Remembering Childhood Fear

It’s an August morning in the 1980s. The sun’s creeping over the ridge near our Point Loma, California, apartment. The pomegranate colors flash through my second floor bedroom, casting light on the “Star Wars” sheets, the keyboard of my VIC-20 computer and the toys on my bedroom floor.

Flicking on the small television atop the light blue desk Dad once made for Mom as a vanity, the noise of news pipes up. A vanilla, well-styled newscaster smiles and tells me the Soviet Union still has ten thousand nuclear bombs pointed at my bellybutton. She smiles again and throws it to the weather guy. I turn it off.

I stretch and think of those violent artificial suns. Hydrogen bombs do that. They also wipe out every living organism within 12 miles of where they explode. The after effects of the radiation last longer than my grandparents have lived. Looking out the window seeing the natural sun, I think of those missiles. All it would take is a 30-minute ride over the Arctic Circle, past Whitehorse, Yukon and swan dive into the broken, dirty community pool. At least the blast would take care of the pool.

A bag of books and a frown. What if they do press the buttons? What motivates some fat old white men to want to turn the Big Blue Marble into a carbon-scored hunk of glass? Down the sidewalk and up the busted up flight of steps that lead to my high school, that smiling reporter’s words persist: thousands of nuclear missiles on the other side of the world pointed at us. Thousands of nuclear weapons buried under North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and elsewhere pointed at them.

School ends. Adulthood begins. It’s 1989. I wake up, stretch and turn on the news. The Berlin Wall is falling and taking the Iron Curtain with it. On the edge of my bed, I watch hundreds of Germans tear down my childhood fears chunk by chunk. For 12 years, all that’s left for kids to worry about is “Friends,” SAT scores and something called “getting the Internet.”

Then, airliners smash into the World Trade Center. While we were clumsily trying to find Sharpies and draw a face on what scared us in the Cold War, television’s 550 lines broadcast his face and name, and Osama Bin Laden, and kids in the United States get a new fear: terrorism.

The day ends. Wars begin. Scared children sign up and go off to battle. In between exploding transports, rocket attacks and embassy explosions, the fear spreads. Some vanilla anchorman reports the damage, tallies the lives lost, smiles, then tosses it to weather.

A decade goes out. May 3, 2011 comes walking in. A group of trained military killers rumbles into a bedroom in Pakistan. They blast fear in the skull with a repeating machine gun. Some others wrap the body and throw it in the ocean hours later. Later, the president stands at a lectern. He tears down someone else’s childhood fears word by word.

It’s an afternoon in May. The sun is creeping through partly cloudy skies. Snow is melting from the mountains and I’m picking up my daughter from afternoon daycare.

She fears nothing.


Wheat harvest, can kickin', and revival meetin's

“Knee high by Fourth of July.” That’s the rule of thumb in these parts, and sure enough.  Every day when I go out to run, the corn seems to have shot up another inch or two. 
A less common sight here is a wheat field.  Every time I pass one and see those golden stalks waving in the breeze, I am instantly transported back to the summers of my childhood. 
Growing up on the Kansas plains, we had little technology for entertainment.  Instead, we had 19 cousins and Grandpa’s wheat farm.  Thus, summers consisted of the annual wheat harvest with combine rides, chewing grain ‘til it turned to gum, drinking cold Pepsi from glass bottles, and playing the family favorite, Kick the Can.
With lots of outbuildings, lanes, and trees, there were plenty of places to hide on the farm.  As the seeker hid his eyes, counting, the rest of us would scatter like mice. 
Believe me, nothing sends a shiver down your spine like hearing the sound of feet coming toward you in the night.  Every nerve tingles.  The darkness is full of danger, and your imagination comes alive with colorful images of what may be hiding behind you in the wash house.  I hate to admit it, but I’m no Joan of Arc when the lights go out. 
Suddenly, shouts would ring out, followed by the sounds of panicked flight as the chaser and the chasee raced for the tin can.  If the chasee arrived first, a mighty metallic “whang” could be heard as he or she kicked the can for all they were worth before tearing off to hide once more. 
Of course, there was occasional dissension in the ranks when injustice was discovered.  An informal trial was usually convened, which generally involved only the slightest hint of law and absolutely no semblance of order.  Often, it shook out to be boys against girls with whoever argued the loudest coming out on top. 
For instance, when Cousin Don began employing his retired K9 dog, Adam, to sniff us out, there was full-blown mutiny.  The court session that followed made the Nuremberg trials look positively tame.  (If you think it takes a long time to design and build gallows, you’ve not seen a batch of indignant little Yoder cousins who’ve just been cheated.  We’re pretty darn fast.) 
Once in awhile, though, our play took a more – um, spiritual turn, and we’d play church.  For whatever reason, the “evangelist” who’d “bring the Word” to us was one of the older boy cousins, a real stinker with an occasional streak of mean.  His repertoire included starting water fights, calling us names, shouting insults, hurting our feelings, and making us cry.  Which certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “bully pulpit.” 
Anyway, in spite of his own checkered past, when he’d give the “invitation” at the end of his “message,” we, the congregants, would dutifully respond by lifting our hands.  “Yes, I see your hand,” he would solemnly intone before leading us in a prayer of repentance. 
And that’s how we spent our summers – no video games, cell phones, or movies; just cousins, fresh air, room to run, and a large extended family who, though imperfect, gave us roots and a legacy that money cannot buy.  Perhaps that, after all, is the best way to grow up.

