Ricky Bobby

Ricky Bobby
If you ain't first you're last

Friday, June 12, 2015

I am not a Psychiatrist but I've caused a couple to retire....

I never really stopped to think about it too much, but no one in my family has ever suffered from mental illness.....we rather enjoy it. You see I grew up in an environment where normal was a relative term. The Gutshall (Germanic word meaning one mother many fathers) clan has a rich tradition of "peculiar" people and habits. They hail from deep in the heart of the remote Allegheny Mountains (insert your hillbilly joke here). None of them knew they were strange because there were so precious few other folks up in those hollers to compare themselves to. Anyhow, you take a fellow of such rich heritage (my Dad) and allow him to cross bloodlines with a North Florida Parker girl of royal Cracker heritage...and you get me and my sisters. Now, it's clear somebody outta be in jail for allowing that to happen. The introduction of Parker (Note...Parker is a Latin term meaning head full of spiders) blood into the Gutshall line created a toxic spew of "special" people. Complicating the Parker issue is the fact that their bloodlines had been invaded a generation earlier by the introduction of the Grubbs (old Dutch word meaning tall tree with no branches) gene....which all resulting in a wild alphabet soup brew of DNA. I submitted my own DNA sample once just for fun...after six months the reply I got back in the mail was "We give up". If I felt like taking the time to construct four additional pages of text, I'd tell you about my wife's side of the family....but I digress. Well, as informational as all that was....it's not what I'm inspired to write about today. Actually I shared all of that background to prove my unique qualification to opine on the controversial topic of ADD / ADHD. I posted a quick bait on Facebook earlier this week just to test the water and boy were the fish biting. Following PERSONAL observations through 3+ decades of professional interaction with tens of thousands of disturbed children (and three of my own); I have come to the conclusion that ADD (later modified to ADHD) is most often a parental failure rather than some ailment a child is born with. As my bride is fond of saying "You aint A.D.D., you is B.A.D."......We don't get a pass on parenting when we get tired and we shouldn't give our children a pass on their behavior when it's poor. Our entire society has evolved into this gangrenous attitude of total social entitlement and absolutely no sense of responsibility. We have parents denying responsibility raising kids with no accountability. There are more kids growing up without a Dad that with one.....and before you even think it, sperm contribution no more makes you a dad than standing in the airport makes you an airplane. My Dad had his faults, but he was there. My sisters and I all have emotional and mental challenges......but they are just that... CHALLENGES! Something to be overcome, not to be excused. Our inherited limitations forced us to adapt in some other fashion in order to thrive, to survive. Looking back, my Mom and Dad didn't do a very good job of parenting, but they were NOT enablers, and they never quit. My kids too have had their challenges......all three are crazy as a runover dog. Considering the gene pool they waded out of, how could they be any other way? But they thrived. They thrived because there were no excuses....you pay the price for your actions or inactions. You do it, you live it. You say it, you own it....that's your ugly baby and you can't give it back. No medication, no sympathy. And today, NO REGRETS. All three have grown up to take control of themselves, their lives and their circumstances.... There's no blaming Mom, Dad, Chance, God or the environment. All learned to recognize the fact that decisions dictate our circumstances. They get it. They're not victims....they're overcomers and high achievers.....They're ours. There's no way any of this is meant to take away from the fact that a precious few kids do have a genuine case for a condition described as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder...but I guaranteebobtail you it ain't 11% of the population. Big Pharma, Big Money, Big Bull. There's a whole lotta pills being sold to cover up the guilt and kids being unnecessarily drugged for some mindless corporation to make billions...That's the cowards way out. I'll take my wife's opinion here.....ADHD? Not likely.... BAD, yes.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Farewell to a King.....Hello Ricky Bobby

