have to leave.”
The cloud cover flashed over. The moon once again shed its light and we could see.
“I’m finished with mine.  How about you guys?” asked ID.  He arced his pan over head. What was left of his steak took flight. In the dark distance it hit some brush with a muffled sound.  RB followed suit.  Not being one to be left out I did the same.
“Who brought the bottle opener?” asked ID. I tossed him my Swiss knife.
“You’ll find one in there.” Waiting for its return I pulled my Pepsi out of my bag.
The moon disappeared again as the clouds became thick and heavy.  Darkness fell upon us. The fire’s light flickered eerily.
“Listen,” whispered ID.
“Not again, ID,” I said. “That’s getting old.”
There was a rustle coming from the area we had thrown our scraps.
The moon peeked then hid again.
The sound from the bushes grew.  No, that wasn’t it. In actuality the other night sounds had stopped. The night was upon us, dark and deathly quiet. The brush shook. A sound like growling slowly filtered our way. We should never have tossed those scraps over there.
The moon appeared as the clouds broke. The wind quickly forced the clouds back across the silvery light blanketing us in darkness again. Orange and yellow danced across our faces straining to hear.  The quiet continued.
“I saw something when the moon came out. It was a flash of white near the spot we tossed our trash.”
“Oh come on, ID.  That’s not funny.”  I was getting tired of his trying to scare us.
“No, Rickey.  I’m not kidding.  I saw something down there.’
We strained to hear anything.  A rustle of bush rose from that point.  The darkness concealed any movement but there was the hint of a growl and possibly the chewing of something. Quiet settled once again.
“Shhh,” said ID.  “I swear I hear something.”
I stared into the fire.  Without the moon it was the only light we had but it was barely lighting the clods of dirt just around us.  The night creatures were still silent as death.  Not a chirp, not a croak, not a creak was in the air.  Just a slippery crunching in the brush where the remains of steak and chop had flown.
A loud splash came from behind us in the water. I jumped. I could see by the firelight RB was rattled too.  ID sat with a slight smile curling his lip.  After a second he roared with laughter.
“You should have seen the two of you. One dirt clod hurled over your heads and you about had to change your drawers.” He rolled over on his back then upright laughing.  “Wow! You guys are such wimps.”
The clouds unveiled the moon at that moment. The eerie silver light of a full moon flashed once more bathing the area in its white ghostly light. I saw it first. RB froze. There directly behind our laughing friend was a pair of orange eyes. ID stopped rocking. He sat stick still as we all heard the heavy breathing. He touched his neck. His eyes saucered. His laughter became gasps. A ghostly image broke through the veil of darkness surrounding ID.  A mist of hot breath from a white maw encircled his head. He scooted away from the ghostly apparition. RB and I sat frozen to our patch of ground.  ID scrabbled over the top of the hill, crawling, clutching, grappling with crumbling dirt to get as far from that sight as possible. His momentum took him over the top and into the decline. He slid clawing at the side of the hill to no avail.  His hands caught nothing but dirt. His efforts gained him nothing. His fall was ended with a loud splash.  The water took him under for a moment.  He broke the surface spluttering and yelling.
“Get away!  It’s a wolf! He’ll kill you!  Don’t you hear me!” he shouted into the heights.
RB and I looked down at ID beating the water with his arms.
“You mean this wolf?” I asked. I moved to the side allowing Princess, my white muzzled orange eyed collie, to step up atop the hill to look down at the foolish human beating the water with frantic arms.
‘She got loose and followed our trail.  Those bits of steak held her up for a minute.  When she finished them she trotted on up.  You just happened to be the first one she licked as a hello.  Nothing frightening here.  Gosh, you should have seen your face.   It was priceless, wasn’t it Princess?” I ruffled her hair. She nuzzled me back.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

This mother's love...

Once, long long ago, when I was a small boy, self-absorbed in the corner with my toys, my dad walked past me without a word.  He left the house followed by a heavily slamming door.  I jumped at that door slam.  Through the window I watched as he entered the car and slammed that door as well.  I continued to watch out the window as his departure was covered over by dust and dirt kicked up from spinning tires. It was an unusual scene but not totally unfamiliar.  My dad was a stranger in a strange land who had returned to America from his native England in a promise made to my mother, who had been a war bride, long ago while buzz bombs from Hitler’s Germany flew overhead in East Studdal.  There were times when the demands of family life exceeded his ability.  To relieve the pressure when it grew too strong an argument would erupt ending with a slammed door and the roar of the engine in the Oldsmobile my mother had named Jezabel.  A moment of sadness came and went as I became aware once more of my toys.
I played on as most only children do. In a house that wore the creed “Children should be seen and not heard” like a badge, I closed off the unhappiness that occasionally rose up through imagination and make believe.  It has become what is now called a coping mechanism on a small scale.  My cowboy and Indian figures made of plastic came alive once again on the model ranch I had gotten for Christmas.  The ranch house was attached to steel rectangle which was painted to resemble the ground. Surrounding the ranch were a corral and a barn and a bunkhouse. I was defending it  from an Indian attack.  Between my fingers the boss of the ranch fired his rifle. I held him behind a fence post of the corral.  With my other hand I bounced a lone Indian on his pony straight for the man in my right hand.
