The Catfish and the Bicycle

goat driving

(Friends:  I am trying this story on for size.  It is indeed based on truth but it doesn’t feel quite right to me yet, so I’m crowd-sourcing guidance from y’all.  I welcome all comments and suggestions.)

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Now I understand that my sister and I had a peculiar childhood. With both parents in law enforcement, expectations for us as budding young Southern ladies were skewed towards a paranoid place. I don’t know how normal our upbringing was, I honestly doubt I’d know normal if it tapped me on the shoulder and introduced itself.  It was normal for our clan, that’s all I can say.

The Manson murders happened when I was just approaching puberty. My mother never saw the world the same way again. She was suspicious before the trials, but seeing young girls convicted for such sadistic, blood-thirsty acts put a potential monster behind every beaming cheerleader’s face.   She counseled me to be wary of girls who didn’t “act right.” Being Southerners, not acting right could mean a girl didn’t compose proper thank-you notes, or that she was fixing to disembowel you. Not acting right was a confusing catch-all category, but whatever it meant, I was to avoid it.

So my sister Lynn and I were expected to be young ladies; well-spoken, well-read, and well-mannered.   In contrast, we were also expected to never ever to be the girl that ends up in a shallow grave down by the river. If someone tried to hurt us, we were to scream, gouge, bite, kick, and do whatever disgusting thing was necessary to live. If you look up schizophrenia in the dictionary, it may reference my early years. Be a delicate flower of a girl, kindness personified, but if you have to, use your thumbs to pop a guy’s eyeballs out of his skull.

Where I grew up, everyone learned to drive as soon as they could see over the steering wheel, around twelve or so. In a farming community, this makes sense. The trade-off for driving lessons was learning to load, shoot, and reload a handgun proficiently. These two activities were linked because no matter what family vehicle you were in, there was going to be a pistol under the driver’s seat. Unless you were in the pick-up, then there were shotguns in the gun rack plus the hand gun under the seat. I can’t imagine why boys weren’t lined up around the block wanting to date me in high school.

In my husband’s family growing up, if you couldn’t fall asleep you were encouraged to get up and do something useful. Read, do crafts, anything productive yet relatively quiet. In my family home, if you couldn’t fall asleep you kept your ass in bed. Rambling around in the middle of the night meant you might be an intruder, though I don’t know who could possibly be stupid enough to try to break into our house. Being mistaken for a prowler, well it could get you shot.

Car trips and outings meant we played the Observation Game. It was probably to keep me quiet, but it did teach me a skill. Think of it as the policeman’s version of “I Spy.” We’d be rolling along in the car, or walking along the street, and I’d be quizzed. How many people did you see in the car we just passed? Describe the man who just came out of the hardware store. What was he carrying? Which way did he go? You’d better be able to describe his face, not just his clothes. You did not get points for clothing. Where’s the closest exit to where we’re standing right now? If the path to that door is blocked, where’s the next best one? Get most of these questions correct, and an icy Nehi soda was the prize.

These were our formative years. Call them unusual, call them bizarre, call child protective services, it was what we knew. It was my parents’ way of protecting us from Very Bad Things. And there are always very bad things in the world. As adults, my sister and I often pass for typical, well-adjusted women until something happens that triggers our stand-up-and-fight-back.

Lynn now has two little girls and is raising them by herself. She’s getting by. Lynn found three beat-up but workable bicycles at yard sales so she and the girls can go biking on Sundays. She keeps the bikes in a decrepit shed behind her house. It ‘s an open shed which might collapse if you look at it cross-eyed, but there’s been a rash of bike thefts in her neighborhood and it’s the safest place for them.

One night while washing dishes, Lynn notices movement in the backyard. Someone is trying to steal the bikes! Not thinking twice, she grabs a butcher knife from the dish rack and runs out the front door just as the thief was coming down the driveway, pushing her daughter’s bike.

He stops — rookie mistake — because my sister is still running full throttle at him, waving a big knife, and screaming, “You drop that bike or I will gut you like a catfish!”

There’s a battle cry my family can rally behind. She got the bike back. No filleting necessary.

There Be Dragons Here

Amos Henry and Joe

 

We live at a crossroads. Not a magical Robert Johnson kind of crossroads, more of a Gomer Pyle crossroads. Even though we are way out in the middle of nowhere, and it is not possible for me to overstate our rural-ness, it’s still a very busy intersection. When I visit my friends in the city, I actually sleep better. It’s quieter. Here at my little country corner, traffic starts rolling through around 3:30 in the morning so everyone gets where they need to be in time for work.

