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The Thanksgiving Lesson
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Cindi    Posted 11-11-2004 at 08:41:38       [Reply]  [No Email]
At fourteen, I was a bit of a rebel. While the world around me "kept on truckin' ", and the government found the technology to rebuild Lee Majors into the six-million dollar man, I was desperately searching for who I was and who I was going to be; rolling my hair up in empty juice cans, happy face stickers plastered across every available surface, and the words "peace" and "groovy" punctuating my every sentence. I was the quintessential seventies chick.

There's a black sheep somewhere in everybody's family. In my dad's family it was his younger brother, Bobby. Bobby was a rebel. A free-thinker. Okay... Bobby was a hippie. What little I had heard about him led me to believe that he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. At the time, anything that went against my parents beliefs was "groovy". Bobby fit the bill. He was the stereotypical teenager that never grew up. It was Thanksgiving Day of nineteen seventy-four that I met Uncle Bobby for the first time, and his timing couldn't have been worse.

For the five-day week preceding Thanksgiving, I had been skipping school. Not just a few classes, but whole days. It was alarmingly easy. I was dropped off at school by the school bus, and then a friend and I crossed the street and caught the city bus which took us to Northcross Mall, where we hung out and played video games all day. I was poor as a church mouse, but Liz--my buddy, had money to burn. There's a very real possibility that had we not gotten caught, we would still be there today feeding quarters into the PacMan game with wild abandon.

But we did get caught. In fact, my loving brother dropped a dime on us. He was sporting an F in math, so when he found out that I had been skipping school for a week, it didn't take long for him to figure out that shifting the parental focus would work to his advantage. Unfortunately, the news was delivered to my stunned mother and father within minutes of the arrival of my uncle Bobby. I was staring down the barrel of two sets of enraged eyes, the smell of roasting turkey and fresh home made bread heavy in the air, when he pulled into the yard in his psychedelic Volkswagen van and screeched to a stop. My dad answered the door.

"Hey man." I heard a drawl. "It's been a long time!" There was the sound of an awkward hug and then..."I was in town, and I thought I'd drop by and do the bird thing with ya."

Translation: It's Thanksgiving, and I'm lonely and you're feeding me turkey whether you want to or not.

"Come in." My dad said stiffly. "Have a seat. I have a little something to take care of, I'll be right back." With that, he pointed down the hall and my stomach tied up in a knot. I knew what was coming. However, that long walk down the hall gave me a chance to think over what I had seen of Uncle Bobby. His reputation had preceded him and his subsequent appearance did not disappoint. His dark hair was down to the middle of his back and held out of his face with a headband. He wore a tattoo over his right bicep that proclaimed FREEDOM! in inch-high letters, a leather vest with no shirt underneath, dingy jeans, and sandals on his feet. He was the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life, and now... he was going to get to listen to me get my butt torn up for skipping school. The injustice!

"Assume the position." My dad said as he closed the his bedroom door. Being in my parents bedroom was never conducive to a good memory. It was the place we went when we were sick (mom and dad's big double bed served as a quiet place for fevered children) and the place we went when we were in trouble (the foot of the same bed served as a place to rest the hands and better expose the rear-end).

Dad wasted no time on a perfunctory lecture, but lit right in with a vengeance, the buckle of his belt tinkling in time.

"If I ever...whack...hear of you...whack...skipping even one minute...whack...of school again...whack...I'll whup you til you can't sit for a week!... Whack-a-roooni!..."

The last one was designed to send home the message for good and all, and was always the worst. I stood there and took it all. What else could I do? I had it coming. It was not an unfair attack. It was the physical expression of a severely disappointed parent. Even so, that little rebel spirit that possessed me (and the fact that Uncle Bobby was sitting in there in the living room in all his renegade glory) shored me up, so I shed not one tear and felt not one ounce of remorse. I had to show Bobby that I was tough, I could deal with this, it was just another day of being a teenager.

A few hours later, I was sitting (gently) on the front porch--basically hiding--when Uncle Bobby sought me out.

"Hey there, little sister. How goes it?"

I sniffed once and then unleashed my rage.

"I hate him!" I said, knowing it was the worst kind of betrayal to my father. "I can't wait to get away from here! Take me with you when you leave? Pleeease?" I turned tear-soaked eyes on him beseechingly, and he blushed.

"Oh, now...I couldn't do that. I have a feeling your father would chase us down and skin me like a coon."

"But they don't understand anything!" I insisted.

In that moment, minutes before turkey time and with my rear-end still tingling from the assault, uncle Bobby proved to me that even thirty-something year old hippies with tattered clothing, and no place to call home, are capable of possessing that certain type of wisdom that can only come from the heart.

"You know..." He said conversationally, as though changing the subject, "I have a daughter about your age." He was studying his sandals as though the answer to all the worlds questions could be found there.

