Mom and Pop
Doug M. Dawson
© Copyright 2023 by Doug M. Dawson
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
We’ll call this new friend of mine Harry and now for the other side of Harry’s personality. I was a quiet, polite kid and other kids’ parents seemed to like that, as their own kids usually weren’t so quiet - or so polite. Harry wasn’t either and as I’d been to Harry’s home many times and as his parents had “seen me in operation” I think they must have said something to him like “why can’t you be more like that Roscoe kid – hah? (pause) HAH?” Apparently, he didn’t like being criticized and that one little bit of criticism must have made him jealous. Now I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again many times before I cease to walk this earth: “there is nothing worse than a jealous person” and there, I’ve said it again. Give you an example. I went to this Catholic school and had what I thought was a best friend – this kid Freddy - and I’d been to his home many times, as I had with Harry. Freddy’s parents seemed to like me, I’d eaten meals there and I thought everything was copacetic – you know, I was approved of in that home, all was in order, ready to go, on the up and up and so on. There was a problem, however, one I wasn’t aware of at that tender age. It was the “green-eyed monster,” commonly known as jealousy. Now Freddy was a little fat and sloppy-looking, to the point where some of the other kids laughed at him and called him “fleabag.” Now I never laughed at him or called him that name, or anything else for that matter, but I had committed the cardinal sin of being slender, which made me – to him, at least - a “non-fleabag” and that made him jealous, which meant I had to be punished So, I thought I could trust my bosom buddy Freddy but I found out otherwise when one day at school he holds up the biggest kid in school to me, like he’s a target I must knock down. “Do you think you could beat him up?” he asked me, to which I am certain I answered a flat “No” or at least indicated an unwillingness to get into a discussion of who I thought I could beat up. But whatever my answer, my good friend Freddy went to this big kid, who was the only weight lifter in school and who towered over me and told him ‘that Roscoe kid said he could beat you up.” The next thing I knew this big kid was confronting me in the hallway between classes and asking me if I said I could beat him up. I was so surprised by this turn of events that didn’t know what to say and that was all it took – my silence made it look like I’d said the unthinkable – that I could beat this monster of a kid up. So, the monster tells me in front of everyone: “we’re gonna fight and you better not back out.”
A short while after Freddy passed along his bit of mis-information, I found myself in the back of the school facing a towering kid twice my size and strength when an odd thing saved me. You see I had slipped on the ice a day or two before and ended up with a big bump on my forehead, though the swelling had gone down by the time of the fight. After missing with my Sunday punch and receiving a couple of sharp blows to said forehead, the injured tissue began to colors – green and yellow, as I recall. Now to my considerable credit (as I see it) I didn’t back down and did fight this big kid, but to his own considerable credit he stopped hitting me and in effect ended the fight, saying something like: “look at his head – it’s turning colors. I think he’s had enough.”
It took a few more days for my forehead’s new wounds to heal and when a bit of time and time had come and gone my wonderful friend Freddy found his way back to my house, thinking all was well and not dreaming he was a snake in the grass and gross betrayer of the lowest kind. When I confronted him about his actions he had this “who – me?” look on his face and backed up and I threw my well-practiced Sunday punch at him. To his eternal shame and discredit, he fell down on the ground as my (I thought) well-timed blow sailed through the air and well over his head. With him lying on the ground I might well have jumped on him and delivered the kind of “country-style beatin’” they used to dish out but that nobody seems to remember how to do anymore, but I decided (wrongly) that for him the shame of having to lie there on the ground, knowing that I had bravely stood up to the bully in school was enough punishment for him – it wasn’t.