 Pow! Pow! came the shots from the rancher’s Winchester. The Indian and his pony fell to the side, stone plastic dead.  I reached for another Indian astride a pony strikingly similar to the one who had just bitten the dust, when from the back room I heard a sniff followed by several more. The ranch war came to an end as I became aware of my mother in the back.  Those were the sounds of tears escaping the burden of sadness.
I lay my toy people aside.  The back door to the bathroom was closed.  The sound of sniffing was clearer here. I knocked.
There was no answer. The sniffing ceased and all was quiet. I knocked again.
“Mommy? Are you in there?” I asked timidly.
“Yes, dear.”
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, sweetheart. Go play. I’ll be out shortly.”
“Yes, mommy.” I answered just as I was supposed to and returned to the window and my ranch house.  I sat but had no desire to play any longer.   Idly I rolled the rancher in my hand while watching the hallway leading to the back room.  The pain in my hand made me realize I had gripped the figure with all my might. It had begun to dig deeply into my palm with its flat sharp ridges. I threw it against the ranch house with a clatter.
“What happened, dear?” My mother was beside me looking down with a smile on her face.  “Here, let me take a look,” she said, crouching beside me. “Goodness. How hard did you squeeze that toy?  You came close to breaking the skin.”
“I don’t know. It just started to hurt.”
“Well,” she said kissing my palm, “it’ll be better before you are twice married.” She stood and turned to go to the kitchen.
“Were you crying, mommy?”
She was suspended between hiding the truth and speaking the truth. The struggle was real. I sensed it without understanding it.
Finally she spoke. “Yes, I was Sweetheart. Grownups do that occasionally.”
“Why? I thought only kids like me cried.”
“Yes, I used to think so too, darling, but I’ve since learned better.” She turned once more toward the kitchen.
“Why were you crying?” The question hung in the air. Still facing the kitchen she stopped once again suspended. A minute passed. Her shoulders slumped ever so slightly. There was a chair nearby. She stepped to it and sat.
“Come here,” she said. When I heard those words from my dad I always wanted to go anywhere but there. My mother’s face showed a sadness not seen in my dad’s face at such time. His face was always stern with the promise of attention I didn’t want.  A smile slowly crept over her face as she beckoned me onto her lap. Her eyes reflected that smile. Feeling welcome and safe I reached up. She helped me onto her lap.
“Your dad and I had a fight,” she opened up and the words came out. “I get sad and unhappy when we fight so I cry.’
“What were you fighting about?”
She looked out the window as if to a land far away, England maybe.
“I’m not really sure. It was a spat, but there is so much more invloved. I don’t think I should burden you with it.”
“Why is daddy so mean?”
“Your daddy isn’t mean, Rickey. He’s a good man. Stern in his manner but a heart so big it hurts him to own it.”
The far-away look occupied her face once more. I had to hug her to get her attention again.
“Why is he like that? Sometimes I’m scared of him.” A confession I would never have made at any other time.
“Oh no, honey. You should never be scared of your daddy. He loves you more than you can know. He loves us both.  He brought us back to America because he promised me he would. He left his family and everything he knew to bring us here. So don’t be afraid and don’t ever think he doesn’t love you.’
“He doesn’t act like it sometimes.”
“I know. I think the fact he’s here and having to find work that he isn’t trained for is telling on him.  Do you remember the tugboats?”
“Yes ma’am.” We had visited him at the Whitestack docks several times. We had even been able to ride on the tugs when they led ships in the harbor to the docks. “He doesn’t work there anymore though does he?”
“No. He found a job that pays better but he still is learning and that puts a strain on him especially having to work nights.”
The night shift was hard on all of us. He was never around in the daytime because he had to sleep.  The worst part was how quiet we had to be in the house during those times. It was hard to be quiet as a mouse in stocking feet. Asking a child to hold down the rambunctiousness was a crazy request. I had to be in control of my natural inclination to whoop it up like a wild Indian or else.  The “or else” was usually unpleasant.
“I wish he didn’t work nights.”
“Me too, honey. Me too. But he does because that’s the job.  This world is a difficult place sometimes but we have to deal with it as best we can. I have begun to understand of late that that is true.”
“What do you mean, mommy?”
“I guess I mean…  Well. I think it means my belief and faith in God have been strengthened.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Let me see.  How to explain to a young boy?  I used to think that I could make your daddy happy.  I’ve always been a happy person. Your daddy had a very hard childhood.  We had our hard times too, but it was different for us. We had a farm. Our family worked together. Our love for one another brought us through the hard times.
“Your daddy’s family life was hard too. He has told me stories about those times in England. His memories are full of difficulties faced with the British stiff upper lip. His emotions have always been bottled up. There was never any display of emotion. From his telling of it, the sense of love was thin. Where we always knew and felt the love, he didn’t.  Where we could let our feelings be known, he couldn’t. The life of a Victorian Englishman was a hard one.  It’s hard for us to understand how an era like the Victorian one can continue to have such a hold on a people but it did.  His mother was a very strict, very proper Victorian woman. Punishment for stepping out of line was severe. He had some tough times in that household.  He wasn’t an angel by any means and it was rewarded with the rod often.”
“Daddy got spanked?” I couldn’t believe that.
“Oh yes. He received many a spanking.’
“Like he spanks me?”
“Nothing like that. He spanks you sparingly.’
“Yeah, and tells me it hurts him more than me.”
