Disclaimer: This post is looooong. Fans of Bill Bryson and his “Walk in the Woods” will be thrilled to know that this one has some eye-wiping hilarity in it. Buckle your seat belts and make sure your tray tables and seat backs are in the upright and locked position…
Make sure you have time for all of it. If you don’t, make sure to bookmark it and take it in small chunks. It is so totally worth it. I’ve intentionally placed breaks in it so that you can find your way back to where you left off quickly and easily.
I just got off the phone with Smith, and like any good editor, he reminded me that I need to make sure my anger has humor behind it. I think it’s the hardest thing in the world to be volcanically angry one minute and directly follow it with a quip, but Smith’s right, I’ve done it plenty of times…
So, we’ll revisit the bullies another day and I’m going to take my cynical butt, put it in Doc Brown’s Delorian and go back to 1985. Robert Zemeckis could have possibly been right when he said, through Doc Brown, that a specific year could be a strange cross-dimensional hub.
1.21 gigawatts and 88 miles an hour later…it’s Saturday, January 12, 1985. The first time in 100 years that New Braunfels had seen snow, and it was a record, 13.2 inches in just 24 hours and by the time it was all said and done, a whopping total of 16 inches of snow was on the ground.
|If you remember from my post The Ghost of Fraulein Schweiger, that’s Schwamkrug’s Steakhouse, this photo was taken not but a mile and a half from our house on that day.
At that point I’m betting that every cowboy within 50 miles messed their pants when they saw all that snow, followed directly by them breaking out their knobby-tired trucks, tying water-ski tethers to the hitch and promptly dragging family and friends on water skis over the freshly fallen snow. On that day you could truthfully say that New Braunfels became a black diamond ski slope for rednecks. Sometimes I wonder why there aren’t Darwin Awards attached to that winter because I saw things that still boggle my mind. How there aren’t twisted remains in the canyon next to Walnut Avenue, I’ll never know as the hill itself isn’t very steep, but the drop off next to it that plunges 100 feet down is something that will give anyone in their right mind pause, but as Jeff Foxworthy would say, “You might be a redneck if…”
I’ll never forget waking up that morning and pulling up my window blinds to see the ground covered in a blanket of freshly fallen snow. Winters in Texas to that point consisted of a little bit of rain and freezing your butt off, no where near what you would find in a place like Montreal with its 40 below zero. To us, snow was a novelty, a rare moment of chilly splendor. As children, building a snowman was a treat and we knew literally nothing about what it meant to shovel the car out or even what grey much less yellow snow was. All I knew was that there was a possibility that school could get called off and that there was a winter wonderland just waiting to be explored.
I padded my way through the living room and into the kitchen to find my father and his one addiction in the world, his steaming hot cup of coffee, and finding out that he had wisely decided to take that Saturday off. Mother however, ended up working late the night before and got snowed in at work in San Antonio, so she wouldn’t be back until the roads were clear and she could safely come home.
So who do I find is in the house along with my father? My sister, her boyfriend (my future ex-brother-in-law), my sister’s best friend Syndie and our cat, Whiskers. So, effectively you could say that I was with my peeps. I was used to being around Syndie, and I bet you had a friend like her back in the 1980’s too; looking just like Pat Benatar, striped top, headband, heavy make-up and all. Syndie was fixture at our house, when she wasn’t at hers, she was at ours. Many a time I remember going out around town with Nan in the driver’s seat, Syndie in the passenger seat and me taking my place in the backseat and being told to hush while they talked. But my sister’s boyfriend was somewhat of an enigma, being from Missouri (which might as well been the moon for all I knew back then) he was used to snow, the rest of us, not so much. So, we start taking our cues from him.
Daddy, for all of his wonderful qualities, back then was a work-a-holic. I was lucky to see him 10 minutes during the week outside of the weekends where I would be charged with delivering water to him while he was outside mowing the lawn. No one back then had a better yard than Ol’ Sam…it was the greenest, thickest yard on the block…but under an inch and a half of snow, his day was due to be spent in his green La-Z-Boy recliner or asleep in his bedroom, quietly nestled in the back of the house, down the long hall from the living room.
