Now we aren't what you would consider a religious family. I came to learn that my Father's side of the family were all very involved in their church. It just never stuck, for some reason, with my Father. We lived in Utah and were members of the dominant religion there. I bet you're already nodding your head, knowing exactly what religion I refer to.
That's right, we belong to the Holy Order of the Phlegmatic Turnip Society! Just kidding... we're Mormons. I think the correct phrasing is “Jack Mormon”. That's people who, likely by birth, are on the church rolls but don't participate. The reason for non-participation, for my parents at least, came from a general skepticism about things spiritual in nature. This didn't sit well with Father's deeply religious brothers and sisters and so we didn't tend to visit back and forth very much.
Now, I guess the reason our parents didn't sever all ties with the church was for us kids. Growing up in Utah means most every other kid you come across is Mormon as well. And this is a church that always has a lot of family and kid oriented activities happening. I wouldn't get indoctrinated into them, though, until I got older and started looking outside the general neighborhood in order to establish friendships.
As Jack Mormons, my parents smoked, drank coffee and coca-cola. They even imbibed in an occasional alcoholic beverage. All these are big, neon-flashing “no-nos” to the LDS or, Latter Day Saints. Or, as Brother Billy put it, Later Day Sinners. He said that the sinner part had something to do with the Mormon girls he'd dated. He would never explain it to me however.
You have to admit though, a church devoted to clean living and high family values isn't a bad thing. That was the part my parents semi-supported. It was the religious part that they lacked interest in.
So, Sundays, if Dad wasn't working, would usually be a family day. Or, if us kids rebelled, my parents would do something together and we kids would be on our own. It was on one of those Sundays when my parents got caught up in doing paint-by-numbers. This interest kept them captivated for a number of months.
Paint-by-numbers consisted of a white canvas attached to a hard backing. There would be a detailed outline of some scene or other printed on the canvas in a light blue color. Numbers were written in the spaces created in the outline. The numbers would refer to a specific color of oil paint that came with the set. You painstakingly applied the colors until you had a completed an oil painting suitable for anything. That is anything but hanging on your wall. Let's face it. No matter how careful you were, it just looked like a paint by numbers when you finished. I wasn't allowed to touch them whilst they were in production but, once dry, I usually became the recipient. I didn't know what to do with them. I just gave them back to my parents for Christmas or birthday gifts.
I brought up this hobby thing because there was a particular incident that involved my parents hobby and some church visitors. Our church sends home-teachers to everyone's house once a month. This is if you are an active member or not. They ask how you are doing, if everyone is well, if the main bread winner is able to keep food on the table or if the church can provide any kind of assistance.
My parents always invite them inside, but it's obviously an uncomfortable situation for all involved. The teachers make an effort to appear relaxed, attentive and interested. My parents do the same. But you can tell that everyone is a bit relieved when the visit draws to a close. This was especially true on one particular visit.
These two gentlemen, active members of our church, shake my parent's hands and one of them hands my mother a pie. (They usually bring a pie made by one of their wives just for the purpose of sharing. This is a Mormon, home-teacher tradition.) The folks usher them into the living-room and all are seated. I was playing with army men on the living room carpet when they came in and, since I wasn't in anyone's way, I just continued on.
These two guys seemed more nervous than the church visitors usually are. They looked around kind of shifty eyed and then tended to keep their eyes on the ground. They became intent in watching me play as they continued their discussion. My Mother had a sort of deer-in-the-headlight panic look to her that drew my attention. Wow, even my Dad seemed to be coloring up somewhat.
“What the heck?” I'm wondering. And then it hits me! Siting on top of the television, being allowed to dry, is my Father's latest paint by number masterpiece. And since every piece of furniture in the living-room is adjusted towards the television, it is in rather plain sight.
I grow a grin like the Cheshire Cat. Oh my God, this is funny. My Dad's picture is of two naked ladies posed on a rock, in a stream, washing clothes. Now, I'm pretty certain that naked boobs don't fit into the overall church agenda!
