Tuesday, January 29, 2008

President Hinckley

Pin It When President Gordon B. Hinckley died I found myself pondering the works and life of this great man. I so much wanted to write how much he has done for and meant to me over the past years of my life, but words alone could not do it. I decided to do the only thing I could think of...I made a video.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Stars

Pin It I had a friend who needed to cancel our evening plans, which led me to stay at work a little bit later than usual tonight. As I entered grades, visited with a few other teachers, organized the room, and began to get ready for the next day’s teaching, my classroom door swung open. Standing there was a student I hadn’t seen for quite a long time…I’ll call this boy, ‘Joey.’

As Joey strode into the room I found myself surprised to see him, especially so late in the evening. How had he gotten into the school? Why was he here? Joey walked straight up to me and threw out his arms, embracing me in a bear-type hug. It was then that he began to talk. I couldn’t believe just how big this boy had become since he’d been a chubby little fourth grader in my classroom some six years before. He’d become a fine young man, now in his second year of high school.

Joey talked, expressing several times just how much he loved being in my class as a 4th grader. He reminisced about the voices I’d used for read-aloud, the assignments he’d had fun with, and just how much the room had stayed the same…though it was just a little bit smaller than he remembered. His face grew somber as he turned and looked me in the eyes. He began to thank me for the countless hours I’d spent on him; hours of working on assignments as well as tutoring him with reading.

He took a deep breath and then said, “I wanted to tell you something else…I wanted to let you know that I’m a good kid. I’m not perfect and I’ve done some stupid things in my life, but when I started to drive to the school tonight to visit you, I thought about how proud I was of the fact that I am a good kid, and I wanted you to know that. I’m not trying to toot my own horn or anything like that, and I hope you don’t think I’m being prideful, but I’m not doing drugs, I’ve got a lot of good friends, and I’m nice to people. I’m proud of myself and I wanted to let you know that, too, because, it was you who really made me the person I am today. I can remember all of the long hours you worked with me and helped me to love school. The things you taught me about being a good person. Well, I just wanted to thank you for that.”

It wasn’t long before Joey’s cell phone rang…it was his mom. He needed to be home for dinner soon. I walked him out of the school; before he got into his car he gave me another hug, once-again expressing his gratitude. As I watched the taillights of Joey’s rover vanish into the darkness, I climbed into my own car and made the trip home over the icy streets of town, my head a flood of reflection. I had thought about Joey—on numerous occasions. He’s the type of student that teachers often think about…wondering: Was all the time I spent on him wasted?

I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me as I drove home; thankfulness for the time I’d chosen to spend on this particular child who had struggled with education for so many years. It was this same boy, ­now sixteen, who helped me to realize that the time we invest in others, though it may tax us to our very limits, can make the biggest difference. This time we spend is NEVER wasted.

In the words of Loren Eisley:

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.

Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”

The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

“Son,” the man said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach, and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”

The BOB Principle

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Teacher Comment for Term 2

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Your blogger has recently shown vast improvement in regards completing his work-based assignments. However, though he makes improvements, he needs to finish these assignments quicker so that he will not spend so many hours outside of the allotted school day on them. In addition, he needs to make sure he is prepared for tomorrow at the end of each day so that he does not come to school feeling pressed for time. This, I believe, is the cause of the many migraines he’s been experiencing lately.

However, on a different note…he does have cool hair.

Sorry about this blog entry…I just spent four hours filling in standard reports for my class…I think I’ll kill myself now.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Rock Star

Pin It When I took the guitar in my hands and listened to the hordes of screaming fans all around me I couldn’t help but feel this sense of electric excitement pulsing through my veins. I remember looking to the drummer and vocalist. They both smiled back at me. They’d both been here before and to them, this was just part of the magic. To me, it was something entirely new.

As I listened to the fans cheering all around us as the first few notes of “Dead or Alive” flooded from the speakers. I couldn’t believe that I was doing this…this was always something that other people talked about but I swore I’d never do…but for some reason, when the opportunity presented itself, I just couldn’t resist it.

All I can say is that Rock Star is an amazing video game…especially when projected on the big screen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Radio email

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Monday, January 14, 2008

The mixed bag

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Days as a teacher can either be really great, or not so great. At times, there can also be these days which are someplace in between.

Today was one of those days…

I came to the realization today that there is only so much that I can do for a student. If that student does not want to change his or her life, or to become something better than what they already are, there is, ultimately, nothing that I can do. This is a hard thing for me sometimes…after all, I am sure that most every teacher wants their students to be the best that they can be, to try their hardest every day. But most importantly, to become a person who can stand on their own and survive in the world.

These are some kids I’m most worried about…

I was feeling this overwhelming feeling of being overwhelmed as I sat in my classroom when everyone else had gone for the day. This is when I noticed an envelope sitting on my desk. Intrigued, I picked it up and saw that it was from a student who I taught my first year. He was in third grade the year I taught his ¾ grade split-level class; he is now a sophomore in high school.

I sat down, opened the envelope, and began to read a letter he’d written…

“I would like to thank you for being an altogether different teacher. Since I was in your class I’ve had a lot of different teachers, now I’m not saying that their methods were bad or worse than yours, they just kind of didn’t work as well. I don’t know why that is, I’ve had several teachers that I really loved their classes, but frankly, they just didn’t really end up teaching me a whole lot that I remember. So thanks for having a different and memorable way of teaching.”

As I left work tonight, I felt a feeling of not knowing how I felt. I guess I still don’t know.

Like I said, today was a mixed bag.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Recipes of life

Pin It Just a few days ago a friend of mine, Marci, offered me a starter for some Amish Friendship Bread. I couldn’t say no…I love this bread so much! In fact, the first time I’d ever had it was when I was living in Spokane, Washington and I was wondering why I’d never heard of this stuff before.
This afternoon, as I was putting all of the ingredients together, I got to thinking…just how good would this bread really be without salt? Without the sugar? How about the hordes of minuscule cultures festering in that milky-colored colony of microbes? No, the bread wouldn’t be nearly as good without the individual ingredients in the proper amounts. It just wouldn’t taste…right.
Friendships, as well as relationships with our family members, all need different ingredients added to the recipe if we want them to turn out and taste “just right.” I can think of many “recipes” I’ve spoiled in the past…too much soy sauce in that cake batter or a little bit too much sugar in the mashed potatoes.
Since not all recipes require the exact same ingredients, neither do all of our relationships. Right now the theme song from “Different Strokes” is echoing through my head:
”Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum. What might be right for you may not be right for some.”
However, many recipes do call for a few basic ingredients, as so do our friendships with others. Without these vital parts, the relationship won’t turn out nearly as good as it could have been.
“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”
- John Whittier
Let us double-check our recipe books before adding in something which we might later regret.
P.S. I have a few friendship starters here for anyone who might be interested…

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Concert on Friday

Pin It A few years ago I discovered an artist from Moose, Wyoming…his name is Cary Judd. When I found out that he regularly came to Provo for shows at places like the Velour, and up on the BYU campus, I made it a point to go as often as I could to see him. Well, last night he came yet again to Provo

Though I didn’t take this video, this is a song from his newest album, Looking back from Space. This song, Eclipse, is one of my favorites that he has written. I love how he is a “one man band.” He is a lot of fun to watch perform.


Storms of thought

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Today I found myself strolling down roads I’d walked so many years before; moving down pathways of memory which I’d abandoned long ago. However, I found myself feeling the need to write something…

Have you ever experienced a time when you wanted to write, yet your mind is such a torrential storm of contemplation that you can’t even separate one thought from the rest? This is the way I am feeling. There is so much I wish to say, but I just can’t seem to find the fitting words.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Summit Memoir 4: Superheroes & Learning to Fly

Pin It I have always been intrigued by superheroes. It has been in awe that I have watched reruns of Wonder Woman, the Bionic Man, and Batman & Robin. Before we’d moved to Summit Valley we had had much better T.V. reception in our hometown of Rockford, Washington. We were fortunate enough to watch all of these shows, plus many others.

I always admired Wonder Woman. Not only did I think she was beautiful, but I often wondered what it would be like to have her bracelets which could deflect bullets, her headband that could be used as a boomerang, and her invisible jet that was…well—invisible. However, there was something about that invisible jet that really bothered me. I just couldn’t understand how was it that she could still be seen, while her jet was invisible. After all, she must have looked simply ridiculous to people standing on the ground who saw her flying around in a sitting position. I also wondered…if her jet were really invisible, just how did she find it again after she got out?