Just your average, garden-variety car tends to be loud and jiggly here since this county does not have vehicle emission standards. Air pollution is just not our most pressing problem. The average income in this county is shamefully low, so car maintenance is regularly postponed. There are a lot of vehicles on the road here that sound like they’re one lug nut away from extinction.

Making it worse, one of the roads running past my house accommodates all the tractor trailers going from the poultry farms to the nugget factory and from the orchards to the juice plant. The other road handles dump trucks from the quarry and the big rigs hauling roof truss systems. It’s a noisy, rattling junction, you can be sure.

That’s where the mastiff comes in. Joe is our official Security Director and alerts us to all things suspicious in our immediate vicinity. He’s the Top Gun of our thirteen acres and takes his position very seriously. I mean, drill sergeant seriously. Unless he’s sleeping, then you’re on your own. But other than that, he’s a perimeter enforcement beast.

The rest of the pack are fairly casual in their approach to home defense. The Basset hound couldn’t care less. The bulldog will bark once or twice if the event exceeds a certain time limit. The boxer will at some point utter a supportive bark, but will never know why since he’s deaf and doesn’t get it. So threat assessment falls squarely and solely on Joe. He sees it as a somber responsibility.

Lumbering, squealing, jostling trucks are never going to be accepted by Joe as anything other than an imminent threat to our well-being. They are the mechanical equivalent of a dragon suffering a violent seizure and everyone needs to be made aware that something awful is happening this close to the house.

Every dump truck, every garbage truck, every Department of Transportation vehicle, every big rig has to be chased off by ferocious barks. These are serious, slobber-slinging messages of doom. Woe be to the vehicle that dares to slow down, or horrors, park near our property.

I am torn about this security soundtrack. On one hand, I like the fact that everyone knows we have a protective, 200-pound dog on the property. It makes my life a little easier. It helps preserve my privacy. It has totally eliminated the annoying visits from the “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?” crowd.   To the couple trying to sell insurance door-to-door, Joe didn’t think much of you either, but I guess you got that memo while standing on our porch.

On the other hand, shut up already! I have attempted dozens of times to record a series of pod casts. I do not have one that I can use because somewhere in every single recording is a series of ear-splitting alarm barks. What to do? I’ve always approved of Joe’s behavior in the past, even encouraged it. Now that it doesn’t mesh with my goals, how do I tweak his protectiveness? He just doesn’t understand, “Not now baby, Mama is trying to record the funny.” How many Benedryl do you think it takes to make a monster-sized mastiff sleepy?

This week has been particularly bad. It’s a holiday week, so traffic is heavier than usual. Also, Joe has a deputy-in-training. We are babysitting my in-laws’ Irish Wolfhound, Amos. Amos is all too eager to learn the ways of home protection. Amos is supporting Joe on every woof, racing from window to window trying to understand what it is we’re barking at. Doesn’t matter. Joe said it was time to howl, so mad barking is in order.

I’m pretty sure I can translate the barking after six years of hearing it. Allow me.

“Hey, you cow. I see the way you’re looking over here. Keep your eyes on your own pasture.”

“Oh my God, is that a cat?”

“Did you hear a dragon? I’m sure I heard a dragon. Dragons rattle and that was definitely a rattling sound. Y’all had better recognize the danger we’re in. Dragons kill, you know.”

“Is that cat still here?”

“Look at this! It’s a rabbit. Just who do you think you are? Go away. I saw Monty Python.”

“Motorcycle, motorcycle, motorcycle! That’s way too loud for a Honda, Mister. Move along.”

“It’s another dragon. Wait no, it’s a dump truck. I don’t like your looks, buddy. Keep rolling.”

“Wait, is that the same cat?”

“You! You with the bible. Get back in your car or else.”

“Intruder alert! Hey, that’s Daddy’s car, that’s Daddy’s car. Daddy’s home. Time to dance! Let’s bark to share our joy.”

“Daddy’s in the house! We missed you so much! Let’s bark to show you how much we worried while you were gone.”

“It’s dinner time. We will now bark to express our gratitude.”

“It’s TV time. There’s that nasty little Jack Russell terrier on the PetMeds commercial. We hate him. Bark to convey our collective disapproval.”

. . . . and repeat.