These ladies' boobs are definitely showing. Big boobs too! My Dad even got artistic and put a bit of a bush down between one of the lady's legs. Mom said it was trashy but Dad said it was high art.
Well, it's hand shaking time, the visit is over. Mother thanks them again for the pie. He says he will convey Mother's thanks to his wife. I'm sure that isn't the only thing he will convey. The Bishop will probably get an earful too.
I'm standing there grinning like I fell off the short bus into a pile of puppies. Mother has this woebegone expression and Father just stands there with his arm around her shoulders. She looks up at him, silently. This evidently transferred reams of data to my father telepathically.
“I will” he says, “right now.”
He walks over to the TV, picks up the painting and heads towards the door.
“I want it. I want it. I want it.” I yell out, my voice climbing an octave with each stomping, arm waving supplication.
Dad stops and looks at me, then my parents look at each other and they both have to sit back down because they are laughing themselves silly.
“Sorry sport,” Father says, when he's able. “No nudes for you and no more in this household.”
So, I guess the Teachers were able to give my father a bit of religion that night. He's a better Mormon for it. Well, except for the coffee drinking, and maybe the smoking, oh, and the coca-cola and... and.
I told my brothers about it later that evening. Billy pooped a little he laughed so hard.
March is a funny month. It isn't really Spring yet but it definitely isn't winter anymore. My mother had me constantly going from winter coat to light weight jacket to long sleeve shirt and back again. The weather would change and I would have to change with it. Then we would get April showers in March and then a quick December snow fall as well. It was the kind of a month where the weatherman uses words like, “probably” or “might” or “if”. They really couldn't forecast ten minutes ahead of themselves in those days.
During a spurt of good weather, me and Jimmy were building a go-cart. We saw a really nifty one in the Our Gang Comedies at the movies. Alfalfa was the driver because he had a leather helmet, and Spanky let him because he figured something might go wrong, like usual, and it was better it happen to Alfalfa than to him. At least, that's the way I figured he was thinking. Besides, Alfalfa had it bad. He was always showing off for a girl named Darla and singing to her in this real squeaky voice. You should have heard us kids yelling at him in the theater whenever he broke into song. It was a riot. We boo'd him so loud you couldn't hear him singing. And when we got home, me and Jimmy's new catch phrase was “o'tay”. Will you hand me that hammer, Jimmy? “o'tay” he would answer.
There were a couple of pallets in the field behind our houses. We tore them apart. We had wheels from my old tricycle and Jimmy's sister's tricycle. He got into real trouble for using those since she wasn't through riding it yet. Well, she said she wasn't, but whoever heard of a four year old going on five still riding a trike? She was just being a turd. I even called her “Suzie Turd” and the next thing I know my tongue is getting the deluxe Lifeboy treatment from my mother. Cheese-us!
It was looking swell. We couldn't give it a body because there wasn't enough wood in the pallets. We just made a frame. I guess there would have been enough lumber if we hadn't tore those pallets apart so energetically. But we were anxious to get it done. The consequence was a lot of broken boards.
Steven was ridding his bike on the dirt course that had been set up in the field. He screeched up to the edge of Jimmy's yard when he saw we were doing something and he takes in our handiwork. The contraption looks like the capital letter H with the wheels on the four points. One of the arms just has a single nail attaching it to the crosspiece. That's so it can pivot and turn when you use your feet to do the steering. We had wished we had a bolt and nut to replace that single nail. Neither of us was very confident of what would happen after going over a few bumps.
We used my Dad's hacksaw to cut the two tricycle axles in half, so we would have four wheels and axles to attach to the undercarriage. That step required about a kabillion bent over nails.
“Pretty cool, guys," Steven says. "Say, I have a seat from an old riding lawn mower that would work good on her. And I have more lumber at my house to so we could put a body on it.”