Despite this shortcoming, it didn’t stop my siblings and me from making our own superhero utilities and weapons; yet no matter how vigilantly I cut the paper, colored the stars on the bracelets, or how carefully I taped them to my wrists, they simply wouldn’t deflect the Legos and tinker toys my sister threw at me.

One of my other favorite shows was the reruns of the Bionic Man. The show as about this normal guy, just like anyone else, until the day he was in a horrible accident. He was going to die. The government decided that the only way he could be saved was to mechanically rebuild him using parts of machines. After his surgeries, Lee Majors could run amazingly fast, see for miles with a bionic eye, and even bend solid steel bars! I remember trying to run with bionics, but just couldn’t seem to go fast enough…or slow enough rather. Whenever he ran in slow motion, he always got to places quickly, whenever I tried to run in slow motion, it took me a lot longer to get to wherever it was I was going. I remember at one point that I had thought about getting myself into an accident so that the government would outfit me with bionic limbs, but when I thought about getting my arms or legs torn off, I decided that this wasn’t really wasn’t worth it...no matter how cool bionics were.

While most of the heroes I admired as a young boy had shortcomings and weaknesses, there was one which had none of these. This hero needed no machine parts attached to his body to make him strong, no bracelets were required to deflect bullets, and he needed no special toys or gadgets to make him the hero he was. You got it, I’m talking about Superman.

Superman was, by far, the greatest hero that I had ever heard of, and I wanted to be just like him. Now, it wasn’t his ability at catching bullets in the palms of his hands, the way he could pick cars up over his head, or even his x-ray vision which made me want to be like him. It was something altogether much more amazing…it was his ability to fly. Superman was the only hero who was able to become airborne without balloons, helicopters, or airplanes. It was this power which made me so envious of him. Superman, with his blue tights, red cape, and curl of black hair down his forehead was the ultimate hero.

When I was seven years old, I imagined myself having Superman’s powers. I got myself completely wound up as I thought about flying over the trees and fields of Summit Valley, looping all the way up to the clouds. Oh, I could just see the looks of jealousy on the faces of my second-grade friends. Even the big fifth and sixth graders would have been impressed as I leapt super-high to make an out during our recess kickball games. I would be a hero myself, protector of little kids (when I wasn’t flying around having fun that is), and I would incinerate any bully who tried to push me around with lasers from my eyes. It would be soooo cool.

Since my mom would never let my siblings or I have any candy, getting it was a rare treat. I thought of how I could fly to Blue Creek, the nearest town, and get all the candy I could possibly eat….it would be fantastic. Best of all, I could fly back home again and my mom would never even realize that I’d gone.

However, imagining that one can fly is not nearly as amazing as actually doing it, or so I’d convinced myself, and I decided that learning to fly is what I needed to do. Now, I started out simply enough with my flying lessons…my first few attempts consisted of running across the lawn as quickly as I could, and then leaping into the air with all my might. Unfortunately, I usually only ended up knocking the wind out of myself, and getting a lot of grass stains on my clothes.

I realized that the problem must have been velocity. I was sure of it. I wasn’t traveling nearly fast enough. I looked around the yard until I spotted what I’d been looking for. The tire swing! I walked over to the weeping willow, and swung the tire swing out as hard as I could. I watched it as it arced out, nearly two feet over my head. It was perfect!

I was at once ready to try my first flight, but then I thought wiser of it…I realized that I should probably head to the kitchen first, and get a snack for my journey. After all, maybe I’d feel like flying around all day. I thought of how nice it would be to have something which I could eat on the trip. Mom was busy someplace, and nobody else was in sight; so I helped myself to three or four plums from the kitchen counter. I carefully put them into my pockets so that they wouldn’t fall out, and set out again for the weeping willow.

Now, I was ready! I climbed aboard the tire, and began to sway my body back and forth, back and forth. It didn’t take long before I’d built up quite a bit of momentum; I moved from side to side like pendulum of a clock. Soon I was traveling pretty quickly, the air rushing in my face. As I watched the ground racing by, I began to feel just the teensiest bit nervous. Okay, I was petrified. However, I blew out a deep breath, closed my eyes, and on the next arc of the tire, flung myself out into space.

I left the tire swing like a rock from a slingshot. I felt myself flying through the air, I’d really done it! I was flying. However, as suddenly as I felt this incredible feeling of air travel, I felt myself being drawn to the earth like a sack of rocks someone had thought were pretty once, but then decided to get rid of. I hit the ground, pretty hard, and felt something wet shoot all over my legs.

When I opened my eyes I was winded, after all, it had hurt. Had I been in any sort of condition to speak, I probably would have used a few of those words I’d used when Doug had been over several weeks before. However, bad words were the last thing on my mind. When I looked down at my legs, I saw that they were covered with a reddish liquid and this pulpy stuff was hanging in chunks out of my pockets.

I had exploded! Some of my insides were now on my outside! I think I screamed, but I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t know if any part of the pulp was part of my lungs! In fact, I couldn’t breathe…it must have been my lungs.

I was going to die!

I must have sat there for a minute, too scared to move, afraid that I would squash some of my insides, and then they wouldn’t work anymore. I carefully felt my sides and stomach, I didn’t feel any gaping holes or any areas that had been torn wide open. Upon careful inspection, I realized that the pulpy stuff was actually the plums I’d stuffed into my pockets. I stood carefully, not totally convinced that the fleshy tissue hadn’t actually come from me. However, a moment later I breathed out a sigh of relief. None of it was from me after all.

That night when I went to bed I was depressed, I was no closer to flying than I had been at the beginning. As I lay in bed staring up at the shadows dancing on the ceiling, I put my bright little mind to work on why Superman could fly and I could not. As I dropped off to sleep nothing came to me.

I remember at some time in my life somebody had told me that if you ever have a problem, and couldn’t figure out what to do, you should think about the problem just before you went to sleep, and when you woke up in the morning, your brain would have it all figured out. Had I known this when I was younger, I would have been doing this all the time. However, this little bit of advice worked like a charm, even though I had yet to hear about it….when I awoke in the morning the answer was in my brain, just like magic.

The answer was so simple, and I don’t know why I hadn’t been able to figure it out before. Superman would always fly as Superman and never as Clark Kent. Of course! How could I have been so stupid? All I needed in order to fly was a cape. It was only with this vital accessory that flight could finally be achieved. I immediately set out to find the perfect cape because, after all, it had to be really special for it to really work. One of Mom’s bath towels wouldn’t work properly, and neither would the sheet from my bed...it had to be a special piece of fabric; one that was certain to be magical.

It was after much deliberation that I finally decided to use my favorite blanket as my cape. I had had it for as long as I could remember. For all I knew, it had been left to me by a genii or wizard one night as a cape with miraculous powers, and I had never realized it. There it had sat on by bed for years and years without me ever knowing its ultimate potential.

I used a safety pin to attach the two corners of the blanket securely under my chin. I poked my fingers a few times, but finally at last attached my cape. I walked to the bathroom and studied myself in the mirror…definitely super-heroish. As looked in the mirror, I still felt that I was lacking something. Superman had a really cool costume and even though I didn’t think I needed one to fly, I still wanted to look as much like him as I possibly could. From what I could remember, most of his costume was blue…that is, with the exception of the red underwear he wore outside his tights.

I began to dig through all my clothes, and finally decided to wear my favorite shirt—the one with red and blue stripes. It had been my favorite shirt, and one I was sure would undoubtedly help me to soar among the heavens. After all, I probably wore this shirt five days a week. It was with me whenever I went exploring or hiking; it only seemed fitting that it should accompany me on my grandest achievement of all.

I carefully removed my cape and changed my shirt; it felt better, so much more special and magical with all its familiar smells and memories. I don’t know why I loved this shirt the way I did, but I did. I would have never taken it off had my mother not forced me to do so…to me it was more than simply a piece of clothing; I felt that it was almost a part of me, an extension of myself. I would have worn it to church on Sundays had my mother let me.

