In our last dive into the pensieve, Little Lurry had just had a stare into the Germanic Puck's icy-blue eyes - a peek into another soul that awakened a slumbering wolf pup named Puberty. The neighborhood was already teeming with wolf pups... Lurry was just the latest to join the pack. Trouble is also brewing on the horizon, so let's jump in and see what happens next. Ready? Let's go!
Lurry's Nose Gets Bent Out of WHACK!
Spring was warming the plains east of the Rockies, and passions were stirring in concert. Mr. Gypsy Feet spent less and less time at the blue and white ranch, his attention directed at his two main conquests - becoming a preacher and tickling the fancy of Mrs. Big Dallas Hair. Without proof of her husband's infidelity, Mrs. Firecracker had no choice but to find solace in another venue - her frenetic pursuit of the Wilton cake decorating crown. The parade of flavorless cakes "decorated" with even more flavorless frosting was unending. And yet, the day came that Mrs. Firecracker reached for the brass ring. Her teacher was due for an in-home visit to supervise construction of that most inedible of creations, pinnacle of the cake decorator's craft, the Wilton Wedding Cake.
The morning of that fateful day, I awoke to find our family kitchen had been laid out with every implement known to Wilton. Overnight, the red-headed fanatic had baked an incremental series of "vanilla" rounds, whipped copious amounts of powdered sugar and Crisco into bowls of (excuse me while I retch) frosting, cut dowels to stabilize her towering monstrosity, and had at long last taken a break... napping on the living room sofa. I surveyed the kitchen counter, expecting to find a brown paper lunch sack, but finding none, raced out the door to school. Unlike my siblings, I missed the note that instructed us to take "lunch money" and purchase a meal at the school cafeteria.
After school, I ran back to the blue and white ranch, ravenous after a day without sustenance. I entered the back door, started across the kitchen for a bite to eat, and was stopped cold by Mrs. Firecracker. "I specifically asked you kids not to disturb my afternoon cake decorating class!" she shouted. "Now go outside until supper time!" "But Mom," I whined, "I didn't have any lunch and I'm starving." "That's your own fault, Little Mister," she retorted. "I gave you kids lunch money! Now get out of my kitchen!"
I looked in her eyes, preparing to beg, but I saw that her face had flushed blood red. I swallowed my plea and walked toward my bedroom. Halfway down the hall, and forgetting for a moment that every mother possessed supersonic hearing, I uttered in the tiniest of whispers, "Shut. Up." A banshee wail rose up from the kitchen. As Mrs. Firecracker sprinted away after her devil child, she shrieked at the top of her lungs, "I HEARD THAT!"
She caught me in the hallway, left hand grabbing the front of my shirt, and CRACK! the first blow of her right hand landed across my face. Already crying, I sputtered, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." WHACK! went the second blow as her hand crossed my face in the opposite direction. CRACK! came another, and WHACK! CRUNCH! as the return trip was made (that last blow included the sound of my nose breaking). The succession of additional blows were peppered with future instructions, "Don't" CRACK! "You" WHACK! "EVER" CRACK! "Tell" Blood-splattering WHACK! "ME" Blood-splattering CRACK! "To" Blood-splattering WHACK! "Shut" Blood-splattering CRACK! "Up!" Blood-splattering WHACK! "Do you understand me," Blood-splattering CRACK! "Little Mister?" "Do you?!"
Blood gushing, tears streaming, I whimpered an answer to her last question, "Unh hunh." Her eyes unglazed for a moment, and then her face flushed red again. Mrs. Firecracker grabbed my shirt in both hands and proceeded to shake, wailing, "Look at what you've made me do! I'm trying to finish a wedding cake!" Once the shaking stopped, she dragged me into her bedroom and forced me down on my knees at the foot of her bed. Oblivious to the bloody mess I was now making on her bedspread, she knelt down beside me and instructed me to pray for forgiveness. "Ask the Lord to forgive you for making me lose my temper, and ask Him for forgiveness for ruining my wedding cake."