Me and Jimmy nod energetically. “Go get 'em, Steve, and you can help us.”
We decide to move the project over to Steve's yard instead and after awhile his friend Craig rides up with his little brother Barry.
“Cool” they exclaim together. “Hey, can we help, guys?”
Steven pipes up...“Sure you can, Craig, all us can work on it.”
“Great!” He turns to his little brother, Barry...”Ride home and get that heavy duty rope. We can use that to steer with.”
Jimmy and I just kinda look at each other. How did this become a neighborhood project? But then we kind of shrug. I know I'm thinking how much more fun it is to do it with the whole gang. And as soon as I thought the word “gang”, I giggled.
Steven looked up at me with a grin and asked, “what's so funny, Paul?”
“Well, you know where at we got the idea for making this car from?” Head shakes all around. Jimmy just grins.
“Me n' Jimmy seed an Our Gang Comedy at the show, Saturday. They built one and raced it. Alfalfa drove.”
“Oh man” Craig says, “I haven't seed that one yet.”
From Barry... “I wish we had someone to race.”
Steven and Craig are nailing together a box to serve as the car's body. Barry is running a rope to both sides of the front wheels to steer with, since we won't be able to use our feet to steer with once the body's attached. Steven had even found a bolt we could use to attach the steering arm. Now it wouldn't fall apart over the first bump it encounters. There ain't much else to do so Jimmy and I are just kinda standing around, scratching our butts.
Craig and Steven finish building the body and nail it onto the frame.
Craig looks to me and Jimmy, smiles, and says... “there you go guys. This is mostly your car. So which of you are gonna race it?”
I'm thinking “hey, I'm no Alfalfa!” I look over to Jimmy. “Why don't you do it Alf... I mean, Jimmy?”
“Really? I get to drive it first? Hot dog! O'tay” he says.
I look up at Simon and say, “Now we just need to get him a girlfriend to sing to between races just like Alfalfa.”
Everyone laughs, including Jimmy.
“I don't need no girl,” he explains, “I got Paul!”
Everybody just cracks up at that. I feel my face coloring up.
I grab my pants and slide them, shorts and all, down to my knees.
“You see this, Jimmy?” I say, pointing at my crotch.
“This ain't your sister's bump and I ain't no girl.”
The guys are rolling on the ground now. I manage to see the humor in it myself and start to clown around. I'm doing a wiggle dance with my pants down to my knees. Even more laughter!
“PAUL... YOU GET OVER HERE RIGHT NOW!”
Oh my God! That's my mother and she's using her outside voice! She's using her outside, communicating with the DEAD, voice!
I pull up my pants and undies and dash back across the street to my house. Mother is watching from the kitchen window.
I headed inside and got the riot act read to me while I stood meekly in the kitchen. I was never to show my “you-hoo” to people or wave it around in public again. Did I understand?
I nodded yes and then opened my mouth wide and stuck out my tongue.
She looked at me quizzically and asked “what are you doing?”
“Don't you wanna wash my mouth wif soap, Mother?
“Did you use any bad words?”
I shake my head no. “I don't think I did.”
“Okay then. Go back to your play and behave.”
I made what I pictured was a cartoon exit from our house. I left in a puff of smoke and then made airplane arms and motor noises back over to Steven's.
The guys were just kinda sitting around, waiting to see if I was in real trouble or if I'd be back or not.
“What happened?” Jimmy asked.
I glance back, furtively, at my house and Mother isn't at the window.
I grin and say “My Mother calls my wiener a you-hoo, that's what.”
The guys all grin and shake their heads knowingly. Mothers... what can you do with them?
We attach a pull rope to the cart and take turns pulling it with our bikes. It was a blast.
Craig and his brother Barry were into sports. So was Craig's friend, Steven, who lived across the street from me. They would all grab their gloves, a couple of balls and bats and take them into the field behind my house. There were other kids in the neighborhood that liked to play ball too. When enough kids gathered at the same time they would choose players and play ball. Problem for me and Jimmy, they are all older than us and much better ball players. We would always be chosen last.