I checked myself out again in the bathroom mirror and I had to admit that I looked pretty good; the stripes of the shirt went perfectly with the blues of the blanket which flowed behind me like a river of pure silk. Never had I experienced such a feeling of overwhelming power! I decided that my jeans were good enough for the flight as they were blue. I contemplated wearing my underwear on the outside of my jeans, but decided against it, they were white…not red like Superman’s. Besides, this would be much too embarrassing.

I strode out of the house with all the confidence of a kid who knew a terrific secret. All I needed now was the perfect place to make my flight. Where could it be? I thought of my episode with the tire swing the day before and decided against it. What I needed was a new place—a place without any previous attempts, after all, there was no sense in jinxing my real flight with memories of past failures. Maybe I could leap from a tree? It sounded like a good idea, but there were few in the open I could readily climb. The trees in the woods would have been a poor choice because the branches of the other nearby trees would have gotten in my way. Though I had to admit that it would have been fun to weave in and out of the branches when I was flying, I decided against it. I needed a clear spot of airspace for my first flight.


As I was contemplating where I should take to the sky, my eyes were drawn to the old barn which was situated behind our house. I hurried to the backyard and began to study the tall wooden fence around the pasture, as well as the barn itself. I saw that it was possible for me to climb to the top of the fence, and leap from there. However, after a minute, I decided that it wouldn’t be that wise after all, what if my cape caught on a nail or one of the wooden posts?

I considered using the cattle run, which was an elevated ramp, with side rails so horses or cows could be loaded into the back of trucks to be moved someplace else. I walked to the top of the ramp…it was a good three feet off the ground. I was sure that I could run up the ramp, and leap into the air from there.

I walked to the bottom of the ramp and looked around me, the air was suddenly still, the sound of birdsong was notably absent, and even the very wind (which usually blew through the branches of the nearby trees and grass) was motionless. The entire world was strangely silent, in anticipation of my flight. I blew out a deep breath, and began to run to the end of the ramp. Closer and closer it came, I put on more speed and when I reached the end of the ramp I leapt into the air with my arms in front of me. For a second it felt like it were going to work, but I felt the draw of gravity as I was pulled towards the ground and landed—somewhat clumsily—on my feet.

I stared in disbelief. What was wrong? I was wearing my lucky shirt, I had a cape, and was even wearing clean underwear under my jeans to ensure a perfect flight, yet here I was, unable to take to the air.

I sat down on the grass and thought. Something was wrong…what was it? As I looked around, my eyes fell on the old barn—more specifically, to the small window on the east side which was seven or eight feet off the ground. That was it! I wasn’t jumping from a distance that was high enough! I was sure of it! I felt elated at my new discovery and pulled open the huge swinging barn door. The barn was dirty and murky-looking inside, not having housed animals for many years.

I moved cautiously through the barn to the window on the east side. Sunlight was shining in, illuminating the dust in the air. I had often watched the dust particles floating in the sunbeams lancing through our house, and I’d often wondered if the dust was only in the sunbeams, or whether the dust was always in the air and we were always breathing it in. If that were really so, did we have huge balls of dust forming in our lungs? The thought was pretty cool.

I moved to the window and climbed on the workbench someone had built into the wall years before. I stood carefully, and walked the open window. As I looked out I was spellbound. I had never seen the woods and creek beyond the barnyard from this height before…it was beautiful. However, this was no time to admire the view, I had come to fly and fly was what I was going to do.

As I looked down at the ground below I suddenly felt a wave of pure and simple fear. The distance from outside the barn looking up to the window looked pretty high, but from up here looking down the distance seemed to be miles. I may as well have jumped off the roof!

I was thinking that maybe I didn’t want to fly quite so badly when I saw my dad coming out to the barn. This could be it, I decided. My big moment, and my dad would be there to see it…I knew that he hadn’t been impressed with the fight with Doug because Shawna had had to save my life. In the next few seconds, I made one of the biggest decisions in my life.

“Dad!” I yelled. “Look at me!”

Those were famous last words, I have come to decide. I wish that the blanket I was wearing had come with a warning labeled on it saying something like, “Wearing this blanket as a cape does not guarantee the ability to fly. If you try to fly with this, you are a complete idiot.” But the blanket didn’t come with such a warning, and I jumped. I wish I could tell you that I took off over the trees, and explored new vistas with my dad smiling proudly on saying, “That’s my boy!”

I didn’t.

Instead being caught by the wind and flying up, I went plummeting to the ground, which seemed to come rushing towards me at an alarming rate. I think I screamed, after all, it’s hard to be sure when you are watching your death come to greet you and your entire life is flashing in front of your eyes. That’s a lot for a seven year-old to process all at once.

In what was probably the shortest flight in the history of the world, I crash-landed in a clump of tall grass below the window. I felt like I had just been in another fight with Doug, and wanted nothing more than to lie there and die. How could I have been so stupid? There was no way that I could ever fly, I started to cry. Partly from feeling hurt, and partially from the embarrassment of it all. I felt strong hands lifting me up from the ground and my dad asking if I were okay. I wiped at my tear-streaked eyes and felt angry. How could I have though that I could fly? I had been so dumb. As I made to tear the cape off and stomp on it, my dad said, “Wow, you looked just like Superman.”

I stopped crying and looked at my dad. He was smiling down at me; I wiped away the tears.

“Really?”

Dad nodded and said, “Really, I thought you were going to fly away for a minute there.”

I had done it, I had actually been flying! The possibilities were endless. With a little practice I would soon be able to fly anywhere. I just needed more practice!

As if seeing the cogs turning this over in my brain, and wanting to stop me before I’d actually succeeded in killing myself, my dad said, “Jason, you know, I’d really miss you if you flew away and couldn’t get back.” He paused and considered his next words, “Promise me that you won’t ever fly again.”

What? Never fly again? He couldn’t possibly be serious, could he? As I looked up at my dad, I had a sudden realization. That realization was how Mom would feel if I had flown away and couldn’t get back home. I knew how much I'd miss her, and probably how much she'd miss me too. It was then that I made one of the toughest decisions of my life. I promised him that I would never fly again.

To this day, I have kept that promise.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Living off of yesterday

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I was thinking tonight of the years that I have been alive on this earth. I thought of the people whom I’ve met...some good, and some bad. I found myself becoming reflective as I thought of the role I’ve played while living here, taking up a little corner of the space. As I pondered, I came to the sudden realization that though sometimes good is really indeed good, great is really a much better thing. It isn’t good enough to simply be good for just one day, it isn’t enough to put in effort for only a few minutes...to really be—and mean—something, it needs to last.

It was Louis L'Amour who at one time said; “A ship does not sail with yesterday's wind.”

A friend of mine recently asked me, “Are you committed? Are you willing to do it?” I find her words echoing in my head more often than usual lately, which is strange in itself as I usually can’t even remember what I had for breakfast the day before.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Snowflakes

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I was walking down the evening road.
The deep, white snow filled the air
It made not a sound,
The smell of moisture heavy on the wind
It tasted cold on my tongue.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Summit Memoir 3 - Vitamins do NOT make you stronger

Pin It It was like a miracle had occurred in our house. The beating incident stopped Doug’s bullying and bragging, in fact, he started to avoid me altogether. He was probably afraid that I’d tell dad about something he’d done and get him into trouble. I did have fun playing it up for the next two days though. I would walk slowly whenever I was around him, and sit down very carefully. It also helped if I sucked in my breath, utter a sound like, wuuuuuuuhhh, and clinch my eyelids shut, like it really hurt.

I had the hardest time trying to keep myself from laughing.

Even though Doug had stopped picking on me, we didn’t become friends that summer. I was grateful, at Mom’s insistence, that it was time for Doug and Tracy to go back home. I can’t describe the feeling of peace I felt watching Aunt Joan drive away with Doug and Tracy. It had been a long, hard month having them stay with us, and I was grateful for my life to return to normal.

Not long after my cousins had left my mom had told us something that I’ll never forget…she told us that vitamins made you strong and therefore, you should take them every day. I did a little figuring with my 7 year-old brain and came to the conclusion that if one vitamin a day would make you strong, then a whole handful of vitamins would make you even stronger!

My sister and I snuck into the kitchen when Mom was reading a book in the living room. We carefully opened the cupboard and took out the Multivitamin and Vitamin C tablets. My sister ate a few of the Vitamin Cs, but didn’t want any of the others. My siblings and I called them “horse pills.” This was mostly because they were huge tablets that could have choked a horse and they tasted terrible! I spread about a dozen tablets over the counter and got a glass of water from the sink. I popped the first multivitamin into my mouth and instantly was greeted with a bitter taste that made me wince. I grabbed the glass of water and forced it down.

