By Brian M. Howle
Every generation – regardless of race, sex, creed or religion – has held it as their own personal ideal from the beginning of time: The concept of one’s individual actions – or as it member of a group – actually having a recognizable impact on the world around them. Sadly, only a select few every realize that dream.
I’m proud to say that some friends of mine and I once earned that distinction – in our own adolescent way.
Back in the days before the multitude of recreational distractions that now plague every neighborhood in the developed world – computers, TVs, CDs, cell phones, etc. – kids had to fend for themselves when it came to entertainment. Usually, this fell under the supervision of adults, and wisely so, as we all know that in idle mind is the Devil’s playground.
Ol’ Scratch surely must have looked upon my little group of friends as some twisted version of Disneyland.
As I have related many times before, growign up in Andrews, S.C. in the ‘60s had its limitations when it came to things to do for bored and restless youngin’s. Team games like football, basketball and baseball, and small group games like “Kick The Can” or “War Games” served us well in keeping our devious little minds preoccupied during the daylight hours. And the Boy Scouts provided a wonderful, controlled outlet for crossing over the much desired sunset-and-beyond stuff that we all dreamed of endlessly, wishing for time to rush by at light speed so we could all be old enough to do the forbidden things that older kids were allowed to do.
Nowadays, we would trade anything to relive those slow, carefree days of childhood – since time now seems to actually whiz by at the speed of light. Sigh …
Well, there were a handful of exceptions to our confined existence back then – and this is about a couple of them.
I should say in advance, my particular little clique of friends was pretty well-behaved for the better part of our youth. We didn’t engage in hard-core criminal activity or aminial sacrifice, or anything really weird like that. After all, most of my friends were Boy Scouts, and we lived by the standards we were taught.
Well, um … most of the time, anyway.
When your world is restricted to a 5-mile radius, it’s pretty hard to get into that much trouble.
Hmmmm … I can almost hear some of those who knew me then, choking right now.
O.K., so besides my own little individual adventures of some note, as a group, we were fairly harmless. For the most part.
There was the time that my best friend “T” and I were walking home from a trip to the soda fountain at Reynold’s Drug Store, knocking around with no particular interest in mind. As we walked across the old Lane railroad track on Morgan Avenue – which is Highway 41 – we noticed it dog laying in the middle of the highway.
Even then, I was a budding champion of animal protection, and was immediately concerned about this dog’s well-being. It didn’t seem to be injured as far its we could tell, and although it had no collar or tags, we were certain it was somebody’s pet. And that meant it was up to us to save the day.
We approached the docile little pooch and calmly exhorted it to get out of the road. The dog just gave us that dog look of indifference and stayed put. Then we noticed a truck heading into town that was obviously disregarding the speed limit, and showing no signs of slowing down for the relaxing mutt.
As we appealed to its sense of self-preservation, the dog continued to show no interest in abiding by our wishes, as it went about the usual dog ritual of licking itself with total disregard for socially acceptable behavior. And then I noticed the truck was less than 3 blocks away – and hadn’t slowed down it bit.
Well, so much for diplomacy … it was time for action. As “T” kept watch on the fast-approaching truck, I leaned over and tried to push the pup towards the curb. No response. I pushed a little harder. Still no response. And then I reached the panic point when “T” began screaming for me to get out of the road, lest I join the dog in his quest for termination. And so, I booted the rascal in an act of sheer desperation, one final attempt to save this helpless, sweet little doggie from becoming a frisbee.
The dog did finally move, and quite fast, too. But not before showing its thanks for the boot by chomping down on my hand on its way to the nearest yeard, where it promptly disappeared through some bushes.
Well, now I had a real problem. “T”, who went on to become a doctor, assessed the situation with amazing accuracy.
“Man, you’re gonna get it now, Brian. You’re gonna have to get a bunch of rabies shots now”, he said to me as I shook my bleeding hand far away from my body in an attempt to dislodge the dog germs from my hand. “I’ve never seen that dog before; I don’t know who it belongs to, and neither do you. Unless we call find it, you’re definitely gonna have to get those rabies sho…”
“Look, I’m not getting any shots, alright? That dog wasn’t foaming at the mouth or anything; he wasn’t running around like he was crazy with distemper or anything,” I retorted between screams of pain. “Besides, no one knows about this but you and me“.
“Oh, sure, like you’re gonna waltz into your house and your mama isn’t gonna ask how you ripped your hand open, Brian,”h snapped back with his uncanny, dead-on summarization of the situation.
“Hey, I can handle my mom, don’t worry about that. You just make sure you don’t rat me out, alright?” I pleaded, giving him that “Hey-you’re-my-best-friend-in-the-whole-world-and-I’d-never-rat-you-out” look. With some reluctance and a lot more begging on my part, he finally agreed to my plan.