Today marks 15 months......I think I'm ready to talk about it. He marked a new beginning for me. It was early February and tottering around behind me was a 6 week old green eyed fuzzy klutz fresh back with me from his birth home in South Carolina. "King Bowden Silver Chief" was the salve my heart needed to repair the loss of my long time companion "Tobias Blue" who had departed this earth three months prior. While "Bowden" and "Toby" were both purebred Wiemeraners, the similarities were not as great as the differences. Where Toby was the typical Wiemer; a wiry and busy 75 lb. blur of action and speed whose life was a story of devotion to an entire family. Bowden however, would eventually become a very large muscular 115 lb. brute who ultimately decided he didn't answer to anybody but me and the dinner bell. But enough about Toby......this is all about Bowden. The strains between Bowden and Tilena came early. The nightly trips out with him to go "potty" were a grind. Wiemers are slow to leave the puppy stage behind and if you don't want the mess, you'll be going out a couple times each night. To complicate things, we were living in a mobile home while our house was under construction and Bowden was just too small to hop from one step to the next....so he must be carried up and down. One wet night along 3 am or so, Tilena and Bowden went down the steps feet up, butt down. My poor Bride spent a few days bed ridden from that episode. I don't think her back and hip have ever recovered. King Bowden grew rapidly and our new home was soon finished. By May we were in our new house with a fenced in yard and all was well. For a few short months anyway. When Bowden was about fourteen months old, the boys let him out the front gate one day while riding their bicycles in the street. Somehow, one of Bowden's paws went between the spokes of a bicycle and was trapped against the fork as the tire rotated.....both bones snapped. Of course it always happens on a Friday Night and we made a mad dash for the Emergency Room at the Animal Critical Care Hospital in West Palm. Surgery came the next day, and again a month later as the surgery incision grew infected. Bowden would eventually recover fully and spend the rest of his life with a titanium rod to cobble the bones back together. The days of recovery though were long. He was growing so fast and was so active, it rapidly became difficult for Tilena to handle him. For several weeks, I actually had to walk step by step with him outside as he ratcheted along in his cast, because when he would pee, it would go down inside the cast. That's how it ended up infected requiring a second surgery. By the time he was fully recovered, the bond between us was cemented. Years passed and dog and man grew into middle age together. We suffered fewer and fewer chewed shoes and enjoyed more and more quiet time. Countless hours sitting outside watching the birds, walks around the neighborhood, and lounging on the couch. Even an occasional road trip to Savannah....though he would eventually out grow the car. As a pup Bowden had slept in the bed with us, but by the time he was a year old, he was just too big. He would eventually have his own XXXL doggie bed in our bedroom. Every word I said drew his gaze as if to say....."Dad, you're the smartest man in the world". I've often said, "I wish I was half the man Bowden thought I was". I heard that quip somewhere once and adopted it as my own. He was quick to forgive and slow to anger; he was my buddy. He was the singular constant in our lives through all the changes Tilena and I survived. A new puppy (Pepper) moved in and eventually would become Tilena's baby. Bowden looked forward to the daily wrestling matches with Ryan and Nick...and the occasional visit from Christy who taught him the only tricks he ever knew. He stoically suffered through years of Church Youth events at our house and grandchildren tugging at his tail and pulling his ears. He would even humble himself enough every year to wear the Christmas hat Tilena always insisted upon. The kids eventually grew up and moved away, the Mother-in-Law moved in. Both of my parents and Tilena's Dad would pass during those years, and Bowden was a silent sentry through it all. Dell would drift in for a few weeks at the time and then would be gone again. Through it all...Bowden remained faithful and constant in our lives. Every time I would leave the house, he followed to the door to see me off. He could hear my car coming home blocks away and was always standing at the door to greet me as I came back in. As excited when I returned from 2 hour absense as he was after 10 day trip. At times I did have to be gone for days at the time. I never feared for Tilena's safety while I was gone, I knew as long as King Bowden had breath in his body, no one would enter that house uninvited. All I had to say was "Watch 'em" and Bowden was there... hair up, a growl that would shake the wall, and teeth that would shame a tiger out on full display. He was a terrifying presence when he wanted to be. But mostly Bowden was the balance. He knew when I needed a friend and sensed when I needed to be left alone. Mostly though he was just beside me regardless of what I was doing.... he was there, head laid across my foot or lap...a constant comfort and presence. He was there as I walked gingerly through my 40's and into my 50's.....He watched me become a better man. The gray began to appear on his head and face just about the time my own began to show. As he aged, the restlessness of youth came back in spurts. It was difficult to travel with or without him. He began to have difficulty getting in and out of the car, but if we left him, he would suffer extreme separation anxiety and act out. We would usually hire a sitter to stay in the house with him if we both had to go, but once he got so upset he destroyed the house and even ate part of my Bible. The sitter was so distraught, I had to leave the family behind and come home early. It was the running joke long afterward, that Brother Don owned a dog "filled" with the Word! On another occasion when left untended, he got into the pantry and opened a 10 lb. bag of flour before dragging it all about the house. He could completely consume an 18 inch rawhide bone in one hour flat. As big a pain as he could be at times, it's those occasions I remember the warmest. But middle age eventually gave way to late life... he slept more and played less. He was always eager and willing, but his old body was simply not able anymore. Getting to his feet to follow me out was a demand for him. All the little "favors" I had fed him over the years were coming back to haunt us both. The trips to the Vet were becoming more and more regular. By then I had to physically pick him up to put him in or take him out of the car and the process always hurt both of us. In early Fall of 2012 the Vet had cautioned me to be preparing myself for it....We would soon have to have the "talk". I tried to think I could help him over the illness by feeding the right things, getting him better exercise...but it just wasn't happening. I could see he was tired...He somehow knew it even if I refused to accept it. I remember taking a photo of him at Christmas that year in front of the tree. I posted it on FB and for the first time acknowledged that "it was likely his last Christmas". He did make it through Christmas, even seemed a bit reinvigorated on Christmas Day as he tore open his gifts as he had done for years. The light was brief though and we were back at the Vets office in crisis days later. Doc Savvy did what she could for him and sent me home with him one last time....but this time she looked me in the eye and whispered..."This will be your last trip home with him", "You've got to make the decision". That was January 17th, 2013. Six days later on Wednesday morning January 23rd....my old friend began to hemorrhage heavily. I found him lying quietly on his pad. He raised his head and whimpered....and I knew it was that day. I managed to get him in my arms and loaded into the car. It was a quiet trip and seemed to pass way too fast. The event itself was quiet and quick. Doc Savvy administered the drug and left us alone. He never raised his head.....just closed his eyes and slowly stopped breathing.....The last time I saw him he was at peace, his massive head resting in my lap. As much as I grieved, the entire family was stricken as well. I think it was especially difficult on Tilena's little dog Pepper. The two had become inseparable. For weeks afterward, when we would come in the door after work, Pepper would just sit there at the door expectantly as if waiting on Bowden to follow us through. Any time he went outside, he would run to the fence corner looking down the driveway and just stare down the road....waiting. It was a tough time, I wouldn't let Tilena take his bed out of our bedroom for two weeks. I did it myself when I was ready. That act made it seem final to me somehow. I still have that bed outside though and I still stop and stroke it every time I go out to get my gardening tools. That was 1 year, 3 months and one day ago. I really thought this would be easier to do, but as it turns out, those wounds were only scabbed over, not completely healed. Some days I still come home and open the door expecting to see him waiting there for me and then the memory comes back.....hard. I don't know why it is, but it seemed more difficult to let him go than most people I've lost. Maybe it's the unconditional devotion he gave. Maybe it's the complete lack of spite, malice, or self pity. Maybe it was the gratefulness he showed for everything. Maybe it has something to do with the trust....even when he didn't want to do something, he would do it just because I said so. I'm sure many people struggle with this same question. There's a new fellow trying to worm his way into my life these days. "Ricky Bobby" of course will never replace Bowden. Nothing can fill that space. King Bowden Silver Chief was just that once in a lifetime companion. But Ricky will fill his own space in a different way. See, Bowden came at a time when I needed him, Rickey came at a time when he needed me. I often think about another Wiemeraner, but it's just not feasible for us now. Bowden (and Toby) were at a time when decisions dictated our circumstances....Now in Ricky's time circumstances dictate our decisions. Ricky Bobby is a rescue we started out to foster......well, you see how all that worked out. That little fireplug isn't going anywhere. He's inherited the job of seeing me through the decade of my 50's....and beyond. This I know for sure, I'm gonna take better care of me and Ricky-Bobby both. Farewell King Bowden, you're sorely missed..... Hello Ricky Bobby, we're gonna be OK.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sixteen Years