Shawna looked at my face and shook her head. “The Vitamin C tastes better.”

I looked at her; did she think I was stupid? Of course I knew that the Vitamin C tasted better…they almost tasted like candy, but the Multivitamins tasted more like the grain we fed to our goats.


“I know that,” I said. “But these are better for you; they’ll make you stronger faster.”

She shook her head and watched wide-eyed as I downed another nine or ten tablets. I was starting to feel a little sick, but I realized that I needed to eat even more of those tablets if I wanted to be really strong. I took another four or five tablets, thinking that I’d probably had enough to make me as strong as I’d like to be. In fact, I felt stronger already! It was like my muscles were growing larger as I stood there. I flexed a bicep and grinned, surely it was bigger now than it had been only a minute ago.

I grinned at my sister and strode from the kitchen into the living room. Mom was still reading her book. I cleared my throat. “Mom,” I said as I flexed my muscles. “Do I look strong?” I was a little worried that when I flexed I would rip out of my shirt, but luckily I didn’t.

Mom glanced up from her book, and looked at me with a confused expression. “No, why?”

I was shocked. Maybe she hadn’t been paying close enough attention. I leaned forward and flexed again, like the guys on the covers of muscle magazines. Surely she would be able to see it now. “Don’t I look strong, Mom?”

She put her book down and shook her head. “No. Why would you look stronger?”

I stopped flexing and looked at my biceps, actually, they didn’t look any bigger than they had been a few minutes before. “Well, you said if we took our vitamins they would make us strong.”

Mom nodded. “Yes.”

My shoulders drooped, “Well, I just took a whole bunch of them, and I don’t feel any stronger.”

Mom’s eyebrows shot up like window blinds. “You did what!” she yelled, leaping out of the chair.

“I ate a bunch of vitamins.”

Mom bounded across the room like one of those lions that attacks their prey in the nature specials. She scared me as she grabbed my shoulders. “How many did you eat?”

“I don’t know...twelve?”

Mom looked like she was ready to faint. “Twelve vitamins?”

“Well,” I admitted, “Maybe twenty?”

“Twenty!” Mom was near hysterics. She ushered me to the bathroom and made me stand over the toilet. “Throw them up right now!”

I looked at the toilet and wondered just how I was supposed to throw them up. After all, you don’t just think to yourself, “I feel like throwing up” and do it. I stood there stupidly, not knowing what to do. Mom tried several things to get me to throw up, but none of them worked.

We had a neighbor during this time, Larry. He’s been my dad’s best friend ever since middle school, and he was currently staying in a little travel-trailer parked by our weeping willow tree. Mom ran out and asked him to give us a ride to the hospital in Chewelah, and in a matter of minutes we were flying down the road in Larry’s Honda, the countryside flashing past the windows more quickly then I’d ever seen it go before. Even though the ride to Chewelah should have taken us nearly half an hour, we made it in only fifteen or twenty minutes.

Mom left Shawna and Larry in the car and bustled me to the emergency room. A nurse listened to my mom, who was near hysterics, telling her that I’d swallowed half a bottle of vitamins. The nurse led us to a room where I was told so sit quietly on the examination table, while another nurse started asking questions. How long ago had I taken the vitamins? Did my mom bring the bottle with her? How many vitamins had I actually swallowed? The questions went on, and my head started spinning. I started to feel confused. The nurse started taking over my head to Mom.

As they talked, I looked around the room at all the strange instruments. I wondered what they were for, and who had been in this room before me. Had that person come in this room because they had swallowed too many vitamins as well? I wondered if the hospital had a special room for every kind of sickness, and when you came in you were automatically taken to that room.

I was studying the packages of gauze and bandages by the sink when I heard the nurse say something about pumping my stomach. I listened as she told my mom that a tube would be forced down my throat—one attached to a vacuum cleaner that would suck all the stuff out of my stomach. I started to cry and grabbed my mom; they were going to stick a vacuum cleaner down my throat!

I was near hysterics when the nurse suggested that we just might try something else. “If we try this and it doesn’t work, we’ll have to pump your stomach.” The nurse said seriously. “Hopefully, this will help induce vomiting.”

I nodded vigorously and wiped the tears from my eyes; if something could save me from getting my insides sucked out, I was willing to try it.

The nurse got a tray with several paper cups and a pitcher of water. She poured me a glass of water and told me to drink it. I was eager to do everything she said so they wouldn’t do anything else to me. I drank the water, even though it was warm. When I finished the cup she handed me another glass, and instructed me to drink it as well. I did. Boy, this was easy, just drink water? How easy could this get?

After my fifth glass I decided that I didn’t want anymore water. My eyes were floating in their sockets, and my stomach was starting to get full. The nurse handed me another cup and told me to drink it too. I tried, but I just couldn’t. I was so full I felt like I was going to explode. I started to cry, “I can’t drink any more!” I wailed.

“Well, then we’re going to have to pump your stomach.” The nurse said. I started to hate this woman, her job was to make people better, not torture them!

She forced another cup into my hands, “Drink it!” She ordered. I raised the cup to my lips, and as the water started to go down, the other water I already drank began to come up. I dropped the cup and began to throw up. The nurse must have known that this was going to happen because she was ready with a pink plastic bowl which she shoved in my face. I threw up for a few seconds, and I felt instantly worse. I started to cry harder and the nurse handed me another glass of warm water.

“Drink it.” She instructed.

I shook my head. “I don’t want to!”

I looked to Mom for help, but she shook her head. “Drink it, Jason.”

I couldn’t believe this, they were in this together! They both wanted to torture me. I shook my head again. “I can’t.”

“Then we’re going to put the pipe down your throat and suck it all out.” The nurse warned.

I knew I sure didn’t want that pipe down my throat. I closed my eyes and forced myself to down another three full glasses of water. I started to throw up again. I was crying pretty hard by now, and this became our established pattern. I would cry, the nurse would threaten, I would drink, throw up, and then we would do it all over again.

After what seemed like eternity, and it felt like my stomach had turned itself inside out, the nurse announced that I had gotten everything out of my stomach and would be all right. I wiped my face with a towel, and felt sicker than ever. How could this have happened? I felt awful! I just wanted to take a nap, I was so tired…but I didn’t want to take one here, I wanted to get out of here as quickly as I could.

While Mom filled out some papers, the nurse helped to clean me up. When she was done she handed me a sucker. I’m sure this was a bribe so that I wouldn’t tell anyone how mean she’d been—after all, what sort of adult gets their kicks seeing a little boy throw up until she nearly kills him? She then asked if I had any brothers or sisters. I told her I had a sister out in the car—I was hoping that maybe she wanted to torture Shawna too, but she didn’t seem to want to, instead she handed me another sucker. What luck! I got two suckers from her! I staggered dizzily out of the room with my mom, when we got outside to the car I was feeling pretty good about myself. I had gotten two suckers!

“Where did you get those?” Shawna asked, eyeing the suckers in my hand.

“From the nurse.” I said. “All I had to do was throw up a million times.”

As the car pulled away from the hospital parking lot, Shawna looked on enviously. I waved the other sucker in front of her face. I had two suckers and she didn’t have any…I, at least, was going to enjoy this!

“Jason, give Shawna one of the suckers.” Mom instructed from the front seat

What? Give one to Shawna? Why would I do that? She hadn’t done anything…I was the one who had his stomach turned inside out. Mom took one of my suckers and handed it to my sister, who greedily began to eat it. I folded my arms and sat back on the seat. It just wasn’t fair! I thought, I go through the torture and Shawna gets rewarded for it?

I sulked all the way home, and felt a general anger directed toward everyone in the world at this point. However, I did learn several important lessons that day: First of all, don’t believe your mom when she tells you that vitamins make you strong. Second, nurses always lie. And third, if you ever have to go to the hospital and you get two suckers, hide them both so you don’t have to share.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Warning

Pin It I just wanted to make a small note in regard to the two posts following this one. Both of these are memoirs I have of when my cousins came to visit back when I was about 7 years old. I started to write them up, and instead of just allowing them to sit on my computer and fade into oblivion, I decided to publish them online.

