Picture this, if you can:
Two kids, aged nine and eleven. The older of the two has blond hair, green eyes, a handful more than a few freckles, fair skin for the most part. He’s not a little guy, but he’s not fat either. The younger of the two is thin with a mop of black hair that always hangs down into his eyes.
Do you have that image? They’re waving at you. Yeah. Look at them. Two kids, brothers, growing up in the seventies and eighties, so you can imagine that the clothes are somewhat ugly with lots of browns and greens and oranges for the seventies and slightly brighter for the eighties.
The year was 1980, the end of the disco era and earth tone outfits and the beginning of… what? What exactly was it the beginning of? I think it was the decade of a lot of tasteless outfits and gadgets and the ten year bad hair day—for everyone.
These two boys, we’ll call them Jimmy (the oldest of the two) and Dwight. It’s not really to protect the innocent, but because I want to. I tend to tell better stories when I don’t use real names.
It’s a little after seven in the morning on a school day. We’ll call it Wednesday. Why? Honestly, I can’t remember what day these events occurred on and Wednesday is as good a day as any. Being a week day that meant Jimmy and Dwight had to get up, get dressed and go to school. Since they went to separate schools, normally Dwight would reach the top of the hill—not really a hill, but a slight incline that leveled out at the stop sign at the top of the block—and make a left. From there he would walk the four blocks down what used to be called Pear Street and for the sake of this story, it will remain Pear Street. Jimmy wouldn’t turn left, but instead would walk two more blocks straight before turning right and hoofing it five blocks to the main road. Off to his left at the main road—a two lane street that began at the rock quarry and ended when it merged into 321 (all useless facts, I know)—was a Red and White Grocery store (which was once an A&P and before that a Piggly Wiggly). Directly across the road was a railroad track (it may seem unimportant now… but…) and just beyond that was about a half block walk to the middle school.
This is what happened on normal days, when Jimmy and Dwight weren’t in the mischievous stages of childhood, which was a rarity. Some say these two boys caused their mother to have gray hair prematurely—ten years before either of them were born in fact, while she was a pre-teen herself. Seeing that it should have been a normal day, they should have gone to school and came home as usual.
“I’m not going to school today,” Jimmy said, trying to sound defiant of the rules.
At the time, young and impressionable Dwight idolized his older brother. “You’re not?” he asked, wide eyed and in awe of the rebel before him.
“Nope. I’m going to play hookie.”
Let’s stop there for a second. For those three or four of you out there who do not know what hookie is, it is NOT a woman for hire for sexual pleasures—that is a hooker. It is skipping school, staying home without your parents permission. It’s also not a game that you can play. You can’t kick it or roll the dice and get double sixes and a free turn. You can’t spin the arrow or earn play money to spend on play property so you can eventually pretend to be a slumlord over your trashy apartments.
Hookie is a bad thing.
Got it? Good.
Dwight nodded, “Can I play hookie, too?”
“I don’t care. Just don’t tell Mom and Dad.”
And this is where Dwight should have gathered his wits about him and went to school. If you can’t tell Mom and Dad, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. It’s a simple lesson that very few kids learn until… well… they become parents themselves.
“I won’t,” Dwight said. The thought of breaking the rules had not really entered his mind. But, the truth is, he liked the idea of not going to school without his parents knowing. This was exhilarating. This was daring. This was fun. Go ahead and give the kid a shovel. A hole was about to be dug.
The morning passed by and they piddled on the Atari 2600 (Yeah, baby. The Playstation and X-Box have nothing on that game console with its stick figure characters and white dot bullets). Pacman chomped away at the white dashes on the gray screen until finally, they bored of it. Reaching a thousand points every three or four boards so they could get that extra man lost its challenge, especially when one of them could play for hours and not get eaten by one of the ghosts.
“I’m hungry,” Dwight said.
“Get something to eat,” Jimmy responded.
Dwight searched the refrigerator, looked in the cupboards by pulling out a chair and pushing it to the counter.
“There’s nothing to eat,” he said and plopped on the floor in their bedroom.
Jimmy flipped the game and television off. He sat up, yawned and stretched. “Did Mom give you lunch money?”
Dwight pulled the dollar from his pocket. Lunch didn’t cost a buck back then. With that dollar he could get two lunches and have change left over. Jimmy nodded, the wheels turning in his head.
“You want to go to the store?”
It’s about ten thirty in the morning; school had been in for at least two hours at that point. And Dwight had only walked to the store a couple of times in his young life, usually with Mom beside him. I don’t really recall if Dwight’s stomach growled, but I’m going to say it did.
“Sure,” he said, digging himself deeper into a hole that seconds earlier had only been about ankle deep.
They walked out of the house, leaving the front door unlocked. Yes, unlocked. They were barely out of their yard when Jimmy piped up, “If you see a car, you gotta hide. No one can know we’re not at school.”
