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Being the youngest of my parents’ five sons gave me some major advantages in life, the most important being a long series of cautionary tales I could refer to whenever I felt like doing something dumb.
My older brothers are all quick to say that Mama and Daddy were easier on me, but the truth is they were just numb by the time I came along. After what they had seen over the years, it would have taken epic levels of stupidity for me to even move the needle.
Don’t get me wrong; I tried. At five years old, I set fire to the closet in our room. But a good spanking put an early end to my rebellious streak. From that moment on, I decided to learn from example. Luckily, I had plenty to choose from.
To my brothers’ credit, I knew in advance what would happen if, say, I wrecked the car, got caught with a fake ID, made a rude gesture in a yearbook photo, fired a gun with a clogged barrel, or knocked a hole in Daddy’s boat.
Mind you that is a very small sample of a very long list. So, I’ll just use the last item to illustrate my point.
One fine spring day in the mid-1970s, my brother Bill and his friend Ben Gaskin took Daddy’s boat to go fishing in the slough behind our camp. The water was high and before he knew it, Bill ran the old plywood boat way up on a submerged cypress knee. Stuck, they decided the best thing would be for Ben to hop out and slide the boat off. But as soon as he stood up, the cypress knee popped through the bottom.
The boys jumped out, dislodged the boat and pulled it up on shore, but they were left with a problem. They couldn’t drive the boat back for fear of sinking it (and losing Daddy’s motor as well.) So, their choices were to either walk three miles back to the Clubhouse or swim nearly a mile through a snake and gator infested slough.
Bill’s decision is a great example of how much different we are. (And by that I mean how much smarter I am.) He and Ben actually swam and waded all the way out of the swamp and back to the Iamonia Lake Clubhouse.
Not me, folks. I would have walked 10 miles to avoid swimming 100 yards in that water. But to this day, Bill can give you lots of reasons why that was the best choice. It was high water. The current was moving pretty good. They used seat cushions, etc.
The most logical reason is that Bill figured Daddy was going to kill him once he learned about the boat, so being eaten by a gator was the lesser and more interesting of two evils.
Once they got to the Clubhouse, the pair used Ben’s father’s boat to go back and get the other one. But when they started up the lake, they ran right into Daddy, who was fishing with one of his buddies. As they pulled up to the boat Daddy was in, Bill remembers telling Ben, “Don’t get too close to him. Make sure you stay out of range of that boat paddle.”
It was memorable and miserable day, but it could have been a lot worse. It could have involved me.
Fortunately, by the time I started driving a boat, I already knew to watch out for cypress knees.
I’m smart like that.