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12
Apr

Age 11: The Love of a Child is Timeless

By Cal Evans

Christmas time in the Evans household meant only 1 thing, road trip to ORLANDO! My mother’s parents live there and almost every year that I can remember, we made the trek, from wherever we were based to our Christmas Mecca, Nan and Pop’s house. My 11th Christmas was no different. We had graduated from our lovable but terminally ill Datsun to a 1970-something Oldsmo-Buick Station wagon and we now towed a travel trailer with us anytime we left the house for more than 30 minutes.

Whoever said that it was not the destination but the journey that mattered never made the run from Miami to Orlando. It’s flat, it’s empty and in the middle of the night, it’s very boring for an 11 year old whose sole companion is a sister who now no longer drools but is fond of launching projectiles over the seat at me and then screaming like a banshee if I dare retaliate. Shanda had graduated to master of deceit. It seemed at times that no matter what I was doing, no matter how innocent I was a single scream from her and I was again in purgatory. But at least she’s not drooling anymore.

Five hours later, I stumbled through the door of Nan & Pops house and into the kitchen. Weary from the drive and looking for munchies. Usually about the time I made it to the table and started to inspect the goodies, Dad would press me into service as a pack-mule. For the next ½ hour, I unloaded presents, suitcases (Does this one go in the house? front bedroom or back?) and other assorted boxes and crates.

Dad, showing again that he is wise beyond his years, brought his own portable room; 36 feet of living space dedicated to himself and Mom. It was a palace compared to what the rest of us had. He had his own TV but most importantly, he and Mom had their own bathroom! This was a luxury that even Nan & Pop did not enjoy for the season.

Christmas was in full bloom at Cassa de Crabtree and we were rolling downhill to the big moment. That one moment in time each year that every child looks forward to: the presents. At sometime in my early childhood, all the Crabtree in-laws got together in a clandestine meeting complete with secrete handshakes and passwords, to decide that presents would be opened on Christmas Eve instead of the traditional Christmas day. There was some discussion of a cover story, but as Dad explained it to Shanda and I he was tired of little yard-apes waking him at 5 on Christmas morning. This way, he could sleep till noon if he felt like it. This was the same man who decided early on that I didn’t need to believe in Santa Clause. A decision I never minded but that irritated the parents of my peers in elementary school. And so it was that on Christmas Eve, we all gathered in the living room of my grandparents to exchange gifts, love, mirth disguised as Christmas cheer…but mainly gifts.

Five minutes later, and the living room was a war zone. Shards of wrapping paper were still fluttering in the air from the frenzied scene. Toys that were never meant to fly were being hurled about gleefully by children ignoring the parent’s pleas to stop before they break something. Screams of “MINE!” echoed though the silence of the night. And the Adult men were already migrating into the den to see what was on TV. On this particular Christmas though, one adult was still seated.

My grandfather, “Pop” to 3 generations of children, is a wise man. He’s also a handy man. His garage has more tools in it than a Home Depot before a Labor Day sale. If it were not for the fact that he is a sincerely devout Christian, I am convinced that he would lay out a prayer mat 5 times a day and pray towards Sears. The man loves tools, things for keeping tools in, books about tools, things made from tools, things made to look like tools and any other knickknack that can even be remotely tool-related. Over the years, he’s received, as Christmas gifts, some of the most bizarre tool-related gifts, among them, almost anything that Craftsman ever put their name on. He is a wise old tool wizard.
But this Christmas, Pop was just sitting there, holding a box. He slowly turned it over in his hand, treating it as if it were made of fine crystal and not wanting to break it. Slowly, he turned it over and continued to read it. One by one, the adults ignored him and went on their way but I just sat quietly and watched as puzzlement crept over his face. Finally, from the den, one of the son-in-laws hollered, “Watcha got there, Pop?” not bothering to turn from the TV and only feigning interest.

“Not quite sure.” pop replied, “Says on the box ‘Potato Clock’.”
Ashley spun his head around dropping whatever toy he had and rushed over to Pop.
“I gave you that Pop!” he squealed. “It’s a Potato Clock! You put it in a potato and put it in water and it’s a clock and it tells you the time.” He babbled almost at the point of incoherence. “I saw it and knew you would just love it.” he said, his face beaming as if a clock powered by a potato was the most normal thing on earth.

Pop stifled a giggle – a skill that my uncles had not yet mastered – and looked down at Ashley. “And I do son. It’s perfect. Let’s go put it together.”
The uncles, now realizing that the drama unfolding in the den was infinitely more amusing that anything on the 3 channels of TV they could get, started guffawing. They rolled. For some reason that to this day I can’t explain, they found the concept of a clock powered by a potato to be the funniest thing they had seen. Bad jokes floated through the air, raining down with the weight of my mother’s biscuits. Each one trying harder and harder to be funny, and each succeeding less and less. But this didn’t stop them from laughing at each other as men that age will do.

Pop and Ashley retired to the kitchen where the noise was only a dull roar. When they emerged, Pop held a glass of water with ½ of a potato balanced on top by 4 tooth-picks. Out of the top of the potato grew 2 yellow curled wires attached to an LCD display with the correct time on it! Ashley walked beside him, radiantly beaming. Let them joke all the wanted (and they went late into the night before the last joke-biscuit was floated) Pop said he loved it and that was all that mattered.

I look back on these Christmas journeys to Orlando. The memories are fading to a warm glow now. I remember them all fondly, no matter how they seemed at the time. Wherever I am at Christmastime, in my heart, I’m still in Orlando. And I’m sure somewhere in Pop’s garage, buried deep among the shelves of router bits, saw blades and every imaginable socket wrench size ever forged, somewhere back among the shelves, there is a small box labeled Potato Clock containing a small piece of love from an 8 year old boy

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12
Apr

Age 7: Cal Plants A Garden

By Cal Evans

Growing up I loved to read. Starting as early as the first grade, I would read any book I could get my hands on. I would sit for hours lost in worlds crafted by others visiting friends like Homer Price, Stuart Little and Willie Wonka. It seemed that the only books that held no interest for me were my text books. Most days, their only purpose was to hide the book I was currently engrossed. Of the many tomes whose depths I plumbed, one stands out above the rest in its impact on my life. It stands as my ebenezer marking a spot in my life. For it was the first book I ever read that moved me to action.

The book was of course, the infamous Eric Plants a Garden. If you’ve not done so already, I recommend you rush out to your local used bookstore and ferret through the rotting stacks until you’ve satisfied yourself that it’s out of print, there are not secondary copies available, and that the publisher has burned the manuscript of this nefarious tome. So powerful were the spells woven by the author describing the joys of planting and tending a small vegetable garden that upon emerging from it’s last page, I jumped to my feet, ran into the den and proudly announced to Mom, Dad, my sister, and the entire cast of “The Love Boat” that I was going to plant a garden! My family, now jaded to my antics, ignored me until the commercial at which time, my father responded – as all fathers do to the quixotic quests of their spawn – “No”.

It was not said in anger; it was not said with malice. These emotions would have required even a small amount of thought. This was a primordial response to a tone of voice that a father can pick up on when coming from his child. It is a tone of voice reserved for only the most absurd of requests. I’m fairly sure that Dad did not even hear my comments but simply responded by instinct.

But I was on a mission. I had been energized as only the written word could do. My soul was on fire and there was only one way to quench it. I knew in my heart that I must plant a garden. I knew it was the only way my spirit would be again at rest. And so I retreated for the moment, willing to concede the battle for the sake of winning the war. Off to my room I flew to plan. Drawing on wisdom beyond my years, and the back of a church bulletin, I put together a master plan for my garden. It is solely coincidence that my drawing was a crude copy of one of the illustrations in the book. The next day I put my plan into action. Beneath our house lay a small enclosed area. Conveniently disguised as a crawl-space, it was, in reality my fortress of solitude. I darted into it and dug through my treasure trove that all little boys have.

“Eureka!” I cried as I pulled a knotted ball of string from the pile.

Scurrying back out the entrance I stood and surveyed the yard.

“Now where would be a good place to start?” I was thinking aloud.