Rhonda and her husband are raising four sons with their own passel of cousins.  She telecommutes from the reservation (i.e., her home) while riding shotgun on the hungry horde.  Additionally, she is a weekly columnist and professional blogger who finds hilarity anywhere, including, but not limited to the toothpaste aisle, the laundry room, a church pew, and the Winter Olympics.  She chronicles the tribe's latest shenanigans on her blog, The Natives are Getting Restless. 


The Not-So Easy Bake Oven Escapade

by Jeanette Levellie

            Aunt Lois and Uncle Jack bought me the toy of my dreams, an Easy Bake Oven, the year I was eight. I had wanted one forever (well, a year or so) and couldn’t wait to try it out. Two days later I was down the block at my friend Kathy’s, where we strung an extension cord out onto the driveway to make our dainty delicacies, Kathy’s mom voting us out of her kitchen for who knows what crazy reason.
            After only twenty minutes of baking delight, my older brother, Danny came down, shouting that Mom wanted me on the phone. I hurried up the street, wondering why Mom was calling from work in the middle of the day on our Christmas vacation. Maybe she just wanted to have me get something out of the freezer for supper.
            Instead, I got an earful. “Danny says you are strewing your Easy Bake Oven stuff all over Kathy’s parents’ driveway. Clean that up and get it home this instant. I’m sure Aunt Lois and Uncle Jack did not intend you to be traipsing all over the neighborhood making messes with that toy. They spent a lot of money on that...”
            I tried to argue, explaining that we’d only made one or two recipes, and Danny was totally exaggerating about the mess. But Mom refused to listen. I dejectedly walked back to Kathy’s, picked up my oven, and toted it home. Conveniently, Danny had blipped out of the universe for the next two hours, when Mom would be home to prevent me from poisoning his kool-aid with dish soap or putting thumbtacks on the toilet seat.
            Because he was the only male in the family for several years between Mom’s two marriages, he felt it his duty to keep enforcing his reign of terror over me. The Easy Bake Oven Escapade was only one in a long line of tactics meant to intimidate the short redhead. I shudder at the memory of Arm Behind Back Torture in the Back Seat while Mom is in Grocery Store; Waiting at Bathroom Door in the Dark with Terrifying Stone-faced Look; and Blood-congealing Maniacal Laugh before He Beat Me up.
            We youngest may have been spoiled with extra toys, later bedtimes, and more of Mom and Dad’s money when we went to college. But we paid for it in our earlier years by the torture imposed on us from above. I haven’t done the research, but I’ll bet you my Easy Bake Oven that Genghis Khan was an older brother.
            Danny passed away this January. He’s probably training the older angels how to give the younger ones noogies, and the best times to tattle to God.  I wish I could be there to hear it. I also wish I could have him back here for an hour or two. I’d hold his arm behind his back, right up under his wings, and make him cry, “Uncle!” for me just once. 

Jeanette Levellie authors a newspaper column in Paris, Illinois, and has published magazine and devotional articles. She is a pastor’s wife, mother and grandmother. Find her humorous/inspirational blog at http://jeanettelevellie.blogspot.com


The Winnebago Tribe

by Jennifer Caddell

The American Indian tribe was nestled safe in the bosom of the high dessert hills. Very little activity could be spotted from my vantage point. It seemed as though they all retired to one individual abode and were perhaps preparing their evening meal. However, I felt the need to kneel down behind a clump of cacti and sage, just to be sure I couldn’t be seen.

For the longest time, all I could hear was a distant call of a coyote. Behind me the sun was setting and it cast a vibrant vermilion light against the rocky and jagged hills. A red-tailed hawk seemed to appreciate the view as it called from overhead. A lonely cry to untrained ears, but I knew she was busy searching for a jackrabbit to fill her own belly.

The granite and shale ground below my feet crunched when I shifted my weight. I was waiting a long time for my target to appear. A cowboy: An Indian killer. A heartless man who saw the local tribes as mere savages. But I knew better. I knew each tribe was filled with families; parents who loved their children as much as the white man loved theirs. They weren’t savages, they were as important to me as water and air. The remaining tribes in this area were symbols of freedom, of carving a life out of the wilderness and thriving, of feeling the wind through your hair as you ride a painted pony. Freedom.

A snap of brush caused me to look back. It was just as I had predicted. The cowboy would arrive with the setting sun. To attack the small camp as they were inside, enjoying their supper. Anger boiled up inside of me. How dare this man kill for no reason? How dare he take the lives of innocent people just because of his own ignorance!