An old friend called me today.....I hadn't talked to him in over a year. Before that it had been several years. How odd that seems now. As teens and young adults we saw each other every day. Isn't it funny how the hours sometimes seem to last forever, but the years flash by? For a couple of guys who had so much in common all of our lives, things are turning out so....so....different.

Thirty years ago saw us with wild trips to Panama City Beach, all night fishing trips on the river, hours and hours doing nothing at all but riding aimlessly, broken only by the occassional stop at Ootz's Oyster Bar.. He was....and is still, someone I consider a great friend. He's the friend that so many of us had....you know, the one who was the most handsome, always had the girls chasing him.....His parents were financially well off... He always had a nice car and money to spend... I never really knew why he wanted to be friends with me. Looking back, I guess he must have had more character than me too. He wound up marrying one of the most popular girls to ever walk the hallways of old Taylor county High....I'm sure she still "has it goin on today" biut like I said....I haven't seen either of them in a long time. Circumstances sometimes tried to wedge us apart, but time always scarred the hurts over and brought the good times back to mind. We played together, stood up for one another in marriage (that skunk even didn't have on any socks in my wedding pictures), worked together, and in a sense, at a pivotal point for us both, we failed together by working against each other(but that's a story for another day). That failure sent us each reeling in a different direction, sort of a seismic shift in pursuit. Same line of work, different places. How different things went for us both from there.