The reason I am issuing this warning is that they are somewhat longer than my usual posts, and I just wanted anyone who comes here to be aware of that fact so you can make an educated decision on whether or not you wanted to read them.

Summit Memoir 1 - The summer my cousins came to visit

Pin It
I’ll never forget the summer my cousins came to visit. At that time we lived in a place called Summit Valley. It was named after the huge rising summits that surrounded the valley, deep in the Huckleberry Mountains. We lived in a little pink and yellow house down one of those winding country roads where the summer lasts forever and so do the memories.

There was a creek running alongside the house that was spanned at one point by an old, weathered bridge. The bridge was missing boards in places, leaving gaping holes in the framework and you had to be careful when crossing or you would find yourself falling twelve feet down to the creek, choked with the remnants of an old beaver dam.

I was lying outside on the lawn watching the white puffy clouds race by. These were my favorite because of the shapes they would form when drifting lazily in the breeze. A car sped past in a flash of gleaming metal, leaving only clouds of dust behind to mark it’s passing. A picket fence, faded to a dingy white separated our yard from the road. The far side was cumbered with tall weeds and slats were missing in places, giving it the impression of missing teeth. I reached to my mouth and poked at the spaces my own teeth had left behind. Twenty-five cents each, that’s what they were worth. For the sake of getting rich I had once entertained the idea of pulling them all out with a pair of my dad’s pliers, but when I considered the pain that would accompany such an act, I quickly abandoned the idea.

I was so caught up in my own thoughts that I didn’t notice the next car coming down the road until it slowed and turned into our driveway. The dusty windows of the Pacer held faces that stared at me intently. I stared back and rose from my place on the grass, leaving behind an indentation that rose much more slowly than I.

The front door of the car opened and as Aunt Joan got out, I realized that the faces in the backseat must belong to my cousins, Doug and Tracy. Sure enough, from out of the car they came. As Joan reached out to hug me my older sister, Shawna, burst from inside the house. She let the screen door slam shut behind her and she let out a yell, “Aunt Joan!” and quickly ran to where we stood. Mom followed behind and the two adults began to talk and laugh over our heads. Walking into the house they left us to face our cousins alone.

I remembered Doug and Tracy well enough from our last visit to the city and all I can say is that they looked quite out of place here in the country. “Hi.” I said, trying to sound friendly even though I had no particular love for my cousins—well, Doug anyway because he was a first class jerk and bully.

“Hi.” They both answered back, taking in our house, the trees across the creek, the weeping willow which hung over the driveway with it’s tire swing drifting lazily in the breeze which had sprung up. I couldn’t say that I was all that happy to see my cousins…what were they doing here? Why hadn’t Aunt Joan told us they were coming? From the expressions on Doug and Tracy’s faces I could tell that they were somewhat disappointed in our home.

“How come you’re here?” Shawna asked, brushing her long, tangled hair from her face.

Tracy smiled. “Mom and Dad are sending us to stay for the summer.”

Shawna and Tracy hugged. They began to chat away about all of the things they would do. Play with Shawna’s cat, practice putting on makeup and about a million other things that would never interest me. She and Tracy carried Tracy’s duffel bags into the house and left me standing alone with Doug.

Doug grabbed some things out of the car and tossed them to me. “Here, you can carry this.” He said. It was not a request, it was an order. As I caught the backpack I thought that maybe it would be nice to have another boy around for the summer, after all, my brother was gone for the summer and our nearest neighbor with a boy my age was about a mile away, if you cut through the woods. I decided that I would try to make the best of it.

As Doug and I walked into my room it was obvious that he was not impressed with the surroundings. The people who had lived in the house before us had odd preferences for color; this was why the house was painted pink and yellow. My sister’s room was an even uglier shade of hot pink with matching curtains; the sight of it was certainly enough to make a person puke, which brings you to my room. The shade of green on my walls wasn’t actually the shade of puke, but it was close enough to pass. It most closely resembled the split-pea soup my mother frequently made. I was used to the color and size, it was the smallest room of the house, not much bigger than the bathroom but just perfect for the currently smallest person of the family—or so my parents had decided. This explains why our parents had given the bedrooms to us and had chosen to set their bed up in the living room, it was close to the TV and the walls were white, pure beautiful white—not the type that would give you disturbing dreams or an upset stomach.

I tossed Doug’s sleeping bag and backpack on the floor as he looked at the walls. “Ugly room.” He observed.

Ignoring his comment I headed for the kitchen where mom and Aunt Joan were talking. As I came closer I caught snatches of the conversation, phrases like; out of control and I don’t know where else to turn met my ears. But as they noticed me in the room the conversation shifted to grandma and her failing health. We didn’t have a phone and letters were usually our only correspondence with family. Dad did have a CB radio on which he and mom would talk with friends in the valley, but the signal wasn’t strong enough to travel very far.

Mom turned to me and smiled. She was pretty with long hair that was light brown, the same color as mine. I loved it when my mom smiled, it made me feel all tingly and light inside, and it would always make me feel better when I was sad about something, but now it made me feel differently, like something terrible was about to happen.

“Jason,” Mom began, slipping her arm around my shoulder. “Your Aunt has a lot going on back home and is going to be really busy over the next few weeks.” She paused and considered her words carefully. “Your cousins will be staying with us for a while.”

I didn’t know what she expected me to do or say. I knew I couldn’t make a scene with Aunt Joan standing there, she, like grandma, had this mistaken belief that Shawna and I were perfect children and dad didn’t want us to spoil that image.

I gave a weak smile. “Sounds great.” I lied. In actuality, I didn’t know whether it was great or not. I actually didn’t know Doug all that well; maybe out here in the country, and away from the city he and I could do things together. I had a fort I wanted to build in the trees behind the house and I would finally have someone here to play with during the day. Yes, I decided. It did sound great.

Before long, Joan stood to leave, promising to return in a month to pick up Doug and Tracy. They waved goodbye as the car backed down the driveway. As she drove down the road in a flurry of dust and pebbles, she stuck out a hand, gave a wave to her kids, and then was gone. That’s when it all began.

I tried really hard to get along with Doug at first. I usually didn’t have anyone to play with but Shawna and she didn’t enjoy hikes along the creek or exploring the woods as I did. I was thinking how much fun it would be with another boy around but it didn’t take long before Doug started bossing me around and generally acting like he owned the place. Heck, if I had wanted this, I could have hung around my sister!

Charles, Doug’s dad, was a career Marine and had been a Green Beret during the Vietnam War. As a result, his son was constantly bragging about how many Japs his dad had killed and just how tough he was. “If my dad tells me to drop and give him 50, I do it!” Doug said proudly.

Doug boasted constantly of how tough he was and told me that he knew of at least twelve different ways in which he could kill me and make it look like an accident. I thought maybe he was just doing this to scare me, and it was working. I tried to avoid him but he constantly seemed to be following me around, telling me how tough he was. He took over my bed and made me knock whenever I wanted to come into my own room.

“I can do more pushups than you can.” Doug sneered on the third day, coming into my room.

I didn’t doubt him on that. At seven years old I had thus far only mastered three or four pushups in a row. I was trying to be careful in my words so as not to egg him on.

“So?” I asked.

“So, I’m tougher. I can do more pull-ups too.” He waited to see if I was impressed.

I shrugged. “Big deal.”

Doug dropped to the floor and proceeded to crack out pushups on the yarn rug to prove his point. I stood and walked outside.

My sister and Tracy were sitting on the grass on the front lawn laughing as they played with Shawna’s snow-white Manx cat, Feather. They dangled string for the kitten that pounced and clawed at the dancing thread.

I flopped down on the grass and pulled up a single blade, examining it between my fingertips. I glanced down at the lawn at all the grass growing and the bugs scurrying beneath its canopy. Did they ever worry about anything? Did bugs know when someone was about to sit down and move out of that area of lawn before they did? I could almost imagine police ants setting up little barricades and yellow “do not cross” lines. I smiled at the thought and looked at the girls. I couldn’t see how Doug and Tracy could really be related at all. Tracy was the exact and utter opposite of Doug. She was tiny and fragile and would laugh, her blond hair swaying back and forth. I noticed that she had been smiling a lot since they had come, I was wondering if it was because now Doug was picking on my instead of her.

I heard the screen door slam shut behind me. Doug was standing on the top step, watching us with intent eyes. I breathed out s sigh. Great, I thought, won’t he ever leave me alone? Doug only stood there for a moment before he ambled across the lawn to where we were sitting.

“Watcha doing?” he asked, not really wanting an answer.

“Nothing, now go away,” Shawna said coldly. I was pretty sure she was just as sick of him as I was.

But Doug didn’t leave, he merely grinned about, probably thinking of some way to be a jerk, you know, something like hiding the seat of my bike or setting the barn on fire. Doug wouldn’t let on what he had been thinking until he reached out and snatched Feather from my sister.

Shawna was on her feet in a second, trying to get the kitten back. “Give him back to me!” she yelled. “He’s mine!”

Doug seemed to enjoy this reaction and danced away from her. “Maybe I will,” he jeered, “and maybe I won’t.”

Shawna made a futile grab for the cat that clearly didn’t like being swung around like a rag doll.

It’s difficult to describe what happened next, it seemed that there was lots of shouting and name-calling. Doug was backing farther away, holding the cat over his head like a sacrificial offering. Shawna was threatening to pound him and tried to keep her cat from falling. Tracy burst into tears and kept blubbering about something, maybe Doug had done this to her cat before and she was thinking about what would come next…it was hard to be sure.

Amidst all of this I heard the front door slam with the force of a thunderclap and there he was. The man that stood there looking at us, six foot five with dark hair and beard and a look of disgust on his face. For all practical purposes it could have been Grizzly Adams or Paul Bunyan standing there, but it was far worse, it was my dad.

It was plain from the tone of his voice that he had just about had it with all of the problems that had been happening lately and finally this was the last straw. “What is going on out here!” he demanded, more a statement than a question.

Nobody answered. Nobody dared. I noticed Doug standing quietly and the cat had somehow managed to disappear from his grasp, nowhere to be seen. The silence that now dominated the air about us was eerie; the creek, which usually gurgled contentedly, was strangely silent. And the usual noise of birdsong was notably absent. It was like the whole world was holding its breath, waiting to see what would happen next.

Dad stood there in his towering greatness and strode from the front step of the house. Still nobody moved. We were all like deer, frozen, looking into the blinding whiteness of an oncoming car’s headlights, which would spell certain doom.

I think dad grabbed Doug first, the reason I say this is because he didn’t have a chance to run, and I myself being his son wouldn’t have dared to. Nobody ran from my dad, he may not have been fast, but he lived in that house and he knew that you’d have to come home sometime. Dad grabbed me next and hauled both Doug and I out to the backyard. I could now hear the creek chatting away over its bed, telling the rest of the world I was as good as dead. Tracy and Shawna followed along behind, probably curious as to what was going to happen next. I’m sure Shawna felt somewhat guilty that it was me getting blamed for the fight and not her so out of respect she was coming along to see me get shot along with Doug.

Dad released us both and said, “I’ve had it with the both of you. You two are going to have it out right here and now!” I wanted to protest, saying that it was all over Shawna’s stupid cat and that it wasn’t my fault but I knew that no amount of plea bargaining would get me out of one of Dad’s decisions.

Mom came out from the house and quickly discovered what was going on. She approached my dad and said. “George, fighting won’t solve anything. It’s only going to make it worse.”

Dad pushed her aside and said. “Doug needs a good whipping and it’s my son that’s going to give it to him.” Dad turned to me and said, “Go on Jason, take him out!”

It was one of those times in my life where I’ve wondered, how did I get into this? I hadn’t planned on getting creamed when I woke up that morning, but it appeared that the fates had this in mind. I looked at Doug; he seemed bigger now than he had been before, like a towering mound of bully just waiting to show me how much he would love to turn my face into hamburger.

At this point everything became muddled. I hit Doug, or at least, I hope I did. I can’t be sure if the blow landed because he knocked me to the ground and we were tumbling all over the lawn. It was a mass of fists and legs all striking and trying to do the most damage as possible. It was obvious that Doug was now winning; as the blows came to my head and stomach I felt that that these would be my last few moments on the earth. I could almost imagine the inscription that would be chiseled to my headstone,

Jason Zimmerman
Beaten to death by his cousin because of his sister’s stupid cat.
This act was sanctioned by Jason
s father.

At my moment of feeling no hope for deliverance, Doug rolled off me and began to curse more than he had before. I opened my blurred eyes and caught a glimpse of my sister and Doug on the ground, my sister was on top and they were both grabbing fistfuls of hair and plummeting each other bloody. My older sister had saved me at the last possible moment. I stood and ran to her aid, I wondered what I could do to help; after all, she was literally kicking the snot out of him.

I looked down at my black Converse tennis shoe, now streaked with grass stains and dirt. I looked at Doug and Shawna hitting each other and I kicked him, several times.

Doug started to scream out that he gave up and the fight was officially over. Doug’s face was smeared with blood that ran from his nose as if it had been a faucet turned open full throttle. He spit on the ground and began to walk to the house, trying to maintain some semblance of cool as he wiped the blood from his chin. I can only imagine that he felt somewhat humbled getting beaten by a kid two years younger than he was, of course, my sister didn’t really count because, after all, girls don’t fight boys.

Summit Memoir 2 - Checkers and Beatings

Pin It I thought that the fight would’ve stopped Doug’s bullying and cheating, but it didn’t, he only seemed to get worse. Even if Doug didn’t physically push me around, he still bragged about how much better he was than me at everything and made it a point to make me feel about as low as pond scum when it came to do anything that required size or strength.

I tried my best to avoid him but it never worked—mostly this was for two reasons. First, there are only so many places to go when you’re seven years old and still haven’t learned how to ride a bike, and second, there was basically nothing out here in the country that would keep Doug distracted. He couldn’t watch TV because ours only received three-and-a-half stations (the half station only worked when the sky was overcast). Not that it would’ve helped anyway because the only things on during the daytime were soap operas and I couldn’t imagine Doug ever watching those.

Mom had a pretty nice stereo but this was no help either, we weren’t allowed to mess with it to play any tapes and most of the radio stations were full of static—not that it would have mattered, I don’t think Mom would have let him listen to his stations even if they weren’t. The only thing that seemed to take his mind off of how bored he was and give him any pleasure was to continually torment me.


I made it a point to start taking long hikes up the creek for hours on end and exploring the woods with my dog, Grizzly, a half German Shepard-St. Bernard mix that got his name because he was nearly as large as a bear himself. I recalled the time, when we had lived in Rockford, Washington just a year before when a boy who lived up the street named Robert had been throwing his shoes at Grizzly for fun. Robert would laugh and laugh as he watched my dog move away and find someplace else to lie down.

“Leave him alone,” I warned. “You’re gonna make him mad.”

Robert had laughed and picked up his shoe again. “That old worthless dog wouldn’t do anything!” He threw the shoe that hit my dog on the shoulder.

“Knock it off, Robert.” I said again.

Robert ignored me and took off his shirt next and threw that at Grizzly as well. Grizzly started to walk away, still trying to ignore this annoying kid. Robert seemed to think that the way Grizzly kept moving away from him was the funniest thing he had ever seen and he was practically rolling with laughter. He then started taking off his socks to throw them at my dog as well. I was beginning to wonder if he would be wearing any clothes by the time he was done, at the rate he was taking them off and throwing them at Grizzly I figured he had about another 30 seconds. Grizzly moved away from Robert again, but this time he gave a warning growl which I think was his way of saying, Listen here you stupid kid, if you take off any more of your clothes and throw them at me, I’m gonna have to bite you.

“Robert,” I said. “I’m serious, he’s getting mad.”

Robert stuck his tongue out at me. “Mind your own business!”

I stood and walked to the porch with a shrug. If Robert wanted me to mind my own business, then I would. Robert ignored me and ran over to Grizzly to rub his stinky sock in the dog’s face. I wondered why Robert always liked to torture animals, I figured that maybe it was because he had older brothers who treated him like dirt, but I couldn’t be sure.

Grizzly gave another low growl as Robert approached but Robert didn’t notice it. Maybe he just wasn’t listening, or maybe he was just really stupid…I’ll never know for sure which it was but as Robert tossed his sock in Grizzly’s face, my dog decided that he’d had enough.

Grizzly let go with a bark and jumped up from the ground, whisking out of Robert’s way and then he bit him on the back. It took Robert about two or three seconds to realize just what had happened. Then he began to scream, a high-pitched scream that echoed and reechoed through the neighborhood—it sounded like somebody was torturing a cat. Robert leapt to his feet, still screaming and gripping the part of his back where Grizzly had bitten him. Grizzly hadn’t actually been trying to hurt Robert but was just letting him know that he was tired of the way he was acting and meant business. Robert leapt around the yard, still screaming bloody murder. This in turn got Grizzly excited, thinking that it was now part of a game. My dog leapt around Robert, barking and nipping at him that made Robert scream even more and run around the yard, trying to get away from the dog.

After a few moments, a man burst into our yard. It was Robert’s dad who had been out in his yard planting trees or weeding. “What’s are you doing!” He demanded as he snatched up his son who was shirtless, shoeless and sock less holding the back of his neck where there wasn’t even a mark, but the way Robert was carrying on, you’d have thought my dog had bitten his head clean off.

“I’m just minding my own business.” I said. Which is exactly what his son had told me to do. Robert’s dad seemed plenty mad and stormed out of our yard like the devil himself was on his heels.

I slid off the porch railing and put my arms around Grizzly’s neck. “Good boy.” I said. “You didn’t bite him until you had to.”

As I thought of this memory, I couldn’t help but smile. I wondered, could I sic Grizzly on Doug just once? It seemed like a great idea at first but then I thought better of it, Grizzly only bit Robert because Robert was bothering him…was there a way I could trick Doug into being mean to Grizzly? No, I told myself, I wouldn’t let else be mean to my dog…I would bite Doug myself first.

I did find that best way to avoid Doug was to never be at home but breeze in only long enough to catch a quick sandwich at lunchtime. Good old peanut butter and honey. I’d have preferred just a plain slice of bread with nothing on it, but Mom wouldn’t hear of it.

“You’d eat nothing but bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I let you.” Mom had said one day. I couldn’t argue with her either because she was right, to me a slice of plain bread was the best meal any kid could ever ask for.

But as I was saying, I had found a way in which I could avoid Doug for nearly the whole day. Nighttime was something totally different though. Doug had taken over my bed and forced me to sleep on the floor and sometimes wrestled me to the ground, “all for fun.” He would say whenever Mom or Dad had come in to check on us. I loathed going to bed and would always try to stay up as late as I could.

It was late in the afternoon about three or four days later when Doug and I had another serious run in. I had just eaten lunch and was preparing to head out again on another hike when I passed my sister’s bedroom. I noticed that Doug was sitting on Shawna’s bed, looking at the bedspread before him. He was looking at something but I couldn’t tell what because his back shielded it from view. Being somewhat curious, I stole quietly into the room and looked over his shoulder to see what he was looking at. He had my checkerboard sat before him and was staring at the pieces as if engrossed in an important game and was contemplating his next move.


I stood there for a minute before tiptoeing back to the doorway. I bumped something with my foot because it made a sound and Doug turned and saw me.

“What do you want?” he snapped.

I kept walking. “Nothing.”

As I left the room I heard him call out, “Wait just a minute, Jason!”

I paused for a moment then turned back. “What?” I asked cautiously

Doug motioned to the checkerboard. “Wanna play?”

I studied his expression carefully, I’d expected some slanderous remark, after all, Doug hadn’t had one nice thing to say to me since he’d been here and now here he was, acting like we were the best of friends. Why was he suddenly being so nice? The only thing I could figure was that he was bored out here with nobody to play with and this was softening him.

I stepped uncertainly into the room.

“C’mon, it’ll be fun.” He persisted with a friendly smile.

I couldn’t believe that he was smiling. I also couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I was stepping into the lair of a dangerous animal. Still, if he were will willing to offer and play, shouldn’t I? I sat down on the bed across from him, the checkerboard separating the distance between us. “Alright,” I said. “But I’m red.”

I sat down on the edge of the bed and reached out to move one of the red checkers. Doug stopped me, grabbing my hand. Surprised, he let go with another smile that had all the sincerity of a crocodile’s. “What you think about making a little wager before we begin?”

“A wager?” I asked, unfamiliar with the word.

“A bet,” Doug clarified, grinning away like the Cheshire Cat.

“What sort of a bet?” I asked.

Doug pretended to be in deep thought. Finally his face lit up, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe something like, the winner gets the loser’s dessert tonight?”

I smelled deeply and noticed, for the first time, the thick sweet aroma of rhubarb crumble drifting in the air. It smelled wonderful. Yesterday, the girls and I had discovered a patch of wild rhubarb growing on the far side of the creek. Mom had told us that if we picked it, she would make the crumble.

Doug must have noticed Mom making the crumble earlier. I figured that he probably wanted to eat as much as he could because Mom had yet to give us any sweets since Doug and Tracy had come. I imagined that he was suffering from a sugar withdrawal. A bet like this didn’t really bother me; after all, I wasn’t such a bad checker player and was fairly confident that I would win.

Despite my flash of confidence, something inside was warning me no to take the bet. I opened my mouth to tell Doug that I had changed my mind but something stronger in me desperately wanted to show him up. Just the day before, Doug had proved to Dad that he could not only out-run me, but out push-up me as well. The way Dad was beaming over Doug you would have thought that he’d won a gold medal at the Olympics. “Did you see that?” Dad had said. “Why don’t you try to run like that, Jason?”

“Because I’m not an ape.” I whispered under my breath.

All night I was forced to listen to Doug’s bragging about just how amazing he really was. More than anything I really wanted to put him in his place and show him that he wasn’t as good at everything as he thought. Ignoring the nagging I felt pulsing through my body, I said, “Deal.”

Doug and I shook hands to seal the bet.

After we had shaken hands, Doug graciously let me make the first move. I slid my first checker to the left side of the board. Doug mirrored my move on his side. I moved another checker; once-again Doug copied my move exactly. This went on for the first few moves of the game until it became impossible to copy me without losing his own pieces. Several moves later Doug succeeded in making the first jump and winning one of my checkers. He smiled triumphantly, thinking he was really something. His smile faded on my next move when I double-jumped him.

Outside the room I could hear Shawna and Tracy taking about something but I ignored them, all my concentration was centered on the game with Doug. The game wasn’t just over dessert, it was for respect. If I lost, Doug would always know that he had the better of me, whether or not I had won the fight. But if I won, it would show him that I could beat him at something else as well and he wasn’t nearly as amazing as he believed he was. Doug jumped two more of my checkers but I didn’t care, in the process he had moved one of his checkers from the home row, opening it up for me to get a king. Not long after I had first been introduced to checkers I discovered that if I didn’t move any of my checkers from the row closest to me for as long as I could, it kept my opponent from getting crowned and then having to worry about a king who could move in any direction.

I smiled broadly as I was crowned first and then used that king to jump two more of Doug’s pieces.

Doug sat and studied the board as my king moved towards several open checkers of his. The king was out and about to show no mercy on the men before him! It was obvious that Doug was losing, but surprisingly he wasn’t the least bit upset about it. In fact, he was just sitting there with a blank expression. I began to wonder if he was sick. A sinister twinkle appeared in his eyes as I jumped another of his checkers and laid it in the pile I had accumulated.

“It sure is pretty outside today.” Doug said, eyes trailing to the window behind me. I turned and looked through the large picture window overlooking the driveway. The yard was empty except for a few birds sitting on the fence, in the gentle breeze, the tire swing hanging from the weeping willow swayed to and fro. It was a beautiful day outside. As I looked out at the beauty around me, I resolved that after the game I would bury the hatchet with Doug. Maybe I’d even ask if he wanted to build a fort together, after all, if he was going to be this nice maybe I’d like to be around him.

I drew my eyes from the window and back to the game as Doug was making his next move. He slid one of his black checkers into an open spot in my home row. “Crown me,” he said triumphantly.

I blinked. I could’ve sworn I hadn’t moved any checkers from my home row... maybe I’d moved it earlier when I wasn’t paying attention. I brushed it off as I crowned his checker. I reached to move my king and discovered that the square it had previously occupied was now empty.

After a quick scan of the board it was obvious—my king was missing.

“Where’s my king?” I asked.

“I jumped it on my last move.” Doug said offhandedly.

Could he have? No, I’d watched him make his last move and it wasn’t anywhere near my king—in fact, there was no way he could have captured it. It was then that I noticed several more of my pieces had vanished as well. Doug had moved the pieces when I’d looked out the window!