I knew I would have to start out small. No more than half the yard this year. Next year I could expand to the entire back yard. By that time my co-op would be thriving and I could begin leasing land from my neighbors. I momentarily lost myself in my grand plan. I could see my entire neighborhood in my mind. Once huge field dotted by houses and small driveways. Every square inch of earth plowed in straight neat rows. There I stood sunglasses on and a strand of hay jutting out between my smiling lips as I watched the neighborhood kids toiling by hand to tend my crops. I had created an entirely new economic class, ‘Elementary school Share-croppers.’ Slowly coming back to reality, I began. I carefully un-knotted my string and began laying out my boundaries. My hero, Eric, used stakes to mark off his garden. He also had a father willing to help him and a supportive family. I had to play the cards dealt me. Looking around, I found some twigs to use as stakes and tied my string to them. Only after I had imprisoned five or six of these helpless twigs did I realize that I needed to put the sticks into the ground first and then tie the string to them. Un-daunted by details, I started over. The ground turned out to be a formidable adversary. Try as I might, it thwarted my every attempt to drive a stick into it. The harder I pressed, the more sticks I broke until eventually, I was sitting alone, with my string and a pile of toothpicks. Armed with the eternal optimism of youth, I persevered.

Back into my fortress of solitude I strode. Reaching deep into my father’s toolbox (when little boys get older, their treasure trove gets a shine metal box to keep it safe!), I pulled from it’s depths a handful of nails and his hammer. The ground had withstood my first attempts but let’s see how it stood up to sticks of steel! Newly armed and revitalized, I entered the fray once again.

This time the ground gave way silently. It knew it was beat and did not put up a fight. (Little did I know that it was taking the battle under ground.) Many days later, it would resurface to fight with guerilla tactics. Turning my own weapons against me it would lodge the nails in the tire of a family car, thrust them up just as Dad was passing the mower over them or attack an innocent bystander in the foot.)

When I was done, I had marked off an area roughly the size of two station-wagons. It was not exactly a square, it more closely resembled a meandering line that closed in on itself just before I ran out of string. I stole a minute to take in the grand picture. Standing there, wind blowing in my young hair, hands planted firmly on my hips, I was a model of American ingenuity. Surely, when historians wrote of my generation we would be lauded and praised as the greatest of all generations. They would recognize us as the generation that realized the dream of urban farming, The ‘Evansization’ of the middle class neighborhood. I could feel the greatness swelling up inside me. (Either that or I really had to go pee bad.) Back from my bio-break, I surveyed my work so far. I knew the next step had to be easier. All I had to do now was till the soil and I could start planting. In my book, Eric had done this with a small garden trowel. Sensing that I needed a man’s tool for this job, I headed inside.

“Dad, where is our Shovel?” I had his attention now. Had I asked for something simple like my GI Joe, he would have done the standard mumble-ignore. But no, I had asked for an implement of destruction; a tool that can only be used to tear up. As if shot with an electric jolt, he looked up, eyes narrowing and asked a foolish question.

“Why?”

“For my garden,” I replied in all seriousness. “I’ve marked it off but now I need to till the soil.”

I could see his concern now turning to dread.

“I thought I told you ‘No’ on the garden.”

“You said ‘no, I won’t help you’, not ‘no, you can’t do it.’ So I’m doing it myself.” The logic of a child is a beauty to behold. Dad started to reply and then stopped. Resigning himself to the futility of this conversation before it got good and started, Dad folded the paper and said. “Let’s go see what you’ve done.”

Off we went into the back yard. There, in all of its glory, was the memorial to my battle with the ground, right in the middle of the back yard. Dad shook his head slowly as a smile broke out across his face. My plan was working. I knew now I had some help.

“Why don’t we move it over to one side of the yard? That way we can…” I could see his thoughts as he trailed off. He was seeing it. If the garden was in the middle of the yard, he didn’t have to mow as much. I almost had him on this one before he finished. “…still do things like play ball.” “Ok.” I concede this point. As long as I got a space, I didn’t care where it was. He pulled up the string and nails and instructed me to gather up the other nails lying around.
I guess I should explain at this point that one side of our yard ended in a retaining wall and six foot drop into Phase 2 (our neighbor’s yard). Having spent most of my formative years in the foothills of the Smokies, I assumed everyone’s neighborhood was so hilly that retainer walls had to be built to keep your yard from slipping into your neighbor’s house. Right next to the wall was where Dad chose for the garden.

He laid out the string in a rectangle roughly half the size of my original plot but with nice neat lines. And then, and only then, did he retrieve the shovel. By this time, my attention was beginning to wan. By this point in the book, Eric had tilled the soil, planted the seeds and was lovingly watering it. I wanted to skip to the part where I got to play with the hose. But Dad would have none of that, at least not yet. Dad planted the tip of the spade in the ground and then hoisted his bulking frame up and stood down hard on the edges of the shovel. Mother Earth fought back. The tip of the spade went into the ground about one half of an inch before stopping firmly, leaving Dad teetering back and forth before hopping off and grunting. Inspecting the damage he had done and not being happy with it, he tried again with similar results.

I quickly lost interest in the humor of watching my Dad ride a shovel like a broken pogo-stick and wandered off. Every now and then I would look over to see him down on his hands and knees trying to pry a large rock out of the ground or picking himself up after the shovel had slipped from beneath him as if the ground itself had swatted it. I wandered inside where Mom fixed me a sandwich; a glass of fruit flavored drink and asked me where my father was.

After lunch and a short nap, I wandered back outside to play with some friends of mine only to be surprised that my father was still out there trying to turn the soil. By this time, Dad had come to the realization that in our yard, there was a thin veneer of dirt covering a layer of fossilized and petrified dirt. This rock-hard strata was resisting his every effort to delve beneath its surface. Dad was now sweating profusely and beside him sat an empty glass that had contained his fuel of choice, iced tea. Looking up, and seeing me headed out of the door, he mistook it for me returning to help. “I think we are going to have to rent a tiller.” He said through the sweat and grunting. “It doesn’t look like this is going to work with a shovel.” “It did in the book.” I said, extolling the wisdom of my tome. The look on his face darkened as I realized that he was not interested in what worked in the book.

“Go tell Mom we are going out and bring me my car keys.” He puffed. I obediently turned and wandered off.

Some time later he burst into the house hollering my name. “Are you coming?” he exasperatingly bellowed making it very difficult for me to watch Gilligan on TV.

“Coming where?” I said looking up in innocent bewilderment.

“We have to go rent a tiller for your garden!” he was teetering on the border of aggravation, right in exasperation zone. In one motion he scooped me up with one arm and with his keys in the other hand headed out the door.

Soon we returned with a small, motorized tiller in the back of the Almost Wagon. In the war against the ground, we had brought in the heavy artillery. Firing it up, Dad proudly tore through the strata of stone and into the sweet dark clay beneath. He was on a roll as he tore through the small patch of ground in less than 10 minutes and then, just to prove once and for all, who won the war, he tilled it all again. He finished the entire project in less than 15 minutes. So great was the adrenalin high that he was on that I believe that if Mom had not been watching, he would have tilled the rest of the yard. I could tell from the maniacal grin on his face that here was a man who had plumbed the depths of hell itself and lived to tell the tale. It was done, the garden had been tilled ground had been broken. Dad and I stood overlooking our field, two men who had conquered the elements, wrangled the soil, tamed Mother Earth. Our euphoria was as thick as the testosterone in the air. Today, we were men. Covered in the dust from our labor, tired to the bone but we were men.

Side by side we stood gazing out over our field. Dad’s arm around my shoulder as we watched the sun set…until Mom asked “What are you going to plant?”

12
Apr

Age 6: The Legend of the Barber Chair

By Cal Evans

The origins of the “Legend of the Barber Chair” are shrouded in mystery. Some say that the family was on an ‘antiquing outing’ in the Carolina foothills. Others say it was a trip home from a day at school with Dad. (Gardner Web College for those who are interested in such trivia) What is known is that on this fine day found the family happily traversing the highways of North Carolina in our aging Datson Almost Wagon.

As always, Dad was driving, navigating the byways with the skill of an experienced pilot who had a live snake in the cockpit. As was our tradition, my sister and I were fighting in the backseat. Occasionally, Dad would pivot his head 180 degrees, glower at us and make threatening noises. In later years, after graduation, he found innovative uses for his new class ring. He found that by spinning it so that the stone was on the underside, he could rake his palm across the back seat and raise a whelp on each of our skulls with a single pass (My sister and I not yet being bright enough to duck). But I digress.

Mom was keeping watch out for the next antique store. In those days, long before Starbucks, antique stores occupied every other street corner, which is why it took us so long to get home most days (and explains the fact that Mom can’t pass a Starbucks without stopping, old habits die hard). And so it was, we found ourselves in the dusty gravel parking lot of “ Trash or Treasures” in the wastelands of Generica.