He came closer, holding his horse’s reigns in one hand and a rifle in the other. I could see his graying mustache warming his upper lip like a fur cape. My stomach turned at the site of him. I looked over to where I left my own pony. She was hiding behind an outcropping of rocks nearly thirty yards from where I was hiding. I wasn’t sure what my next move would be, should I run down the hill, shouting to warn the camp, or lead the cowboy away towards my horse? When I looked back at him, his steel eyes were staring at me!

My heart leapt as I ran down the hillside, hurdling over barrel cacti and sagebrush. I would warn the others of his arrival, I would save the tribe and ruin his plans, I would…fall into a yucca plant.

At that moment, as I pulled myself from the spikes of the yucca and yanked a needle out of one of the knuckles of my fingers, the cowboy disappeared, the pony disappeared, and the tribe I was trying to save turned into a green and white Winnebago motorhome. As I held my injured hand and gingerly slid down to the campsite, I knew there was a medicine man inside that Winnebago; a medicine man called ‘Mom’ with a box of Band-Aids.

Jennifer L. Caddell is a published science fiction short story writer with a BA in English. She is currently writing her first book in a space trilogy. Jennifer lives in the wet and wonderful Pacific Northwest with her superhero husband and stellar children. Check out her blog at http://jcaddell.wordpress.com


You Can’t Go Home Again

As a kid, I lived in northern New Jersey. I tell people that, and they assume that I mean the New Jersey shown on television, where life is an endless series of turnpike exits, Bada-Bing clubs, and Bruce Springsteen videos. My New Jersey was a small town in the mountains, full of Revolutionary War-era homes, old mines, rocky caves, clear lakes and tall pine trees. The backdrop of my childhood looked more like the scenery in Last of the Mohicans than The Sopranos.

We lived less than an hour from Manhattan, and my friends were kids whose immigrant parents had fled the city for quieter pastures. Second-generation Italian, Jewish and Irish families had made their way to New Jersey. Many had grandparents who had escaped Europe just in time –and I had more than one classmate whose family had Lost Someone. Dinner at a friend’s house nearly always included someone with an accent.
In the summer, we were outside all day long. We ran through the woods, played in caves, explored the abandoned clubhouse up on the hilltop – which I later realized looked a bit like the hotel in The Shining – and built tree forts. We went swimming in Cupsaw Lake, the same place we’d go ice skating six months later. During the winter, we had to get about three feet of snow for schools to close. On days like that, full-size igloos and snow forts dotted yards all over the neighborhood.
School field trips included annual sojourns to Tarrytown, New York, to visit the birthplace of Washington Irving. This was always done in the fall, so the trip included a hayride over the notorious bridge where Ichabod Crane encountered the Headless Horsemen. Let me tell you, there was a whole lot of pants-wetting going on when the hay cart stopped on the bridge under a gray November sky, because we could all hear those hoof beats if we listened hard enough.
It was a great place to be a kid. We moved away when I was twelve. Three years ago, on the way back from a trip to Maine, we decided to detour through northern New Jersey so I could show my kids the house I grew up in. It looked so very, very small. It was hard to believe that a house that held so many memories could be so tiny. Other than the house, though, the scenery hadn’t changed much. Cupsaw Lake is still invaded by swimmers every summer, the hilltop clubhouse is still there, although it’s been renovated and the secret entrance long since boarded up. The little Jewish and Italian grandmas are long gone.
Stephen King said, in his novella The Body (which later went on to be the movie Stand By Me) that you never have friends again like the ones you had when you were twelve. It’s true, and of more than friends. The place you live your childhood, your formative years, is the one you take with you for the rest of your life. No matter where else you live, there’s nothing quite like the town where you were happy to be a kid.


And Around We Go

by Sarah Garb

There presumably was supposed to be some kind of physical activity involved, but I can’t imagine what.  The rope climb--sure.  The exercise benefits are obvious.  Strengthen those arm muscles!  Work those legs!  Cultivate calluses!  Shuttle Run?  Definitely.  Build coordination!  Run as fast as you can!  Well, run as fast as you can for eight steps before slowing down as fast as you can!  Those all seem like legitimate physical education endeavors.
One activity in my elementary school’s gym class rotation, though, was of rather dubious exercise or fitness value.  It was probably called something like the Roll In a Tube station and it went roughly as follows.

Step 1: Get best friend to agree to roll in Giant Tube with you.
Step 2: Climb into Giant Tube.
Step 3: Wedge yourselves in place, your hands bracing against one surface of the cylinder, your feet bracing against another.
Step 4: Have other kids roll The Tube across the gym.
Step 5: Roll head over feet over head in Tube until step 6.
Step 6: Collide with wall.
Step 7: Stumble out of Tube.

The stomach-churning roll was thrilling and I delighted in the woozy feeling upon exiting The Tube.  Thinking back on it, steps 4-7 seem to be quite the opposite of physical well-being, but darn it all if we didn’t have some good times in that Tube.

