A childhood full of tuneups | AspenTimes.com

A childhood full of tuneups

Barry Smith

My daddy said, “Son, get on out there and pick up them sticks out the yard so I can cut the grass.”

I said, “But daddy, it ain’t my turn to do it.”

It really wasn’t, neither.

He snatched off his Sears reversible belt and rared it back in the whoopin’ position and I felt them tears startin’ to build at the anticipation of what was to come next. He musta seen me snifflin’, cause he looked down at me, belt in hand, and he … well, he sang:

Don’t you tune up and cry, boy

Don’t you tune up and cry

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Less you want somethin’ to cry about

Don’t you tune up and cry

“Tuning up,” it was called. Or, more specifically, “tunin’ up.” It’s that little squinchy, quivery thing your face does right before you start to cry.

It was an interesting psychological game that my daddy played with me, though probably not much different than the game played by most Southern fathers. In retrospect, the message he was delivering was that if you respond in a natural, well-adjusted human manner to the threat at hand – namely that of a person five times your size about to beat the living crap out of you with a belt – then your punishment will be to get even more of the living crap beat out of you. It’s kind of a Southern Zen thing, I suppose. What is the sound of one eye tunin’ up?

*****

My mama said, “Son, get on in here and eat your supper ‘fore it gets stone cold.”

I said, “But mama … its ceviche.”

She said, “Boy, don’t you sass me!”

I said, “Mama, I ain’t sassin’ you, it’s just that ceviche is a dish that is traditionally served chilled, so I’m having a hard time figuring out the urgency of eating it before it gets cold.”

She said, “Well, I tell you what, Mister Galloping Gourmet, why don’t you just sit there and have you a plate of ‘poke and grits’ instead. Poke your feet under the table and grit your teeth, ’cause you ain’t gettin’ nothin’ to eat tonight.”

And while the rest of the family sat there eatin’ their ceviche, collards and cracklin’ bread, I could feel my vision get all cloudy, and my daddy looked across the table, hummed a note to make sure he was in the right key, banged his fist on the table, stuck his finger in my face and sang:

Don’t you tune up and cry, boy

Don’t you tune up and cry

Less you want somethin’ to cry about

Don’t you tune up and cry

Hey, the supper table when I was growing up was no place for discussion, pontification, sharing, laughter or celebration, and if you thought it was, well, let’s just see how Uncle Sears Reversible here will change your mind. Our table mantra was “Sit up and eat!”

And if you don’t eat it, I was told a solid million times, you’re gonna wear it.

That’s right, if you don’t eat it, you’re gonna wear it. I never fully grasped that fashion concept. For instance, if I didn’t manage to finish my gelatinous pile of cream style corn for the simple reason that it looked like cat puke, how exactly would I be wearing that? Waiting for it to really set up and forming it into a belt buckle or a bolo? Smearing it on my head and letting it rest there like a plaster of Paris skullcap? Maybe stringing the more solid bits of corn into a necklace and pouring the remaining goo into my socks? And soup. How do you wear soup?

*****

I had a little fever so my daddy took me to the doctor.

Doctor said, “Yep, he’s real sick, awright, gonna have to give him a shot.”

Well, at the prospect of having that big ol’ needle shoved in my rump I could feel that salt water runnin’ hot behind my eyes. And when that nurse walked in with the syringe and I pulled my pants down and bent over that cold, sterile examinin’ table, clinching up for that big moment, I said to the doctor, “Doctor, I realize this is off topic, and I in no way want you to think that I am attempting to prolong the inevitable, but is there a simple outpatient procedure whereby my tear ducts can be sealed up or tied off or just plain yanked out? I have a feeling that it would make the rest of my childhood somewhat more bearable. I have saved my allowance for some time and would be willing to pay you personally in cash.”

He seemed to ponder the nature of the question for a moment. Then he tapped out a moderate tempo on the side of the syringe as he, the nurse and my father began to sing, in what some may have considered beautiful harmony:

Don’t you tune up and cry, boy

Don’t you tune up and cry

Less you want somethin’ to cry about

Don’t you tune up and cry

Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Monday and Thursday. His e-mail address is barry@Irrelativity.com, and his very own Web page is at http://www.Irrelativity.com.