Whiskers, our black and white tuxedo cat, didn’t know what the heck was going on outside and didn’t have any want or need to go outside and find out. He was a codgery old man and when he wasn’t tormenting me or my father, he curled himself up as close to Nan as possible.
Hold it…if you need to take a break, this is a good time because we have a temporary gear shift. I’ll even give you a marker for it…
Dad and the Cat…
We have to stop for a moment and talk about Dad and the cat because it’s a story in itself. Have you ever met someone who looks at animals and goes, “No no no, no pets, I don’t want no stinkin’ cat?” Yes, that’s right, I got the ‘no pet’ gene from my father…but when a neighbor introduced my sister to a ball of long haired fuzz with the brightest set of white whiskers you’ve ever seen on a face black as pitch, it was only a matter of time that my sister’s begging would convince my father that we just had to have a cat. That cat and Nan looked each other in the eyes and it was love at first sight. To be honest, Whiskers was Nan’s cat and oh did that cat hate me. He would hunker down behind corners and when I wasn’t looking or expecting it, he would pounce on me, wrapping himself around my ankles and clawing me to shreds. For years I had a scar on my left elbow from where he sunk his claws in, then pulled them sideways branding me with a W-shaped scar. I’m convinced to this day that that silly cat did it on purpose.
When Whiskers and Nan were together, everything was great. But, when it came to me or Daddy, that cat was going to do something that would be story-worthy. You see, Dad was against the whole idea of us getting a cat from the very beginning, and you know what happens when you have a situation like that, the cat goes directly to the person who wants them the least. Many a Saturday morning I would get up and find Whiskers snuggled in bed between my parents. The cat literally slept on his belly with his head to the side and his tail straight down the middle between his legs. This was no cat, he was people.
But what Daddy never wanted us to see is when he went and bought kidney especially for the cat. (As Dad would say, “It makes their coats shiny you know…”) He would stand for an hour or more at the kitchen sink with a cutting board cutting the kidney into tiny bite-sized pieces for the cat, and with a small saucer at his feet he would put small handfuls of kidney down so the cat could “snack” while he was cutting up the rest. No no, that man hated that cat, didn’t he? (Don’t even get twisted, Mom got in on the act too when she would be boiling the pounds of gulf shrimp Dad would bring home…when she would split and de-vein the shrimp, there was a saucer on the floor for Whiskers. That cat ate like a king.)
For all the niceties that Daddy visited on the cat, there were days where Whiskers would catch a foot in the rear while Daddy was getting dressed for work. After hearing a loud “WHOA!” from Daddy tripping over the cat, he’d catch a swift kick and Whiskers would hit the hallway wall and go streaking out of sight. And thus began the war of Dad and the Cat. May we have the bell for the first round please?
For years my father had told my mother how much he wanted a truck, so much so that my mother’s beloved classical music became a plea for the truck…to the tune of Strauss’ “Blue Danube” came the lyrics…
“I love my truck (that I don’t have)”
“I love my truck (that I don’t have)”
“I love my truck (that I don’t have)”
“Oh Oh Oh please, oh oh please! I would really love a truck!”
Finally Daddy got his truck, a beautiful blue and silver full-sized (long wheelbase that I had to learn how to drive in) GMC Sierra. Well, since Mom’s Town Car got primary seating in the garage next to Nan’s Mazda 626, Dad’s truck had to sit in the driveway overnight, parked directly behind Mom’s car.
It was Whiskers who shot the first return volley in the war of Dad and the Cat. Whiskers would be the first out of the house in the morning, being let out when either Mom or Dad would get up to make coffee. Well, Whiskers would look around, do his business, then would promptly get up on the hood of Daddy’s truck and “mark” the windshield.
(And right around now, I think I just heard ten men go, “That would be one dead cat…”)
Now what you don’t know, which is going to take us even further off course from that snowy January morning, is that Whiskers LOVED to mark his territory. If there was anything new around, his tail would go straight up in the air and I swear I could hear a truck’s reverse beeper going, “Beep, beep, beep” and he’d back his butt right up and “mark”, oh heck let’s just say it like it is…peed…on whatever he thought was his. Oh, our house and everyone in it got marked in one way or another. It mystifies me to this day how that cat thought that the whole neighborhood was his. Trees, the backyard deck, the exterior walls of the house…many a time I saw his tail go straight up into the air, then he’d put himself in reverse and politely mark things. He was a boy, I get it.
But he didn’t stop with just our house…
Whiskers marked everything; the neighbor’s house, their vehicles, our neighbor’s Dachshund named Happy (who was none too happy about getting marked), and I even watched in bemused horror as he lifted his tail and put it into reverse to mark my pal Sarah as she was outside twirling. The summer before, my sister, mother and I were out on the back deck. I see Whiskers come out of the back door, look around and turn the corner to head to the front of the house where my ex-brother-in-law was mowing the lawn. About five minutes later, I hear a holler, the lawn mower gets shut off and I see Whiskers come screaming around the corner, looking like no more than a black blur…hot on his tail, running as fast as his legs would carry him, came my ex-brother-in-law. Nan looks up and hollers at him, “What’s going on?” As he ran past, all my ex-brother-in-law could reply was, “Heeeeee Peeeeeed Onnnnnnn Meeeeeee,” leaving the three women on the deck laughing so hard tears were streaming from our eyes.
That damn cat peed on everything, but no sin was worse than touching Daddy’s truck.
Every morning before I’d head off to school, I would watch as Daddy would go out to start his truck to let it warm up before he began his daily commute to San Antonio. And every morning, Daddy would come back in, just a-swearin’ because the cat had peed on his windshield. Well, you know at one point Daddy was going to come back with a volley of his own. Whiskers always got let out the back door first thing in the morning, after all it was the closest door to the coffee pot. Well, Dad let Whiskers out the back then promptly went out the front door. And there, on the front landing of the house, right next to Norman The Doorman, Daddy hung out and waited for his moment.
Sure enough, he sees Whiskers come around the side of the house next to the garage. He sees the cat look around, right then left, cautiously making his move. As the cat jumped up onto the hood of the truck, put it in reverse and marked it, Dad sprung from his position next to the rosebush and summarily cleaned the windshield with the cat. Much less to say, Whiskers took a huge defeat in the Battle of the Windshield, taking off like a shot and never coming near my father’s prized truck again.
Here’s another break point…if you need one.
After the Battle of the Windshield, Dad and Whiskers called a truce and this takes us back to that snowy January morning.
After we ate breakfast and got squared away, Daddy, wrapped up in a set of sweats and his maroon bathrobe fell asleep watching the news in his La-Z-Boy with the cat draped over one of his legs. With Daddy sleeping, all of us young people decided it was time to dress warmly and take a look around outside.
As I said, my ex-brother-in-law was somewhat of an enigma in our very Southern home. What struck us all as peculiar was that he walked like a duck, feet pointed outwards instead of straight ahead (and I can’t say much, I’ve been bow-legged since birth to the point of having to wear special shoes to straighten my legs for my first few years of life).
What I’ve not told you thus far is that our house was on top of a hill. A very steep hill at that. Since it was covered in snow, we decide that it would be a great adventure to try to walk down it and back up again. (Oh yes, we were real geniuses back then…) We get about a quarter of the way down and decide “Well maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” We got a really good look at the snow-covered city, something we would most likely never see again, and start back up to the house. Watching my ex-brother-in-law, I thought that I had finally figured out why he walked like a duck, it was better traction in snow…
As we walk back up the street, from at least 20 yards away, we see Whiskers bound out of the house and land in the snow, promptly freaking out, flicking his paws as if to go “What. The. Hell. Is. This?” and run back into the house as Daddy slowly walked up the front walkway of the house, easy to spot in his maroon robe, carrying a STEAMING hot cup of coffee.