The early years of my marriage saw me struggle mightly to maintain. We were limping along near the poverty level financially and I had no idea how to be a husband or a father and for years had no inclination to learn. Often times I would go weeks without speaking to her (well I didn't want to interrupt her, but I digress)anyway, I just generally made a miserable mess of all of it. My wife hung in there when no one could have faulted her for giving up. Somewhere along the way though, I found my God and with that I became a better husband...a better person. Eventually God would even make me a very good husband. Early on I was too arrogant to recognize my faults and Tilena was too scrappy to quit. God has richly blessed us both for her courage.... And in the balance, I wound up with the girl that every man drools over at the high school reunions. It is kind of fun watching their eyebrows go up when we come into the room. I know I'm a bit prejudiced, but she is amazing...That woman has defied aging....even gotten better with time. I can't go anywhere without all the men "checking her out". For sure, she is God's second greatest blessing to me....TWe've wound up quite a contrast to my buddy and his wife though. He seemed to thrive in marrige from day one. Those two really seemed cut out for one another. Always together, sound financially and emotionally. Both handsome and well liked. Able to do and go anywhere they wanted. Established families and friends all around. Two people that everyone else wanted to be around.

Circumstances would eventually force us both from our hometown. Me north and my friend east....somewhere along there, we lost one another; speaking only at rare occassion and at multi year intervals. So sad really...there was no good reason for it.

Yes my friend called my today. His seemingly perfect marriage has unraveled. They are separated and filing for divorce. Two kids.......what do you say? It really surprised me. The guy has always been a success at everything he's ever touched, and now this. I thought the two of them would be there forever. I consider both of them friends and the idea of this just hurts me. And I know.....it's not about me. But like I said, I haven't talked to either of them much in the last 16 years. A whole lot can change in 16 years. Me and T-Bug now have a quarter century of history behind us.....An awful lot changed there too. A marriage centered on God is too strong to fail. My wife looks as good today as she did 25 years ago.....as for me..."I'm a lot smarter than I was 25 years ago".I'd rather be in jail with her, than free with anybody else in the world.

Speaking of T-Bug, I think I hear her car in the garage. I think I'll meet her at the door. She's been at choir practice preparing for the Christmas Cantata, like she's been doing many many nights lately....Keep giving to our Lord; and he will keep giving back. Hang in there my old friend. I"m praying for the both of you. That's all I know to do.......

Monday, January 17, 2011

Experience vs. Education

Lewis Grizzard once wrote...."everything I needed to know, I learned in Kinder garten". I get that. I really do. And while I don't necessarily agree with that verbatim, I did learn a lot of valuable information as a youngster. Much more I had the misfortune to learn by experience later in life. There are two ways to learn something. Experience or Education.....as my Dad said, Education is what you get when you read the fine print, experience is what you get when you don't. Over the years, I've gathered 51 rules for better living. In the safe I have left a copy of that wisdom for each of my three children to read after I'm gone. My prayer is that they will know by heart, from wisdom imparted, each one of those rules before reading them. If so, my life as a Dad was a success.

It's fun to sit back sometimes and reflect on the learning opportunities of our lives. The richness of lessons learned and insight gained mostly due to a "failure to read the fine print". But here today, I'm mindful of a few truths I learned BEFORE I was ten years old. How about I reach back into the ole Treasure Chest and see what I can find.....

A hornet is faster than a John Deere tractor
..(bad news always travels faster than good...I somehow knew Grandpa was dead before anyone told me)

Sometimes the person spanking your butt loves you more than the one kissing your feet...(your Mom is the best friend you'll ever have. And fly swatters NEVER break)

Neither kids nor dogs get mean overnight.(There's some dark reason for either one....and somebody should probably be in jail for it.)

You can't unsay anything
.(I'm just not ready to tell this one yet)

Never corner something meaner than you. (Possums, Coons or Bantam Roosters)

Just because it can't be explained, don't mean it didn't happen. (Like Mike Rister riding a 20 inch wide minibike through a 15 inch space and never touching either side....or Roy falling off a log raft onto a gator and not getting bit....or even wet for that matter)

If you don't have a dog in the hunt, don't offer an opinion on the chase.(Don't tell Uncle Clyde to quit talking bad about Aunt Ruby)

You won't know the baddest dog in the pack till the bone hits the ground. He's seldom the one you'd think.(The day Ray Miller punched my sister in front of my Dad...knees elbows and firewood....until then I didn't know my Dad had it in him)

Zip up the screen door of the tent before you fall asleep. (Snakes, spiders and coon dogs like sleeping bags too.