Though I wasn’t a particularly adventurous or risk-taking child, there were several other things  I can remember doing that caused a strong sensation of wooziness.  We did them for the thrill of feeling, well, of feeling mildly sick, actually.  Diving into a sleeping bag headfirst and rolling around attacking my similarly bagged brother until we didn’t know which end was up was one pastime.  An amusement park ride called The Rotor was another.  Inside of a large, spinning centrifuge, you’d get stuck to the wall, unable to peel your head or arms or legs away from the black rubber surface.  The nausea was 80% of the fun. 

And who hasn’t twirled around on your belly on a swing, twisting the chains until the force of the untwisting spun you in dizzying circles?  Add to this list the popular Sit and Spin toy, a handful of cartwheels, and one good roll down a steep hill, and it’s clear that a large portion of childhood is devoted to literally just turning yourself in circles for amusement.

The appeal was to feel discombobulated or bizarre or just different, and to marvel at that sensation.  As an adult, “I’m about to fall over!”  “Everything’s spinning!” or “I am going to puke!” might be symptoms of a worrying illness.  Coming from a child, though, they’re most likely the exclamations of delight following a wall-crashingly spectacular roll in the world’s most questionable piece of P.E. equipment.

While all of the childhood spinning has managed to erase many of Sarah's memories of her own early years, she catalogs the entertaining antics of her elementary school students at her blog, Dead Class Pets.


My Little MBA

Not long ago, I was web-surfing and came across a cache of vintage postcards from my hometown. One particular scene slammed me into the past so hard I didn’t know if I was coming or going. The key to my time warp is in the lower right corner. A place called “Toyland.”
In the 1960s, the California Central Valley was a pretty good place to be a kid. Marysville and Yuba City had thriving downtowns full of wonders to an eight-year old who had wheedled a couple of quarters out of Dad.
Toyland was part of a genuine dime store. The main sign proudly read “5-10-25” and was stocked top to bottom with trinkets and treasures from exotic (at least to a kid from Hicksville California) places like “Japan” and “Hong Kong.” In the back was my personal mecca, a rack of knock-off Barbie accessories, all priced at ten cents per card.
No MBA candidate has ever performed a case study as thorough as my deliberations over how to make the most of my quarters. Did I need another place setting, or should gaudy candelabras grace Barbie's table? A floral centerpiece or a soup tureen? There’s only one set of red placemats left. So, should I hope they will restock, or go with the ample supply of pink? What to do . . . what to do. It was delicious agony.
While Dad was next door knocking one back at the “Blue Room,” I schemed, weighed my options, did the cost/benefit analysis and took down and put back my choices a dozen times before coming to a decision. When I had done my job correctly, I had change left over for candy. I’d wait under the store's awning wearing a pair of wax lips and cooing over my treasures until Dad collected me and we headed home. Life was good.
We were a blue-collar family and didn’t have a lot. However, I guarantee that no Barbie set a grander table. I learned lessons in frugality and decision-making that stuck with me to this day. I can still pinch a dime until Roosevelt chokes and I can still set a beautiful table at a bargain price. Who needs an MBA when you got your training at Toyland.
This postcard also did something I never thought would happen. This Fall I am going home. I left California in 1989, vowing to never return. Something in my head and heart changed and I want to revisit the places that were important to me. I know Toyland is long gone and the space is probably a taco stand or cell phone store. I don’t care. I want to stand on that bit of sidewalk and remember when a dime store in a hot dusty town in California was the center of my universe.     


The Writing on the Wall

by Amy Mullis

My mom, usually a sane, reasonable woman, frowned upon graffiti of any sort in the house. Oh, sure, my stuff was good enough for the refrigerator, but not refined enough for the living room wall. 

If Michelangelo had suffered such restrictions, we may never have beheld the beauty that is the Sistine Chapel.  Of course if I could have reached the ceiling, she may never have noticed.  But I was barely four. Which, by definition, is short.  The closet door would have to do.

The medium was lipstick; luscious, thick, and red.

The work?  Untitled.  

Although my older sister was having great success in teaching me to read, my writing skills were still somewhat shaky.  The string of letters that covered the wall looked more like the first draft of War and Peace than anything else, but as the writer, I can’t guarantee any similarities between the works.

Also, I’m fairly certain that Tolstoy did not inscribe his deepest thoughts on the living room semi-gloss.

I finished and admired my handiwork, tried on a little of the lipstick and noted that it gave a certain charm to my arms and legs. Unfortunately I was small enough to be enchanted by lipstick, but without the cognitive powers to plan an effective alibi to cover me in case of discovery.  I was also the youngest child in the coop by five years and the next oldest, my brother, had never shown much creative interest in lipstick art.   No alibi, no scapegoat, and no clue.  I was a triple threat to somebody’s sanity.

Having finished my masterpiece, I wandered off to vandalize my sister’s bride doll.