She looked at me. “You might not believe that but it is true. I’ve seen how he looks after giving you a spanking.  He is very sad and unhappy about it each time.  That’s why he doesn’t do it often.”
“Seems like he spanks me all the time.”
“It might seem like that to you but it isn’t really. He hates punishing you but sometimes it is necessary to make you see.”
“Maybe so but I hate him when he does.”
“That passes because you hate the punishment not the punisher. How’d we get on this topic? What I was trying to tell you is what I have finally learned.”
“About what?” I had already lost track too.
“What I have learned about life and God’s love for us. We’ve taught you about God.”
“Yes ma’am. He made us and He loves us.”
“Yes, that’s right. He wants what is best for us.  He told us as much. For years now I have prayed that God would help me change your daddy into a happy man.”
“He didn’t do it, did He?”
“No, He didn’t. He finally let me know that it’s my job to change me. I don’t have the power nor the control to change anybody except myself.  I finally realized that is what He had been trying to get me to understand all this time.  So I began to change my prayer.”
“Into what?”
“Since I could not change your daddy, I asked God to change me.  I asked him to take my heart and give me the ability to be happy in any circumstance.  I love your daddy no matter what but my trying to change him was making me a nervous wreck.  As for your daddy, trying to get him to alter his entire life’s learning into something he was incapable of understanding was a real trial.  He has become more and more frustrated by the job he has to work and then to come home to someone who was trying to force happiness into him was too much.  His ability to cope with it all was coming to the end.  That is when my prayer changed. That is when I asked God to change me. That’s when I asked Him to fill my heart with His love. That’s when I asked Him to help me to love your daddy like He loves your daddy.”
“But I heard you crying.  Why were you crying if God changed you?”
“I think it is an ongoing change, Honey. It’s a tall order to ask God to change me over night.  There are a lot of years and a lot of life lessons I have to unlearn.  I knew when I asked for that change that it was the right thing. My heart felt lighter as if a burden had been lifted from me.  A new understanding of your daddy came into my new heart.  The love I feel for him became deeper. I don’t know how else to explain it.
“Yes, we still have arguments but they aren’t like they were before. Your daddy’s reactions might be harsh at times but I look deeper into his heart and see that he loves us. That love will always overcome the frustration and anger. Those are just reactions to events. The love is a foundation that is the rock-bed of our marriage and our family. I have complete faith that God will see us through. He has strengthened my belief and my faith.  So I don’t let a few tears upset me too much and neither should you.”
She kissed me and placed me on the floor next to my play ranch.
“You go back to the ranch and let me fix us some lunch.”
“Yes ma’am.”
 I watched her walk into the kitchen those many years ago. I can still feel the slick linoleum beneath me on that day. I still see the tall pine outside that window. I still feel the pull of air through the house drawn by the window fan in the back window. I can still see the old stove that she turned the switch on. I can still see it clearly in my mind. I hear the words she spoke to me. They fill my heart with understanding of a God that she put her faith in. It is her words that placed in me a belief and a faith that there was a Jesus who walked the earth and that He was all they say He was and is.
How do I know that? I know because my mother has walked this earth with the love of God in her heart that she shared with every living soul she ever met. I know because she showed me it was possible to love as Jesus loved. I know because only He could have placed that love in her heart. It is a love that is too rare in this world. I only hope that someday the knowing of it will become the living of it, with God’s help.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Milkman cometh...

I was having a test first period in English.  Chaucer. What I didn’t know about Chaucer.  I had fallen asleep the night before trying to cram it all in.  I should have studied along and along but what the heck, there was too much going on to study all the time.  I had my books in my left hand walking to class and my study sheet in my right hand trying to pack it in for the next hour.  If I crammed now it would come out in a steady stream during the test.  That was my theory at least.
Who was the wife of Bath?  My only remembrance is the gap between those two front teeth being a sign of sexual promiscuity. That’s sex and lots of it like I think of when I see that cute thing walking past. What a nice swing on that back porch as the eyes wander over the upper curves.  She certainly filled out since last year.  Man, would I like to take her home.  Whoa, get back to the test subject.  She is really fine.
And so it went as I walked past all the cuties standing chatting on the breezeway, my mind flitting from the test subject and the living curves all around me. I simply could not keep my mind on the work I had to do to pass this test.
I was wakened from my innocent lusting by JR next to me.
“Huh? Oh. Hey JR. Did you want something?” I shoved my study sheet in my English book.
“Uh, yeah.  Um, could I borrow the key to your house?” JR had an odd smile on his face as he asked.
“My key? What for?” Not just an odd smile but an odd request as well.
“Well, um, I was going to cut today with some football buddies.  We kind of need a place to gather.”
“Why my place?” I wasn’t too keen on this request.
“Well, hell, Rickey. Your place is the most secluded one around.  We thought we’d get together for some practice.  You know, football stuff.”
It sounded kind of strange to me.
“Why don’t you do that here? You know, where the football field is.”
“Uh, um.  This is more an indoor sport.” He said this with a nervous chuckle.
“Sounds fishy to me.  And I still don’t understand why you want to do that at my house.  What’s wrong with your house or one of the other players’ houses?”
“Oh come on, Rickey. Your parents both work. There’s nobody home.  At our houses at least one parent would be home.  We kind of need some privacy for these particular plays.”
I looked at him and wondered what the heck football plays need privacy.
