Life, for Me, I Now Wish Had Been More Like a Chopping Block
If your only guess was (this) verbiage is being that of an introduction, you would win and win big. This is an introduction. Be advised: The contents are very painful for me to share. But if you were born and raised in rural northwest Alabama, you would understand this piece very quickly and really well. Thank you, Kenneth.
A Year of so
ago, when I faced the coldness of (a) truth that I had ran from since 1989. This was the year that terms like, "you're getting old," and "is that snow on your roof?" had started cropping up more than just when my birthday would show up once a year. Honestly, there were people who allegedly thrived on and enjoyed saying these overly-spoken terms to such a degree of pleasure, I swore that they were having some religious experience.
When a person reaches 27, something horrible shows up dressed in a black cape and cowl looking a lot like a cadaver, "Mr. Doe," Vincent Price, my horror film idol, (who was "Dr. Phibes"), had resurrected this lifeless man to the living and was chasing me to take away what little youth that I had managed to horde in my accepted legal manhood of 21. Not an easy job when you are also a bit greedy.
For the next 13 years, I was as swift as Lee Evans, African-American hero of the 1968 Olympics Game held in Mexico City and looked as handsome as Robert Wagner "Alexander Mundy," on ABC's It Takes a Thief that aired from 1968 and 1970. These two comparisons say a lot, but they are both very true confessions that I felt back in the day when I was a youthful 27.
And "Dr. Phibes,'" "Mr. Doe," was still gaining ground as he dragged himself on the trail where I was running as fast as Mercury. (This was a very cute metaphorical analogy to show you how I felt about my life).
40, for Guys
is scary and far more than a number. 40 combines all of the dark and embarrassing decisions that I had made since the age of 12 and hoping that God was still merciful in my older years to just give me a clean slate of these foolish things and allow me to live a quiet, decent life.
Some men at 40 drink themselves into blacking out at their sad birthday party where (a) second wife and a few war buddies, intentionally stuck black balloons and crate paper all over the rented room at some bank to remind him that his youth is gone and now stares right down at the careless age of 40. And then there are those men who go nuts and think (out of fear) that their lives are over, mortgage their home (a third time) to buy a brand new Chevy Corvette convertible for him to pick up a few hot chicks for him to have some "eye candy" as he rages throughout his hometown.
And the patient cadaver, "Mr. Doe," whom I told you about in "Dr. Phibes'" coming back to life, was growing closer to me each day--and I believe during all of this time, "Doe" was hiding in my bedroom closet just to pounce on me when I was now more accessible to sickness and exhaustion due to my advanced age. Friends, 40 is an age that is not to be taken lightly. Or have you looked recently?
One day something more depressing and horrible happened. And it was oh so deceptive in how this cadaver, "Mr. Doe," attacked me while I was involved in a dog-eat-dog football game on ABC's Monday Night Football when Joe Theisman, Washington Redskins quarterback, broke his leg and the instant replay tech's went nuts showing that one play I think about 20 times consecutively. Theismann's career ended on that very night, Nov. 18, 1985. New York Giants linebackers, Lawrence "L.T." Taylor and Harry Carson, were credited for injuring Theismann during the game telecast from RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Watching Joe Theismann's leg
being turned backwards did have a positive affect on me. After that memorable Monday night, I had an epiphany: my age of turning 40 was very painful for Theismann. No doubt. Even then-WWE bully, Rowdy Rowdy Piper taking his meaness on some sucker no name wrestler who was paid $50.00 to lose was painful for this poor "ham and egger's" wife and kids, but when I reached 40, this was the most painful moment in my entire life. Everything changed and overnight. No warning issued.
So there I sat the next evening, Tuesday, from the ensuing Monday Night Football where Howard Cosell, "Dandy" Don Meredith and Frank Gifford were still yakking about Joe Theismann's leg being turned backward sending him to a near-coma. Commentators are always holding on to some dark event that will give them air time to rehash due to not having eager enough interns to harvest interesting sports items to keep them throwing out cute and intelligent talk to their audience. But even on the next Monday Night Football, these same guys were still thinking back on how tragic Joe Theismann would now have to take weeks, maybe months of physical therapy in order to get back to The Redskins and earn some more bucks on television. Like me and the thousands who already knew that Joe would definitely need physical therapy. Repeating items like this is what irritated me and thousands who Cosell, "Dandy" Don, and Gifford must have thought that we were completely stupid.
With that being said, I did sit down and do a lot of thinking about being 40. But you would never guess what my thought processes were about. The old chopping block that I used to see my dad use when I was eight living in a new place. Not the shack where I told you about almost starving to death.
