THE GREAT WALL – 1983 9 YEARS OLD
The weather forecast called for light snow, and the Weathington Boys forecasted you getting your ass kicked if you messed with our favorite precipitation. It rarely snowed in Bremen; when it did, it was up to the Weathington Boys to ensure every kid in a thirty-mile radius got a snow day. We had to get to work.
Before Al Gore caused global warming, it snowed at our house once every two or three years. We loved snow the way an Eskimo loves pineapple. All the kids in the town reminisced about The Big One. The Big One was a massive six-inch dump of snow, but as the years passed it got deeper and deeper. Now living in Canada, I realize how ridiculous we must have seemed to our northern neighbors. Grocery store chains prayed for a snow forecast. Bremen didn’t actually need snow — just a chance of snow, and the entire town would lose their freakin’ minds. Within hours of the news, you would only find bare shelves at Piggly Wiggly, a very highbrow local grocer, and the lines would stretch back to the meat counter. The good-ole-boys always loved the idea of having to live off the land like cavemen using just their wits, a fishing rod, and an AK-47 for survival. Even Brian and I couldn’t help but nod our heads every time Hank Williams’ Country Boy Can Survive came on the radio.
In our neighborhood lived an abundance of teachers, including my parents. The homes must have been affordable given the buying power of public school teachers in Georgia. More importantly, we had two principals and one superintendent living on our turf. Having what seemed like every one of our teachers as neighbors was a burden every day of our childhood, but not this day.
The snow began falling on a Sunday night. It was light, but it stuck. Our neighborhood was rather hilly by local standards, which made it not only hard to get out of, but also a Mecca for would be sledders.
Brian and I were the picture of innocence as we looked out our window and talked about the exciting snow games we would play the next day. We already knew where the fort would go and who would be on what snowball team. My mom and dad were sitting in front of the fire reading and sipping hot chocolate.
Then Brian and I noticed our neighbor Mr. Doug Douglas, a principal of one of the local schools, driving around the neighborhood. He went by once and we did not pay attention. On the second trip around the neighborhood, I asked Brian if he thought Mr. Douglas was lost. On the third trip around, Brian jumped to attention. “What the hell?” We went downstairs and asked our parents what Mr. Douglas was up to. They explained he was trying to get rid of the snow on the roads to make it safe for us to all go to school the next day.
Get rid of the snow! Surely, I had heard incorrectly. Overcome with rage, my vision closed in and I almost blacked out, but before I did, Brian, with ice water in his veins, declared we were both tired and were going to bed. My parents eyed us as Brian led me away by my sleeve. Obviously, Brian was not tired, and besides the blacking out part, I was as keyed up as kangaroo on meth. I knew it was on.
Using all the cuss-words we knew at the time (damn and hell) to vent our anger toward Mr. Douglas, it was now time to get down to business. As far as we were concerned, the future of human civilization rested on our shoulders. There was no time to assemble the troops, and an emergency ten o’clock meeting was hard to pull off for nine year olds, even us. It did not matter.
This job called for the real players, we did not have time to be baby-sitting someone who was out of shape or out of guts.
“We might not see snow like this again in our lifetime,” Brian stated. “Doug will have ruined the best snow that has ever hit this town.”
Brian and I had not mastered the art of moderation, a deficit that would plague us well into adulthood. In our demented little minds, it was either worth dying for or not worth doing at all.
A snow day was clearly worth dying for; still is, if you ask me.
We went through the usual violent attacks, but busting windows and egging someone’s house did not really solve the problem.
“Maybe we should attack his truck,” I said.
“I agree, but I doubt we can pull it off with just the two of us.”
“We need more snow.”
“What about ice?”
Mom and Dad stayed up later than usual to enjoy the fire, or more likely because they were not buying Brian’s “we’re tired” act. However, as soon as they were finally asleep at eleven o’clock, we slipped out the back. Our idea would require at least 250 feet of garden hose, which meant we needed not only all the hoses from our house, but three neighbors’ as well.
