1980: The kick off-year
of the decade that brought us leg warmers, mullet haircuts, and ripped jeans as fashion statements was probably the greatest summer of my life. This is because instead of just being caught up playing with balsa wood airplanes and playing reindeer games on the front lawn in the make-believe world like kids do, I was beginning to get involved with real life situations in the real world, like adults do. That was quite a feat for a ten-year old.
This was the summer that the Bigfoot sightings began to occur in our area, again. Last time we had a sighting, Jonny Lee Ray said Bigfoot chased him out of the woods just before dark while he was out baiting Snipes for the weekend hunt we had coming up. The board of inquiry refuted his claim after an investigation; they said it was the creepy tree in the corner of the cornfield that chased Jonny Lee home, the creepy tree was aided by the contents of empty bottle of homemade spruceberry wine that Jonny Lee said he threw at the Bigfoot in defense of his life.
We had proof this time though, because not only did Russ Smither’s claim that Bigfoot broke into his chicken-coop, but the headquarters of the Bigfoot association was stationed in the next town over. So, how could there be a Bigfoot Association if there aren’t any Bigfoot’s. Heck, my uncle’s boss was the brother-in-law of the association sergeant-at-arms, and Ol’ Unc told us that the Association president had a Bigfoot sized freezer all ready to go for when they shot Bigfoot and brought him in. The association wanted Bigfoot to be preserved for the photo-op the press would want.
“That’ll teach Bigfoot to raid the coop.” My uncle said. We just nodded in agreement.
That was also the summer I discovered how the weekly allowance worked; and the unfortunate labor, lawn mowing, that had to go along with it. I tried to negotiate a way to get the money, while doing less of the work, but the committee said the only way that was possible, was if I decided to live off of the land.
“Then let me drive the lawn mower, Dad.” I begged the committee. He just smiled and shook his head while I had to push the three-wheeled beast of a mower up the hill. I wouldn’t have been so bad if the one front wheel left wasn’t in such rough shape.
“Cashing in on empties along side of the road was the way to go.” Were the magic words that my buddy Tony spoke to make me trade in the push mower for a red wagon to haul empties. Plus, I had just picked up a beef jerky habit, and already I was beginning to miss the smoky, salty flavor that came from the plastic tins.
“What if they want their bottles back?” I asked, concerned about the rules regarding can/bottle deposits, and salvaging rights of pre-teen children.
“Relax, it’s like playground rules with the basketballs, they have five seconds to get them back, after that they belong to us.” Tony reasoned.
I just wiped the mock sweat away from my forehead, because it was good to have the law on your side. And thusly, I began my internship of living off the land.
A few days after the internship began; we ended up striking the mother lode of empties behind Crazy John’s place. Crazy John’s backyard ran down a steep hill to where Brush Creek meandered through, making its way to link up with the Mighty Cass River. This is where all of the empties came to rest after frustrating Crazy John with their emptiness; which resulted in their being thrown with all of his wobbly might. There must have been a thousand cans lying at the bottom of that hill, and with the law on our side, we were determined to get every one of them.
Tony suggested that while we were salvaging out behind Crazy John’s place, that it might be best to do it quietly, and never at night. I figured the Bigfoot sightings were beginning to take a hold of him.
I never really knew why they called him Crazy John, instead of just Regular John. After all, he was just a regular guy. A loner mostly, he only came out once or twice a week to get a fresh supply of beer. Tony and I would grin excitedly under the hot sun swatting mosquitos when we would see Crazy John drive by on his snowmobile with all of those cases of beer stacked behind him. We knew he would be out in his backyard tonight with his mosquito/bigfoot repellant; 12 gauge bird-shot that he fired from his pump shotgun. This was all normal for Crazy John.
That was also the summer of Pepsi’s bottle cap game. That was the one where you pulled the cap off the bottle, and you would look underneath the cap to see what letter you got. P’s, E’s, and I’s we had by the bucket load, but we could never find an “S”. But we just as certain that we were going to find it, as we were of finding Bigfoot. Whenever we finished a load of bottles we would treat ourselves to five bottles apiece to see who would be the lucky dog to peel an ”S” off of their bottle cap. We never won, but were able to stay up really late because of the caffeine to light off fireworks. We mostly had bottle rockets, and itty-bitty firecrackers called lady fingers. My buddy Tony had a brother, who had a friend who could get them by the truck load, which was nice,because we discovered that fireworks made everything more fun. Whenever things got boring, Tony would light off a pack of lady fingers and they would explode violently around us. We would then giggle mischievously. The lady fingers were small, but they sure packed a wallop.
That summer Dads sister, Aunt Tilly, come to stay with us. Aunt Tilly was a trickster, and because of this we always had to watch our back, because she would get you. She knew all of the good tricks; shaving cream in the hand of a napping victim, warm water for the hand of a napping victim. We usually just had to remember not to take naps when Aunt Tilly was about, because she would get you, and then brag about how nobody could get her.
Aunt Tilly had just become divorced and had no place to stay. She took up smoking during the divorce, because she said it calmed her nerves. After a while, she took a shine to a fellow in town, named Bo, who had his own pick-up truck, a four-wheel drive, and offered to take her mud-bogging. Lucky!
The next morning, I discovered Aunt Tilly’s cigarettes laying on the table while she was having a sleep in because of the late night bogging she became involved in. I described to Tony, a self-proclaimed explosives expert, a joke Aunt Tilly played on a coworker involving something called a cigarette load that created a small “pop” effectively popping the end of the cigarette off, causing laughter to anyone in the vicinity. Still having a couple of lady fingers firecrackers left, and nowhere to use them, Tony expertly decided that one of these would easily “pop” the end off of a cigarette. I encourage Tony to try two lady fingers; using the, “more is better”, model. Tony’s expert opinion thought one lady finger to be sufficient, so I deferred.
After rigging the explosives; as Tony liked to say, we placed Aunt Tilly’s cigarettes back on the table. Scarcely had we done so when Aunt Tilly entered the room, and shuffled over to the table, eyes half closed, to shake out one of her smokes. High voltage sparked all around us as the scene began to play out in front of our very eyes.
“Could this really happen right here in front of us?” We asked each other telepathically. “This will wake her up!” Was another message I tried to send before the telepathic link was broken.
The scratchy flicking noise was enough to send a couple pre-teen boys over laughter’s giddy edge as we waited for the pop to knock the glowing tip off her smoke. Taking a long drag from her coffin nail Aunt Tilly focused her attention on a couple of smiling boys who seemed content just staring at her as she smoked her cigarette.
“Get out of here!” She managed to croak as the first coughing fit of the morning grabbed a hold of her. Smoking looked like fun!
We ran outside to drain off the laughter to avoid the bends. We didn’t want her to become suspicious. Come to find out, it worked for the best that we not witness the prank, in what came to be known as, The Great Misunderstanding, because Aunt Tilly’s description was even funnier.
Knowing that Dad and Aunt Tilly were always after each others goat, and knowing Aunt Tilly’s record off never being pranked. We were all surprised when she came home early from the mud-bog the next evening, because it was clear her goat was missing.
Tony, Dad and I were watching a ballgame on the t.v. when the front door came flying in nearly off of the hinges with Aunt Tilly sailing in behind it.
“Melvin!” She hollered at dad who was nearly asleep on the couch watching the game.
“You’ve gone too far this time fella.” She began. “For the love of ice cream, you can’t just go planting bombs in people’s cigarettes, you could get someone killed. Tony and I began to shrink away, holding our laughter in to avoid another type of explosion, as Dad looked at Aunt Tilly as if she were Bigfoot.
Aunt Tilly then went into the tale of how she snuggled up next to Bo in his pick-up as he was about to begin his run in the mud-bog. As she snuggled in she noticed that he was a bit tense, and a little stressed out. So, being the caring gal that she was, she thought she would light him up a cigarette to help settle his nerves. As he waited for the starting pistol to fire she passed the lit cigarette over so he could grip it, real manly like between his teeth, when suddenly the hissing began. Confused at the sound, but still poised for the start he pulled the hissing cigarette from his teeth to have the thing explode a second later. Mistaking the explosion for the starting gun, Bo put the hammer down as tobacco and smoke began filled the cabin ,like a Marlboro blizzard, running all the way through the bog and over a couple of cars in the parking lot, thereby disqualifying him from the competition, while sparking a new four-wheel drive weekend activity; Monster truck car crushing. From then on Bigfoot was seen by thousands of people at a time.
“Bo thought I did it!” Aunt Tilly howled. “And said he never wanted to see me again. And I have YOU to thank for it.” With that Aunt Tilly turned on her heel, and slammed every door she came in contact with. Dad just shrugged his shoulders and continued his dosing.
Yup! That was probably the greatest summer of my life. Getting along in the real world was going to be fun.