Truck drivers have a lousy sense of humor.(You'll have to ask Donnie about this one)

Just 'cause a coon ain't moving don't mean he's dead...(again....ask Donnie)

God blessed me to grow up where I did, when I did, with who I did. Although many of my tales don't mean much to anyone who was not there when it happened....most did lead to a lifelong mental image with a life truth attached. I've often felt bad because my kids didn't enjoy a childhood like I did. While I was so intent of giving them (more) than I had, I really only succeeded in taking away some of the treasures of being a kid on a farm. The were always "given" so much, that they never had to "make" anything. In different ways everyone does this to their kids I think. Too bad huh? Another truth learned too late.

Spanish Bayonettes and Shark's Teeth.....

Everyone has that one friend who just cant stay off the sharp end of the stick. You know the guy, if someone is going to get cut, poked, punched or slapped.....its him.

My old friend Donnie called earlier this morning and reminded me of the guy that fit that bill from our early days...."Roy". He just seemed to always wind up at the bottom of the pile, top of the rock or under the ladder. He just had the "gift" you know. Here's to Roy...scars, broken bones and bandages.

In 1971, things were good. Roy, Donnie and I were all poor, but none of us knew it. Donnie had already lost his dad, Roy's would live for another 3-4 years, and mine was home drinking. We were busy being 10 year old boys; that in itself was a full time job. We each had a bicycle, and took great joy in being creative with them. Some weeks we would extend the forks and make choppers, sometimes we would strip them down and see how fast we could get them to go. One of those weeks, we were doing "time trials". We took turns riding down to the bridge and then come roaring back down the road seeing how fast we could make the cut across the limerock culvert and into the yard without wiping out. Let it be said its never a good idea to try to turn a bicycle too fast on a gravel road. Aunt Wilma took as much pride in her Spanish Bayonettes as we did in our bicycles. She had a patch of them 'bout the size of a large walk-in closet right next to the drive way...She would cut the bottoms off of egg cartons and make "flowers" out of them. That patch of bayonettes looked like a pink and white explosion. Come to think of it, looking back on the people who raised us, we were destined to turn out to be red-necks. Styrofoam egg carton flowers...only in Perry, Florida..Anyway, now its Roy's turn to burn rubber and here he comes....screeching off the road and hits the gravel on the driveway. Over, and Over that bicycle rolled right behind Roy. Eventually that bike settled down right on top of Roy......right up in the middle of that Spanish Bayonette garden. He was screaming and squirming "Help Me" he said, "NO" I said, "Help Me" he cried, "NO" said I, "Help Me Please" he whimpered, "NO WAY" I snickered, and everytime he moved, another bayonette would puncture his butt. No way was I going to go in there....that was one fix he had to work his own way out of. We were eventually able to patch up both of those flat bicycle tires, but Roy's wounds could only heal with time. He stayed thirsty for a week, cause everytime he took a drink, he sprinkled water.

Like I said, Roy was always in the wrong spot at just the right time. He was resilient though. I know good and dadburned well he regrew teeth like a shark....cause I knocked out two sets of 'em myself. Once with a baseball bat, and once with a right cross. Boys are like that you know...punching out one another's teeth in the morning and buddy buddy by noon. They just don't teach that class to girls for some reason. I guess it was OK for me to punch Roy or Donnie, but no one else had that right. Like my sisters were with me....they loved to whip up on me, but heaven help any other poor soul to take a swing. Theose gals would swarm on him like flies on a mule's butt. It was always fun to get Angie riled up and then run....I could out run her, but she was just fast enough to catch Roy....and I knew it.

Old Roy offended a big ole red-neck boys at the school dance one night. Donnie and I should have known at the time that a fight was unavoidable, but we just weren't going to let it happen. That ole boy wanted to fight, but he didn't want all three of us. We told him he could order french fries if he wanted.....but he was gonna get everything on the menu. Anyway, that whole deal dragged out for a couple of weeks with the ole red-neck boy slinging insults from afar every time he saw Roy. One Saturday Night Roy just had enough....we pulled into the McDonalds Parking lot, and Roy walked into the brush with that old boy and they had at it. Grunt, oofff, punch, smack.....OWWWWWW! GET HIM OFF ME SOMEBODY!!!! I'd like to say Roy won that fight, but I can only say he gave as good as he got. Neither one of those boys looked like Sugar Ray. Roy came out of it with a great big ole shiner. Don't ever let anybody tell you a steak will take the swelling out of a black eye. We pooled what little money the three of us could come up with and bought one at the grocery store....big waste of a good cut of meat. There was nothing to do, but keep him out as late as possible and drop him off at home after Aunt Wilma went to bed. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at that house for breakfast the next day.

There were many more tight spots, and more creative solutions....but those will have to wait for another day. As long as Roy's alive, I will invest my money in Band-Aids.