At this new home-site, I would sit for hours and watch my dad swing his axe and let it slice into the small logs on the chopping block turning them into firewood for the upcoming winter. And it was not until I really thought of how painful Joe Theismann's leg injury really was, until I started recollecting (from my now-40 years of age) my thoughts concerning that old chopping block. And my dad always keeping his axes so sharp that they could easily shave the hair from his forearms. Some things in life go together. Chopping blocks and axes, a prime example.
I cannot tell you exactly where my dad got the old chopping block. For all I knew, it was already at the Verta Dobbs house where we moved from that broken-down shack where we almost starved. All that I knew at my young age was that the large piece of oak wood was old and very mangled on the top sides from having dad's sharp axe pounding the air into each small log making it possible for us to not freeze to death when those terrible winters were on us. One terrible winter that I recall was in 1961 when more than nine inches of snow and ice covered our neighborhood as well as all of the roads in and out of Hamilton, Ala., our hometown.
At this time my brother in law and my only sister
were married and having to live with my dad and my mammy so their new Jim Walter home was being built. Honestly, I thought that I had seen the last of them. I'm not really a monster. These were the thoughts of an eight-year-old who had not seen one decent day of a childhood thanks to me having to babysit my sister and brother-in-law's first child and friends, I can tell you this: I was no good at baby sitting. I did not have the patience for such jobs that required me to spend every minute of myself into another person's life.
My brother-in-law who was now gainfully-employed by a huge factory, the 3M in Guin, Ala., which the anacronym, "3M" stood for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing with the home office being in St. Paul., MN. My dad had made a great deal for him to have a car to use to go to and from work. So there went dad's gorgeous '50 Ford and my brother-in-law who was then working on the night shift (11 p.m. to 7 a.m.) drove from Guin all the way to above Hamilton through the ice and snow drifts that were measured to be six foot tall. I still resented them living with us for I did not have anything that I could play with unless my niece wanted me to give over to her and my sister took her side every doggoned time. You can see why I was not a happy child.
When my dad would be inside our house or working in the cotton and cornfields that he share cropped, I would sneak back behind our house to take a closer look to that old chopping block and just see the memories that had been hidden beneath the old bark that was still hanging onto the trunk of the log. I was sad each time that I would see that old chopping block. Truthfully speaking, I was down right sorry for this piece of tree that was so useful to my dad. What made me really sick with pain as I watched my dad splitting the logs was watching how much punishment that the old chopping block had endured.
Then my thoughts turned from the old chopping block to myself, my life, my many bad decisions and how "I" took on the resemblance of that old chopping block. I too had wrinkles beginning to grow deeper in my forehead similar to the wrinkles the chopping block had where my dad's sharp axe had hit the wrong place on the block sparing the small log at least for a moment. All without complaining. All without any yelling for mercy. Not me. I would have soon caved if I had tried to be that old chopping block for I was not strong in mind, body, or soul.
When the day came for my sister, brother-in-law and first child moved to their new Jim Walter home that was far away, I was happy for awhile. Just awhile. Because one day my dad told my mammy it was time to move again and this time to a place much nearer to my sister and her family. I remember how my insides felt like an essay in some English class being crushed by some fumbling, bumbling young writer who had made a terrible mistake and threw this crumpled paper in the waste can. And how the pain of my dad's announcement for us to move closer to my sister and her clan seemed to last forever. I had originally thought that my dad told the reason that he wanted to rent another house, probably cheaper rent and easier for him to grow corn and cotton. At least his reasoning sounded good to my eight-year-old ears.
But no matter the reason, my mammy and I did not make any waves. We moved and in one load that a Mr. Wiginton hauled on his one-ton Chevy truck with side planks keeping what few belongings safe from the short trip to a house that was too shaky, cold, and damp for me to give it a nick name. You remember my hub about living in a shack in 1959 and 1960 and almost starving to death? This one was more shameful and more disgraceful to live under the rusty tin roof. Honest to God.
On the First Night in That, Cold, Damp House
with the rusty tin roof, I laid in my bed looking out the window and suddenly the thoughts of that old chopping block came rushing into my memories. This place is the worst, I thought. How would my dad make a decent crop at this meager piece of land? I thought again. Then quickly realized that I was too young to be worried about such adult things.
Then it occurred to me. Us moving from the Verta Dobbs place which was a good place to live and for my dad to have crops to harvest, was now another sad memory. Now we lived near a smaller field across a gravel county road for him to plant corn and maybe some cotton if the market held out. And for me to cough almost endlessly each night thanks to my asthma.
To me, it was plain. This moving and the pain that went with it was only a wrinkle, a nick in the bark in that old chopping block that I had watched take so much pain (from my dad's sharp axe) without voicing any remark or bellyaching.
I wonder now at my age, 63, if that last move we made was just one of these painful events that helped me to be as strong and solid at that old chopping block?
I don't think that I need to answer that question.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery