My dad received word that my grandfather was in failing health and the family wanted him to move back to Georgia from Texas to help out with his father. My grandfather (whom we
called Granddeddy) also agreed to give my father a few acres to build a house. Granddeddy had over a hundred acres, which was no small feat for a man who grew up in poverty.
Dad landed a job at Georgia Dynamics and we moved from Texas to Georgia. On the trip we saw the wonders of the country along the highway and heard horror stories of Georgia’s red clay. I guess Mom figured if she made red clay sound like a destructive force to clothing, I would avoid it out of fear. It didn’t work.
We passed a cotton field and we were smitten with curiosity. Dad pulled over and let us pick a ball of cotton. When we got back into the car, Mom warned us about the cotton seeds. She said, “When birds eat cotton seeds, they fly upside down and die.”
I never understood what that meant, but it was an illustration I heard a few times. Birds are good examples of poisoning. And they always flew upside down before their demise. Not to worry though. I was already old enough to lose the desire to shove fuzzy covered seeds into my mouth. The thought of it made me want to walk upside down and gag.
During the long drive to Georgia, my sister and I entertained ourselves in the backseat. I had a stuffed dog named Flopsy. We were making Flopsy do silly things while we giggled. Then my sister had a great idea. “Throw him out the window.”
The thought of Flopsy being swept into the wind with those big flappy ears did sound funny, so I gave him a toss. It was funny. I laughed at the sight of him tumbling through the air and then bouncing on the highway. Then I wanted him back. “Shhh,” Judie said. “You’ll get in trouble.”
For some time I kept quiet, but then the longing for Flopsy got the best of me. “I want Flopsy,” I cried.
After a few probing questions, Mom figured out he wasn’t in our presence any longer. “Where is he,” she demanded.
“We threw him out the window,” I said.
“Eddie did it,” Judie piped in. She forgot to mention that it was her idea.
I never saw Flopsy again.
Being the second child, I looked to my sister as an authority. Apparently, there wasn’t a chain of command posted anywhere for me to view, so I assumed my sister’s word was authoritative – at least until I got older. And my sister took advantage of this quite often. Mom said that I was standing in the corner one day. She asked, “Why are you standing there?”
“Judie said I had to,” I answered.
“Okay.” If I was dumb enough to do it, so be it.
One day my sister found a treat in a garbage can. Why she was rummaging there, I don’t know. But she pulled out a perfectly good hotdog. Judie broke it in half and divided it with me. “Here, eat this.”
I looked at it; saw that it was good for food and desirable to the eyes. It also came from a reliable source, so I began eating it. Mom looked out the window as we were enjoying the last bite. “Where did you get that?” she called. I pointed to my sister. “Where did you get it, Judie.” Her eyes darted to the garbage can and back up. “Where did you get it?” Mom insisted. “Tell me you didn’t eat something out of the garbage.”
Mom walked up and looked at me. “Eddie, why did you eat something out of the trash?”
“Judie told me to,” I said. It seemed like a reasonable excuse, but my mom didn’t see the logic.
She yanked both of us by the arm and started heading to the house. While walking she kept ranting something about stupidity and would I stick my head in a fire if Judie told me to. She just didn’t grasp the concept of Judie’s authority. This seemed odd to me since Judie’s place on the chain of command was right below Mom’s.
Mom pulled out a bottle of syrup of ipecac. She called my sister to the toilet and poured some in a spoon. My sister danced in fear. My heart began to race because I was next. I didn’t know what kind of torture awaited, but it wouldn’t be long before I stood before the firing squad. Judie wailed. Then she made a strange sound, bent over the toilet, and sent her half of the hotdog flying. When the heaving stopped, Mom turned her gaze to me.
“Come here, Eddie.”
“No,” I pleaded. But it was no use. She was already pouring me a spoonful of the torture serum. I begged for mercy, but Mom would not be swayed. She said I was going to take it. With trembling lips, I opened my mouth and she shoved the spoon in. I flinched, preparing for the horror to flood my mouth. I also swallowed quickly to prevent as much damage as possible to my taste buds. Then I had a pleasant surprise. It didn’t taste all that bad. I didn’t even feel the need to dance around and cry. I stood there for a few minutes and realized my tummy didn’t even hurt.
I began to muse, This isn’t bad at all…BARF!
My body wretched and my head flew over the toilet bowl. My half of the hotdog emerged. My stomach wasn’t satisfied, so it wretched again. And again. And again. Still unsatisfied, it wretched until I thought I was barfing my lungs out. I swear I could feel my stomach flatten like a pancake. If this didn’t stop, my kidneys would soon emerge.
This was the beginning of the end of my sister’s dictatorship. My innards wouldn’t survive another one of her commands.
During our family’s transition from Texas, we rented a house off Oxford Lane. Dad worked hard prepping his new land for a homestead. I remember him cutting down trees and clearing off what he expected to become our yard. We played in the mountain of tree branches while Dad sweated away while clearing the lot.
Little did he know that a family council had convened, and already persuaded Granddeddy to sell his acreage. They convinced him that the money would provide for his care and his family for the remainder of their lives. Len was mentally retarded, so Granddeddy was naturally concerned about her well-being. They found a buyer and sold everything except the property surrounding his house. Meanwhile, my dad continued clearing the land that now belonged to a new owner.
I never fully understood their motivation for doing this without informing Dad, but it was a hard blow to our family. One of my uncle’s later apologized. He felt bad that they enjoyed a good laugh while Dad worked on someone else’s lot. Looking back, I see the hand of providence in this event. While they had mischief in mind, it forced us into a new direction and set in motion a course of life that would eventually be a blessing on all of our lives.
For the next year or two, we lived in that old rental house on Oxford Lane.
The old car port was filled with carpenter bees. These are the bumble bees that hover around the yard. They can be very destructive to wood, so we’d play Bee Baseball. We took wooden slats and used them for bats. When a bee would hover nearby, I’d take a swing. The bee would dodge the slat, arch away from me, and then come back to look me in the eye. It’s an odd behavior these bees have, but it kept the game going. Odds are not in the bee’s favor, though. I can miss many times, but it takes only one hit to end the bee’s part in the game. CRACK! The bee would soar through the air and I’d shout, “Home run!”
Then another bee would take his place. I never ran out of carpenter bees.
Come back next Tuesday to finish my tales of Oxford Lane.
Eddie Snipes 2012
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