Growing up in the untamed woods of Bayou George Florida was quite different than other places in the state. Located at the northern end of the Florida Panhandle, just 57 miles from the Alabama State line, and 77 miles to the Georgia state line, things were a little different in my neck of the woods. Bayou George was a place where people carried thick accents, kids ran barefoot, and families didn’t have much. That included our family, but at the time I didn’t know that, I was too busy exploring, fishing, and doing other things that boys who grow up in Bayou George did.
I remember on one occasion, near about this time of the year, that an older friend of mine gifted me a pellet gun. Growing up I was always shooting guns, but I was never allowed to just pick up my 4-10 shotgun and just go out by myself until I was a little older. But Daddy had deemed that this pellet gun was in a different category, I could take it whenever I wanted. Both my Grandad and my Dad had taught us kids gun safety, and I knew the rules, like never shoot at something you don’t intend to kill, don’t shoot toward the house, and make sure that you identify your target before squeezing the trigger, plus several more.
On a beautiful cool afternoon, after all my chores had been completed, I grabbed my pellet gun, and off I went. I stayed around the house looking for “targets”. I was prepared for anything! I was already locked and loaded as I stealthily lurked around the house, using whatever I could find as cover and concealment. I would run and then dive into a prone position and low crawl to avoid being detected. (This is the mind of a 7th-grade boy at work!) As I lowed crawled along the side of the house I looked under the house and there I found my target: a plastic milk jug. We lived in a framed house which sat on concrete blocks and pressure-treated lumber, which provided enough space for dogs, boys, and other things to be found there. Staying in a prone position and only about 10 feet from the jug, I took aim, settled my breathing, and squeezed the trigger. I made, what appeared to be, positive contact with the target. However, something then caught my attention, a sound that I had never heard before in my milk jug hunting exploits. What could this be?
As a seventh-grader, I was forced to take science in school. I remembered that we had just been taught about the different properties of matter. The one that stood out the most for me as a seventh-grade boy, was the one about gas. When I heard that odd sound, I immediately thought “That jug must have had some gas trapped inside it, possibly from some spoiled milk that it contained.” As I was observing the after-effects of my sniper shot, the milk jug began moving. All of my science training at that point had failed me, I had no idea how or why the jug was now moving. Then, beyond the realm of what science could explain, the jug began floating and moving away from its previous location like a boat on a river. As the jug moved, in sheer terror, I identified where that sound was coming from and at the same time why the jug was floating away. I had shot a hole in the PVC water pipe under the house. Like Job, “The thing I fear the most has come upon me”, I thought, “My dad will ….”
My dad, before he was saved, was a very hard man, and very much a disciplinarian, especially when something happened that was done out of disobedience and sheer foolhardiness. I immediately ran to the pump house and turned the water off to the house. I grabbed a roll of electrical tape and as I sprinted to the scene of the misfortunate incident, I could hear my mother calling me names at the top of her lungs. Unbeknown to me, until that very moment, she had been in the shower lathered up, with a hair full of shampoo and now no water to rinse it out of her eyes and her hair. As quickly as I could manage, I scurried under the house to the PVC pipe and wrapped it as fast as I could with electrical tape, scurried back out again, and under the pressure of hearing my mother’s anguish made it back to the pump house in what seemed to be just mere minutes to turn the water back on. The painful screams of my mother ceased. It appeared that through my quick action and ability, I had conquered the moment and had escaped that pending wrath I had feared would come. Just to be sure, I jogged back to the scene. YIKES! Much to my dismay, more things were now floating away! The electrical tape was unable to stop the pressure of the water, the dyke had broken and the ground was now a raging river. I sprinted back to the pump house as fast as my shaking legs could carry me.
In expectation of hearing the anguishing cries of my dear mother, I gritted my teeth and closed my eyes as I turned the water off again. Unexpectedly, there were no cries of despair. This was merely a momentary respite. As I walked out of the pump house, there she stood. In her bathrobe, her feet adorned in her slippers, hair all wet, a look that was not pleasing to gaze upon. James Patrick Johnson! Those were the same names that she had called me earlier. She often uttered those names when she felt that using my entire birth name would help me to understand that I was in big trouble.
“Just you wait till your father comes home.” That’s what she said, but all I heard was, “Prepare the gallows!” “Call forth the executioner!” My condition was a bleak one. All my attempts to rectify my situation had failed miserably. My heart dropped into my stomach, and I waited…
(to be continued)