“I don’t understand, JR.  What the heck is private about football?  And why wouldn’t you want to be near the field to test your plays?  It doesn’t make sense to me.”
A frown began to cross his brow.
“Do you play football?”
“You know I don’t.”
“So what the hell do you know about it? All I’m asking is to use your house for the afternoon.”
“So you want to meet at my house without me there? How about me getting in on this meeting?” I was beginning to think I might be missing out on some fun.
“I would say yeah if you played on the team. But me and the guys have been planning this for some time. We just want to borrow it for the afternoon.”
The bell rang. All those cute curvy bottoms were sashaying past. My eye was caught. My mind drifted to undressing those nubile bodies so tempting to this weak weak flesh. JR’s request became less important as my feet wanted to follow what my eyes had latched onto.
“Rickey! It’s important!”
“Huh? What’s that?” I muttered reaching my hand as if to touch that soft and firm bottom passing by. His arguments had been forgotten.  My mind was otherwise occupied.
“Your key! You know. The key to your house. Can we borrow it?” He was becoming frantic with his request.
He turned me to face him.
“Listen up. You want us to win the game this week don’t you?” He was trying to interest me in a sacrifice for the team and for the school. “Come on! For the sake of the game.  This meeting is important for our team spirit.”
In actuality I didn’t give a fig for the team’s spirit. I just wanted to run to that girl in the tight sweater and ask her out.
“Rickey! Listen.”
“Huh? I don’t have a key, JR. You know my house is never locked. The milkman has to be able to get in to put our milk in the fridge. Leeme alone. Can’t you see I want that sweet thing over there?”
“Oh, yeah. Now I know why you’re so distracted. That’s right Tiger,” he said with a laugh. “Go get ‘er. She wants you. I can tell.”
And with that he was gone. I turned where he had been only to see empty space. I noticed two or three of the football players running toward the cars. Wish I knew what the heck that was all about, I thought. As that thought dwindled I saw sunlight bounce off some thick brunette tresses jouncing atop shoulders sporting yarn which was stretched to the max across her…  I gotta quit these thoughts and study for this test.
That was when I noticed the breezeway was devoid of students.  My last vision had slipped through the doors into the hallway.  
Panic ensued.  The English test! I was going to be late. I ran barely making the class. Our English teacher was at the door tapping her foot at me.
“Come on! You’re late!” Her face was stern but her eyes twinkled. I was one of her favorite students. It was a good feeling. I passed her and to my seat I trotted. I took out my study sheet for one last glimpse.
“All papers away,” said our teacher.  “There are only two questions. I hope you studied your material thoroughly. This test is one-third of your semester grade don’t forget.”
Holy crap! I didn‘t know that. The fear factor popped up. All thoughts of sexy seniors and gap-toothed women fled my cranium. JR and friends? That little scene was forgotten in the panic of the moment. I read the first question. Not a clue so I skipped it. Second question. I must have studied the wrong stuff. My heart began to pound in a totally different way from the way it did with sight of sweet shapely female forms newly acquired by our girl students. And, yet, my mind drifted into the arms of the girl sitting two rows over.
“Stop it!” I shouted in my head. With that jolt of reality I studied the questions once more. I placed my pencil on the third line from the top of my ruled paper. The scratching of carbon from my pencil commenced into a complete bull session in hopes that I might capture a wisp of what I was supposed to have read for this test.   It was a slim chance, however. The Classics Illustrated version wasn’t going to be enough to help with this. MacBeth. It was a total curveball.  My only hope was to remember the class sessions we covered this.  I wrote until my hand hurt and the bell rang.
Filing past her desk I lay my paper on the green blotter.
“How’d you do, Rickey? You were certainly writing a lot over there,” she said looking at me with those bright eyes full of mischief. 
I always loved her dark hair sprinkled with silver and those bright shining eyes hiding intelligence far beyond my imagination.
Intelligence is such a turn on, I thought to myself. I smiled showing my teeth, hoping my eyes sparkled with intelligence.
“Another paper littered with bull? Or did you understand this one?’ she was taunting me.
“I’ve always liked that particular play by the bard,” I said with my nose at a slight upward tilt. “It’s a really dark one and a bit depressing.  What with the wife goading him into brandishing a knife with gouts of blood, how could it not be dark?”
“Ah, I see,” she said. “Another pen brandished with gouts of bull. Very good, Rickey. Let’s hope you have enough truth between the cow pats.”  She chuckled and turned her attention to the next student.
Wow, I thought. If she were only a few years younger or I a few years older what a pair we would make.  At that moment the rich brown tresses seen prior to class passed by and I was tripping along behind her.
The bell rang after our third class. I trudged over to the cafeteria for another nutritious meal along with everyone else. The line moved quickly. I looked for JR but he was missing along with the other players I had seen hot footing it the parking area.  Odd.  As I look around to find a seat I was vaguely aware two of the prettiest senior girls were not anywhere to be seen. It was always nice to gaze on them. Talk about female development. Hubba hubba.  I shrugged it off as I caught sight of my English teacher. I smiled, waved and dreamed of finding a cottage with her.
“Rickey!” came a shout from the other side of the room. I waved turning in that direction. I placed my tray next to RB who was chatting up his girlfriend.
“You guys going to the dance?  Like I don’t already know,” I said with a smile.
“Of course. How about you?” He scooped potatoes into his spoon and held it as if he were going to catapult it in an arc across the room.
“I don’t know if BR can make it this weekend,” I said referring to the girl I was dating. She was a sophomore at a college in the upstate. “I need to call her to find out.  If she can’t I guess I’ll go stag.”
RB let fly his glob of potato and turned his head down to his plate.
There was a soft plash two tables over.
“Alright who did that?”
I turned to see who his target had been. Turning around with a chuckle I winked and said, “Good shot.”  It was one of the class bullies. He was too dim to figure the trajectory and a very deserving recipient. Rb and I laughed.
The rest of the day I went to class.  In between walking to the next one I casually checked out the students but JR and his buddies were nowhere to be seen.  Double strange were the two missing senior sweeties.  I gave them no more thought as my body turned to walk in the steps of the beauty with the bouncing brunette curls. It was just another day in High School.
With the final bell I followed everyone else to the buses waiting in a semi-circle beyond the front doors.  Mine was three down and I moseyed to it.  The engine was running as I climbed aboard.
“Where’s ID?” I asked the substitute driver.
“Dang if I know,” he said. “Got a call early this morning about taking his route.  Some secret team meeting.  Don’t know what it was about.  New plays I reckon. It’s always nice to get a check at the end of the month even if only a coupla bucks.”
“Weird,” I said. “Wonder what it was all about?”
“Don’t have a clue. Move on back. You’re blocking the stairs.”
Looking back I saw a line of crabby kids backed up.
“Move it!” the one in front yelled.
“OK. Ok. I’m moving.”
I jumped down from the bottom step and the door folded behind me. My stop consisted of me walking to the end of the road to the last house on the right.  It popped into my mind that JR was right about one thing, my house was out of the way.  Inside I tossed my books on the table which was clean of clutter and shining as if it had been scrubbed spic and span bright.  It seemed a little odd but I gave it no thought.  I grabbed the milk out of the fridge and poured a glass.  The milkman had done it again, two quarts of Grade A. Just what a growing boy needed.  Starting to the TV room I grabbed a bag of chips which was strange because a new bag of chips in the middle of the week was not the norm in this house.  I scratched my head promptly forgetting it.
I clicked the TV on. After it warmed up channel five was on.  Nobody in this house watched channel five much.  I was beginning to feel like I was in a Twilight Zone episode. I put my glass on the table beside my chair.  The lamp wasn’t in its usual place.  I changed the channel and American Bandstand was just beginning. I settled in with a handful of chips.
My mother came in through the back door.
“Hello, anyone home?” She called from the kitchen.
“I’m back here, mom.” Gene Pitney was guesting on the show and started his song when my mother appeared at the door.
Eyes glued to the tube I said, “yes ma’am?”
“I just wanted to thank you. That was so sweet.”
My brow crinkled at the bridge of my nose. “Ma’am?”
“What you did. It was so thoughtful. You must have known what a bad day I was having.”
‘What are you talking about, mom?”
“Don’t act so humble, Rickey. It was a really nice thing. Cleaning up. Making the beds. Putting away the dishes. I’m as pleased as I can be.  Such a wonderful gesture.  Thank you so much.”
“Uh, you’re welcome?” I mumbled. 
Those idiots! I thought.
“I’m glad you’re pleased.”
She came over and patted me on the head.
“Pleased? I’m tickled pink.” She went back to the kitchen to start dinner. She was singing. I hadn’t heard her sing in a while.
As the pots and pans began to sound out in the kitchen I got up to look in the bed room. The bed was made. The end tables were spotless. The floor even looked as if it had been vacuumed.
The next morning JR approached me.
“Hey buddy I want to thank you for letting us use your place.”
“You took girls over, didn’t you?”
“Why would you say that?” He looked at me puzzled.
“The place was too clean. What did you do?’
‘Uh, Rickey we did what you only dream about. We took two of the prettiest seniors over to your place and played games in your beds. We were rowdy and rough until the milkman came in the door.  He caught the prettiest girl in the kitchen stark naked and dropped a quart of milk on the floor.  Funny as hell. He flew out the door apologizing.  We had to clean up. Glass and milk was all over the place. Once we were through the girls felt guilty and cleaned everything.  What a day. Thanks again.”
“You kook!” I yelled after him. “Don’t ever make up the beds again. It’s a dead giveaway. I almost choked when my mother thanked me for doing the house work. Now she expects it and I’ll have to continue what you started.”
JR just hooted a laugh, then walked to class.
I turned to go to my class. The bouncy brunette was wearing a severely tight sweater. I trailed behind her on a cloud.  One day, I thought. One day.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Hole in the Wall Gang

  The morning was brightening into a beautiful day.  My mother said yes when I asked if I could use the car to drive to school.  After dropping her at the front door of the American Tobacco Company, I turned around to head back to the island of James.  Looking to the left I saw nothing coming.  Whipping the wheel clockwise I punched the gas and a faint squeal of rubber on pavement gave me a slight thrill as I straightened the wheel and hit the clutch for the gear’s move to second.  Traffic going out of town was not as heavy as the stream moving toward town at a snail’s pace.  I heard the whoosh whoosh on my left as I passed car after car.  So long suckers, I thought, enjoy your day at work.  It was a chance to skip school since I had transportation.  The thought came and went.  We had an important math test today and skipping was out of the question.  My smile faded and I headed for my buddy’s house.