Monday, August 2, 2010

High Tide

The rushing of water through my ears settled, and the millions of bubbles all around me were slowly fading away...drifting back to the surface. I could feel the mucky bottom oozing up between my toes and some of the sea grass wrapped itself up around my feet. Like so many times before, the water found its way into my mouth....salty and bathwater warm. I was close enough to the surface I could see the rim of the sun sliding into the gulf straight ahead. It was awfully quiet and peaceful; not even a minnow stirred 'round. Only nine more days left of summer break, we'd soon be going back to school. What a great day it had been....and... where was Roy anyway?


Sleep was fitful , as it always is with a bad sunburn. Lying there in a half slumber, I could hear the thunder in the distance as...I slowly waft into wakefulness, I realize the thunder is actually fishing boats starting up in the canal just outside the open window. The raw skin of my back is prickling up under the heavy force of the fan running next to the bed. The sheets are stuck to me in places where the small blisters on my skin have popped overnight. Oh, yeah....Dekle Beach... ten days of summer vacation left. My cousin Roy was in the bed next to mine. Looking over, I could see he was already awake. Roy's family usually came to Dekle Beach for a month and then my family would come for a month. It worked out for us, because we then ended up staying with each other and getting the whole summer at the beach. We had been coming to Dekle Beach for the summer as long as I could remember.

We both climbed out of bed and watched the boats for a while out the window. The rest of the house was still quiet, so we pulled on shorts and shirts ...never mind shoes, and slipped on out toward the canal. I was feeling better, still a bit sore from the spill I had taken the week before. Riding my bike over crab creek bridge, my bike tire had gotten caught between two of the planks on that old wooden bridge and I went right over the edge face first. It was about a ten foot drop into the barnacles below. Fortunately, some lady was driving up at the time and had seen me go over. Guess she didn't have any trouble hauling a skinny 11 year old boy out of the water. I didn't remember a thing after seeing the tire get wedged. That happened on Sunday Morning, next thing I remember it was Monday Afternoon. But kids were made of tougher stuff those days, and it didn't keep me down. Anyway, the fishermen were all climbing in their boats talking back and forth. Our boat was sitting on down the bank a ways....I briefly wondered if we'd get to go out later....that's what my Dad usually said....later. The boats were all idling out the canal now, pushing up muddy water behind them. The tide had just turned on it's way in and should be full late in the day. Roy and I were standing in the black ooze that lined the water all down the canal edge. Back then, who knew the consequences of all the open septic tanks dumping into the water. I just knew the canal was STINKY at low tide. We contented ourselves chasing fiddler crabs for a while and soon found ourselves staring across the main canal toward Jug Island. About that time Roy Taylor (not my cousin) came putt-putting up the canal in his little boat. He was always quiet....I don't ever remember him saying more than three or four words to me. Just small and quiet...and brown....That boy was dark as the inside of a cow. I don't know how young he was when he got that boat, but I don't remember a time when he didn't have it. He was only my age but had his own boat which just turned the ole green eyed envy monster loose in me. As he passed, by and waved, our eyes again came right across Jug Island. Roy (cousin Roy)was just beginning to say "let's go over there" when I heard the screech right behind me. "Young Mr. Gutshall, what are you boys up to" I didn't have to turn around to know it was Janie Hamilton, who along with her husband "Hamp" had founded Dekle Beach. They also own the general store "on the railing of which she was presently screeching from" as well as the rental houses most of us were staying in. Well, there wasn't much that didn't catch ole Janie's eye. Her voice was like a rusty nail being pulled through a tin roof. Ole Hamp never bothered nobody. As a matter of fact, most of us kids enjoyed hopping into the back of his old pickup for a trip to the dump, or back to the woods to feed his hound dogs. Anyway, I shouted back "nothin" to Janie and Roy and I drifted on back toward the house. She retorted with a "I got my eye on you two" and disappeared through the back store room door. Come on, Roy lets go....

A little envy goes a long way. The knowledge that Roy Taylor was kin ( I think Grandson) to Janie Hamilton, was not lost to me. The night before while we were following the mosquito spray truck on our bicycles, I had remembered seeing a dead possum near the end of the road. Roy and I scooted back to the house and in the door. Mom was up and getting breakfast ready and told us to give her ten minutes and she would have something for us to eat. As soon as her back was turned, I snatched a paper bag from under the counter, and we were out the back door. Five minutes later, that dead possum had been neatly "delivered" into Mrs. Janie Hamilton's mailbox. We were back to the breakfast table before Mom ever missed us.

