sometimes you just gotta' row

Acrophobia can be your friend

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During the summer of my eighth birthday, Mother once left me alone in the care of a rough and tumble character who was known as Boxcar. I don’t recall that the gentleman was particularly malevolent toward me, mostly indifferent, though, largely indifferent. He stood four inches taller than my six-foot three uncle, Ben, and weighed a good two-sixty. Boxcar was the former colleague and cellmate of a family friend.

Among his collection of jail-house tattoos was one depicting the five-face of a die, crudely inked on his right hand, at the junction where his thumb and index finger met. An indication of someone who’d served a five-year sentence.

The babysitting protocol was to simply remain in my room, prescribed by Mr. Car as “you stay the fuck in there”.  Yes, well it was summertime and I elected to get a bit of fresh air while the sun was still shining.  From my second floor bedroom this meant a climb out of the window and onto the steep gable roof for a fine overlook of the street and schoolyard.  Unfortunately, a concerned neighbor reported my precarious perch or, as Boxcar indicated when he appeared at the bedroom window, the guy ratted on me.

An expressive man, Boxcar was more than bemused about having to deal with the kid and, in response, I moved out of his reach.  I recall that a curiously detached look came over his face while he considered climbing out with me. Once he stepped out through the window and placed one foot on the steep gable roof though, he knew it was more precarious than his comfort level would allow. He was afraid of heights! Different kind of courage in prison, I guess.

Among other things, undoubtedly the man was concerned about the optics of having a kid, the favorite nephew of a buddy, involved in a topple while under his care, especially if the police were going to be involved. He also would have known that I wasn’t going to respond to threats and we both knew that Uncle Ben wouldn’t cotton to any damage to the kid.

Uncle Ben was a big ol’ knuckle-dragger who I loved dearly. He cared about me and did his best to instill values and character. Ben’s philosophy was simple – fear nothing, nobody and, a fast fist has more power than a slow fist or, than discussion.  He lived it and he made sure that I lived it too. His intentions were good.

The schoolyard was across the street from the front of the house. I was five and playing in the schoolyard with the twins from down the street, same age as me and, somehow, the play erupted into a gravel-throwing war of attrition.  I’d had enough and headed home with a few marks and tears. Uncle Ben, who’d seen the battle, met me at the front door and wanted to know why I’d left the schoolyard first. Always quick with a solution, he directed me to return to the scene and to clean the pair of matched clocks.  I complied, which set up a whole novella worth of conflict between the twin’s mother and my own. Dunno’ how she felt about the …took both of them on at the same time story Ben would proudly tell for years to come.

Several adults joined the kid-on-the-roof audience and encouraged me to go back into the house. It was beginning to get dark and I’d grown weary of just sitting there anyway. He threatened to tell my mother about the incident though never did. While not a model babysitter he certainly wasn’t a rat, that Boxcar.

Written by glh

April 4, 2011 at 14:45

Posted in Childhood, The Journey

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