Even then, a bloody mess at the foot of my mother's bed, I found humor in this situation. I knew better than to laugh, and calculated that in order to end this episode, I needed to do what she asked, but thought to myself, "I'm supposed to ask forgiveness for YOU losing YOUR temper? I don't think it works that way." Not confident in my ability to create a fresh prayer on the fly, I resorted to a modified version of the old standby. "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name..." I prayed, in the accent provided by my newly arranged nasal passages. I finished the prayer with, "Please forgive Mom for losing her temper and ruining her cake, amen." Mrs. Firecracker stood up and inhaled deeply through her fully functioning nasal passages. "Get a bucket and clean up this mess," she instructed. "I've got to finish my wedding cake." She straightened her back and marched back to the Land o' Wilton.
I soaked a washcloth in cold water and laid down on my back on the bathroom floor, waiting for the nosebleed to stop. Whether from shock or not, I'll never know, but once I was erasing the evidence of my beating, I couldn't stop laughing. Thank the Good Lord, she either turned off her supersonic hearing or ignored my laughter while she finished her Crisco and powdered sugar creation.
When Mr. Gypsy Feet arrived that night, he got the rundown on the afternoon events, and proceeded to remind me, "You should know better than to make Mother angry." As he placed a tea towel over the terrified face of his youngest son, he repeated the ever popular statement, "We can't afford another trip to the doctor." He gripped the back of my head and grunted, pressing the tea towel on the bridge of my nose, "It should just... POP! into place." "There... all better now," he congratulated himself on his back woods medical skill. I ran back to the bathroom... another cold compress was in order.
For supper that night, nothing less than insult was added to injury. "It's good for your blood," she pronounced, as Mrs. Firecracker served up my least favorite meal, liver and onions with lima beans. She grinned broadly at her success in getting my goat... perhaps she hadn't turned off her supersonic hearing after all. My post-traumatic laughter had not gone unnoticed. I decided over liver and lima beans that I no longer had any choice. I would have to deploy my secret weapon. That night, I penned a letter to none other than the greatest of supermen, Uncle Hero (more on that in a future installment).
Puck to the Rescue
The next morning, and for the next few weeks, Lurry's raccoon eyes garnered him an extraordinary amount of Puck's attention. Upon sight of his school mate's face, Puck exclaimed, "Little Buddy! What happened? Are you all right? Who did this to you? Did someone pick on you? Who is it? I'll beat the shit outta him!" Puck's questions came so fast, I couldn't respond to them all. I cherry-picked and answered, half-chuckling, "Nobody beat me up. I told my mother to shut up and she broke my nose." Puck held me at arm's length, surveyed my face again, and burst out laughing. "Little Buddy, that's the bravest thing I've ever heard!" He pulled me into an embrace, and whispered in my ear, "If I ever told my mother to shut up, my father would..." and his voice trailed off. Puck's embrace said more than I believe he intended. Puck was no stranger to a harsh beating. "Never mind that," Puck continued. "I'll watch out for you, Little Buddy."
During daylight hours and true to his word, Puck never let his "Little Buddy" out of sight. This tall Viking walked with me to school, he saved a place for me at his lunch table, he insisted I stay after school to watch him at baseball practice, and afterward he walked me home. Puck was the antithesis of his brawny peers - they were mean, tough, and threatened - he was funny, strong, and confident. The usual suspects couldn't resist Puck's confidence, and his "Little Buddy" was just the focus they needed to call him out. In answer to each challenge, Puck stood his ground, gave fair warning, and proceeded to pound the aggressor. Puck sometimes walked away bloodied, but he always walked away a champion.
Spring was losing her blush, but before relinquishing her crown, she decided she would drench the Testosterone Forest in tears. Rain fell for two solid weeks, and lacking outdoor time, the pack dogs were going crazy. One of those rainy nights, Mrs. Firecracker announced that she needed Mr. Gypsy Feet to take her on a shopping trip. What little was left of the child in Lurry perked up at this announcement, and after supper, Little Lurry snuck out the back door. He squirreled himself away in The Precious, thinking to surprise his parental units and accompany them on the shopping excursion.
The scheme didn't go off as planned however, as I waited 10 minutes, then 20 minutes, then a half-hour, and still no one else came to the car. I was determined to wait it out, and out of boredom started looking for change under the car seats. With my left hand, I reached under the driver's seat and felt something in a crisp paper bag. I pulled out the bag, and examined the contents. It was getting dark and I couldn't make out the exact words, but it was a vinyl LP entitled something something Love Songs. Thinking I was spoiling a surprise that had been purchased for Mrs. Firecracker, I slipped the LP back into the bag and put it back where I found it. I waited another 10 minutes, but gave up and went back into the house.