With a full stomach we were soon back behind the store and swimming the canal toward Jug Island. The swim across was easy enough, but once we were across, Jug Island looked a lot further away. The water over to the island was only a couple feet deep, but man was that hard traveling. After a half hour or so, we gave up and headed back. Our path back brought us out farther down the canal and the swim across found us near the mid way steps of the boardwalk. By then we were close enough to see the "girls from Live Oak" were heading out the dock and they settled down for sunning right next to the steps. Roy and I were nothing if not shy in those days, so there was nothing for us to do but turn toward the beach and slog on through the water. We eventually made it back and climbed the steps next to the store and on up to the store balcony. Mrs. Janie was waiting on us, and screeched through the screen door...."Mr. Gutshall, I saw you swimming that canal and I've already told your mother"...that old bat! I shrugged, and Roy asked her if the mail had come yet...She frowned and said, "I don't know, why do you ask"? "Oh no reason", Roy said, and we walked on past her into the store. The old screen door slammed behind her as she followed us in..."I've got my eye on you two"... her voice made my skin prickle up again. We didn't have any money, so we got a deck of cards out and began to play. Polly Ferrell and Lee Ann Hardee were at the other end of the room with a couple other girls from town. We knew who they were, but like I said before.... we were painfully SHY. Sometimes when Lorrie Parker was with them we might offer a quiet hello. After all, Lorrie was mine and Roy's cousin...that made it some easier. Anyway, the "new store" as we called it was much better. If you dropped money on the floor, it stayed on the floor. I remembered the old store, you could see the water through the cracks of the floor. If you dropped a dime, well, you lost a dime. We soon had enough of the cards, and started out the door. Janie had gone home by then and Mrs Mullinax was at the register. She was such a nice lady...she called me and Roy over to her as we got to the door. She handed us each a fudge cicle and dropped a couple of quarters into the register....like I said, sweet lady.

As we made our way back out the door, the "Girls from Live Oak" passed by, so we took the opportunity to go down the dock. We always took the time to find "our board" on the dock. Everybody carved their name in the dock somewhere, sometime. I don't know what had ever posessed me, but at one point I spent three days carving..."DON GUTSHALL SR.80 "If I don't fail". It took up almost a whole length of one of the old cypress boards. Anyhoo, we were about halfway down the dock again, and decided to swim / walk to crab creek....so there nothing to do but hit the water. Off we go back down the mid way steps and into the water.. It's a hard walk across the water and mud, but about an hour later we walked out of the water behind Doctor Parker's house and onto the rock road leading around to crab creek. A few minutes later we were standing in front of the "Spook House" Well, we never made it to crab creek that day. We spent the rest of the afternoon crawling through the shell of that ole house over the water. It was fun to "haunt it" and make scary sounds when the girls walked by.

Somewhere around seven o'clock or so we realized we hadn't eaten since breakfast and let our empty bellies lead us home. Walking back up the rock road, we passed by the "Live Oak House" and could hear the squeals and laughter coming from inside. We made up a million reasons why we couldn't go to the door and speak to them....just shy I guess....Painfully Shy. We met Polly and Lee Ann coming up the road the other way and pretended we didn't see them. I guess they didn't see us either cause no one spoke. Shy I guess....Painfully Shy. There was this story I heard about Lee Ann and Roy Taylor taking a bath together when they were tots....guess they just weren't so shy at that age...

Mom had been over to Jabo and brought home fish for us to eat from Howards. Janie Hamilton was storming out of the house when we came up. She was so torqued up, I don't even think she saw us. Dad was sitting on the front porch as we came in (I think the was fairly torqued up himself) and I asked if he would take us out in the boat real quick.....later, he said. We scarfed our dinner down and headed for the store before anybody started asking questions. On the way we passed the Moody boys who were pulling a giant Jew Fish onto the back of a pickup truck at the boat ramp. They had been out spearfishing all day. We admired the fish a while and headed on to the store. No one was inside yet when we got there, so we kept going right on out the dock. We walked quietly absorbed in the thoughts of preteen boys. Every now and then one of us would stub a toe, or step on a sharp crack in a board. The day was nearly done and the sun was just about to touch the horizon as we walked directly into it. We were halfway between the mid steps, and the end of the dock. No words were spoken between us, but suddenly we were sprinting for the end....we always did that. Just see who could be there first. I was always a little faster than Roy and hit the end of the walk running as hard as I could go. The last step I jumped as hard and far as I could go out into the full tide...


My breath is spent and the water all around is still....the sound of a boat motor is drumming closer and louder now. Pushing off the bottom, my feet sink further into the mud. Reaching then for the surface my head clears then another wave hits me in the face, salty warm water...and the boat coming...louder and louder...I shake my head trying to clear the water from my eyes....warm salty sweat dripping down into my eyes. The mower vibrating under me and a retreating sun straight ahead sliding down the edge to the sky....The grass is neatly cut again. Daydreaming....I do that sometimes when I cut the grass. Just a memory, so rich I can feel it, so real I can still taste it. Life's like that, you know. You jump off the end of the dock, and when you come up for air, thirty-eight years have rolled by. I wonder where Roy is.........