I don’t know what event caused the coven to gather at our house that summer evening, but a distant aunt and some wayward cousins were scattered about the living room like dirty laundry.  It didn’t seem like so many people until the chase scene. 


Mom.  So help me the woman was a prosecutor savant attuned to the identity of underage household criminals.  Even at four, I knew that when punctuation followed my name we were in a Special Forces situation.  I reacted in the best possible way.

I ran.

Marines navigating a boot camp obstacle course couldn’t perform any better than I did that day, but rounding the hallway look-at chair, I was nabbed by an operative and returned to the scene of the crime.

“Amy, why did you do this?” Mom was too sly to ask if I did the deed and give me the chance for a well placed lie, a skill I was on the brink of appreciating the need for.

“I don’t know.”  Children are born with this answer pre-programmed, just like a television with preset channels.  Having no legal counsel, I had to represent myself, and at four I was more concerned with my potty skills than my fast-talk skills.

“Why did you run?”

I looked at the faces. They stared back. Monsters under the bed could take lessons from these guys.  But I guess my answer wasn’t what they expected from a four-year-old expecting to die before growing out of toddler clothes.

A thousand eyes searched my soul. Truth was the only option.

I drew a breath to fill four-year-old lungs.


The laughter followed me up the stairs as Daddy carried me to bed.  I decided right then that making people laugh is the best revenge. 

Even though the sting of censorship made it uncomfortable to sit down for a few days.

Amy Mullis lives in South Carolina with husband Bill, and sons, Thing One, her muse of perplexing questions and inappropriate dinner conversation, and Thing Two, her muse of sarcastic answers and undeserved persecution.  Both boys have a decided talent for urban art. If you're feeling lucky, visit her at www.mindovermullis.com for a closer look at how everyday life can go horribly wrong. 


Portrait of an Artist as a Young Girl

by Lisa Dovichi

“No, we’re going to get in trouble,” I said.
“No we’re not. She loves art and wants us to do this,” Christy said.
“She wants us to scratch pictures into her car?”
“Yes, it’s my mom’s friend. She’s totally cool with it. She asked me to.”
“You’re lying.” I gathered up the chalk I was drawing with on the sidewalk and walked away.
I should’ve kept walking. But did I? Oh nooooooo. I had to glance back. And there she was, scratching something into the hood of a red Mazda with a rock. A brand new shiny red Mazda. My famous last thought was: Surely she wouldn’t be doing that if it wasn’t true.
Oh yes, I turned around. And because of my infallible six-year-old logic I grabbed my own rock and promptly started scratching my name (yes my name -- the better to find me with m’dear) and E.T. -- my favorite movie at the time, and other random drawings of rainbows, unicorns, and puppies into the hood of the, let me say again, shiny new red Mazda. In my defense, Christy scratched her name (first and last -- I didn’t know how to spell my ridiculously long last name at the time otherwise I probably would’ve too) and E.T. as well as her pieces d’art onto the hood of the car as well. I mean we had to sign our masterpieces, right? We finished our ode to Picasso (cubism is the ONLY way to go when scratching into paint with a sharp sided rock) and feeling pretty proud of our handy work, we went inside to have a snack.
Fast forward to after dinner (we’re talking hours -- like I’d forgotten I’d done it hours). I was lying on the floor watching cartoons when there was a knock at the door. A woman I’ve never seen before starts screaming, spittle flying, at my mom about how I ruined her new paint job.
“How do you know it was my kid?”
Oh pickles, I knew I should’ve just gone home! I started inching my way out of the living room. I knew it was me. I knew I was in big trouble. And I knew when I said but Christy said it was okay that it wasn’t going to save my bacon.
“Because she wrote her name!”
My mom turned and froze me with a look. “She can’t be the only Lisa in the apartment complex.” I knew she knew but I could tell she was still holding out the hope I wasn’t stupid enough to have actually done what I was accused of.
Sorry Mom, I was that stupid.
“True. However Christy Liarpants (which wasn't her real last name, by the way) was kind enough to write her first and last name and I’ve just come from there and Christy says it was your Lisa who did it with her.”
Fast forward past the graphic violence against my person that ensued. Let’s just say I was right, that Christy told me it was okay didn’t save my bacon and I couldn’t sit for a couple days and leave my shame at that. I can’t remember a single time I was ever in that much trouble before or after than I was when I channeled my inner Picasso.
I’ll bet Picasso never got spanked for expressing himself. Sure, sure he probably never expressed himself into the paint job on the hood of someone’s brand new car but that’s beside the point!


Sandbox Killer

by Stacey Graham

From the tender age of four-years-old I wanted to be an archaeologist - or more accurately, someone who found dead things, buried them and then feigned surprise when I found them with their buggy feet in the air in the dirt. It was either archaeology or I was practicing to be a serial killer. My mother, patient woman that she is, watched from the kitchen window as her fourth child scoured the yard (and neighbor's yards) for anything that wouldn't run too quickly away from chubby hands such as worms and dolls. Off to the sandbox or garden I'd scurry like a pirate ready to bury her treasure, sidestepping the swing and trucks littering the landscape, and ready to burrow. At home this didn't turn many heads but it was more challenging at the playground.