Three years ago, I wrote a post called “Potholes.” Sure enough, Daddy is the man who is the originator of the visual that goes along with landing in a pothole. As we watched him come up the sidewalk from the house to our mailbox, we could see the steam rising from the cup. We were all wearing tennis shoes to keep from slipping on the icy sidewalks and roads. Daddy was wearing leather-soled slippers. As the cat made a mad dash to get back into the house, he decided to take the path that would lead him inevitably to brush by Dad’s feet. The world slowed down into slow motion. We see the cat take off running, the next thing we see is Daddy’s feet go out from under him, the coffee in the cup decides to take flight, Dad goes up with it, then back down, landing with a thud and the coffee coming to rest all over him. Dad’s customary cry of “Ohhhhh!” comes to us on the air as four young people try to run on slippery ground to get to him as fast as we can. As we run up, Dad lets loose a few choice words and we help him to his feet, and lucky for us, the coffee cup didn’t break, and it’s sitting in my parents cupboard right now…
So, a very soggy Daddy goes back to his room to get showered and changed after his fall, then deciding to leave the house to run an errand, leaving the four of us to figure out how to make a fire in the fireplace.
Here’s another spot for a break…hurry back, we’re almost to the finish…
Speaking of Darwin Awards…the Fireplace…
The one guy I’ve not covered in detail yet is my sister’s first husband. After knowing the man for over 20 years, I sit in awe every day because the man is just a walking Darwin Award. That he’s not dead yet amazes me all the time…he’s not what I term as “overly graceful.” But I’m grateful he hasn’t stepped up to accept his award yet, because without him, I wouldn’t have my wonderful nephew.
So, we have four young people in front of a fireplace. A 22-year-old, a 19-year-old, a 17-year-old and a 13-year-old. No, this isn’t a recipe for disaster, is it? We all go out to the woodpile next to the house and find that the wood is soaking wet from the snow, even four and five logs down into the pile. Even so, my ex-brother-in-law says, “It’ll light.” Mmmhmm, sure it will. So they take the wet logs and stack them in the fireplace.
Well, over the course of the next 15 minutes with me looking on and making a suggestion here and there, Nan, Syndie and my ex-brother-in-law would try everything to get the fire lit. Newspaper, a candle underneath, oh they tried just about everything. But then someone ingeniously points out that Daddy kept all of the fuel for the lawnmower and the edger down in the backyard shed. What no one, outside of Nan and myself knew was that each piece of machinery had its’ own fuel can. Straight gasoline for the mower, a combination of gas and oil for the edger. Which one do you think he went down to the shed and grabbed?
I just heard you groan. If you did, you’ve got it right, he picked up the gas can for the edger.
Coming inside from the shed, he grabbed a small Dixie cup from the dispenser on the side of the refrigerator and poured in just a quarter of an inch of fuel. Then promptly left the gas can on the hearth. At seeing this, even at 13, my whole body said, “Oh hell no. If they’re blowing up the house, I’m not going to be in it when it goes.” I promptly took myself to my room, bundled up, looked at them and said, “I’ll be at Sarah’s,” and walked out the front door.
To this day, all Nan says is that she saw me look at my ex-brother-in-law, look at the gas can, get up and disappear. Next thing she sees is me emerging from the hallway all bundled up and heading for the front door.
Well, I didn’t even get across the street, I only got to the top of the sidewalk. Morbid fascination got me and I turned around. But I wasn’t about to go back into the house. Expecting to hear a loud explosion, I put my ear to the door and I hear a loud, “whump, whump, whump” sound.