I never did hear what happened when Janie opened her mailbox, but I knew it wasn't pretty. Mom knew everything I'm sure, but she never said a word (to me anyway)...Lee Ann Hardee's Mom told me once that Mom had told her that whole story back when they were nursing together. Dad didn't care either way I'm sure. There's so many more stories to tell about Dekle Beach. Like Vance Burford skiing by the ski ramp spraying the girls with water...getting closer and closer each pass until he got close enough he hit the side of the dock and broke his leg....yeah I remember. Days when me and Roy stood under the store spying on (I won't call his name but his initials are Wes Blue) smooching with his girlfriend on the bench after dark. Lee Ann Hardee and Polly Ferrell were so helpful in sparking many of my memories of those days. Thank you guys so much. Most of these memories are probably collective to all who grew up there.

Think I'll go shower now before Tilena gets home. If she catches me sitting here so dirty and smelly I'll be in for it. Besides....I think I've got a little seaweed wrapped around my ankle...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dark Nights and Dusty Roads

This week has been one of those unbearably hot streaks. Temperatures have roared into the upper 90's every day for nearly two weeks now. It's actually quite an unusual phenomenon here in South Florida. Usually by the time the mercury creeps into the low 90's, along comes a thunderstorm and cools everything down. The storms are coming still, but they don't seem to roll in this year until near dark. By then....whew! The last couple weeks here have seemed to me more like the days in North Florida when I was growing up....summers like this were the norm up there...HOT and DUSTY.

So, anyway...that all put me in mind of those days gone. School was out and once my daily duties "tending tomato plants, feeding the stock, and cleaning out the steer pens" were done...the day was mine to do with whatever a twelve year old boy could come up with. The dust from that old dirt road still wafts up in my nose when I think of it. It took about fifteen minutes of hard traveling to get down to Roy's house. He usually had more free time than me and would be out and about 'time I got there. Thinking back now, I realize that most day's it was hotter than a humming bird layin a goose egg..., but I also remember that it was "no big deal"...that's just the way it was. Roy and I would leave his house mid morning and head for the woods and fields to see what devilment we could find in the day. Occassional dips in the creek or pond would be followed by tree climbing, rock throwing, hole digging or maybe fort building. We worked awfully hard at playing. The next thing you know ol Sol had set and we knew Mama was mad cause we had missed supper again. I think those days are why food still is no big deal to me. Roy and I both are still pretty much the same size we were back then. Aside from cutting open an occassional palmetto fan and chewing up the bud, breakfast may be all we ate some days.

Occassionally, our cousin "city boy" Donnie would catch a ride out with somebody to spend the day or weekend with us. Roy and I took great joy in "funnin" with ole Donnie. He just didn't know no better. My kid sister somedays tried to keep up too. Although she could stay closer with us than Donnie. She was meaner than a just cut hog. I ain't fussin about that... cause I made her that way. I remember gettin her all wound up one day and turning her loose on Roy. Boy, she had him huntin bigger country. If you want an idea how bad she was...just take a couple jabs at a bobcat with a sharp stick. I mean she would trim your tree tops. Kinda like fighting a windmill in a tornado. Anyway, back to Donnie....when he came over we usually wound up camping out with the mosquito's, bugs, bats and bobcats...we just didn't know any different. Campfires and coon hunts, bare feet and baseballs. Too busy being boys to get into trouble. Days were hot, nights were dark and the stars were bright. Life was good...I can't help but drift back there sometimes. The view bobs around in my mind; sort of like looking back out of the truck window as you drive away. Scenes and memories bouncing around in and out of focus...one unfinished memory gives way to another...never quite playing through.

So now I see Ryan coming in the back door. He's no longer a 12 year old of course, but his job does keep him outside in this heat all day. Its good for him though. Keeps him focused on school and a future. At 20 years old he is much a man now. Big muscle bound fella six feet long and somewhere north of 275 pounds. He's always reminded me of myself (if I weighed a hundred pounds more) and given the choice I know he would have led my childhood instead of his own. Unfortunately, my work has moved us a couple of times and we've had to live in town most all of his life. But none of it has kept him from "being as big a red neck as his daddy was "or is"....not sure if there's any cure for that disease. When he's not at school or work, he's in the woods. I badger him about it now and then, but there's more dangerous animals in town these days than in the woods...He'll be OK. I just want him to "keep his options open"

I think I'll go talk with him a little while now. Those opportunities are quickly evaporating.....one day soon, he'll be looking back at his own dusty roads.