I pulled the old green Ford Falcon up to the bus stop and shouted through the passenger window, “Hey, G. hop in.  I got the car for the day.”
He grabbed his books and got in.
“How’d you manage this?” he asked.
“I just asked. Cool huh?”  I pulled the stick on the column into first and stomped the gas.  The wheels spun kicking up a column of dirt and rocks.  When the wheel hit the pavement a sound of wheel peel squeal delighted my ear.  G. just looked at me.
“You know that sound is pathetic don’t you?  Falcons don’t have enough power to produce a good peel out.”
“It’s the best I got,” I said shifting into second.
“You need a Chevy, primarily a Corvette, to produce a HiFi sound of true beauty, not to mention the time it remains in the air.  I’ve heard one that lasted a full minute.  It left a trail of rubber on the road half the length of a football field.  Now that’s layin’ rubber.”
“Yeah, yeah, I hear ya.  Lemme have my moment willya? Sheesh!”
G. just smiled. He liked to pop my bubble but it was ok, we were free to do whatever.  Oh, no, not true.  There was the math test.
‘OH, guess what,” I said.
“You’re going to make me ask aren’t you?”
“Well, it is the way it’s done.”
“What, Rickey?”
“Glad you asked,” said I. “My parents are going out of town for the weekend. They are leaving me alone all weekend.  I got the house all to myself.”
G. slowly turned to face me.  I was smiling. The sun was in its inevitable journey into the sky.  The wind was flowing into the windows.  The car was humming along as I turned down Stono River Road to pick up R.  He was sitting on his books, head on his knees, arms extended to the pavement.  I hit the horn.  He jumped as I hit the brakes and skidded up to him.
“What the hell! You coulda killed me!” He shouted jumping up and away. 
“Naah, I had complete control all the time.  You were safe.”  I leaned out the window.  “Get your books, man.  Climb in.”
When he slammed the door, I laid an inch of rubber on the road and did a three point to head in the right direction.  As I speed-thrust the gear shift into second G. chuckled and shook his head.
“You gonna to pick up J.?”
“Ah, crap.  Yeah, but we’re gonna have to hurry.  The bus’ll be there soon.”
I hit the brake squealing to a stop at the octagonal sign.  I flipped the wheel counter-clockwise and hit the gas. The sound was a little longer aided by the tilt of the car loosening the traction on the squeal wheel.
“How about that one?” I smirked.
“Remember that Corvette I told you about?”
“Yeah, so?”  I slapped the gear shift into second hoping my luck would hold and produce a pop of rubber, but no dice.
“That length of rubber on the road?”
“From a dead stop.”
“Oh.  Well, this one’s good enough for me.  I like the sound I get.”
Up Stono Shores, across Maybank into the Terrace proper we sailed.  We pulled up in front of J.’s house just as the bus was rounding the corner.  It stopped and the kids began to file in. I beeped the horn. J. slipped out of line and ran in our direction.
“Hey, Rickey.  Momma gave you the car?”
“Yup, pile in.”
He tossed his books through the window.  He jumped in and I slammed him back into the seat as I tore out onto the road barely missing the bus as the driver began to move.  It was I.  He drove this bus for the county.  It was an honor to drive a bus.  How he got it was a mystery.  I beeped and he beeped back.
G. turned in his seat and looked into the back. 
“Guess what, guys?”
“What?” they asked without hesitation.
“Rickey’s parents are going out of town and leaving him alone for the entire weekend.”
“Wait a min…,” I began.
“You know what that means!” His smile became more than mischievous.
My buddies in the back seat yelled in unison, “PAR-TEEEEE!!!!!”
“Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute,” I said.
“Nope, it’s settled.  Party at your house.  An anything goes party.”
“Hey, that’s not going to happen,” I said. “No way, no how.”
G. leaned over the seat and the three of them began to whisper behind me.
“I said NO, guys!”
They continued their murmurings as I drove.  The sun was shining brightly through the oak limbs that formed a tunnel of foliage. The shadow patterns dimpled along the way.  I slowed for the left turn and made it with ease. 
I pulled into the school yard and bounced over the puddle holes formed after the rains.  I found a place and slipped into it.  The guys had continued to mumble amongst themselves.  I heard the word party often.
The bell was ringing as we gathered our books and slammed the doors shut.  We fell silent walking to first period class.  I did not like the smiles on their faces.

The evening was chilly for that time of year.  It was a pleasant change for the heat of the past week.  My folks were snapping the luggage closed as I walked back to their room to grab a bag.
“Are you sure you are going to be alright?” My mother was not ready to leave me on my own without someone to watch over me.
“Yes ma’am.  I’ll be fine. I promise.  I’m sixteen.  Big enough to take care of myself.”
“He’ll be fine dear,” said my dad watching me closely.  “You take care of the place while we are gone.  You are in charge this weekend.”
“OK, dad. I’ll be fine.  You don’t have to worry.  You guys enjoy the mountains.  I’ll catch up on some TV and I’ll get that book report done.”
Mom took my cheeks into her hands.  I could see a tear brimming on her lower lids.
“You be good and don’t forget to feed Black Cat.” She wiped her left eye and sniffed.
“Oh, mom.  I’m gonna be fine.  It’s only two days.  You’ll be back on Sunday.”