"You do!?" I asked, amazed. I had a cousin that I didn't know about? How could that be?!

"Yes, I do. Her name is Amelia."

"Well..." I asked the obvious question..."where is she?"

"I couldn't tell you, little sister. I saw her with her mom at Woodstock. She was nine at the time. Prettiest little thing you ever saw. Big 'ol blue eyes, and blonde hair down to there." I glanced at him quickly, but he didn't indicate where 'there' was, so I assumed that her hair must have just gone on forever.

"But, how can...I mean, how can you...?" I stammered. The fact that he had a child and had no idea of her whereabouts just boggled my mind.

"Not know where she's at?" He looked at me then, right in the eye. "Well, how do you think?"

It was then that all the answers came to me, and in that moment, I knew all I needed to know about uncle Bobby. I knew who he was, and what he stood for. It was also then, that mom came to the front door.

"Dinner's ready, you two."

I never tasted the turkey, or the dressing, the mashed potatoes and gravy. I didn't taste the rolls or the creamy butter. I ate automatically, as I was too busy doing comparisons. I was comparing Daddy's work boots to Uncle Bobby's sandals. His plaid shirt; the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, to Bobby's grungy vest. Daddy's clean hands and pristine fingernails, scrubbed to within an inch of their lives, to Bobby's dirty ones that looked like he had been working on his van and forgot to wash up after. Daddy's neat haircut against Bobby's long, flowing locks.

Bobby knew all this was going on; he turned and studied me and winked at me each time I reacted with startled embarrassment at having been caught. By sacrificing my opinion of him, he gave the means to understand what was important. He gave me the greatest gift anyone could have given me at that turbulent time in my life. He gave me a basis for comparison and an ability to recognize the choice he had made--versus the choice my father had made, and I will love him forever for it.

Bobby left shortly after dinner and I haven't seen him since. I don't know if he's alive or dead. As far as I know he could still be rattling around in that old van and catching his meals where he can. I don't know any more about him than Amelia did, but I suspect that he may have never done anything right in his entire life...short of setting me straight on Thanksgiving Day, 1974.

George in TX    Posted 11-11-2004 at 13:31:20       [Reply]  [No Email]
Dangit! No, Double Dangit! I usually read from the bottom up here to catch up. But I also try to spot "neat stuff" as I'm scrolling to the bottom. And Dangit! I missed this great story on the way down. And to think I could have read this an hour sooner. SHEEZ!

I agree with Melanie that a book is in order. Most of your stories have a sort of common theme but even with the ones that don't an anthology might be in order. Have you talked to a publisher about this?

Cindi    Posted 11-11-2004 at 17:18:17       [Reply]  [No Email]
I wish I knew one.

Thanks George.

Willy-N    Posted 11-11-2004 at 11:39:22       [Reply]  [No Email]
Great story! Sometimes you never relize what you have to you hear the other side. Glad you posted it. Having my Father die when I was 11 I missed a lot but never forgot him! Mark H.

Cindi    Posted 11-11-2004 at 11:43:55       [Reply]  [No Email]
Some of the best stories I ever heard were all true. The holidays come creeping up and with them come the memories. Thanks Mark.

Melanie    Posted 11-11-2004 at 11:10:16       [Reply]  [No Email]
Cindi, that may very dam well be your ultimate best story (in terms of how I felt while reading it) yet. You are a true student of human nature, and that you can look back over thirty years and examine yourself and your uncle, and the layers of things that were going on, and present it in such a poignant but earthy way, is just brilliant.
If you have not yet thought of this (fifty lashes with a wet noodle if you haven't!!!!!), I do believe you could take all these stories, weave them together, insert a sort of common theme-ribbon running through, and you'd have a tremendous, riveting, moving, funny, warm-hearted novel. I myself can vouch for at LEAST three copies... get on it!!!! ;)
(But I mean that. It is utterly possible. Nine out of ten of the last "women's books" I've read sucked eggs compared to the story I can envision coming out of this collection.)

Cindi    Posted 11-11-2004 at 11:31:05       [Reply]  [No Email]
Well thanks tons for the encouragment. To put a novel together is my ultimate goal but the method for doing so is still out of my range. But one day I'll wake up and dam it, I'll have figgered it out. Til then I'm storing them like a squirrel stores nuts.

Thanks Melly.

Melanie    Posted 11-11-2004 at 12:00:09       [Reply]  [No Email]
Apropos of nothing, I was wondering how things were going with you currently. I saw where Jill moved out- are you two speaking? And how is Fred these days? Are you two speaking? And what's Miss Jenny up to? How's Wauchula doing in the recovery category?
Just slap me in the mouth if I'm being too nosey... I just worry about my friends. And I consider you one.
Oh, and BTW, how do you pronounce that? My FIL lives in Orlando, grew up in Grundy, WV, and swears it's pronounced "Walk-oola." I kept hearing it in my head as "Watch-oola." Which is it?

Cindi    Posted 11-11-2004 at 13:33:54       [Reply]  [No Email]
The latter. It sounds like a sneeze. You were right.

Jill, yes, speak to her...guardedly. Jenny, same sweet kid, Jake his usual nonsense, same with Fred only in spades. (smile)

I gotta go, it's Jenny's turn on line. See you maybe tonight or tomorry.

Friend. (grin)

KellyGa    Posted 11-11-2004 at 10:51:36       [Reply]  [No Email]
Good story...and I can relate.

My best friend and I were told not to be going up to the little arcade up on amain road out of the neighborhood. We snuck up there anyway of course. Daddy tought we were going to meet boys, but we weren't. Honestly, we only went up there to play games, but he never believed anything I said anyway.

Well, he caught us, and man, I have never to this day had such a but blistering. Now, in my opinion, I think it was a bit severe. My dad had me lower my britches and raise up my shirt, and he flayed my backside with a mans leather belt. My mama had to come in there and stop him and tell him that was ENOUGH.

Ever since that day, I swore not to lay that kind of hand on any of my offspring, and you know, you have met Shelby, I haven't ever done anything REMOTELY like that, and she makes straight A's in school, cleans up her room, tends her animals. Course she is good natured like her Daddy anyway.

I ain't saying nobody deserves a good whoopin, but he went overboard. I dont know why I just told y'all that, but I did. So there it is...

Melanie    Posted 11-11-2004 at 11:03:21       [Reply]  [No Email]
Kelly, you might have just described my mom. In all other ways she was a wonderful human being, but when you got punished, man, you got punished. My dad would often intervene, because she would get so mad she'd forget to be calm about it. Course, she had other problems as well, but still, that's not good. I feel the same as you, although my children have received corrective percussion on their hindquarters from me. I just learned a lot (from getting switched, belted, wooden spooned, and occasionally slippered) about how hard it is really necessary to spank a child, which is to say not at all very hard, and never with anything but the flat of your hand, and never more than one or two swats. It's really only about the shock value- "mom just popped me one on the hiney... oh, my gosh, I'm in trouble!"

Some woman who never raised a child in her life told me one time that you shouldn't spank or punish your child when you're mad. I disagree. I think you should be able to control your temper enough to recognize that this is your child, flesh of your flesh, and be mad, and still be able to administer a just punishment, whether it be extra chores or that tap on the bottom I mentioned before. Just my .02 ...

Cindi    Posted 11-11-2004 at 11:06:44       [Reply]  [No Email]
"...although my children have received corrective percussion on their hindquarters from me..."

I just love the way you phrase things.

Melanie    Posted 11-11-2004 at 11:12:37       [Reply]  [No Email]
You inspire me to new heights, Miss Thang. ;)

I actually got that from the term one of our Tech Support guys used to use when I worked in the Consolidated Freightways office... when he'd come up to work on a broke-down puter, he'd say, "If all else fails, use percussive maintenance," and give the monitor a sturdy whack. :)

Cindi    Posted 11-11-2004 at 10:56:41       [Reply]  [No Email]
Well it can't be done out of anger. The focus has to be the lesson--no cussing. If there's cussing, then it's not punishment. It's revenge.

Also some kids NEVER need a spanking. Some need one every dam day. They're just people. They're all different. My Jenny has had maybe one spanking a year. Jake, once a week. Not so much anymore though.

Chas in Me    Posted 11-11-2004 at 10:27:38       [Reply]  [No Email]
That's a good story, well told. How many young people can you make it available to? if your library has some kind of reader's clinic or a public reading program, you should present that story. It might change someone's life. It's that good.
Chas, admiring your talents, up here in Maine.

Cindi    Posted 11-11-2004 at 10:52:42       [Reply]  [No Email]
Awww...(blush) It will be in the paper for sure, and I am going to dedicate to my Jillian.

Thanks Chas in Florida--admiring the fact that you're in Maine (where I'd rather be)

DD    Posted 11-11-2004 at 09:27:06       [Reply]  [No Email]
Definitely qualifies as one of those Life Lessons ; ) Thanks for sharing it with us Cindi

Cindi    Posted 11-11-2004 at 09:57:13       [Reply]  [No Email]
Thank you for reading it, DD (smile)

DD    Posted 11-11-2004 at 10:16:50       [Reply]  [No Email]
I don't always have time to comment on stuff here but I try to read most of it. Take Care Cindi, I'm still waiting on the update on that Lil Pink Chihuahua : )

Cindi    Posted 11-11-2004 at 10:57:48       [Reply]  [No Email]
She's still hanging in there. (smile) They're young though, so that's apt to change.

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