When my ex-brother-in-law threw the gasoline/oil mixture into the fireplace, what he didn’t know is that there was a live ember in the back of the fireplace. When the gas hit the ember, all of the gas came shooting back out of the fireplace onto the carpet and onto my sister.
I open the front door and see a flaming cup towel flying through the air beating on the fire on the ground. I run through the formal dining room and into the living room to see the carpet in front of the fireplace on fire. Worse yet, I see the front of my sister’s jeans on fire and say, “Nan! Your jeans!” to which she quickly slapped them out with the cup towel. Nan looks at me and yells “Get some water!” So I head into the kitchen and grab a measuring pitcher and start to fill it with water. Nan comes flying into the kitchen, shoves me out of the way and grabs a huge green Tupperware salad bowl and fills that with water, taking it into the living room and dumping it on the floor. The fire was out. The larger problem was that there were burnt patches of carpet in varying sizes in what seemed like a four foot long by three foot wide area.
But that wasn’t the only thing that was burnt. When I walked in to see the flaming cup towel, what no one knows until now was that the thigh areas on my sister’s jeans were on fire and she lost an inch of hair to it being singed off. (Now I ask you, what is my first rule of thumb about Nan? “Hurt her and risk my wrath.” Even though she wasn’t physically hurt, that boy was on my sh*t list after I saw that. He must have been some kind of moron to hurt my Nana and I have never really forgiven him for it.)
Along with Nan’s hair missing an inch, the sheer heat from the blast melted the front of the television set. You remember those old 1980’s console televisions right? Well, above the screen was a singe mark that measured at least three inches long by about an inch wide. The kicker is that the television was a good six feet from the hearth…does that tell you anything about the size of the blast?
After the fire was out and everyone took a breather, we all looked down at the carpet. Now what you don’t know is that in our house, Mom is the boss. Nope, not Dad, he gave that honor to Mom, she was the supreme ruler. My mother is an outstanding woman. She’s beautiful, funny, and incredibly intelligent. It is only now that I look at my mother with supreme admiration. She’s all that and a plate of cookies, but I had to grow up to figure that out. OMG, my mom is the bomb. She is the anchor of our family and it’s a job I don’t envy her for. She was the disciplinarian, maid and all around ruler of the roost.
When Dad walked in to see the aftermath, the only words that escaped his lips were, “What the shit!” If you know my father, you know that was all he had to say to know he was very not pleased. If my father swears, it’s katy-bar-the-door. But that was it, just three words, that’s all that came from Daddy. Then he stood and stared for a moment at the floor. After a moment more, he looked at my sister and my ex-brother-in-law and said, “I’m not going to do a thing. I’m going let you wait until your mother comes home.” After he said that, you could have heard a pin drop in that house because oh lordy, that was the ONE phrase you didn’t want to hear from him. I will promise you that 99 times out of 100, if I got into trouble, the one man I would volunteer and want to be disciplined by is my father. What came from Mom was nothing that you wanted, not in this life or the next. We all learned early on that Hara-kiri would be preferable to facing Mom when you screwed up. Daddy might as well have shot my ex-brother-in-law in the face, it would have been far more humane than to let that boy sit there and wait for his demise at the hands of my mother.
After Daddy said that, he gave everyone a moment to write out their last will and testament, especially my ex-brother-in-law. My thoughts on it were that I was grateful he was going to be dead. I’d get my sister back. Another thought was, “Oh my god, I’m so glad that I didn’t do it because he’s going to DIE!” I could point happily at the usurper of my sister and say, “He did it!” Better yet, *looks around and whispers* I was just grateful that I wasn’t going to get into trouble for it. Daddy had cleared me from any wrongdoing. It was like being handed a gold-plated “Get Out Of Jail Free” card.
When we all finally settled back down and went back to our business, my sister and ex-brother-in-law disappeared. Coming back to the kitchen (carefully stepping around the charred remains of the carpet) I saw Syndie in the living room and said, “Syndie, I’m 13 and even I know not to do something like that.” What I didn’t know is that my ex-brother-in-law was sitting on the floor on the other side of my sister’s bed where I couldn’t see him. He heard me tell Syndie that.