“I know,” she said,” but we’ve never left you alone before.”
Dad took her arm and hefted the largest bag.
“Come, dear.  He’s a big boy.  It will be fine.  Grab that bag, Rickey.  Help me get them to the car.”
I heaved it into the trunk.  Dad tossed his in too.  He pulled the key from the lock and slammed it shut.  He turned to me putting his arm on my shoulder.
“I’m trusting you.  Leaving you on your own like this.  It’s a big responsibility and I know you will handle it well.”
He smiled as he turned to get into the car.
“Be good, son,” he said as he placed the key in the ignition. “We’ll be back around Sunday evening.”
The car came to life and he began to back out.  I think I heard a loud sniff from the passenger side.  I watched dad ease the car out of the drive and onto the road.  He looked back at me and waved pulling away and up the road. When the car had disappeared from sight I turned to the front door and jumped into the air hollering “YAHOO!” at the top of my lungs.
Inside I settled at the table with a sandwich and coke.  It was a totally new experience being alone in the house with no parents.  I could do anything I wanted.  That party idea was sounding pretty good about now, but dad’s stern eye and note of responsibility in his last words weighed on my.  Nope, no party for this guy.  I grabbed a bag of chips and headed for the TV room.  I clicked on the set and fell into my chair with a loud sigh.  Sea Hunt was being advertised after the local news had finished up.  I threw my feet onto the hassock and settled back for underwater adventure.
Halfway into the show the phone rang.  It was R.  He wanted to know if he could come over.  Company would be a good thing so I told him yes. Ten minutes later the doorbell rang.
I opened the door and there on the porch was G. and J. and I. and R. with his brother and some of his friends.
“Uh, what’s up guys?” I asked.
They pushed past me and walked in.
“We didn’t want you to be lonely, buddy.”

“Hey Count,” said R.’s brother.  “Heard you were going to be all alone so we brought over a little refreshment.” He held up a quart of Canadian Club.  “You got ice, right?”
“No. Never use it. I don’think…”
“No need to start now,” he said and shouted to one of his buddies. “No ice guys.  Somebody hit the store for a bag.” 
A couple of them turned to go. 
“Pick up snacks, too.  I don’t see any here. Don’t you guys eat chips and stuff, Count?”  Being English he had christened me The Count, which was a generic term for royalty to him.  It was all in fun he said.  It was just a part of his nature to label people.
I heard a car roar into life outside. He backed out of the drive and laid rubber down the road. 
“Where are the glasses?” G. and J. found the cupboards and pulled out all the glasses.  They tossed them one by one to R. while I cringed. 
“Don’t worry, Rickey.  Football, remember.  I play football. These glasses are safe in my hands…  Oops.”  The crash of breaking glass hit me and my heart dropped to my toes.  “Sorry.  Got a broom?”
“Come on, guys. Be careful, will ya?” I got the broom and swept up the glass shards. 
“Sweep it on here,” said R. holding a piece of paper flush to the floor.  I followed his directions.  Meanwhile his brother was cracking the seal on the bottle.  The snap of the tax seal popped loudly in the kitchen. We poured the glass pieces into the trash as the Canadian Club was sloshed into the glasses newly placed on the table.
“Where are those guys with the ice,” asked C., R.’s brother.  “They should have been back by now.”
Several glasses were emptied while he was staring at the door.  J. made a face.  R. was breathing like his mouth was on fire. G. tilted the bottle to splash more into his glass.  It seemed everyone was making themselves at home.  The warm booze was beginning to have the wanted defect on everyone but me.  I was still in the state of shock that these guys had come right in to party.
Outside came the screech of tires.
“There they are,” said C.
But it wasn’t it was a couple of more fellows who had heard about a party. 
“Come on in,” everyone yelled.  “Bring a bottle?”
“Right here,” was the answer.  Clyde came through the door holding a bottle of Calverts.  At least it was family, I thought.
“What are you doing here unk?” I hadn’t said a thing to him.
“I had to find out from C. that you were having a party.”  I was familiar with that smile so I turned to see if any glasses were full.  Luckily there was one.  I tossed it down and waited for the burn which was immediate.
“Let’s get this party rolling,” Clyde said.
Everyone cheered.  At the same time the door opened and in came three strangers with a bag of ice.  C.’s friends had run into another fellow who was up to a party. 
When they cut the bag and spilled the ice into a bowl I grabbed a handful dropping it into my glass. 
“Over here, Croucher,” said J. who leaned forward to pour into my glass.  “Need some coke to go with that?”  Without waiting he filled the glass.  I stirred with my finger.
Too late now, I thought.  Might as well join in.  I drained the mixed drink and turned to the table.
As I turned to offer my glass for another a warm glow surrounded me.  A mellow sense of fun swept over me and I looked up to see C. swinging Black Cat by his tail in a circle over his head.  He was laughing as he turned my cat into a propeller.  It took a second for what was happening to sink in.  C. was yelling “I hate cats!” while everyone was laughing at his antic.
When it got through to my dull brain, I yelled for him to stop.  Clyde stepped over to him and said the same thing.  Me, he ignored.  Clyde, he listened to and tossed Black Cat onto the couch.
 I ran over to see if he was alright.  His eyes narrowed when I approached.  He accused me hissing.  He was off the couch and careening around the corner when I noticed his tail bent to a ninety degree angle two inches below the tip.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?  Why would you torture a cat like that?” I shouted at him.