There’s all sorts of logic issues with that statement. First off, if no one can know they weren’t in school, then why go to the store? Wouldn’t the girl at the cash register know they weren’t in school? Did Jimmy have a plan or know what to say when asked why they weren’t in school? There were older folks that lived in the neighborhood. What if Mrs. Berry or Mrs. Hutchins saw them? What if Buddy’s mom was home and happened to be outside when they passed in front of her yard. Buddy, being the same age as Jimmy, would almost certainly be in school, so how could Jimmy be off that day if Buddy wasn’t?
None of these questions occurred to our hero, Dwight. Trusting his older brother, he tagged along, his head on a swivel scanning the roads with his hands out in that ‘I’m trying to be stealthy’ mode. He looked like a poor man’s ninja, a southern boy without a clue as to what not being seen really meant.
“Duck,” Jimmy yelled and they darted behind a gray car. A second later, the vehicle that had turned onto their street passed and they resumed their trek—really it was somewhat of an epic event that volumes could be written about on the same lines of Frodo and Samwise—to the Red and White.
A block passed behind them, then another one. Our heroes turned onto Hemlock Street, four blocks from home and a little over halfway to the grocery store where candy and gum and–yeah, they were hungry alright, but what better way to satiate that hunger than with sugary sweetness?–awaited them.
Our story takes a drastic turn for the worse halfway up Hemlock Street. I guess this is where the plot thickens a little.
The flash of blue lights greets them as the police cruiser rounds the corner. The whoop whoop of the siren was loud and startled them both. Dwight and Jimmy dove into a ditch, which was probably not the best move. It hindered their ability to run if they had decided to. Also, the ditch was about three feet deep and full of briars and thorns. It made for a prickly situation.
The cop pulled along the side of the road, his blue lights still flashing for anyone to see that the juvenile delinquents had been busted. He was a tall man, his dark blue uniform holding a badge on one breast (heehee, I said breast), his hat on his head. He wore dark sunglasses and sported a thick brown moustache that covered his upper lip. Both of his thumbs were tucked into his belt, giving him that stereotypical hillbilly cop look.
“Y’all come on out of there,” he said. It came out as “Y’all come on out of there.”
Jimmy shrugged, and sank one hand into the edge of the ditch and crawled out. He stood behind the officer as Dwight remained in the ditch staring up, wide-eyed with not a bit of awe on his face.
“Come on, son,” the cop said. “Get on up here?”
Dwight shook his head quickly—a refusal that was not in his best interest.
“Son, you need to get on up here. Now.” He stressed the now.
Again Dwight shook his head.
“Let’s go. Don’t make me come down there after you.”
It’s at this point in the conversation that any kid should realize that when an adult says to not make them do something, they should strongly consider not making them do it. It’s just not a good move to test the hands of justice.
For a third time, Dwight shook his head.
“What’s the problem, kid?” the cop asked, clearly a little agitated by the unwillingness to cooperate from the mop headed kid in the ditch.
“My momma told me not to talk to strangers, and you’re strange.”
The hole just got deeper. It was then about knee high.
It’s good that Dwight listened to his mother’s counsel, even if it were a rare event in his life. It’s just maybe the timing was a little off.
Mr. Policeman jumped down in the ditch, lifted Dwight over his shoulder and hauled him up to the cruiser. Within minutes, they were in the backseat of the police car and the cop was no longer in a somewhat okay mood.
A few minute later, the cruiser pulled up in front of the elementary school that Dwight attended. He got out, escorted the lad into the school. As he did so, children from several classrooms stared from the windows until their teachers ushered them back to their seats.
The cop disappeared from the office when Principal Fretwell arrived. I take strong issue with the principal’s name, simply because there is no such thing as fretting well. If you are fretting, then you are fretting nervously or anxiously or fearfully, but never fretting well. Like most adults to nine year old Dwight, Fretwell was tall, but not all that lanky. He wore dark suits and shoes and his hair was always cut short. His face was gaunt and wrinkled and thick black plastic framed glasses sat on the bridge of his nose. He was as fearful a sight as any man could be. And he walked funny. No, he wasn’t bow-legged and he didn’t walk with a limp. The only way I can describe this accurately is to say that he walked like the Nazi soldiers did—a kind of goose step. I don’t know if that is where he got his nickname from, but many of the boys called him Goose Legs Fretwell. It was fitting.
Mr. Fretwell sat Dwight down in the chair across from his desk, blah blah blahed about skipping school and how bad it was and how kids who skipped school amounted to nothing those days and blah blah blah.
Young Dwight, our hero, finally showed his defiance in the face of authority. “I don’t care,” he said, his arms cross over his puny chest, his head down, that mop of black hair covering his eyes.
Remember that hole? Yup. It got deeper.
“I’m going to call your mother,” Fretwell threatened.
“I don’t care. Go ahead.”
A little deeper still.
There was no calling the bluff of a principal, especially one who walked like a German soldier. It only took a minute to get Dwight’s mother on the phone. A few words were exchanged and then Fretwell stood, extended his arm, the black phone receiver in it.