First thing first: Snuff out the snow hater. This was easily accomplished with our football field-length hose. It would not reach from our house, so we hooked it up to the hater’s house. It was poetic justice, even if Brian and I hated poetry. Next, we watered every inch of his driveway. Two hours later, he had his very own ice rink. While we waited for Mr. Douglas’ driveway to freeze, we hit the remaining big wigs in the neighborhood. It was hard work for two scrawny nine-year-olds to sneak the 100 pounds of water-filled hose through the dark, snow-covered woods. The round trip was about two miles. It was now two in the morning.
“Ok, all the big dogs have ice rinks for driveways. Do you think that’s enough?” I asked.
“We need to block the street.”
“How? We can’t ice over the entire neighborhood. The sun will come up eventually, and Mom and Dad might be pissed if we aren’t there for breakfast.”
I was always the voice of reason in the gang, which is a bit of a scary thought. I was far from a mother hen. I just felt obligated to point out that dropping a cross tie on a car might kill someone. I never said we shouldn’t do it; I just wanted to make sure we were all aware of what we were doing. You would only need to fast forward to our college years to find out what would happen if the voice of reason left town.
Graduating early from college, I left Brian and the infamous Ray, whom I will formally introduce in chapter 11, without their voice of reason. Better said; Brian and Ray took two extra years to graduate. It was touch-and-go if they were going to make it out of there alive and without a jailhouse tattoo. They like to paint me as a prude, and I guess I am compared to them, but so is Charles Manson. Although they give me a hard time, I know they are thankful for my valuable counseling over the years. For the record, I have never told them they should not do something. I was smart enough to phrase it another way.
“I’m not trying to tell you two how to live your lives, but we’re over 18, and this stunt is a minimum of five years in real ass-rape level prison. Do you think it is worth it?”
“Maybe not when you put it that way. Good point, Nate,” Brian or Ray would say. It should be mentioned that Brian and Ray were the only ones who called me Nate; when others did I usually corrected them. Although it was never addressed, it felt forced, like if one my son’s slack-jawed schoolmates calling me ‘Dad.’
Unfortunately, I cannot comment much on those years. Although damn entertaining, there might be some statute of limitation issues, and I cannot afford a lawyer at this time. The general book-buying public also might not see the humor in an old-school B&E, beating up cops, racketeering, slapping around and robbing a boy band, or breaking someone’s ass in half if they mess with Willie Nelson. Well, maybe the boy band part. I will put that in the next book.
“We have to block the street!” Brian said again, sharply.
Urgency was setting in; we were getting panicky and starting to snap at each other. Had we failed at our mission? Were all the kids going to have to go to school the next day because of our ineptness? Had we tarnished our good name?
“We have to do it. We have no choice,” I said.
“Well, they all have to come out the same road,” Brian contemplated.
“They all go up the hill in front of the house,” I responded.
“True. I wish we could ice over the entire hill or make it too thick to drive over.”
“It’s not cold enough for that many layers.”
“But we could shovel it all from the neighborhood and put it in one spot.”
Brian and I instantly knew this was our only hope. We picked up two five-gallon buckets and two shovels from the shed. Discussing it further was a waste of time.
There was not a single complaint issued during the next four hours of hard labor. It was below freezing and we were in short sleeves, but we did not have the luxury of time to dress ourselves properly. Our people needed us; no kid would be left behind. The snow might have been a half an inch deep in the thickest spot. We scraped every flake we could find and put it in buckets that we ran up the hill and placed on the Bremen version of the Great Wall. We worked like the slaves on the pyramids — minus the heat, daylight, and repetitive whipping.
Three hours later at around five in the morning, it looked as if it had snowed only in a five foot tall, 25-foot wide section of wall barricading the road. We shaped and packed it with pride. Our hands were ice themselves, but the warmth of delinquency kept us going. Once we had a rough design in place, it was still just snow, and a pickup truck could bust through.
