Summer of 1990. Two Crazy Teens. One Awkward Moment.

Once my brother was gone and we moved out of the city into what could charitably be called the “Suburbs” of Mobile, AL., life changed. Gone was the picket-fence neighborhood with the paved streets and the creek that the kids gathered around in the summer. No longer did other boys happen to idle by every thirty minutes looking for someone else to join up with in a game of ball. Hanging out at a friend’s house for a couple of hours…nonexistent.

Summers were especially lonely for me. We lived at the very end (and then some) of a 1-mile long dirt road neighborhood. There were a great many houses, but given our separation from the rest of the neighborhood, no one ever just “happened by.” Behind our house was about 200 acres of pure woods and even today, little has changed as you can see from the image below that I pulled off Google Maps.

With both mom and dad working, I had a lot of time to myself, which explains my penchant for “me” time as an adult. During the summer I had chores to do during the day if I wasn’t working. Normally, this included some sort of work out in the yard or the garden. But when I wasn’t working, I was either riding my motorcycle or fishing in the pond back in the woods. But mostly I worked.

One unusually hot summer day, I was just down a bit working in a clearing that my dad and I had been slowly expanding. It was down near one edge of the property line, and we had cleared out so much by then that you could see the house from there. My dad didn’t trust me with the chainsaw yet, so most of my work in the “big woods” involved cutting down small trees and scrub-brush with lopping shears, or digging out stumps using a shovel and an axe. I’d like to say that because of all my work, I was a trim 17-year old stud, but I’ve always fought my weight and in my mid-teens I’d had little success so far. But though I was little and slightly chubby, there was muscle there from all the work and maybe it showed.

Summers in LA (lower Alabama) then were vividly hot. Not like here in Atlanta where, as the heat rises, visibility declines. Alabama then had great, clean air and the summer humidity did little to cloud the day. You could always tell when it was going to be a hot one because the cicadas would start their “bzzzz bzzzzzzzzz” early in the day–a sound that, even now, makes me want to shut myself in the house and crank down the A/C.

I’d been working down in the woods for about an hour this particular day. My shirt off, sweat rolling off me in waves as I repeatedly thud-thudded my axe into the roots of a particularly annoying taproot from a large pine tree we’d taken down. Cutting out roots is possibly the most mind-numbing, yet physically taxing thing I’ve ever done. The trick is to get into a rhythm with your movements and your breathing until everything blurs together and you don’t notice that your heart is pounding and your breath is coming in hard gasps. For you runners, it’s a lot like that middle mile between the time when you’ve warmed up and the time where you are so far beyond tired that you hardly notice the aches and pains.

I heard the sound of a car approaching the house and knowing it too soon for either of my parents to be home, curiously peered towards the driveway and immediately recognized the car of my best friend’s girl.


They had been dating a month or so and my take on her was that, while undoubtedly attractive (buxom blonde comes to mind), she was trouble. The kind of trouble your lecherous uncle warns you about just as his own “trouble” walks off to get him another beer. Between you and me, I’d always thought she was out of my friend’s league, but I applauded his abilities nonetheless. Did I mention that she was a year or two our senior?

Now I may have been young, but I wasn’t stupid. When I saw her get out of her car alone, in a tight-fitting mid-length skirt, certain…um…possibilities began circulating in my head. “Why is she here?” “Where is Wade (my best friend)?” “Does he know she’s here?” “This is very unusual. Maybe she’s here to see me.”

And most importantly, “What do I do?”

And while it wasn’t my first prom, I was still nervous around girls, especially older girls…and especially when I’m standing around mostly devoid of any clothing except my shorts, socks and work boots.

Standing up straight, I perched my axe over one shoulder and watched her look around until she saw me and then I stayed where I was and let her come back to me in the woods. My mind was still warring with my body and standing still seemed like the simplest thing to do until I could properly read the situation.

She reached me and we exchanged pleasantries and finally she admitted that she was there to talk about Wade. Apparently, she was having second thoughts about their relationship and wanted to talk with me about it to see what I thought.