I was so crestfallen that my scheme hadn't been successful, I decided that I would at least confess my idea and get a laugh out of the story. That idea quickly dissipated as I entered a house where the atmosphere could have been cut with a knife. Mrs. Firecracker and Mr. Gypsy Feet had obviously been having words, and were well into a stiff-lipped stare down. "I'm bored. Can we play a game?" whined Younger Sister. "No," came Mrs. Firecracker's curt response. "Can we watch TV?" asked Next-Older Brother. "No. It's bedtime. Go to bed," responded Mr. Gypsy Feet. (It was 7 o'clock on a Saturday night... not even bad kids were sent to bed at 7 on a Saturday night.)
I looked at Oldest Brother, who was shaking his head, trying in vain to get his siblings to button their lips and let the storm blow over. I foolishly ignored his instruction and awkwardly blurted out, "Can we at least listen to Mom's new record album?" "What new album, Honey?" asked Mrs. Firecracker, never once breaking her stare into Mr. Gypsy Feet's eyes. "Something something Love Songs," I replied. "It's in Dad's car, under the front seat."
Mr. Gypsy Feet blinked, and in that moment his fate was sealed. "You RAT! How could you?" asked Mrs. Firecracker, as she stood up and started for her bedroom. "But, but, Honey," Mr. Gypsy feet muttered, stumbling for his next words. "That album IS for you, Honey," he proclaimed, desperately wanting her to believe his lie. Mrs. Firecracker stopped dead in her tracks, and spun around. Four Munchkins stood, watching in horror as the last of their mother's sanity drained from her face. Mrs. Firecracker let out what was all at once a screech, a wail, and a cry, "YOU ARE THE PRINCE OF LIES! THAT RECORD IS NOT FOR ME!"
From that point, the interaction only degraded. Mr. Gypsy Feet ran after Mrs. Firecracker, pleading with her to open the bedroom door. Oldest Brother announced that the Munchkins should go to bed. We all looked at each other and agreed. We had lived through many a long argumentative night, but this one felt different. Our suspicions were confirmed, but not until the following day. We awoke the next morning to be told by Mr. Gypsy Feet that Mrs. Firecracker had suffered "a breakdown" and that she would be in the hospital for the next several days.
Puck to the Rescue, Again
It might seem odd, but Mrs. Firecracker's hospital stay - which was not several days, but 4 weeks - was a bit of a relief. Mr. Gypsy Feet stayed busy with whatever kept him busy, and the Munchkins had friends and pseudo-adoptive families more than willing to take us in for a night or two at a time. Once the rain abated, Puck seized the opportunity to create a wolf pack camping club, and pitched a large tent in his back yard. He secured his mother's permission, and invited several sixth grade compatriots for a sleepover. Many a sixth grader enjoyed his first sword fight and romped naked as a jaybird in Puck's Magical Tent. Being around Puck made boys lose their inhibitions, and, while not the most accurate of teachers, Puck dispensed knowledge that none of us yet possessed.
Almost 40 years later, I still laugh at the "knowledge" that Puck shared in the Magical Tent. I'd say eighty percent of his information was accurate, but he totally missed the mark on the remaining twenty percent. I'll spare my readers the details of Puck's teachings, but I'll remind you that we were all pubescent and under-informed boys.
Puck didn't need to exercise his influence to get the wolf pack to double-up in sleeping bags. We lived on the Eastern Slope of the Colorado Rockies... even in late spring, it got really, really cold at night. No surprise, Puck crawled into the sleeping bag with his Little Buddy. Buried in that sleeping bag, he put his arm around me, and nuzzled the back of my neck with his nose. I shivered in response, but needed an answer to one more question. I turned my head and whispered my question in Puck's ear. Softly, Puck laughed, but he didn't hesitate. He whispered his answer back. I giggled, but didn't ask any more questions. I nuzzled back up against Puck and slept, content, for the first of many nights in Puck's Magical Tent.
Epilogue: I've told this story before, up to and including the sword fights in Puck's Magical Tent, but I've never told about the question I asked nor Puck's answer. It may seem silly, but I have always considered that exchange to be a secret. In case you're out there, Puck, rest assured... the secret is still safe with me.