About ten minutes after I got home, the phone rang while I was in the bathroom washing my gashed hand with soap and Listerine, biting on a towel to muffle the screams of searing pain, and I paid the ringing no attention. About tell seconds later, my inother burst into the bathroom.
“ARE YOU INSANE? MARY GAMBLE JUST CALLED AND SAID “T”TOLD HER YOU WERE BITTEN BY A STRAY DOG! GET IN THE CAR, WE’RE GOING TO DR. HARPER’S OFFICE RIGHT NOW!”
Although I later thanked my friend for his actions, during the next few hours I was seriously reconsidering my choice of best friend. How could he rat me out like that? I was silently furious as Dr. Harper examined my hand, turning it over a dozen times while exalting a series of “Hmmmm’s” before walking back to where he kept all the surgical stuff. I knew that didn’t bode well for me, but with Dr. Harper on one side and my steaming mom on the other, my options were limited.
Dr. Harper returned with some disinfectant derived from pure acid, as he scoured my hand with what I considered to be way too much enjoyment. Then he dressed it and went into the next room with my mom, as I leaned quietly towards the closed door trying to discern the low tone of the discussion they were having. When the door finally opened, Dr. Harper came back to me and said:
“Brian, if we can’t find that dog and verify that it doesn’t have rabies – and you’re not going to like this – you’re going to have to undergo a series of shots with this.”
He then produced the biggest, longest, scariest hypodermic needle my frightened little eyes had ever seen. To this day, I can’t believe I didn’t pass out.
Well, the dog was eventually found, and it turned out not to have rabies. But I was definitely leery about sharing any of my personal secrets with “T” for awhile after that.
As we got a little older, we got a little bolder. One night, several of us were spending a Friday night at my friend Van’s house. We soon tired of playing “Tripoly” and all the usual games to keep our wired little minds occupied. And then, well … then we had a really cool idea.
My dad had recently bought it 1954 Chevrolet 2-door coupe from the little old lady who lived next to the Piggly Wiggly that he owned. It was black with a white top; simple, basic transportation to take him from home to the store or to go fishing out at Jack Lake near Jamestown. It was his work car, and I was mesmerized by its presence. And one of the really cool things about this particular car that caught my attention right away was the fact that you didn’t need a key to start it up. It had one of those old-fashioned ignition wwitches that would turn with or without a key.
I don’t remember how it came up, but we decided to sneak out of Van’s house and run back over to my house in the middle of the night. Then, quietly, and with the stealth of a SWAT team, we lurked from the shadows of my yard and surrounded the Chevy. I jumped behind the wheel as lily friends moaned and groaned and pushed the 2-ton car (they used to make ’em solid back then – all steel, not it speck of plastic) silently down Cottonwood until we were about a block and a half away from my house. Then they all climbed in and I fired up the stout 235 cubic inch 6-cylinder as we cruised out into the night. We stayed on the back roads as much as possible, and took some old logging roads when we could. We may have been young, but we had an amazing command of every road within 20 miles of Andrews, and to reach them without crossing the main highways. We didn’t speed; we weren’t drinking (yet), and we weren’t really raising any hell – just lumbering along at low speeds, taking in the wind and still night air as we cruised from point to point.
On one of those occasions where we actually had to drive on the main highway, we passed the town limit sign of a smal communiy between Andrews and Kingstree. And then, our little group had the collective thought of how we could change our little corner of the world.
A quick diversion back into town was required, as Van had to retrieve a Wizard 9/16” socket and a 1/2” ratchet front his home. His dad owned the Western Auto, and everything that Van utilized had the Wizard name on it. Quietly giggling and keeping an eye out for “the man”, we eased back into the safety of the back roads and headed for the neighboring communities.
When we reached the first little town limit sign, we doused the headlights and slowed down almost to a stop. Then one or two of us jumped out and ran over to the sign as the rest drove off in the darkness, just far enough away to keep tabs on everything while turning the car around. By the time we crept back to our friends, they had removed the nuts and bolts that held the sign on its posts, and with boisterous laughter, piled back into the Chevy with the town limit sign in tow.
We then cruised over to the next little town, and removed their sign its well. Only, this time, we replaced it with the one we had lifted from the previous town.
This went on for a couple of hours, until we had rearranged the world enough to confuse any unwitting stranger passing through a town theh thought to be 25 miles to their north or east, wondering how they had become so lost on a highway so simple.
All in all, we probably changed the names of a dozen towns that night, and never looked back. Of course, we also never had any concept of how much trouble we could have gotten into for our little prank, although we did have enough sense to make it a onetime event. It took some towns longer than others to realize their new identities, but eventually, they all got their signs back.
And today, whenever I pass one of those big, fancy, custom-made signs tha are so popular now, I can’t help but think:
If they had been around back then, I would have had to learn how to hot-wire daddy’s Piggly Wiggly delivery pickup.
And Van would have had to bring the entire Wizard line of tools along with him.
The previous article originally appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, May 18, 2000.