So now that we have the background of my repeated experiences with the afore-mentioned green-eyed monster of jealousy, we will return our attention to my other good and great friend Harry. Although our good times together were many, Harry’s other side began to manifest itself in various ways, as in the bowling alley, when he walked up to a group of strangers – who happened to be adults - who were involved in a spirited conversation and began to butt in, saying things like ‘Yeah – just what I was thinking” and “I think all you guys should really pay attention to what this girl just said, or you’ll be sorry, believe me.” This group of people just looked at him like they didn’t know whether to hit him or just ignore him, so they did the latter. Another time he mouthed off to the owner of a cheese shop, saying “You know, this place stinks!” to which the owner responded by pushing him out the front door. He tried the same kind of thing in a shoe store, to which the Italian salesman said “should I slam this guy one and then throw him out, or just grab him and throw him out?” That seemed to shut Harry up for the moment, but he was not down for the count. He started trying to get me to do bad things, like steal – no matter where we were. One time a caboose was parked on the tracks behind my house and he more or less dragged me inside. There was a pile of railroad flares on a counter top and he pushed me into grabbing a few of them, saying something like “they just left them there, so let’s take ‘em.” As we left, he didn’t see me put the flares back, but he seemed satisfied, just knowing he’d gotten me to do something against my nature, something wrong. Right around this time I could sense that the green-eyed monster was back and after me in earnest. I knew then that Harry had decided to bring me down, that his parents must have shown a sort of preference for me because I was generally quiet and didn’t make trouble – a behavior pattern that convinced Harry that I had to be brought down, just as Freddy had – or tried to, anyway.
With all this history behind us I think we are prepared to understand, or if not exactly understand at least try to grasp something Harry did around this time. We were playing with firecrackers around the railroad tracks which were behind the long wooden fence that defined the property line behind my family’s house when Harry spied a little bird’s nest that must have been on a low-lying branch, one he could reach up and grab. “Oh, no – don’t’ tell me” you are probably thinking and if you are, you are right in thinking that, only what happened next was no doubt worse that what you are probably thinking. Harry dropped the nest, which contained a few light blue eggs, one of which broke open, allowing the tiniest baby bird I had ever seen, to crawl out, no doubt looking for its mother and the food she was sure to provide. It was apparent to both of us that the mother of this nest would never come back to tend her eggs, now lying on the ground and that hence these poor creatures were doomed to starve to death or more likely be eaten by whatever hungry animals happened by. We briefly looked at each other, as if to say “what do we do now/” when Harry came up with his own inimitable – and despicable - solution. Without missing a beat, he produced one of his firecrackers, which he placed directly under in front of the still-crawling baby bird. I must have been too shocked by what I was seeing to do anything and that is the only excuse I can give you for my inaction, as Harry waited for the bird to crawl on the firecracker, lit the fuse and watched the firecracker go off with a loud “Bang,” sending the tiny bird flying several feet into the air. It seemed certain the baby bird was dead when it hit the ground and all I could feel was shame at this point: shame that the little nest had been torn down, shame the baby birds would all die, shame at the awful use of fireworks to end a life – which Harry no doubt saw as a “mercy killing” - and most of all, shame that I had watched and done nothing. Of course, I had no idea Harry would grab the nest, no idea he would drop it, condemning the birds to an early death and even less of an idea that he would put an end to the tiny life the way had.
One thing about Harry was that he was never at a loss for words and he wasn’t on this particular occasion. After a dastardly deed that left me both shocked and disgusted with the both of us, his never to be forgotten comment was: “The way that little bird climbed on top of that firecracker; he thought it was mom – and it turned out to be POP!”
I walked back into my house dejected and disappointed in myself and determined to never, ever let anything like what I had just witnessed, happen in my presence again. My friendship with Harry seemed to fall apart after that incident and when my family decided to pick up and move away, I didn’t say goodbye to him, but I blamed myself at least a little for befriending someone who would do something like what he did with the little bird. Don’t want to get all mushy on you, but I sometimes wish there was a sort or heaven where every living thing gets a final reward after suffering the depredations of life in this world. If there is, I hope that little bird found a place in it and that its poor mother finally found her baby – this time alive and well.
Doug Dawson has written for the U.S. Defense Department, for car mags and for Hollywood trade magazines (“Vette Vues,”“Corvette Enthusiast,” “Corvette” magazine, “The Big Reel,” etc.) and has had short stories published by Academy of the Heart & Mind, Ariel Chart, Aphelion Webzine, Literary Yard, Scars Publications, The Scarlet Leaf Review, HellBound Books, LLC. (story “The Poetess” was published in anthology “The Devil’s Doorknob 2”), Goats Milk and others.