Kids. God, they were all over the place. As it is with any off-base military housing area, the parents were of prime breeding age and going forth and multiplying into visible results that whooped, shouted, and ran home from school, heedless of traffic.
[quoteright]I was idling along in second gear when I spotted him. "Look at that," I told my wife. "That kid's gonna throw a rock at us."
"No, that child wouldn't..."
BAM!! A rock bounced off the left rear fender of my brand new '59 Ford that I hadn't even made the first payment on. I screeched it to a halt and didn't look back as my wife commented on her failure to catch two sacks of groceries that spilled off the back seat.
You should have seen the innocent act as I walked (my wife called it 'stormed') up to him. Big blue eyes bland. Bright red hair, flame lit by the late afternoon sun. Freckle convoy across his nose and cheeks; typical little tough nut type. About belt high. Maybe four years old.
"Boy, where's your daddy?"
"Where's your mama?"
"I dunno." Stubborn little devil.
"Where do you live?"
"I dunno." Little hard-case criminal.
"Boy, you know what I'm gonna do?"
His chin quivered under darkening eyes, but no answer.
"I'm gonna knock on every door on this street 'til I find out who you belong to."
Silence, and clammed-up defiance. Stone-walling resistance. Go ahead, do your damnedest.
I went back to the car and moved it into my driveway. "Take the groceries in. I'm gonna find out whose kid that is."
He stood his ground as I crossed the street. The clouded up eyes that lifted to me towering over him welled up and trailed a chain of tears from each. The kid's got grit, too brave to run.
"Mister, please don't tell my daddy."
"Are you gonna throw any more rocks at any more cars?"
"No sir." Sniffled sincerity.
"How do I know you're tellin' the truth?"
His upturned face tilted to the ground; his shoulders slumped. A picture of dejection. I sat down on the grass.
"Are you going to promise me not to throw any more rocks ever again?"
"Yes sir." He sat down by my right knee. Contriteness personified.
"You wanna shake hands on it, men to man?"
"Yes sir." His hand was steady, face brightening, tears drying.
"Okay, partners we are, little man. Now I gotta go home."
My wife wanted to know what happened, so I told her. Her reply was, "You better go back over there and tell his mother; otherwise, she sees him crying, she'll think you've been beating up on her kid."
So, back across the street, knock on the door, explain the situation to the young mother.
"His father will punish him as soon as he gets home."
"No ma'am, just leave the boy alone. All boys are going to throw rocks at cars. I did. Everybody does. He's been scared, and that's enough. Let's just forget it."
An hour later his father is knocking on my door, wants to pay for repainting my car.
"Lieutenant, I wish you'd just forget all about it. You've got a good boy there. We had a handshake and a promise that it won't happen again, so let it lay. It's over, done with and forgotten."
I was wrong about the forgotten part. During the next three months before I moved away, every time the little fellow was outside and saw me, he'd call across the street, "Hey, man, 'member me?"
"Yeah, I 'member you."
That exchange was usually followed by his sitting on my lap in a long discussion of subjects ranging from his day in kindergarten to Christmas expectations.
I hope his view across the years to that memory is as pleasant as mine.
And anyway, it wasn't a very big chip in the paint.
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