"Mom! I found a bug! It's dead (squish), see?"

My mother, knowing what was coming next but not wanting to alarm the other parents would nod and give me the eyeball treatment where she'd wiggle her orbs in a desperate attempt to talk me out of creeping out the other children, while she smiled.

"That's great, Stacey. Why don't we go on the slide?"

"Pfffff." I would run off, looking for the right sandy soil to give it a proper burial. "Mom! Get me a stick! I can dig a hole right here next to this dog poo!" My mother, looking properly mortified would move me away from the offensive spot and distract me into the sandbox.

"Let's make a sand castle. See? Take the bucket, fill it with sand and.... Stacey, get the bug out of the castle."

"But Mom, I can just dig it out later. Then we can take it home and I'll bury it there."

"Let me see what other toys we can find, stay right there." The poor woman crossed the park to our car to check the trunk. I could see her arms flapping and her mouth moving as she practiced what to say to the psychiatrist when they finally drug me in for treatment. By the time she'd returned, she found me happily patting sand inside a plastic bucket.

"Look, Stace, I found a shovel and a... what's that poking out of the bucket?"

"It's a head." Barbie's face didn't betray the indignity of being buried with bug bits up to her neck in sand. Her blonde locks streamed out beside her in a pinwheel of tangles as I carefully combed them clear with my fingers.

"I think it's time to go home," she said with a sigh. With a nod to the mommies that had inched away from us, we gathered up our toys and headed for the car while she mentally mapped another park for future use. We were running out of sand.

Stace is still digging up old things though now she's focused on ghosts and zombies than bugs. She is the author of two books to be released Spring 2012: Girls' Ghost Hunting Guide (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) and Zombie Tarot (Quirk), and a published short story writer. Please visit her website, facebook page and on Twitter at @staceyigraham.