Being last pick never really bothered me anyway. I wasn't exactly enamored of the game. Of my whole family, the only one that was serious about baseball was my grandmother. She lived in a rural community about a half hours drive from us so we didn't see her a lot. When she came down though, she'd make a practice of taking me to watch our minor league team play a game.
Well, grandma would get into the game, real excited like. I'd try to catch her enthusiasm but I just saw it as guys smacking balls with sticks. Whoop-te-do!
I would listen to the banter coming from the crowd though and throw out a comment or two that I'd heard someone else say.
There were these two, obviously inebriated, fellas sitting close by. They would get a beer every time the beer guy wandered by. They weren't fans of our home team. I could tell by the insults they tossed out. Pretty funny stuff, and I was intrigued. Grandma was involved in the game and paying them no attention. But I heard one make a comment to the other and I decided to use that as a bit of banter to throw out to the field.
“HEY BATTER! YOU GROPE THAT BAT LIKE IT'S YOUR BOYFRIEND'S DICK”!!!
The batter had been tapping his cleats with the bat and getting ready to take his position when he heard my high pitched, squeaky voice explode behind him. There was like a cone of silence that enveloped my section of the bleachers, a very palpable silence that I could feel.
The two inebriated souls turn in their seats to do a one eyed, blurred stare in my direction. Feeling the electric charge that seemed to emanate from the seats themselves, I nervously tried to get my companions to back me up.
“Right guys? Am I right? You said it, after all.”
They just kind of grin and turn back towards the field.
The batter is just standing there, hands on hips, staring in my direction. So is the catcher and the ump.
Grandmother is standing! Oh-oh! I get one wicked hand whack to the back of my head.
“Get up, Paul! We're going home!”
She makes her way through those bleachers and up the steps like a home run queen. I'm huffing to keep up.
I know I screwed up bad. I really didn't understand what I'd just shouted out. How bad could it be, I reasoned. Two grownups had just said it in conversation and chuckled over it.
We sat in Grandma's car for a few minutes while she got her breath back. Old ladies shouldn't be running up a set of stairs ya know.
She looks down on me, all stern faced, and I'm expecting a few more whacks. Honestly, this had been the first time in my life that I had been on the receiving end of anything resembling corporal punishment. The pain was nothing but the embarrassment and shame was monumental. My eyes were leaking like faucets. But I knew not to say anything.
“Listen, Paul. I'm not going to punish you. I heard those two men talking just like you did. But why in the world did you have to repeat that ignorant comment?”
My quiet, subdued response was “I dunno, Gramma. I thought it was funny. It was silly to think of a wiener as long as a bat.” My last, snuffling comment, before I just broke down in tears was... “I thought everyone would laugh!”
She started up her old Chevy and said. “My Lord. I'm gonna have to wear a disguise to the games now.”
Well, Mom, once told, didn't laugh. But for some reason I didn't get the Lux treatment. I guess a grandma whack was sufficient in her mind. I had to eat dinner in my room and go to bed as punishment. I thought that was pretty lenient. I'd had time to think over what I had hollered out and realized I'd probably embarrassed that poor ball player as bad as I'd embarrassed my grandmother. If that ballplayer had a boyfriend, I hope I didn't embarrass him too. Although I had no idea what grope meant.
My Dad got home that night. I heard my mother taking his dinner out of the oven and setting him up at the table. They kissed and made some small talk that I was able to hear a bit of. But then I heard my mother sort of mumbling things below my threshold of hearing. My Dad exploded in laughter! He'd eat for awhile and then start giggling. Before I dropped off to sleep I heard him say “I should be writing all this shit down, Francine.”
Next week me and Jimmy get bullied at the skating rink. And you haven't written to me yet, how come? Just follow the directions to send me an email. Hugz and kisses.