“I’m starting to feel good about this,” Brian said.
“We need to ice it.”
The wall ran between two homes. We split our hoses and ran two lines. The wall was soaked for the remainder of the night. As the sun came up, we replaced all hoses and tools and slid back into bed. We had been there barely long enough to warm up when my mom called us down for yet another amazing breakfast.
Our mom served us a hot breakfast every day of our lives. Sometimes I think the only thing that kept us out of the Pen was my mom’s homemade biscuits. I’m hoping the same strategy works on my boys.
We woke up groggy, but excited. My dad commented that we still looked tired, but Mom’s biscuits were soon the center of attention, and my dad went about sketching another brilliant football play on his napkin.
“I know you don’t want to go school today,” my dad said. “But it doesn’t look like there is much snow on the ground. Sorry, boys.”
“There goes Doug,” my mom said.
“Good luck,” Brian mumbled with a biscuit in his mouth.
I pretended to choke as I got my laughter under control.
“Doug’s back fast; it must not be clear,” Mom said.
“That’s weird; Tim hasn’t made it out either.”
At this point, we started packing in the biscuits; we had a big day ahead of us.
Slowly, everyone started to come out of their homes to see what exactly was going on. Since there was zero snow or ice on the road, people were wondering why everyone who left for work or school promptly came back. Simultaneously, all neighborhood eyes fell on the large white wall in the middle of the black asphalt. It became the focus of conversation. Brian and I feigned confusion as we asked what was going on. Many of the neighbors flocked to the wall like those old farts in Cocoon. They touched it, kicked at it, and stood on it. Unless someone had a backhoe and five sticks of dynamite, it was not moving.
It worked much better than we had planned. It was so hard it did not even feel like ice. It was more like a cold block of granite. The wall also had an ice slick downstream from the leftover water; a nice touch that slowed down would-be rammers. I can only imagine what it feels like for a woman to bring life onto this planet. Nevertheless, I am pretty sure it would pale in comparison to the pride, excitement, and overwhelming joy Brian and I felt toward that wall.
Everyone was confused about where the wall came from, including my mom and dad. My dad was actually confused, but this was Mom’s normal routine. Anytime something was amiss, she always knew who did it, but would go along with the shock and confusion of the rest of the pack.
I swear she could have passed a lie detector test; the woman is a genius. She was a silent partner in our escapades in some respects. Just like us, she would never rat out a friend, and her friends in this case were her two delinquent sons. Her voice would not crack or stutter, and she had a tight poker face only Brian and I could read. Her face would appear warmer to the two of us, despite the fact her expression was unchanged to the general public.She always thought of us as clever, not mischievous, and enjoyed our freedom as much as we did. I do not want to give the impression my mom was a pushover. She would not tolerate us being disrespectful in any way, and we always did as we were told. She had not specifically said not to barricade the neighborhood. So why in the world did she allow us to run feral, destroying everything in our path? She did love us, but all moms love their kids.
Unlike every other mom in town, I now know that we highly entertained her. She found the merit badge, prom king, bible freak, and piano-playing choirboys boring. And if we were anything, it was not boring. I know she had to keep a straight face and remain stern when she disciplined us. However, how mad could she realistically be at two boys industrious enough to shut down the entire school system, thus allowing her a well-deserved day off?
Our mom always protected us; or maybe she was protecting herself. Either way, it worked to our advantage.
Brian and I returned home to listen for the school closures on the radio. They read them off one by one. They finished by naming Bremen City Schools. Just as we had planned, if the school VIPs could not make it in, the little people would be free. Brian gave me a very subtle nod. Mission accomplished.
My mom entered the house in near hysterics. She already had tears in her eyes from laughing.
“You two…” she stopped as if she were about to say something very profound.
“Are quite unbelievable.”