Again, I wasn’t dumb and to be perfectly frank, I still wasn’t sure whether loyalty or lust was going to win the day so I played along. We went in the house and talked for a bit, with her making it obvious what she was there for. But as some point during the conversation, my loyalty to my best friend won out and I made it perfectly clear to her that “it” wasn’t going to happen. She pushed until I almost forcefully had to ask her to leave. I had gotten mixed up with girl-trouble once before a couple of years earlier and I wasn’t eager to do it again, especially when it involved my best friend.

I won’t say that I haven’t looked back on that day many, many times and questioned my decision, especially in light of what happened afterwards. I joined the military a few months later and shipped out. My friend Wade was still seeing this girl when I left, but at some point while I was gone their relationship went south. In what I can only guess was her attempt at hurting him, she told him what had happened between us, except in HER version, “it” did happen. I found this out when I came home on leave that first year and despite trying to convince my best friend for an hour that nothing happened, he chose to believe her and ended our friendship. I can’t say that I blame him really. It wouldn’t have been the first time I had been involved with a girl who was involved with someone else, so I LOOKED guilty.

This has haunted me for years and it still does to this day. He was my best friend. He helped me through some extremely tough times growing up and it hurts me that he still believes I violated our friendship over a girl. I haven’t talked to him since that last conversation and I don’t know if I ever will. He’s not tech-savvy, so he’s not online, and I rarely ever have a reason to go back home since all of my family has since moved away.

But Wade, if ever you find this, know that it’s the God’s own truth. Nothing happened, and I’m sorry it did.

Thank the Lord for spoiled kids

I never got to wear parachute pants. Never got to feel its plasticky goodness against my skin.
I didn’t have friendship pins to give other kids to wear on their shoelaces, although I DID have a pair of those wide, neon shoelaces once that were popular in the early 80s.
Neighborhood kids didn’t play at my house because I didn’t have Star Wars action figures or any of the cool toys for that matter.

I had weeble-wobbles and a ball. That was pretty much it.

I knew that I didn’t have much, but I don’t know if it’s because we didn’t have much money, or simply because my parents didn’t know how to spoil a child. Both my parents were raised in multi-sibling families and neither had much money and I suppose their parents’ spending habits transferred to them. And as it turns out, my parents’ spending habits transferred to me as well.

And that’s why I say, “Thank the Lord for spoiled kids” a-la CareerMom.

Though she might disagree, compared to me, CareerMom’s childhood could be likened to that of Richie Rich. They weren’t Ga-Jillionaires, but they had all that kid-crap that I never had. They may not have been on the cutting-edge of trends, but they at least had a stake in the game. Me…I was never even an also-ran.

Though we’re very similar in our approaches to raising children, there are areas where CareerMom and I differ, and in many cases, that’s a good thing. Take this idea of spoiling kids–if it were up to me, the kids would have what they “Need” and maybe something special every now and then. If it were up to CareerMom (and an unlimited bank account), they’d have that and so much more.

Take the latest trend, “Silly Bandz.” Have you seen them? Like everything else, they’re nothing. They’re little pieces of nothing that every other adult in the world is smacking their foreheads over and saying, “Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?” Basically, they’re rubber bands, colored and shaped like different things–animals, dinosaurs, space stuff, etc. And you’re not cool if you don’t have one, or 300 of them.

Obviously, these things never even showed up on my radar. I never would have known about them had CareerMom not shown them to me after having bought a pack for MLI, who has now used most of his birthday/chore money to buy several packs, which he trades with his friends at school.  CareerMom, on the other hand, uses them as rewards (some would call them “bribes”) for good behavior. Either way, it adds up to the fact that my kids are “cool” thanks to my wife.

Would I buy as many as she does? No.
Would she buy more if I didn’t look at her askance whenever she buys more? Yes.
But, we balance each other out and in truth, I’m glad that she spoils the kids a little. If nothing else, it means that in 20-30 years, neither of them will be blogging about how deprived they were!