We piled out of the Almost Wagon. My sister was nestled snug Dad’s arms because Mom had leapt from the moving car as we entered the parking lot. By the time we had caught up with her, she had spied several treasures and was now eagerly working to convince the shop owner that she wasn’t really interested in them but might be persuaded otherwise. Mom continued to sleuth treasures from the trash heap as we, the roadies from her personal ‘Antique Road Show’ wandered aimlessly through the aisles of ‘tarnished treasures’ and ‘hidden values,’ or so the sign tried to convince us. From my kneecap level view, it looked more like piles of dust, lots of piles of dust. I kept thinking how much trouble I would be in if I brought something like this into the house.

Suddenly, we heard the victory cry of ‘Jackie, The Antiquer.’ It echoed through the isles like the call of the mighty Viking warrior, striking fear into the hearts of all men carrying wallets.

“Jerry!” The sound hissed from her mouth as she was at once trying to draw my father’s attention but not the shop keepers.

“Jerry, come here quick.” I could see my father’s shoulders sag slightly as he realized what the call meant.

“Look!” she stage-whispered and did her best Vanna White imitation. (Quite a feat since “Wheel” would not begin airing for another 15-20 years!)

The object of my mothers affection was…well…it was moth-eaten. The first thing you noticed when you came near it was the smell of rotting cotton. It was, to put it mildly, pungent. The odor rose, almost visibly, from a turn of the century barber chair. Caked in dust and mold now, if you squinted your eyes you could almost see it shiny and new, the wide porcelain base gleaming white, the red vinyl seat shiny and new with silver piping to match the large chrome pump handle used to raise it. In the right light it was a sight to behold. Unfortunately, the ‘right light’ burned out 30 years ago and now it was just so must dust and mildew and sharp pointy things, sticking out of the cushions at odd angles.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she exclaimed in a low voice. Dad and I looked around to see what she was talking about as she stood there pointing. Finally, it dawned on us that she was talking about the chair. We stood dumbfound, which she took as agreement.

“I could fix this up and put it in Cal’s room.” she said.
Now we had never been a wealthy family, as our string of chalk-yellow vehicles will attest to, but up till this time, when I did get new furniture, it was usually new. Once in a while it was hand-me-down, but it had never been junk! I stood in shocked silence, which she took for glee.

“We could paint it, and stuff it, and re-chrome the metal. I could sew a new cushion (I almost giggled knowing that my mother cooked far better than she sewed.) and then put it in your room for a reading chair. I said the first thing that came into my mind (which in my case is NEVER a good thing to do).

“It Stinks.”

Proving once again that justice in the Evans family was swift if not fair Dad promptly applied the palm of his hand to the back of my head as one would to a handball in a championship match. I stood there rubbing the back of head tenderly, while Dad tried to think of some reason, any reason that would dissuade her from this course of action. I like to think that Dad was looking out for me. That he realized that there were many ways a child of six could get hurt on this reject from hell’s amusement park. But I have come to realize that Dad, in that flash of an instant, saw briefly into the future. He saw himself trying to fit it into the car. And so he faltered, which mom took as acquiescence.

Dad had not even fired a shot before realizing that he had lost the war. He lowered his eyes and turned slowly towards the car. He opened the hatchback and began rearranging the other treasures found that day including a kerosene heater. It was this heater that taught us the chemistry lesson later that same day. The smell of kerosene, spilt onto plastic car mats, will integrate itself into the very metal of the car and will linger for years to come. I wrote a chemistry paper on it years later in high school.

Laying the backseat down to reveal the wagon part of the Almost Wagon, he began working the chair that the owner, smiling more than he should have, had just rolled out to us on a furniture dolly. He and Dad grunted and groaned but finally it was in and as secure as a ball of twine could make it. My sister and I were then shoe-horned into the remaining spaces around it for our ride home. (She still insists that we were used as padding but I like to give them the benefit of the doubt.) Since the seat was laid down, we were not afforded the safety of a lap belt. Therefore we held onto pieces of the twine tied to the bumper and the bottom of the hatchback. And so we rode, passing the rest of the ‘Starbuck’s placeholders’ by because Rules of Antique Acquisition states that when the car is full, the shopping is done. And we are nothing without the Rules of Antique Acquisition.

The Almost Wagon struggled valiantly up the 40 degree incline that was our driveway and into the back yard. We piled out and Mom took my sister into the house. Obviously what was about to happen was ‘man’s’ work, but I stayed anyhow.
Dad backed the car up to the back of the house. There was a small 3 foot wide strip of grass that ran between the house and the sidewalk, along the back of the house. It was onto this fertile ground that my father, for the first time known to man, planted a barber chair. The porcelain base hit the ground with a thud I could feel through the soles of my Keds. It was as if it knew, this was its final resting place. The chair knew it was home, the rest of us were living a charade in pretending otherwise.

Dad parked the car and discovered the truth about Kerosene as Mom exited the house, tea in her left hand for Dad, hair in a kerchief in a look that all mothers make beautiful and a toolbox dangling from her right. She handed Dad his tea and kissed his face, which was darkened with anger by this time over the kerosene. Then she headed over to her prize. I watched as she circled it, inspecting her new project. A diamond cutter takes no fewer precautions before cleaving a new stone as my mother did with this chair. Round and round she went, examining it from each angle, sizing up her line of attack.

Soon it became apparent that she was unsure where to start. It was only as Dad was about to enter the house, to wash the kerosene off his hands that she found her inspiration.

“Jerry!” she said with a loving forcefulness in her voice, and for the second time that day, I saw resignation in my father’s eyes.

“Come help me take this apart,” cleverly disguising her meaning of “Come take this apart for me” in a word ‘help.’ Dad obediently sat down and began attacking the first screw he saw. Mom began to dust it off as Dad struggled. The more she cleaned, the more we could clearly see it. The dust veneer served the important function of protecting the rust from the elements.

Dad grunted and groaned. He sprayed liberal amounts of canned lubricant on each thread and slowly and purposefully, he dismantled the beast. With each piece, a small part of his anger and frustration came off. By the end he was actually whistling, sitting there covered in dust, rust and kerosene fumes, he resembled several of the treasures Mom passed over in the store.

Finally the last piece was removed and laid aside. The screws were all secured in a baby food jar and placed on a shelf and Mom began making plans for rust removal, re-chroming and reupholster.

Summer turned to fall, which was followed by winter. Winter turned into spring and was quickly followed by summer again. We passed one full rotation around the sun. On a bright summer day, a friend from church was over visiting. As we walked out of the house, he glanced over at restoration turned horticulture project and asked the question I had now answered 100 times.

“Whazzat?”

“It’s a barber chair.” And I left it at that.
Four more revolutions around the sun and it was time for us to move. In the contract to sell the house was a most peculiar clause requiring the new owners to take possession and responsibility for one barber chair… dis-assembled.

12
Apr

Age 12: Nightmare on SW 167 Terrace

By Cal Evans

Punishments when I was growing up were an experience in my family. We had the normal wrist-slaps, “washing-your-mouth-out-with-soap” and the parental favorite, the “butt-blistering.” But those were usually reserved for those special occasions when Dad had ‘had enough.’ Everyday punishments were metered out by Mom.

My mother, who obviously studied under Gandhi, was a master of non-violent behavior correction. After honing her skills for years as an elementary school teacher, Mom was a master. She could punish you 4 ways before you finished your crime AND she never left a physical mark! To her credit, I attribute the fact that I love to write to the fact that one of her standard punishments for me was “Write a 500 word essay on what you did and why it was bad.” By the time I was in high school, I could write them in my sleep. There were times I would, on a whim, write the essay before committing the crime. (Might as well fit it conveniently into my schedule).

From writing sentences, to copying paragraphs to one of the most dreaded of all, copying a passage out of the Bible; (not only were the words hard to memorize but as a by-product, you actually learned something) she was the undisputed master. My only revenge for these perceived tortures is much to her horror, now that I am a parent, I can practice this black art as she taught me. Many a time, after discussing with her the fact that I had made my daughter or son write sentences she has quipped “If I knew that you would do this to my grandkids, I would have never done it to you.”

But my mother reached the pinnacle of her art in the spring of my 12th year. We were living in a suburb of Miami, FL named Perrine. It was a simpler time, a time when you knew your neighbors, when it was ok to trust people and you left your doors unlocked. Well, at least that was my story because during a brief period that year, I had trouble remembering to lock the door after coming home from school.

Maybe it was the trauma of growing up a latch-key kid. More likely it was the trauma of growing up a latch-key kid, having to go to the bathroom, and having forgotten my latch key! Whatever the scapegoat, I had a serious mental block going here. Many times, I would come home from school, head straight for my desk to do my homework oblivious to the fact that I had left the house open for anyone to come in and steal our 12″ color TV (by color I mean the molded plastic case was color), the 15-20 dead plants mom was hiding from the neighbors, or – for a brief period that even my therapist thinks I should repress – my hamster. All this wealth was for the taking because I could not remember to lock the door.

After many attempts both traditional and non-traditional, Mom and Dad were at their wits end to get me to remember to lock the door. They met together one night after putting us to bed to discuss the subject. The debate was long and furious. There were discussions, filibusters and backroom deals. In the end, like an episode of “I Love Lucy”, the most devious of plans was hatched.
My memory is fading now but if I remember it correctly, the sentence handed down prescribed the following routine.

Every day for a week, when I arrived home from school, I put my books down and began. I walked to the end of our front sidewalk and turned to face the house. Then I recited; “One…I will now lock all the doors in the house.”
Upon evoking this incantation, like a Minister of Silly Walks, I goose-stepped down the sidewalk until I reached the front door. Entering, I turned sharply and grasped the doorknob. Closing the door and staring straight ahead, recited “I am now locking the front door.” I engaged the locking mechanism on the doorknob and continued, “I have now locked the front door. I will now go check the other doors.”

With the echoes of my words fading into the air, I turned to my right and headed to the laundry room. Grasping the doorknob on the laundry room door, I examined it to ensure that it was in a locked position. Upon satisfying my thirst for this knowledge, I proudly recited “The laundry room door is indeed locked. Sector 7G is secure. I will now check the den door.”
Goose-stepping out of the laundry room and into the den I again repeated the procedure. Upon its successful conclusion, I recited my next line in this monolog; “Sir! This point of egress is secure. I will now check the sliding glass doors in the living room, Sir!”

Turning with precision that would make a Drill Sergeant weep with joy, I headed back into the foyer. I stopped exactly next to the front door, slowly executed a 90 degree turn to my left and stepped off to the sliding glass doors.
I was now at the trickiest part of the entire drill. Using only my left hand, I had to ensure that the sliding glass doors were indeed secured against unwanted intrusion. All without leaving fingerprints on the glass. Upon completing the maneuver, I stood at attention and recited. “Sir, the sliding glass doors in the living room are secure! The Evans family fortress of solitude is secure Sir,” finishing the entire parade with a crisp salute.

I then turned and marched to the front door. I broke the security seal and comprised the secure state of the house by opening the door. I goose-stepped my way out to the end of the sidewalk, returning from whence I started. Turning to orient myself once again, I took a deep breath and said “Two…I will now lock all the doors in the house…” And so it continued.

Yes, that’s right, for 1 week my punishment was to march a parade route ten times each day, securing the various points of egress along the way. Day one wasn’t so bad. As with any mind-numbing punishment, it took some getting used to but as I learned the ropes and perfected my turns I generally stopped wishing for a frontal-lobotomy and endured my punishment.

Day two started out well. As I was finishing up repetition three, a friend of mine ambled by. He watched me like Cletus for two full repetitions before mustering the wit to speak.

“Whatcha-doin?” he asked ever so eloquently.

When I did not return his verbal drooling, he became perturbed and stormed off. Little did he know that I would not interrupt my routine to talk to him or anyone else. Any interruption in the routine caused the daily counter to start back over at one. I ignored his presence and departure and continued along my parade route of stupidity. Soon he returned, having sensed an opportunity to humiliate me, with several friends. The afternoon drug on slowly. By repetition 8, they had setup a small card table and were holding up were holding up score cards as I marched back out grading my performance on precision and speed. It went down hill from here. (But I did manage a high score of 9.7 out of 10.)

Day three saw a crowd gather at the edge of our property line. Kids I had never seen before had the opening script memorized. They began to recite along with me as I started my script. It took on a festival like atmosphere and deep down inside I was glad that my personal humiliation could bring joy to so many.
By day four I was seeing adults show up with lawn chairs. It had become a neighborhood event to watch me execute my punishment/drill. The script was now available for all to participate. Copies could be purchased for a nominal fee before the day’s festivities began. I half expected to see street vendors selling T-shirts and glow necklaces. Through it all, I kept my head held high and my mind on my drill. All in all, it was bearable.

Then came day five, Friday, my last day of what I had come to think of as “The Perrine Death March.” I was ready for this ordeal to be over. I marched out the front door and to the edge of the sidewalk where the reserved seating began. I pausing briefly to allow the audience to get ready and then we started with once voice, “One…I will now lock all the doors in the house.” With the audience shouting along, we looked for all the world like a bad scene out of “The Rocky Horror Show.”

I strode through my first repetition without incident. Stepping back to the front door, I smartly executed a precision door-open maneuver just as the doorbell rang. Startled, I looked up and almost broke stride as I found myself standing face to face with a Rev. Paul Ball of the evangelical team of Rev. Paul Ball and Mr. Don Boon. Fearing an additional day of punishment if I stopped to talk, I side-stepped him and strode out of the house and to the end of the sidewalk. The crowd murmured as the judges conferred amongst themselves as to whether this incident would weigh against my score. Luckily it did not and as I was turning, I saw a 9.4 out of the corner of my eye. Rev. Ball stood there bewildered watching the carnival before him and the small boy marching to the beat of no drummer reciting like a lunatic monk in a Gregorian chant.

I turned and with precision and gusto started; “Two…I will now lock all the doors in the house.” His jaw was agape as I strode back past him and into the house. I could only imagine his look of disbelief as the door shut curtly in his face. I would have loved to see the look on his face 10 seconds later when the crowd, exactly on cue, erupted with “The laundry room door is indeed locked, I will now check the den door.”

Having secured the den door, rounded the kitchen and heading into the living room, I broke with the script for the first time in a week by shouting “MOM! There’s some guy at the door!” and continued on in stride. As I was completing the living room door check, Mom opened the front door for Rev. Ball. The crowd outside and I recited “Sir! The sliding glass doors in the living room are secure. The Evans family fortress of solitude is secure, Sir!” I snapped my turn to the applause of those who could see me through the now open door and strode out the door as Mom quickly ushered the bewildered Rev. Ball into the house and off the parade route offering up explanations of insanity on my father’s side of the family as she went.

I finished all ten repetitions of my drill that day. Upon completing the last one, I took a bow before a standing ovation of adoring fans and judges, many of whom I never saw again. I am happy to say that I never had to repeat “The Perrine Death March” in any form. I’m not sure if it was because I learned the lesson or that Mom was embarrassed over the festivities it drew. I was satisfied to know that punishment by parade marching had been retired.

What I did not know that that time, what I could not have known, what I would never have imagined in my wildest nightmares is that Rev. Ball and Mr. Boon, would continue to float in and out of my life. My parents eventually opened a business selling music to churches. Mr. Boon, who gave up the glamorous life of a traveling evangelist to settle down as a Minister of Music in a church, would not only become a customer but would frequent their workshops. Every year I attended a workshop Mr. Boon would greet me with a smile and say, “I am now locking the door.” It never got funnier than the first time he said it.
Needless to say, this was one lesson that will stick with me.

12
Apr

Age 17: The Surprise Party

By Cal Evans

Sundays were always an event in our house. Each Sunday morning was a variation on a theme; get up, wander into the kitchen for breakfast, be told that you got up too late for breakfast, whine about not getting breakfast, stop whining a second before Dad walked into earshot, slink back to your room and ready for church. So it went, every Sunday morning.

One particular Sunday, I had just turned 17, or was about to turn 17, the memories are a little fuzzy now but I know it was in December and I know it was a Sunday and that’s enough for our story.

It was the usual fight to get ready. Fight with Mom over the lack of quality breakfast options. (This was before I was informed that I was too late for breakfast anyhow.) Fight with my sister for a precious few moments in the bathroom. Another fight with my sister because…well, because she started it. Fight with my brother because he was trying to make peace between me and my sister. (If we wanted peace Ashley, we wouldn’t be fighting!) It was a regular smack-down and I was in the cage swinging a folding chair!

And so on it when until finally we were off. We lived just beyond the edge of the world. For most of my adolescence, my address was “Just past the end of ‘65”. Anywhere we went was into town. In a simpler time, the family would have stayed overnight if they had to travel this far but not us. Dad loved the peace and quite of the suburbs even if it meant 45 minutes of listening to my sister and I fight to have it. Not that Dad got much of a chance to hear it. Dad always found an excuse to have to be at the church early. Since there was no way we were going to be there early, he made the journey alone, in sweet, peaceful, bliss. I was of driving age at this point so my main chore (my reason for existence) was to chauffer my brother and sister to an endless line of inane events…and church. But this week, mom would not hear of it. The four of us, mom, me and the two urchins that kept insisting they were related to me all piled into the car.

Upon arriving, the morning church ritual came and went as usual with one important exception. My mother, the rock that the Sanctuary Choir was built upon, slipped out after the main choir number. She had positioned herself on the edge of the choir this week instead of her usual place – in the middle of the front row – directly in front of Dad as he directed. Quietly she slipped out, not to be seen again until after the service.

Ah yes, the end of the service, the time when all good church-going boys would scope out the church-going girls and hope to be able to hook-up with one during youth choir rehearsal that evening. It was a time-honored ritual that you dare not miss if you wanted a date for the next youth banquet or lock-in.
The crowd began to thin and all of us church-going boys were left standing around trying to get up the nerve to talk to the church-going girls (who had by now given up on us and migrated en-mass to the restrooms). As if from no-where, my mother appeared and started leading me out of the sanctuary. I now knew she had taken leave of her senses and may be a danger to herself and others, especially me.

Everyone knew the New Years Eve lock-in was coming up and this was the week to make sure you had someone to sit with during the movie. If you didn’t hook-up this week you ran the risk of sitting with ‘the guys’ or with your best friend’s younger sister. (Which I’m told by one of my best friends, is not all bad, he being ‘in the know’ as he dated my sister once. Of course it was after the proper ritual of asking my permission…to which I laughed until I cried. Upon realizing that he was serious, I sobered up, looked deeply into his eyes and with the love only an older brother can have for his sister, I said “whatever dude,” and then bust into laughter again…But I digress.)

I was horrified, not only was my mother here in the youth section (also known as the far back corner of the sanctuary) but she was once again doing her best to ruin my social life. It took many years of soul searching and grudge-holding to realize that this really wasn’t a passion of hers so much as it was a 6 year long string of coincidences.

“C’mon, we’ve got to go. We’ve got to get home.” She kept saying. “I’ve got to get dinner started.”
That clue should have stopped me in my tracks! My mother is a lot of things, she is a wonderful mother, she is a godly woman, and she is a grandmother as only found in fairytales. Did I mention that she was a great cook? No, I didn’t, did I.

Those who know my family know that my mother’s favorite kitchen utensil is the telephone. By the time I was 14 family dinners had all but disappeared. Our family opted out of meaningful dialog with each other and chose instead to share the camaraderie and companionship of the television. On special occasions, we would even all watch the same one. So telling me that she needed to get dinner started should have thrown up red flags. But I was 17, I didn’t care, I just wanted to be left alone. So off we went.

Arriving home, I did what I always did, headed to my room. The peaceful solitude of my room, my personal sanctuary, just me and the laundry hamper that vomited clothes every night while I was sleeping.

As was the custom of the day, I stripped out of my church cloths and neatly wadded them into a ball and gently placed them in the middle of the room. At this point, for some reason lost to the ages, I did NOT re-dress in my normal blue-jeans and t-shirt. Instead I sat, in my BVDs at my desk and started examining a project I was working on.

It was an engrossing work of art whose true nature is irrelevant to the story and embarrassingly trivial. I became so engrossed in my work that I lost all track of time. Happy was I, busily working away and communing with the great masters when I was jarred back into reality by Mother yelling at me to come help her. Perturbed that my artistic ‘moment’ had been broken, I started toward the door. I caught myself with my hand on the door knob. It dawned upon me that the artist had no clothes. I briefly toyed with the idea of striding out into the den in just my BVDs boldly rebelling against societies conventions and staking out my claim as a rebel and an independent thinker. (I think I saw it on an episode of “James at 15’)” Dismissing the idea reluctantly, I grabbed whatever would cover me the quickest, donned it and headed out the door.

I was out of my room and almost into the den when I heard the most horrifying sound I had ever heard. My blood ran cold at its sound. My mind froze. It grew from a faint wisp of a beginning to a horrific roar, crescendoing as I momentarily blacked out. I had strode from my room into the den, deep in thought about ways I could rebel against my parents without actually getting into trouble, only to face 20 of my friends from church yelling, “SURPRISE!” Boy was I ever.

The blood ran from my face. Everyone in the room watched its progress as it drained down to my feet, passing briefly beneath the clothing I had almost donned. You see, there I stood in the entrance of the den, facing my closest friends and well wishers wearing only a pair of cut-offs that showed my complete name AND address (if you know what I mean).

I came to sometime later wearing my jeans and T-shirt. I’m still not sure how I got them on and never got up the nerve to ask who dressed me.

12
Apr

Age 20: The Origins of Lil ‘J

By Cal Evans

Dad grew up in a garage. My grandfather owned a gas station in the town he grew up in and he worked there for his formative years. This gave my father 2 things 1) A love for cars, engines and tinkering and 2) an endless line of stories of how hard his childhood was to regale us with should we ever bemoan our position in life. For as long as I can remember, Dad loved working on cars. Sometimes, I’m sure it was just that we needed the car fixed and couldn’t afford to pay someone to do it. Other times, I know it was just because he wanted to tinker. From our Datsun ‘AlmostWagon’ (a term that is now forever in the Evans Family Lexicon) to the ‘Tan Van’ and all in between, Dad left his mark on every vehicle we owned.

But my favorite vehicle of all was one called “Lil ‘J”. What purported to be a refurbished 1920-something T-Bucket, was actually a candy-apple red fiberglass body on a custom built and re-worked frame. Sporting an obscenely large engine, chrome pipes and a convertible top, it was a sight to behold and a coffin on wheels. (I suspect the only original part on it was the radiator cap.) But for a time, it was Dad’s pride and joy. This story is not about her but this story is because of her.

At some point in his life Dad deiced that he needed a hobby that was not related to work. He decided to return to his childhood love of cars and build a hot rod. So the great search began. He searched papers and magazines far and wide for a suitable base vehicle. Soon, an ad caught his eye. He called, negotiated the sale and it was done. Only one problem, the vehicle was in Atlanta, GA and we were in Mobile, AL. And so it was that I found myself on a road-trip. Pressing me and my brother into service, the Evans Pit Crew was off to Atlanta for a rollicking time and boy’s weekend. At least that was how it was billed to us. The truth was a little grimmer.

The journey to Atlanta was:

  • 5 hours journeying to a hotel room so I can make a 5 hour journey back.
  • 5 hours locked in a car with a man who did not speak BASIC and my brother who -would talk just to hear his voice.
  • 5 hours of staring at the front seat headrest from my perch in the backseat wondering how I got talked into this.
  • 5 HOURS of answering questions so inane that it was not until my son learned to talk that I heard them again.

Oh yea, this was a trip to remember. But somehow, I credit the grace of God; I survived and breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled into the hotel.

Dad chose well, we stayed at a very nice hotel near the airport. The kind where everything was indoors and the ice machines didn’t smell funny. At least I suspect it was a nice hotel, at 10 at night everything is closed. No hot-tub or pool or even a sundry shop to wander through. Nope, after 5 hours of ‘male bonding,’ the only thing to do was hit the hay…and this is where things get interesting.

There were two problems that kept me from sleeping, my father and my brother. I feel the need to reiterate the fact that I love them both deeply, but sleeping with them is like…Remember the old Samsonite commercials where the gorilla beat on the suitcase and slung it around? Well, it would have been easier to sleep inside that suitcase than in that hotel room.

My childhood memories are sprinkled with scenes of walking into the den only to find that Dad was sprawled out on the couch, seemingly asleep while the TV blared either the news or a current sporting event. It was very early in my childhood when I learned that the sound of a channel changing was enough to awaken the beast on the couch where it would loudly proclaim that it was watching that and would I please change it back. At some point in my early teens I learned that it was a very bad idea to push the issue by asking ‘If you were watching it, what was on?’ It was best to let sleeping dragons lie and to find another TV.

So it was that night. Dad turned on a two year old re-broadcast of the Lumberjack Nationals and promptly dozed off. There I was, in bed with my brother lying wide awake listening to the drone of a live chainsaw. Awake, in the dark, with the glow of the TV playing over my blanketed body, my ears being assaulted worse than Manual Norreiga’s ever were. I settled in for the long night.