“You nasty little cheat!” I said, “You moved the pieces!”

“I did not,” he said. “You just have a bad memory.”

“You did!” My voice was beginning to reach a shout. “You switched them when my back was turned!”

Doug shrugged. “We didn’t make up any rules saying that you couldn’t switch the checkers.”

“That’s a rule everyone already knows.” I protested.

Doug shook his head. “Not where I’m from.”

I’d like to tell him where he was from! My voice was no longer beginning to reach a shout but was there full throttle and my temper was flaming. Doug had cheated and now had the gall to sit there and say that everything was fine! I’m not sure what I said next but it must have been pretty awful considering the shocked expressions on the faces of Shawna, Tracy, and Dad who had all materialized in the doorway.

“What’s going on here?” Dad demanded, it was evident that he didn’t appreciate the use of language like that in the house, after all, that was his job.

I opened my mouth to explain but Dad came to his own conclusion. Before I could utter a single word, Dad caught me by the arm and practically carried me out of the room. As I was whisked past Shawna and Tracy, Shawna shot me a sympathetic look. I was ushered past them down the hallway to my room where the door was forcibly shut behind us.

I fully expected Dad to come unglued—whenever Shawna or I got into trouble he usually didn’t waste idle time with explanations or listening to pleas of mercy. Dad’s theology with punishment was short and simple, make it hurt and make it quick.

I was pretty scared as we stood together in the room. Dad was towering over me like the giant willow tree outside. He didn’t appear angry though, it was more…tired. We stood there for several silent moments. I stared at the orange carpet on the floor, I wondered just why someone had picked orange…was it because it was on sale because it was so ugly or was it because—Dad’s voice broke into my thoughts.

“Here’s seven dollars,” he said as he reached into his back pocket and took out his wallet. He took out several one-dollar bills and tossed them onto my bed. “Why don’t you run away?”

I was really surprised as my dad said this and I looked from my dad to the money and then back to him again. I couldn’t believe he was saying this. Where would I go? Seven years old and living on the road? What would happen to me? Would I end up like those homeless guys I’d seen on television, scrounging meals from people’s garbage cans? Suddenly, Mom’s split-pea soup and lentils didn’t seem so bad after all.

I wasn’t sure what I could say so we just stood there. The silence as so loud that I could hear the sounds of my own heart beating in my ears. I wondered if Dad could hear it too. Finally I was able to squeak out, “I don’t want to go.” My voice was barely over a whisper.

Dad’s face softened and he suddenly looked tired. “Then why can’t you get along with your cousin?” he asked, stuffing the money back into his wallet.

“Doug started it,” I protested. “He cheated in the game because I was winning.”

For the first time since Doug and Tracy had been here Dad was actually listening to what I was saying. Taking the silence as a cue to go on, I continued. I told him everything Doug had done to me over the past few weeks, from the bragging to pushing me around.

When I finished, Dad stood up. “Well, then Doug needs to learn that I’m serious about punishment and won’t tolerate the way he’s acting.” He took off his belt and held it in one hand. I backed up and cowered against the wall, making sure my bottom was away from him. I couldn’t believe it, after everything I had told him about Doug I was still going to be spanked. Spanked for something that wasn’t my fault. I felt hot tears coming to my eyes, it just wasn’t fair! It should be Doug in here with my dad getting spanked, not me!

Dad stepped towards me, brandishing the belt like a horsewhip. His voice was calm as he spoke to me. “Now, do I really have to hit you, or can you make it sound like I am?”

A ray of hope illuminated that corner of the room where I stood. I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat; “I can make it sound like you are.” I said quietly.

“Then you had better scream like I’m beating the tar out of you.”

With this, Dad turned towards my bed and swung the belt so savagely it scared me even though I was on the other side of the room. The leather cut through the air with a whooshing noise and cracked as it hit the mattress.

I screamed.

Dad hit the bed another four or five times and with each crack of the belt I would let out another blood-curdling scream, like Dad was beating the living daylights out of me. It was actually pretty fun, with each hit I would try to outdo my previous cry and make it sound like I was literally being tortured.

Dad stopped and began to re-loop his belt around his waist. He moved towards the door and looked at me with a smile hidden away beneath his unkempt beard. “When you come out of this room, you had better look like you sounded.”

With this he left the room. As he passed by my sister’s room, Doug, Tracy and Shawna were all pretending to be playing checkers—but they really weren’t. There was no way they could concentrate on anything after my little performance from the next room. Dad stopped in the doorway and looked at the three of them with silent eyes. His gaze paused when he reached Doug.

“Any more problems and I will take care of it, whoever it is…get it?”

Doug swallowed hard and nodded his head. “Yes, Uncle George.” He said.

Dad waited for another moment, allowing his words to sink in, then returned to reading his newspaper in the living room. While this was happening, I slipped from my bedroom into the bathroom. I crawled up on the sink and looked at my reflection in the mirror. I began to rub my eyes with my fists good and hard to make sure they were red and puffy, and then I dribbled some water from the faucet down my cheeks. I was amazed just how real it looked! If I hadn’t been in the bedroom myself, I would have thought Dad had really whipped the tar out of me. I practiced making my bottom lip quiver slightly and uttered a sob with a bunch of sniffling sounds, like when you’re really trying to hold in a cry. I practiced for nearly a minute before I opened the bathroom door and stepped into the hallway. The house was so quiet I could hear the clock ticking away in the living room.

As I passed my sister’s room, I glanced inside. Shawna winced when she saw me and Tracy was crying herself. Doug’s expression was the most shocking of all. His eyes were as round as fried-eggs and his face had gone completely white. He liked his lips nervously as I let out one of my well-practiced sobs and continued to the living room with a slow measured pace, like walking really hurt. When I reached the living room, Dad looked up from his newspaper long enough to shoot me a quick wink. I smiled and had to cup my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing.

As I went outside I whistled for Grizzly and headed in the direction of the creek. I smelled the fresh air blowing into my face and watched the huge clouds billowing in the blueness above me. I had to smile; after all, I had the greatest Dad in the world.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Brothers and sisters — a blessing or a curse?

Pin It When I was in sixth or seventh grade, perhaps even a little older, I had a little brother that I absolutely detested. He constantly whined, got into my things without permission, ruined my library books, and generally made a nuisance of himself. In other words, I loathed the little blighter.

I remember the frustration I felt on the day we moved and my parents informed me that my little brother and I would be sharing a bedroom together. Just great. I felt that my parents were intentionally ruining my life and trying to make me miserable. As a result, I blamed my little brother and thought about how much I hated him, this in turn made me feel all the more miserable and sorry for myself.

After some time of sharing a room with Yancy, something changed our relationship forever. It all started on one night when I was getting ready for bed and Yancy, somewhat apprehensively, asked from the top bunk, “Jason, would you read me a story tonight?”

Like most older brothers, I didn’t want anything to do with him, but he had asked nicely. I thought perhaps that I would read to him, this way I could avoid having to listen to his endless chatter, something he was well known for at bedtime.

That night I chose to read to him from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I thought for sure that he would quickly become bored with the story, lose interest, and not ask for me to read to him again. You can imagine my surprise when he thanked me at the conclusion of several chapters. When he dropped off to sleep, I thought about how good it felt to read to him. The next night the same thing happened, and even though I had homework, I put it off so I could read a few chapters to Yancy. He in turn expressed just as much gratitude as the night before. After a few days of this, reading became our nightly ritual before bed, whether I had finished my homework or not. I would read until his eyes would become so heavy he couldn’t possibly keep them open any longer. Some nights when I stopped reading he would wake up, still groggy-eyed and beg, “Jason, please read just a little bit longer.”

We soon finished all of The Chronicles of Narnia and moved on to other books that I loved, such as James and the Giant Peach, and even a few stories I had written myself. It was from this small beginning that not only a love for literature was born, but a love between my brother and me.

The years have fled since those days, but the relationship that I share with my brother has only become stronger. He has been the greatest friend I’ve ever had, and we are closer today than at any other time in our lives. As I look back at the origins of our relationship, I realize that when I read to him each night I was putting his needs before mine. It was by performing this service to my little brother, I came to appreciate him more as well. I am so grateful and thank my lucky stars that I had a little brother, who so many years ago uttered the words, “Would you read me a story tonight?”
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