Fire In The Hole

by Bill Mullis
I was not, I hasten to point out, a latchkey kid. Those hadn’t been invented yet. I was one of the precursors of that exalted being: I was a kid who stayed at home while the grown-up worked. Not at all the same thing.
It was, you see, a simpler time. The concept of “childproofing” also was unknown. You let the kid grow up in the world and take his chances. If he’s stupid, he won’t live long enough to reproduce. They didn’t even hide the matches they used to light the gas stoves.
As it was, my grandma and I lived in a real small-town neighborhood, where everybody knew whose kids belonged to who; on a given summer day you could find eight or ten of us tearing up and down the line of backyards along Cooper Street, with no regard for age, rank, or property lines.
Except when it rained. Then, while Grandma put in her time at the Eagle’s Dime Store, I would, like as not, be trapped in the house for several hours. Alone. A nine-year-old boy.
There was a particular rainy afternoon not long after the Fourth of July (That was, by the way, one word: ForthaJuhly.) when it had been raining for days, and I was, being that nine-year-old boy, bored speechless.
I had exhausted the possibilities of rocking the big old cushion rocking chair till it fell over on its back so I could either roll out in a ball or lie there being an astronaut waiting for blast-off. Captain Ashby Ward on WBTW had shown all the cartoons he was going to show for the day. Even the cat didn’t want to play any more.
So I got out my GI Joes (the blond American one and the dark-haired, pinched-faced German; by a strange coincidence they both had the exact same scar on the exact same spot on their cheeks) and set about killing the enemy a few times.
A recap: I was a bored kid, alone in a house, in a time when matches were easily accessible by any kid who wandered by. And I add the following information: This was a state where the regulations involving fireworks sales pretty much reached, “You got to be eighteen ‘fore you can buy cherry bombs,” and then couldn’t figure out where to go from there.
Now, I don’t know where I got the idea to put a leftover ForthaJuhly firecracker together with a GI Joe, though I have to assume it was basic scientific curiosity. But, slowly, inexorably, the notion took hold and flourished in my fertile brain.
Of course, I didn’t rush ahead and tie a bunch of firecrackers around him and set them off in the living room floor. That could come later. First I had to prove the concept, which required a bit of pondering.
My initial vision (such as it was) was to see if I could blow Joe’s shirt off like I’d read about in World War II books. So I decided I should put the firecracker inside the shirt. But which shirt? The German GI Joe (Wehrmacht Josef?) was a limited edition, and I wasn’t sure I could get another, whereas the blond American was about as common as mosquitoes in the Low Country between DDT-spraying days. And that settled that. Joe American would willingly sacrifice himself in the interest of science. I opened his olive drab shirt, tucked in the firecracker, and closed it back up again, with the fuse sticking up out of his collar.
Believe it or not, I had a healthy respect (fear) of the explosive powers of a dime store firecracker. After all, my cousins who had taught me about the wonders of gunpowder had emphasized safety, saying, “Don’t hold it in your hand and light it, or you’ll blow your hand off!” as they tossed their lit cherry bombs away at the last minute. So I knew I didn’t want to get too close, what with the possibility of Real American Hero Shrapnel pegging me in the eye, even if all my fingers were intact.
Luckily, we had a metal student’s desk, the kind with a drop-leaf writing surface and, for storage space, a file cabinet above (with a raised lid) and a storage cabinet below, with an interior shelf and a handle in the door you had to turn just right to get it to latch shut.
But I wanted to put Joe in the cabinet, arranged in a suitably tragic pose, light the fuse, and close the door securely in time to back away to safety. And the fuse was way too short for that. The only recourse: lengthen the fuse. Obviously.
Grandma had a sewing machine, but the threads were obviously too fine to hold enough fire to set off the fuse. (Don’t ask me how I determined this. I just knew.) But there were some old rags that might just do the trick. I tore off some thin strips and set to work.
I tied one end of the best strip to the fuse on the firework, the fuse that lay right up against Joe’s face. I arranged Joe in a suitably tragic pose and stretched the cloth out to where it dangled over the interior shelf. I paused with match poised to strike fire to the great adventure.
Even now I like best the moment of anticipation just before the resolution, the moment Caesar murmured “The die is cast,” the moment just before the pitcher releases the fastball, that instant just as you’re dropping off to sleep. I find a stillness there, a tension between energies, a fulcrum whereon is balanced potentialities….
I lit the match, put it to the strip of cloth, let it catch fire, then closed and latched the cabinet door shut. I knew roughly (again, don’t ask me how I knew) how long it would take to burn to the fuse, so I scooted out of the blast radius and waited.
And waited.
And waited long past when I thought I should have heard a desk-shattering ka-boom.
Nothing happened.
My young nose caught a whiff of some weird kind of smoky smell.
I calmly but quickly, in a blind panic, opened the cabinet door, and waved away the small cloud of foul smoke that sorta kinda billowed out in a puff.
A long line of greasy ash had formed on the cabinet shelf where the cloth had been, snaking right up Joe’s pants leg and across his shirt. Which had ignited. Without igniting the firecracker. There was a small but definite tongue of flame burning merrily along Joe’s collar, over and around the fuse, which – and I can’t stress this enough – still didn’t ignite.
I ran to the kitchen and filled a glass with water. I drank it. Then I filled it again and ran back to the bedroom, where I was able to douse the fire and rescue GI Joe from the eternal flames of hell.
His shirt had burned pretty much away, at least in the front, but the torso beneath had only suffered a little scorching. The burned shirt was bad, but not devastating. I could dispose of it without Grandma knowing anything was amiss.
But the face.
GI Joe had suffered second and third degree burns across the left side of his face. Since he was plastic, that meant brown blisters and peeled paint. And the smell: that acrid, nasty smell of burnt plastic. Which, on a rainy, humid day, was trapped in the house with a nine-year-old completely devoid of explanations.
The punishments would have been more severe and longer-lasting if I hadn’t ‘fessed up before Grandma had a chance to ask what the smell was. One of those punishments was that I had to keep my burned GI Joe so I could see what I’d done to him and think about the consequences of my actions. I was suitably mortified.
Until the other kids in the neighborhood decided the coolest GI Joe on the block was the one with the most battle scars. That’s right: the only best thing ever I had in my childhood was something I almost destroyed, more-or-less deliberately.
They just don’t make childhoods like that anymore.

Bill Mullis plays with metaphorical fire in the Upstate region of South Carolina, where it's still legal to buy fireworks year round, though now you have to be, chronologically, an adult. You can see what he's up to on the Captain's Log section at www.mindovermullis.com.

Image credit: blocksand3dpuzzlesblog.com


Plaid Pants

by Janna Qualman

In everyone’s past there is a story of disappointment. Or sadness. Sometimes there is tale of loss, or upset. In extreme circumstances, abuse or neglect.

My story is one of embarrassment. Embarrassment so full and strong that it has stuck with me, like a wart no treatment will cure, these many years later.

Two words, friends. Plaid pants.

Oh, yes. It was 1983, and I was five. Adorable as anything. Sweet and spunky, thoughtful and creative. (Not much has changed, really.) Polyester was fabulous then. Poop brown and puke green—together!—were all the rage in fashion. (Or else my mom’s taste was a carryover from the 70’s, in which case it’s even worse than I remembered…)

We were to run errands that day, my mom, my dad and I. (I don’t recall where my big sister was. This was so traumatic for me, see, my memory has blocked certain extraneous details.)

Mom said, “Here, Janna. Wear this cute outfit!”

I said, “No.” I did not like polyester.

She said, “This is so cute, you’re going to wear it today!”

As she helped me into it, I said, “No.” I did not like brown and green, together.

My dad said, “It’s cute. There’s no reason not to wear it. Do what your mama says.”