Then I felt a stirring in the bed next to me. My brother, 17-18 at the time, was rolling over. Surly he wasn’t sleeping, not in this environment. I glanced over to see a peaceful serenity covering his face. It took all my effort to resist the urge to punch him in the nose. No sooner than I had looked over than he stirred again. It may have been a serene sleep but it was a restless one as well. There it was again, and again! Soon his body was in almost constant motion. It was a slow but graceful sight, my brother, in the throws of sleep, doing aerobics to the grinding chainsaw drone of my father’s snoring. I was in hell.

Slowly the night droned on. I must have dozed off for a while because the next thing I remember, the Lumberjack National’s were over and the sports channel was now covering rocket car races. Screaming thunder of jets steered by men who had lost their love for life, all in silence as the calliope in the next bed played on its broken pipes. Suddenly my bed shook. I felt the wind cold against my pajama clad body as the covers were whipped from them. I looked over to see my brother executing a mid-air maneuver whereby he managed to twist his body around to face me while simultaneously stripping the sheets and blankets from me. He spun like he was stuck on an invisible rotisserie, and then landed with a thud that bounced me up and almost out of the bed.

As if on queue, dad ratcheted up the volume from ‘rock concert’ to ‘inside a jet engine’. The noise was deafening and would have been all-consuming had it not been for the fact that I was sleeping with a man who was training for the ‘Olympic Sleeping Team’. Ashley landed, the tightly wound bed covers softening his landing and he lay still for a moment, before it started again. Like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, Ashley’s legs began to struggle against the constraining covers. As I watched, they fought their way out into the roaring night. I tentatively reached over to try and help them escape and possibly recover some of the covers for myself. To no avail, no sooner had they escaped than Ashley seemed to have sub-consciously become alert to the fact they had escaped. He flipped once again, executing a mid-air maneuver found only in the high-dive competition. Under different circumstances, this would have been a beauty to behold. But in my current, sleep deprived, road-tripped numbed state, I was not amazed.

And so the evening wore on. At some point, I started awarding points for Ashley’s maneuvers. He was as adept at on-the-bed maneuvers as he was graceful in the air. All scored by the staccato beat of Dad, the human white-noise generator. Ashley thwarted my every attempt to recover my portion of the covers. Twisting and turning, I eventually tired of fencing with him for the covers, gave up and settled for a sheet that he had failed to notice. And so I spent the rest of the night curled into a fetal position, bloodshot eyes starring blankly at the flickering images on the screen. A peaceful and serene visage of snow skiing, juxtaposed onto a soundtrack of 1 thousand nails being drug across a blackboard; me, my father and the world’s only Olympic sleeper passed the night.

Morning found us unchanged. I must have dozed off at some point because I don’t recall the sun breaking through the window to call us all back into the day. The first thing I remember is deafening silence. My first though was of alarm, I knew that my eardrums had finally burst. I was actually thankful at this point because it still meant silence. Then slowly, I began to hear other sounds. My hearing was returning. Once again I could hear the inane patter of early morning sportscasters recapping the sporting scores of yesterday. (Never once did they recap the Lumberjack Nationals so I have no idea who won them, or even if you CAN win them.) No, my eardrums had not burst Dad was slowly lumbering to wakefulness.

He sat up, glanced over at me, smiled and said, “Sleep good?”

12
Apr

Age 9: …and God Spoke

By Cal Evans

Growing up in church is an experience in and of itself. I do not mean growing up going to church but literally growing up in a church. If the doors were open, and many times when they were not, we were there. Such is the life growing up in the house of a Minister of Music. In my ninth year in this ever unfolding play we call life the church I was growing up in was in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a beautiful church and at nine, it seemed huge. One time I remember thinking that the baptistery was big enough to host a pool party in. Funny how I knew even then that if I acted on that thought the consequences would be grave. I wish this brief flash of common sense had stayed with me for other impulses for it would have saved me no end of trouble, especially in this one instance.

The thing I remember most about this particular church was the balcony. This was the first church I remember us attending that had one. Truth be told, it is only the second church I remember us attending and the memory of the first one is pretty fuzzy, but I’m almost positive that it did not contain a balcony. If it did, it was not grand enough to make an impression on me as this one did.
Each week, during choir rehearsals, Deacon’s meetings, and other non-worship times at the church, I would find myself inevitably drawn up into the balcony to play among the chairs. Great cities rose and fell amongst the aisles of chairs when I and my small collection of cars would arrive. It was my imaginary playground.

But during any worship service, it was strictly off-limits. During the service, I dutifully took my place on the front row, right side, aisle seat, where I was visible by both parents; Dad from his perch in the high-backed chair reserved for leaders of worship and Mom from her front-row seat in the choir loft. They would take turns keeping a watchful eye on me and whatever friend sat with me. Usually a well behaved child, I knew immediately if and when I had crossed the invisible line into mischief. Even before I would look up to confirm, I could feel the weight of Mom’s stare on my head. Many times I foolishly tried to ignore it, thinking that as long as I did not look up, she could not scold me. When I could take it no longer, I would sneak a peek. She would still be watching, the look on her face instantly conveying a tirade that would have lasted ten minutes had it been vocal. I knew I had been caught, tried and convicted; sentence would be passed down on our way home that afternoon.

Then it happened, one magical week, I asked my father if it would be ok if I sat in the balcony instead of my normal perch. In a moment of weakness, he acquiesced with the stern warning that if I misbehaved, he would still be able to see me and the punishments would likely be more severe. I stood tall and assured him that I would be on my best behavior. I was a man. I was grown up. I was allowed to sit in the Balcony! I boldly, walked up the stairs, dragging one of my friends, whose mother was also in the choir, with me. We would be worshiping in the balcony today.

We took our seat on the front row. The seats were theater style seats. Made of wood and connected together, the bottom half folded up allowing more room for walking. Each seat was individual, as opposed to the bench style pews located in the lower auditorium. It was like sitting in a 30′s era movie theater up there. I chose the aisle seat and sat down, my friend next to me. The safety rail in front of us cut most of my vision of the lower auditorium but I could see the podium just fine, and they could see me as well. This last fact slipped right out of my mind and onto the floor where it was promptly forgotten.

The service began, as all Baptist services of that era did, with the congregation standing to sing from the hymnals. All around me, people were gathering hymnals, finding the proper page and singing along with all their might regardless of their level of proficiency. Being the son of a minister of music, I had been taught to perform this ritual years ago. Before I could count, I could find Hymn #215 in my hymnal. The first words I learned to read were “How Great Thou Art” and though I could not read music to save my life, I had memorized the melodies of the popular hymns and could sing along as well as anyone. But this particular time, my friend and I stayed seated. Obviously mistaking the safety rail for an invisible force field, protecting us from our parent’s sight and wrath, we sat there giggled quietly and drew on our bulletins. This being my first service in the balcony, Mom had not learned yet how to project her looks that far, so I had no idea that I was digging myself a hole. She glowered at me to no avail, I did not feel her stare therefore, I did not look up. I was blissfully and blindly walking off a cliff.

The song came and went without us moving. Our giggling swelled with the music but as the song came to an end, we brought our noises back down to barely audible. The service continued, the sky had not fallen. We felt we had gotten away scott-free. This was working out too well. The second congregational song began with the normal rustling of pages and grunting as people stood. The first verse and chorus came and went without much notice from my friend and myself. By now, we were in full-blown mischief mode. We were in the middle of a rousing game of connect the dots when the room grew silent. I heard a voice from far off calling my name. Slowing, it penetrated our force field and I recognized it as my father’s voice. I looked up. The entire congregation was standing, many looking back up my way. My father stood at the pulpit talking to me.

It took my nine year old brain a second to comprehend what was going on. For the first and only time I can remember, a Baptist worship service had stopped so someone could deliver a personal message to one of the congregation. Time had stopped in my little world. Deep within me a hole opened up and I could feel the life slowly start to drain from me. There was no way that this could be a good thing. There was no way it could be anything but a very bad thing. All of this happened in the split second it took me to look up and glance at my father and from there to my mother’s face to confirm. I was in trouble and in deep.

“Cal” he said, after excusing himself to the congregation, “I want you to stand up and take your hymnal, turn to the proper page and sing along with us, Son.” His voice was calm and level. His look conveyed the true message.

With his eyes, he said “Cal, when we get home, you won’t be able to sit down for a while, your rear will be so sore from the beating you will receive. I’m pretending to be calm for the sake of the people listening but you and I both know that I’m going to cut lose on you when we get home. Your only hope for redemption is to do exactly what I am telling you right now, with a smile on your face. Possibly, if you do that, and an earthquake opens up a chasm and swallows me up before we get home, you will survive the day.”

Slowly, I stood, a smile frozen on my face. Without looking down, I picked up a hymnal and with a practiced hand thumbed to the proper page. As Dad retuned to the congregation, he flicked his wrist and time returned to normal again with the restarting of the music. I sang at the top of my lungs for the rest of that song. It was important to me that Dad and Mom not only see me participating they must hear me as well.

My mind chose not to record what happened that afternoon. I’m sure that with years of therapy and hypnosis, we could pull it out but why? I know in my heart what happened. I got a beating like I had never received that afternoon. It must be that, because even now, years later, every time the Minister of Music stands to lead the congregation in a song, I frantically, thumb the hymnal to find the proper song and stand quickly always glancing at the choir loft looking for a look of approval from Mom.

12
Apr

Age 6: The Humpty-Clause

By Cal Evans

Cal’s First Law of Nature:
Mothers are the most precious of all the natural resources we have.

I can’t recall many memories of my childhood that my mother was not a part of. In some way, shape, form or fashion, Mom was always there, the ever-present guardian of beauty, truth and wisdom.

Mom taught me to read but more than that, she taught me to love to read. She taught me that there are things beyond my imagination and that’s ok as long as I continue to expand my imagination. She taught me that biscuits need not be foodstuff but could be paving stones or, in time of national emergency, weapons.

She taught me the 100 reasons shopping should be considered as an Olympic event. And that age old piece of wisdom handed down from mothers to their children since time immemorial; “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” But one of the greatest gifts my mother gave me was the memory of my 6th birthday.

I attended kindergarten at a small church school in a suburb of Mobile, Alabama. I will confess that I do not remember much about the school, my peers, the teachers or even Mobile at that time. But I do remember my mother explaining to me that for my birthday, she had arranged to have a party for me at school with all my friends. She prepared the goodies and even a special treat. For my birthday that year, we were going to have a piñata!

My birthday, being in December, usually has somewhat of a Christmas theme. Usually it’s not overt, but let’s face it, that time of the year, where do you find anything but red and green napkins and plates. This year was no different. We had the room decorated up for Christmas, were served red Punch-Aid in festive Christmas cups and everything was a red and green wonderland.

My piñatas was no different. Shaped, for all the world, like a 3 foot high egg, it was painted to look like Santa Clause. Actually, it more closely resembled Humpty Dumpty if Humpty had cotton balls glued all around him and was hanging from a stick.

And so we had a party. After cake and goodies, Mom brought him out to the squealing delight of 10+ kindergartners. There she stood, beaming with delight as we all squealed happily starring up into the smiling face of Humpty-Clause. Mom and the teacher tried to calm us down to explain to us what a piñata was and the part we were to play in this ritual.

As they explained, the room began to grow quiet. The squeals of delight faded as they explained that we were to take the stick, put on the blindfold and swing at the piñata. We missed the part about candy flowing from the broken piñata; all we could think of was that we’ve just been told to smack Santa upside the head with a stick. To a 6 year old mind, this is a concept to be grappled with for a moment. After all, if you were successful, you got candy, but what happens if you failed? Did Santa know you were out to split his skull open? How would this affect your gift this year? There were major issues that had to be carefully weighed here. I’m firmly convinced that years later several therapists have heard renditions of this story from patients.

Slowly, the groups split into 2 groups. There were those of us who, like myself knew that there was no Santa Clause or at least were willing to chance it for the candy. The other group, were the mortified ones. As the news of Humpty-Clause’s imminent demise sank in, they slowly began to tear up and cry.
So there we stood, our class of 10 raggedly divided into 2 groups, one group trying to claw their way into Humpty-Clause, the other working up a full-pitch wail at the atrocity that was about to be committed. In the middle were my mother and the teacher, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. And Humpty-Clause hovering scant feet above our heads on the pole Mom was carrying him on like a disembodied spirit of Christmas.

Then, passing the piñata to my teacher, Mom took me aside. Since I was the birthday boy, I was to have first shot at cracking Humpty-Clause’s head wide open with a sawed off broomstick. While this might sound fair and sweet, it occurred to my 6 year old mind that this would put me at a significant disadvantage. See if I actually did crack it open, I’m standing there with a blindfold on as candy pored out around me. If I’ve got a blindfold on I can’t see the candy to grab it. This was not to my liking at all but for Mom’s sake, I went along.

She placed me under the piñata, blindfolded, spun me around like a top for a minute or to and then began to wield my wooden broadsword to the urging shouts of my classmates, almost all who now wanted the candy, Humpty-Clause be damned.
THWAK! A good solid blow. I could feel the stick resonate in my hand like a bat after hitting one out of the park. I knew I was well on my way to busting that piñata open and into candy Nirvana. Well, I was half right, I had busted something. I took out a chair. Gotta swing higher.

POW! Yes, that felt different. It was up higher; it was a solid surface, a little more solid than I thought paper should be but still, I could tell I made first contact from the squeals of delights around me.

Energized by drawing first blood, I flailed about even harder. POP! BIF! BANG! ZOOM! On and on it went. Surely, by now candy must have been everywhere and Humpty-Clause would have been in tatters on the floor. Then I heard my mom say “Ok, Cal, let’s give someone else a turn.” Much to my surprise, as she took off my blindfold, Humpty-Clause was intact and still grinning at me. Grinning in defiance the paper surface not even scratched. I glowered back at it menacingly. There he hung, silently mocking me, laughing at me for my weakness.

I let the next child go, and then the next and the next…finally, my teacher mentioned to Mom that something had to be done because we were fast approaching nap time. Besides, after a while even watching someone whack the snot out of Santa gets old. We were getting restless and scouting out other targets. Still after all of us had taken a stab at him, there hung Humpty-Clause, grinning back at us, his treasure safe within his rotund, unscathed, shellacked belly.

Finally, her mother super senses tingling and sensing that things were going awry, Mom, in her infinite wisdom (which had obviously been set aside last night as she made a piñata out of newspaper and polyurethane) took a knife to Santa’s belly like she was gutting a fish. With a flick of her wrist, Humpty-Clause released his treasure trove.

Once again, squeals of delight came from my classmates as candy poured from the eviscerated Santa. Laugher as we innocently fed on the stuffing pouring out from him. I glanced up, he was still grinning at me but it was now a vacant stare I knew I had won. My eyes moved over to my mother, standing there with her piñata, her hair slightly disheveled. She was smiling down at us looking for all the world, like the most lovely angel in the world…who had just slain Humpty-Clause.

Love you Mom.

12
Apr

Age 5: The Young Boy and the Sea

By Cal Evans
My Grandfather on my mother’s side is known to two generations of yard-apes as Pop. He is a wise and gentle man and has been for as long as I can remember. Regardless of the stories my mother tells, I can’t image him speaking a harsh word. (I think she embellishes her childhood stories, but that’s between her and Nana.) Pop was a wise old wizard who, in the late 50s or early 60s had the foresight to purchase lake-front property in Orlando, FL, long before the mouse came to town.

So it came to be that summers as a child were always wet and wild. Many a summer me any my yard-ape cousins would spend dawn till dusk frolicking in the surf and playfully trying to drowned each other and hide the bodies. But before there were other yard-apes, there was only me and my drooling sister, and on the occasion of my fifth summer on this earth, I found myself vacationing with my family at “Crabtree Club Med.”

That year, my father, whom many of you will remember from the ice sliding story earlier, decided it was time for me to “become a man.” Yes, it was that rite of passage from childhood to manhood that every 5 year old boy dreams of, my first boat.

In all its glory, sitting on saw-horses in Pop’s garage was my baby. Mottled green and sporting one of the only 1 1/2 HP outboards Mercury ever made, she was a site to behold. To the untrained eye she resembled several piece of plywood left over from other projects that had been assembled and barely waterproofed but to me she was a work of art, a beauty to behold, my own S.S. Minnow. She took your breath away as nothing since our Datsun had. I was in love, and I knew that I was ready for the test. But that would have to wait because it was now nap-time and man or not, Mom said sleep.

The post-nap time jitters hit me as I watched Dad and Pop carry my beauty out to the water. I tingled all over at the thought of Dad and I skipping over the wake at breakneck speeds, he at the wheel and I with the wind in what would have been my hair if buzz cuts had not been all the rage. Gently they lowered her into the water. As Mom dragged me off to change into my sporty new sailor’s outfit (which, oddly enough, resembled a pair of cut-off jeans and an old life preserver) and Nana went off in search of a large towel to remove the drool and fingerprints from the window, I saw Dad and Pop go to work on the engine.

Later that same afternoon, after watching them trudge back and forth between the garage and the waterfront, Baby sputtered to life. She sounded beautiful. I smiled, closed my eyes and breathed deeply from the blue-gray smoke escaping from her cowling. She purred along like someone strangling a kitten until Dad reached over and put her out of her misery. He looked at me, smiled and said, “C’mon champ, let’s take her out”. He dropped me into the seat between him and Pop in the main boat and with my Minnow in tow, we shot out into the open waters of Lake Jessamine.

It was a fine summer day in Florida. By the time we neared the middle of the lake, you could fry an egg on my poor unprotected head. It reminded me that I needed to have a talk with Mom about this haircut. I really saw myself with long flowing locks.

Pop killed the engine and Dad pulled my Minnow up along side. Finally, the moment I had been waiting for all day, just me, Dad and the water, the excitement was building inside me as he picked me up and lowered me over the side into the boat.

Like all little boys, I sat behind the wheel. Well, knelt really, there wasn’t really a seat in this boat. Come to think of it I began to wonder where Dad was going to sit. The steering wheel was a little low for him. If he wiggled his way around, he may be able to get his legs up under the bow that is if we had some Vaseline and a shoe-horn. I silently pondered these facts as only a 5 year old is able to.

Dad dropped a gas can into the boat and hooked her up. He tugged on the rip cord leaning awkwardly over from the main boat and suddenly she sprang to life. Dad looked over at me, told me to sit down and grab the steering wheel. Feeling important, even if I thought it to be short lived, I did.

The kitten behind me screamed as if someone had lit a match to her tail and my Minnow lurched forward. Dad, straining with the bow rope, held me next to the main boat, looked me square in the eye and sad “Have fun son, see ya when you run out of gas,” and with a flippant wave and a very scary grin, tossed my bow rope into my Minnow and started sliding backward behind me.

Off she shot like a marble through molasses. I was out on the open water, all on my own. Over the scream of my engine, whom I was now sure was possessed by a demon, I could hear my father laughing and screaming for me to turn the wheel.
Turn the wheel? But that would mean that I was steering it. I was frozen with fright. Straight ahead I plowed through the water a ¼ model of a racing boat roaring towards the opposite shore, no less than ½ a mile away. At this rate I would beach within the hour. I had to think fast. Then something inside me snapped. My father had trusted me with this fine piece of machinery, he had faith in me that I could drive it or that at least he could catch me before I did any damage. I wasn’t about to disappoint him. I grasped the wheel with both hands and spun it like an experienced captain on the North Sea.

A quarter turn and I was facing into the wind. I smiled and gritted my teeth. I had to, if I opened my mouth to scream, bugs flew in. Onward I flew. I was now racing down the length of the lake passing pontoon boats like they were standing still. Onward I flew until as I looked back, Dad and Pop were a speck on the horizon, a speck frantically waving for me to turn and come back.

I spun the wheel to turn and go back, my Minnow, had other ideas. We went 3/4 of a turn instead of 1/2 and I began cutting across my own wake. I hung onto the wheel as my body was pounded by the pulsing waves beneath. My hands jerked back and forth as I tried to steer clear of the raging torrent I was caught in but the more I corrected, the more I stayed in its grasp. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was more like 5 seconds, I cleared my own wake and was aimed back at Dad and Pop.

Onward I flew, around the lake, again crossing my own wake but this time realizing that it was not a punishment by an angry God and bouncing around like a bathtub battleship until kitten started to gasp. She sputtered, reduced her scream to a whimper and finally gasped one last time and then lay silent. With my ears still ringing from her howl, the bugs in my teeth, the spray from the boat still covering me making me look for all the world like a skinny, blond, drenched toilet-brush that someone had put a life jacket on, there I sat, grinning like an idiot as Dad and Pop pulled up along side.

Dad tried to lift me out but I resisted, I wanted nothing more than to ride back to the dock in my Minnow. Dad gave in laughing and tied me up as Pop slowly nudged the big boat to wards shore. I was a man.

I’m not sure what happened to my little Minnow. Maybe it was used by my other yard-ape cousins, maybe it was sold off at a garage sale, maybe it was locked up in a hidden warehouse in Washington where they keep instruments of torture to evil to speak of. I can’t even recall if she ever saw the lake again. But there for one brief instant, for one quarter tank of gas, for one chance in my lifetime, the sea and I were one.

Thanks Dad.

12
Apr

Age 12: A Public Display of Affection

By Cal Evans

When I was in 6th grade, I attended a small Christian school in Coral Gables Florida. For part of the year, we had a substitute math teacher whom I remember absolutely nothing about except for the fact that he was a university of Oklahoma football fan. As luck would have it, that year, Oklahoma was coming to Miami to play the Hurricanes and this particular teacher was beside himself with delight. One day he spent almost half of class regaling us with the stories of this years Oklahoma team, how good they were and what an exciting game it would be. He usually followed these oratories with comments like, “While Miami doesn’t have much of a team this year, if you get a chance to go to this game it will be great just to see Oklahoma play.” To him, just the exhibition of them running out on the field was enough to warrant the price of the ticket. It was positively mesmerizing just listening to him talk. Of, course, being good 6th grade students, we did everything we could to keep him going under the misguided assumption that the less we covered in class, the less that we would be tested on.

Somehow, I got it in my head that I wanted to go to this game. I’m not sure why because to this point I don’t believe I had actually watched an entire football game. But I knew that if this teacher could get this excited about the game, no matter how bad Miami’s team was, it had to be a game worth my attention. So off I went to Dad that afternoon to pitch the idea.

Actually, in my 12-year-old mind, this seemed like an easy sell. I knew that Dad loved football (and to me, football was football, it would be years later before I discovered that for football to be interesting, you actually have to care about at least one of the teams.) So selling the idea of a father and son outing to a football game should be easy.

Dad came home that night and patiently listened to my plea over dinner. He said he would look into it and so, for the moment that was that. I would have to wait until he could check the game and see if we could get tickets. Well, at least it wasn’t a “No.”

As I remember it, a couple of days went by. Not a day passed with me giving Dad (what I recall as) a polite reminder that I was waiting. Then the day came. Dad came home, we are sitting at the dinner table and he breaks the news to me.

The game was on a Wednesday evening. Dad, being a minister of music at a Baptist Church, considered Wednesday evening one of the high holy times of the week, as it was when choir practice was scheduled. I was crushed. Here I was missing out on one of the defining moments of my youth because of silly old choir practice. I was confused, I was dazed, how could this happen. My life, as I knew it, was obviously over.

My disappointment must have shown on my face, as it often did when I threw my pouting fits. Dad picked up on this quick and tried to explain, to little avail, that he had to work that evening. As I remember it, the longer he explained, the more I didn’t understand. In my world, what I wanted trumped all, even work. And so we left it for the evening.

Time passed, maybe a day or two. I suffered the public humiliation of being in the 95% of the class that would not be able to attend the game. It was a nightmare of 6th grade epic proportions. Then one night, again at the dinner table, Dad looked at me and told me that he had managed to arrange for a substitute director for rehearsal and while he had scolded his choir members for missing rehearsal for better reasons, we were going to the game! My mind reeled. I was floating on cloud nine. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually going to my first football game. I couldn’t wait to tell the class at school the next day. I was now part of the elite 5% who were actually going to the game solely on the teacher’s recommendation. It was wonderful, life was good.

I don’t remember much about the game. I supposed that Oklahoma won but if pressed, I could not tell you for sure that they even took the field. I remember that on the way to the game, Dad stopped by the grocery store and we loaded up on candy. I got a big Nestles Krackle bar, one of the huge ones that were like a foot long. It was a feast for a family of 4 but my Dad bought it for me alone. (He got a box of Recesses cups which was his official football food…but that’s another story)

To this day, I’m not sure why going to that game was important to me. Now that I’m older I know why it was an important memory for me. Dad never has been given to public displays of affection. You had to know where to look to see it but we’ve always known that he loved us. But this, this was a public display of affection just for me and I’ll never forget it.

 
 

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