I lay in the dense foliage and held my breath. Silence was mandatory. There was no getting around it; if I were caught it would be my certain doom.
I lay under the vines and watched in silence as mortal danger walked by within three feet of where I lay, hidden deep underneath the tangled mound of honeysuckle vines. I knew I had better make good my escape the moment the coast was clear.
How I had come to be hidden there with such danger so close at hand was more typical than not and this was not my first brush with this threat. In fact, it was the norm rather than the exception.
You see, the danger that stalked so close to my hiding place was my Mom, and she had a four-foot long hickory switch with my name written all over it. And man she was mad!
It had all started with the dishes. The chore we all hated so much. Why, I don’t know, but none of us kids ever liked doing the dishes. However, that did not erase the fact that they had to be done, so my parents had established a weekly rotation of who was responsible for the dishes. I forget the exact order of rotation, but that is irrelevant.
It was my week to get the dish-pan hands.
The problem was that the person who had them the week before had not done them at all, and they remained piled high above the sink and surrounding counter. They were all left over from the previous week, but now it was my week and I was supposed to take care of it.
My budding sense of justice was deeply offended by that. Why was it fair that the other person could skip the dishes altogether for a week, and I get stuck with them? I decided I would not do them until the other sibling made up their time and handed over a clean slate to me. I decided that. My Mom apparently did not see it that way. Maybe she wasn’t aware that they were last weeks dishes…so I told her.
"But Mom! I’ll clean the ones for this week if you make so-and-so clean up last week’s so I start with a fresh pile!”
“It’s not their week, it’s yours.”
“But they didn’t do them when it was their turn. Why do I have to do them now?”
“I’m not telling you again, now get busy.” She turned and walked through the back end of the trailer we lived in and went out of sight down the hall.
I stood there taking in that pile of dishes and sulking about the unfairness of it all. Then beyond the sink, the living room door came into focus. I don’t think consequences ever darkened the door of my young, impulsive mind at all. Through the living room, out the door and up the mountain I went so fast that I didn’t even hear the door shut behind me.
I followed a small, narrow game trail through the twisted and tangled vines of honeysuckle and saw briars till I hit a trail that cut up the hill toward the ridge where Roy, Johnny Justice and I had fashioned a crude log cabin out of deadfall trees, but then cut over across the face of the mountain to my Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I pecked on the door, and asked Grandma where my cousin Dennis was. She hollered back through the house and shortly Dennis and I were on the trail again. We went high and around the back of our trailer, and down into the corn fields at the base of the mountains. It was summer time and the fields had corn growing so we got into a row and headed for the river.
We were about two hundred and fifty yards or so below my house in the corn field the first time I heard my Mom yell my name. Far, far down deep in my conscience was the first tiny twinge of fear.
Squash that. I had playing to do. After all; It was summer, the sun was out, the birds were singing and I was young. I blew it off and we went on over to the river.
On the opposite side of the corn field the Catawba River ran its winding course down the edge of the corn, around the cow pastures below and then turned down past the Marion Airport toward the upper end of Lake James. I knew that river well, and played it from Garden Creek above our house to far, far below.
Across the river was the back side of the Dolphin Fish Camp, at that time owned by Johnny Justice’s dad Adolph. On our side the bank was a long, wide sand bar, which was actually mostly worn stones washed there during flood stages of the river. The lower end of the sand bar faced a long, smooth stretch of water. It was a perfect place for skipping stones or seeing who could throw rocks the farthest across the water. It was to this little corner of paradise that we were headed.
The path to get there cuts in off the old road bed, goes straight for several steps, then angles to the right for about thirty yards, before coming to the top of the bank above the sand bar. There are several places to go down the bank and the path ran right along its top opening up at each place to access the riverside. On both sides of the path are dense, almost jungle-like tangles of underbrush, vines, saw briars, poison oak, and weeds. (Not to mention snakes, ticks, spiders, yellow jackets, and chiggers.)
I don’t know how long we played but it was a good while. Time to time I would hear my mom calling me. The sense of dread that I had squashed earlier began to come back and grow stronger and more pronounced. Then I noticed her voice was getting closer. SHE WAS ON THE PROWL!
So we skittered up the bank, and started out the path. I could hear Mom clearly now. She was clearly upset. Very upset. I’m talking calling down fire and brimstone and thunder and lightening and multiple lashes of the whip…and worse than all of that put together, she was threatening to tell my dad when he got home. That thought was beyond my capability to compute rationally.
It dawned on me that she was heading for our path. Without a word I went total Indian mode and leaving no tracks and not making a sound I led Dennis off into the underbrush. We weaved around two or three huge clumps of vines, which were locked in a death grip with some small trees, then circled one and crawled up under the haywire tangle of a very thick pile right next to the path. By this time I could see movement coming along the path.
It was my mom and one of my sisters. I don’t recall which one because all I had eyes for was my mom and that huge, enormous, unmerciful, four-foot-extra-limber-whip-the-tar-off-my-butt-hickory-switch.
Now, in all honestly, my mom’s whipping hurt, but they were bearable. That is, under ordinary circumstances. I had a distinct impression these circumstances were a shade beyond ordinary. I think they were perhaps even a shade beyond the extraordinary. I think perhaps I had managed to push the circumstances way up into the realm of extreme.
My heartbeat was one dull thud after another, pounding in my chest as I held my breath as if my life depended on it. I looked at Dennis and motioned for total silence. From the look on his face I could tell he did not need any urging. He knew he would get a dose of that switch too. Those were different days and my aunts and uncles could bust my rump if it needed it and vice-versa.
We watched as the switch led my mom along the path right in front of my face. I could have reached out and grabbed it. That would have been like laying hold of a live wire on a power station, and not to be advised. Ten feet away…five…three…five…ten…on down the path they went, past our hiding place. I waited until I heard them go down the bank to the river, and then made my move.
We burrowed out of the brush pile as quickly and quietly as we could and headed up the path they had just gone down. A right turn and a two hundred-yard-dash and I was home. Dennis went right on by and up through the garden, back to Grandma’s house.
When my mom found me I was nervously washing dishes as fast as I could with a big fake smile on my face, hoping and praying she didn’t tell my Pop about my great escapade.
Oh yeah, she did. No help for me there.
My mom never knew how close she came to me that day. I never told. That hiding place had served me well and I may have needed it again. As fate would have it, I never had the occasion to go into hiding there again. It’s probably just as well that I didn’t.
I never got justice over the dishes that had not been washed and were left for me but I learned two valuable lessons. Life isn’t fair; and you got be tough if you’re going to be stupid.
James Lee Frady (c) 2/25/2009