Believe it or not, I have a few nephews on my wife’s side of the family who say they enjoy reading this column from time to time. I could be completely oblivious to the fact that they’re just being kind, but I’m fairly certain at least a couple of them are sincere.
What they like, I think, is that I sometimes tell on myself, and they learn a little more about the ornery side of their uncle, who they already know is ornery enough.
One of them (I won’t name him, but he farms and works for the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District) has often told me that I should write a column about Michael Jackson. When he’s talking about Michael Jackson though, he’s not talking about the late, famous musician. He’s talking about a little red Honda Civic I used to own.
It goes back to the days when I lived back a little lane near the Highland County Fairgrounds. Two of the Vance boys, in particular, were around me a lot when they were youngsters, and it was about the same time that Michael Jackson the singer was at the height of his fame.
If my memory serves me right, I was giving them a ride one day when a Michael Jackson song came on the radio. Being the goofy 20-something-year-old that I was, I started jerking the steering wheel of the little red Honda around to the beat of the music. From that day forward, my little red Honda became known to my nephews as Michael Jackson. And for the next couple years or so, everytime they hopped in Michael Jackson the car, they’d ask me to make him dance.
I, of course, had no problem obliging, and we’d all have a hoot, giggling and laughing, and bouncing from side to side in the car as we danced down the road … um, I mean lane, or something like that.
You see, when I was first introduced to these boys, I was not much more than a kid myself. I was a 21-year-old straight out of my days as a college frat boy and suddenly found myself trying to help raise my wife’s 3-year-old son. Sometimes that included watching over several of her nephews, who were all roughly the same age as my wife’s son. For a year or two, I tried to act like an adult when I was around them and their parents, but as I got to know them all a little better, I started to let my true colors show.
One of those nights, before the Michael Jackson days, they were at our apartment eating supper. One of the items on the menu was peas. At the time, I wasn’t much a pea fan, and I was feeling a bit ornery. So, I loaded a single pea onto my spoon, turned the spoon around toward them upside down – with one hand on the handle and a lone finger on the wider part – to let the spoon serve as a sort of catapult, and launched a pea at one of them. Then I launched another. Before long, the boys caught on, and a full fledged pea fight broke out.
Now, before you pass judgement, they weren’t creamed peas, so the damage was somewhat minimal.
Still, my wife wasn’t too happy about it, but her son and nephews were practically convulsing with laughter, so she didn’t say too much except to ask us to stop. Which we did – after a few more catapult shots.
We had lots of fun like that over the months and years that followed, but one day my teaching of ornery ways backfired on me.
One New Year’s Eve a few years later, when my wife and I lived in a house next door to Hedges Supply and the boys had grown and by then depended on each other for their fun, they all spent the night with us. Early the next morning we awoke to a knock on our front door. It was one of the people we rented the house from, and they wanted to know why there was a hole in the back wall of our detached garage – the same wall that supported part of our landlord, Alban Hedges’, office.
Yes, that’s right, there was a big, gaping hole where several concrete blocks had been knocked out of the wall. And yes, I mean the big concrete blocks.
Our garage was connected to another garage that went with the house next-door, and there was a narrow storage area between them. Alban had heard a lot of banging the day before in that area, and when he or someone else checked it out the next morning, they found the big hole.
We knew the boys had been playing in the garage part of the previous day, but the wall they knocked out could not been seen from inside, or even outside, our house, unless you took a walk around behind the garage.
So we called the boys downstairs. They finally admitted they had been trying to make a tunnel or something like that. It sounded for a bit like one of those stupid, non-thinking things young boys tend to do, until they admitted that one of them had stood guard with a flash light, while the other two knocked the blocks out.
So, rather than watch football that New Year’s Day, the vast majority of my day was spent with my late brother-in-law patching the larger-than-you’d-imagine hole in the back of the garage. And, you can be sure it was not words of laughter escaping our mouths that day.
The Vance boys have all grown up now and have families of their own. These days, our fights are limited to an annual tradition of throwing balled-up Christmas wrapping paper at each other. But every once in a while, if the mood is right, someone will feign a catapult shot, someone else will flash an ornery grin, and a pea will fly.
Jeff Gilliland may be reached at 937-393-3456 ext. 209 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.