“Told ya.  I hate cats,” he said without feeling. 
“Calm down, nef. He’ll be alright.” Clyde’s words of comfort would never straighten Black Cat’s tail.  It remained like that for the rest of his life as did his opinion of me. 
On the other side of the room I saw a stream of shaving cream flying in the direction of G.  He ducked and ran to the bathroom finding his own can which he brandished with alacrity.  As the thick foam flew from one ducking individual to another I turned back to the table.  I grabbed the Calverts pouring a healthy portion which I covered with Coke and a jagged piece of ice.  I drank it quickly and turned back to the rushing of bodies and crashing of bric-a-brac.
Laughter shot out of the two chasing each other with cans of Gillette Foamy.  The clotted remnants of lather were everywhere.  The two spraying each other were covered from crown to loafer.  Their laughter was near maniacal as they dipped and ran escaping new globs of foam shooting in all directions.  When the cans lost their compressed contents the combatants fell and rolled on the floor crying with shouts and laughter at how hilarious that had been.  As I surveyed their battlefield I wondered who was going to clean that up.  After another drink it dawned, it would be me, that’s who.  Crap!
Everyone was laughing. 
I heard someone yell, “Where are the girls?”
“Girls? What do you mean girls?” I yelled above the din.
“What’s a party without girls?” yelled one of the unwelcome guests.
CRASH! BAM! The entire room went silent.
“Damn!” It came from the end of the hall. 
G. came up front.
“Uh, Rickey, I think maybe you should come back here.”
“What’s happened, G?” I trailed behind him.
“J.’s girl is out with another guy and he just found out about it.”
“How’d he find out? I asked.
“He used your phone in the back to call her.  She wasn’t there.  He made her sister tell him where she was.”
“Another guy?”
“Yeah.  You know J.  A slammed door.  And in this case…”
He pointed at the wall by the door at the end of the hall.  Everyone was crowding around behind me. There, in the wall, was a hole the size of J.’s fist.  The sheetrock panel was splintered around that dark opening. 
“Oh, no no no no no… What am I going to tell my folks?”  While I was falling to my knees in prayer the crowd behind me diminished.  I stared at that gaping hole while muttering no over and over again.  Standing I reached into the space.  The surrounding edge crumbled as I grasped it. J. stood beside me apologizing.
“Wish I could say it was ok but I don’t know what to do about it.  There’s no way I can hide this, J.”
“I’ve got a friend who can fix it, Rickey.  He just can’t do it before your folks get home.  Tell them it was my fault and I’m going to have it fixed.”
“How do I explain its being here to begin with?”
“Heck, Rickey.  I don’t know.  You’re the one who threw the party.  You gotta be ready for accidents.”
I looked at him.  I shook my head.  “It wasn’t my idea to have a party, J.”
“Well, I don’t know…  I’m sorry.”
I turned to go up front.  It had gotten very quiet.
“Where did everybody go?” I asked looking at an empty room.  It appeared a hurricane had passed through.
I turned but J. had somehow slipped past me and out the door too.  Clyde hadn’t even stayed behind. Cars peeled off outside. I sat on the sofa. I jumped up. I had sat in a three inch deep covering of Gillette Foamy.  It was just a reminder of the mess I was responsible for.
Dad’s words came back to me, “It’s a big responsibility and I know you will handle it well.”  This was just another big disappointment for my dad.
Clyde poked his head from behind the front door. 
“Hey, nef.  You OK? Need some help with this mess?”
I looked at the walls, floors and furniture covered in shaving cream.  I saw glasses, empty and half full, upright and overturned with puddles from the contents.  I saw the kitchen with ice everywhere, glasses and plates broken and chipped.  Potato chips and Dorito chips were scattered all over.  Black fur was here and there but no Black Cat to be seen. I heard the faucet running.  I heard the toilet running. I heard the heater running.  The overhead light was out since it was cracked. 
There were frozen foods stacked on the counter.  They were melting. 
“Who would have done this?’ I asked aloud.  Picking up one of the items I opened the freezer compartment.  I screamed!
Black Cat Jumped straight for my face, teeth bared and claws outstretched.  I swear his roar was as startling as the MGM Lion. I believe I fainted which probably saved my face from being ripped and chewed on the spot.  Clyde picked me up.  Black Cat was gone to the back.  I was shaking.
“A parting gift from C.,” said Clyde.  “One day we’ll return the favor.”
“Man I hope so,” I blurted out.
We cleaned until the sun was at high noon the next day.  J. called to say his friend could take care of the hole in the wall but it would be next Friday before he could.
I told him thank you.  Clyde wiped his last glass dry and put it on the shelf.
“Well, nef. I would think twice next time.  It’ll take a long time for your dad to trust you again.’  He shook his head and tossed the dish towel on the counter.  “I gotta go.  My girl’s expecting me this afternoon.  I have to pick up a bottle.  Good luck with your dad.”
He was right.  That sense of trust, so fragile, took many years to be regained.  I don’t believe it was total trust ever again.  Just a feeling. 
Oh, and Black Cat? He paid me back in the not too distant future with a solid pile of cat poo on my chest while I slept.  The odor woke me.  He meowed, smiled and slowly walked away tail high in the air.