The afternoon wore on and I spent my time with my Atari 2600 and my computer while we waited for the inevitable 5 p.m. phone call from my mother. But not before my father sent my ex-brother-in-law and I on an errand in which he paid me back for that comment I made to Syndie by scaring the crap out of me on purpose by skidding and quasi losing control of his Z28 Camero on the way. (He was a pretty big jerk.)
One last break… then we’re going to finish it up…
The Grim Reaper
At 5 o’clock sharp, the phone rang. Everyone in the house huddled around the kitchen table jumped, startled from their seats. Daddy walked over and answered the phone. “Hello Angel. [pause] Have the roads cleared up? [pause] Ok. [pause] Good. [pause] Ok, then we’ll see you around six. [pause] Be safe. [pause] I love you. Bye.”
As he hung up the phone, he turned to Nan and my ex-brother-in-law and said, “Well, you’ve got an hour to wrap up your affairs. She’ll be here at six.” I watched as sweat began to bead on my ex-brother-in-law’s brow. My excitement was building. I couldn’t wait to watch him be eaten. Damage my sister…he he, die sucker!
As if on cue, at six o’clock sharp, we could hear the garage door opener kick on from where we sat in the kitchen. The entire room slouched a little further down in their seats. A feeling of doom came over the room as they moved from the kitchen table to my ex-brother-in-law sitting on the kitchen stool in the small corner pantry. Nan stood next to him as Syndie sat up on the counter. They looked ready to face the firing squad.
When Mom walked into the laundry room that linked the garage to the kitchen, and as she took off her shoes, she called cheerfully, “Hi everyone! I’m home!” I waved “hi” to her and thought to myself, “I didn’t do it!” and I cheerfully greeted my mother. The three, basically sitting on top of each other in the pantry to protect my ex-brother-in-law, looked at my mom and greeted her with a simple “hi.”
My mom immediately became suspicious. As she walked into the living room, she passed the spots on the floor, and said “Oops, someone spilled something.” But as her pantyhose started to snag on the burnt carpet, she suddenly exclaimed, “That’s not wet, that’s burnt!” Everyone in the kitchen suddenly cringed. She paused. After surveying the damage, she quietly went into her room to change out of her business attire and into her standard sweatsuit that she always cooked dinner in after a hard day’s work.
She walked into the kitchen and said, “Would someone like to tell me what happened?” My ex-brother-in-law stepped up and said, “We had an accident.” She looked at him and said, “Come with me.” Mom and my ex-brother-in-law passed through the sun room and took a meeting on the back deck. All we saw was my mother speaking slowly, then my ex-brother-in-law trying quickly to explain, then we saw mother slowly speak again, then again my ex-brother-in-law quickly responding. After about ten minutes of it, they came back in, as they did, I pondered to myself, “He’s not dead?! What happened here! He’s supposed to die a very painful death! Oh no! I’m stuck with him! No! Awww man…”
Some 15 years later, I revisited that day with my Mom. I asked her, “What did you think when you saw that and why didn’t you kill him?” She looked at me and said, “My first concern is that you all were safe. That you all didn’t get killed was a miracle. I could have cared less about the house, what upset me is that he put all of you into mortal danger. Seeing that you guys were ok and only a patch of carpet was burnt, that I could live with. Then I thought to myself, ‘Woohoo! I’m getting new carpet.'”
Yep, Daddy bought her an entirely new living room full of beautiful sand colored carpet, they even had the kitchen re-done while they were at it. We never were allowed to wear shoes when we walked on it and my ex-brother-in-law never got near that fireplace again.
But isn’t it amazing what comes from 16 inches of snow on the ground?
So, as we hop back into the Delorian to bring us back to 2012, I’ll leave you with the song of the day from the 1985 film Back to the Future, Huey Lewis and the News’, “Back In Time.”