As I wore it, my whole being rebelled. “It’s the most atrocious combination of fabric and color I’ve ever laid eyes upon!” I said. “The general public will not see me in this ensemble!”  
As we drove to the store, I sunk low in the back seat. “I am not going inside. Everyone will laugh at me. I look like a freak.”

And so my parents left me in the car as they shopped. (Things were different then, we all know.) I waited and waited for, like, HOURS. Until I started to miss them. Until I started to think about how much fun they were having without me. I liked to shop. (Not much has changed, really.)

I had to swallow my pride and think past the pants. I had to sprint from the car into the store, so passersby wouldn’t spot me. I had to speed by the gawking employees, who pointed at me with their devilishly long fingers. I had to hear their laughter, which burrowed deep into my soul.

It wounded me, friends. I am scarred. To this day, plaid patterns make my heart race. My cheeks pinken. I am embarrassed all over again…

With hopes of a therapeutic cleansing, I recently sat down with my mom to talk about that day from my childhood. Did she remember it as clearly as I did? Was there a chance I could let go the old hurt?

Janna: Do you remember the plaid pants?
Janna’s Mom: It was an adorable plaid pantsuit, green and rust, if I remember correctly, acquired from an older cousin.
Janna: Rust? Right. That’s a fond recollection. Too fond, if you ask me. What were you thinking?
Janna’s Mom: I loved it. You hated it but I was sure if you just wore it you'd change your mind.
Janna: You must have felt so much guilt when you learned you were wrong. What else?
Janna’s Mom: I learned that you could be stubborn. You refused to leave the car when we ran those errands.
Janna: Well, you’ve got that second part right, anyway. Would you do it the same way today?
Janna’s Mom: I might do it again.
Janna: Right, except that I’m 32 now, I can dress myself. Also, I feel it fair to point out, you’re well on your way to old age. One of these days it’ll be my turn to dress you…

Janna Qualman is a writer who appreciates her mom’s good nature through the writing and publication of this humor essay. You can visit Janna (and learn about things which are less embarrassing) at her blog, Something She Wrote.

Image credit: rustyzipper.com


Fly Like the Wind!

by Sara Spock

She’s precious, isn’t she? She’s the kind of cute that makes you want to feed her cupcakes and squeeze her till those big blue eyes just pop right out of her head. Wouldn’t you love to tie her to a beach umbrella during hurricane force winds just to see if she could fly? Just me?

As an early teen, I had a slight Wright Brothers Complex. I was obsessed with making my baby sister fly. Aerodynamics, lift, control, Leonardo da Vinci…  I wanted to see that kid go airborne and my determination knew no bounds. It was all very innocent. At first. We had an old waterbed mattress that I decided to partially inflate. I talked my lovable little 5-year-old sister into sitting on one end while I jumped on the other. LIFT! 

During pilot testing, she only achieved slight changes in elevation. I wanted height. I modified the settings on my makeshift launch pad and gave it another go. Visibility was low and so was the ceiling. After an icepack and a couple hugs, I convinced her to take our little experiment outside. If she hit the ceiling inside, outside could afford greater altitude. With the launch pad positioned on the crest of a small hill in our backyard, once again we took our positions. I’m not exactly sure how she didn’t break her neck as she flew through the air and then hurdled toward the bank. She was a natural, tucking and rolling until she reached the bottom of the hill. Her massive blue-grape eyes looked up at me and her mouth stretched into a smile.

“That was great! Think I can go higher?”

But before my newly minted dare-devil could reach the top of the hill for a second run, the winds kicked up and we were forced back inside. I understood how Wilber felt when his engine stalled and his dreams crashed into the ground. We were on the cusp of success, the precipice of flight and hurricane winds were sweeping through our little mountainside village. Defeated, I glanced out the window in time to see one of our pool chairs hurdle into the fence. EUREKA!

“Want to be like Mary Poppins?” I asked her.


I tied a beach umbrella to her arm and attached another piece of cord to her leg. If anything, I was being responsible. I didn’t want to have to explain to my parents that my wispy little sister flew off in a storm after I tied her to an umbrella. I mean, they trusted me to watch her.

Armed with my newly aerodynamic sibling, we headed out into the storm. I tried tossing her into the air a few times without much luck. The wind and rain was really raging and I had a hard time keeping my grip. With a bit of thought, I decided to have her leap off the 4 foot brick wall that divided our driveway. We waited until a massive gust hit and she jumped. My count stopped at 11 seconds when a broad bolt of lighting struck just a few hundred meters away. I tugged at the rope and she landed on the driveway. Soaked and victorious, we made our way inside, happy to be alive.

“Should we try again later,” she asked.

“Nah, let’s watch Wizard of Oz.”

Sara Spock is a mom, wife, anthropology student, lab assistant, English tutor, and freelance writer.  When she’s not trying to kill her sister or make her fly, Sara can be found at the Sex Lab.  No, that’s not what we’re calling it these days.