“Your mother would like to speak to you.”
When I was a kid, if someone referred to either of your parents as Mother or Father, preceding it with ‘your,’ that meant trouble.
Dwight took the phone, listened to his mother fuss for a few seconds, before she said, and I quote: “After school, you go straight home. Do not go to the park, do not go to a friend’s house, go straight home.”
That afternoon when the school bell rang, Dwight strayed a little, passing through the park and taking a swing. He then headed on over to Bobby’s house, a friend who lived two blocks away. They sat in a tall tree with lots of thick branches that stood over a small stream that ran through his yard and talked about superheroes—Wonder Woman in particular (thinking about it now, Lynda Carter playing Wonder Woman was probably the best thing that happened to many males in the mid to late seventies, including young boys. I wonder if that is where the Wonder Bra concept came from).
Now the hole was about neck high and for young Dwight, who once dreamed of marrying Wonder Woman, there was no way out of it for him, except…
For some reason, still not known to folks to this day, Dwight decided it was time to head home, something he should have done three hours earlier, but neglected to do so. On his way home our hero worried (no he did not fret well) about his mothers words: After school, you go straight home. Do not go to the park, do not go to a friend’s house, go straight home. Certainly, she would have forgotten what he had done and what she had said by now, right?
At the front door, he paused, placed his ear to the door. There was not a sound to be heard. He eased the door open—still unlocked—and peeked in. Two recliners sat to his right, one flower printed, the other one a light brown. A Louis L’Amour book sat in the seat of the brown recliner. The television sat directly in front of those two chairs. It was off. The couch was just to his left along the entry wall. The hallway sat straight ahead, fifteen feet through the living room and another six or seven to his room and he would be home free.
Ninja Dwight stepped through the door, half crouched, his arms out to his sides. He took two steps and –WHAM—hell had no fury like Momma angered.
This is the part of the story where those who do not agree with spanking a child should skip ahead a few paragraphs for the aftermath of the EF5 Tornado that was Mother.
It all happened so quickly.
Dwight didn’t catch the cackling of the Wicked Witches of the North, East, South and West until after his arm was in the air and a stick—okay, maybe a switch from the tree out by the back fence, but still, it was wood—was striking his backside. Dwight, trying to escape the clutches of the demon woman who held him in her grip, tried to run, but succeeded only in going in circles. As he ran, she swatted, the magic wand of death striking his jean clad rear end and legs. An occasional whack landed on his back, but when you’re doing the helicopter escape routine what do you expect?
Dwight screamed, maybe more from being startled than the switching itself. Evil Witch of the South cackled, swatted, cackled, swatted, until she began to run out of steam, her arms growing weary, her voice becoming scratchy. She released him and he ran.
In a matter of seconds the tornado had blown through the household. A book bag was dropped, its contents spilled along the floor. A body was pelted mercilessly by a flying branch, devoid of its leaves. Screams were screamed. Cackles were cackled. Tears were shed. When it was all said and done, Dwight scampered beneath his bed, pushed himself as far back into the corner as he could, never minding the darkness or junk beneath it.
Dwight cried. After all, he was a kid—nine years old, in fact—and his mother had been replaced by a crazy hag-like witch who laughed as she beat him with a stick. And just where was Jimmy through all of this? Jimmy would have stepped in, would have been Superman and swooped in to save the day. That’s what big brothers were supposed to do against the evil doers.
Two feet appeared in the doorway—The Wicked Witch of the South was back.
“Dwight, come out from under your bed?” she said, her voice raspy, yet somehow soothing, as if the witch knew that using Mom’s voice would get him to face her once again.
Defiance, though more of a self defense type of thing.
“Come on, Dwight, you need to come out from under there.”
At this point you may be thinking that Dwight is digging another hole for himself. Not so fast.
“Dwight, I only spanked you because I love you.”
This struck Dwight as absurd. Even if he didn’t know what the word meant, this is how he felt. What mother would laugh maniacally while whipping her child?
“I wish you didn’t love me so much,” Dwight snapped off.
And now the story is over, Dwight having got the last word in, though probably not in the wisest of manners and—what’s that you say? What about Jimmy? Oh, yes, him.
Jimmy, as you recall, was last seen in the police cruiser as Mr. Police officer escorted Dwight to see Mr. Fretwell. It turns out that Jimmy spent time in lock up. The can. The not so big house. The hoosegow. You get the picture.
Dad received the call from the principal at Jimmy’s school that the police had picked him up.
“Let him sit in jail for the rest of the day.”
With that said, Jimmy was hauled off to the police station and put in one of the cells until Dad arrived. Dad eventually showed up and picked his oldest son up, but it was not without a swatting to the back of the head and a good butt whooping as well.
But did they learn their lesson? Hmm… I think we all know the answer to the sixty-four thousand dollar question, but if you want to know more, I guess you’ll have to return for the next episode of The Misadventures of Dwight Jeffery Lewis…