The Smith story-time hour
In 1998 I was in an airport in Zurich, Switzerland, catching a flight to London. By the time I got to the gate I was late. Like, really late. As in, the-plane-is-already-taxiing-towards-the-runway late.
I was rushed to a van, then driven out on the tarmac to the revving plane, where I climbed on board. Short of actually having to leap up and grab the landing gear as the plane left the ground, my departure couldn’t have been much more dramatic.
“When I tell that story to my kids – that there was once a time when you could just run out on the tarmac like that – they’ll never believe me,” I told my wife, who was patiently sitting through this retelling of the tarmac story.
“You don’t have kids,” she said, without looking up from the magazine page.
She brings up an interesting point. I don’t have kids, and if I did, I can only assume that they would react to my stories the same way I reacted to my father’s stories – with thinly veiled boredom and eventual mockery.
My father had three basic stories which he adopted to the situation at hand. Luckily, I have room here for all of them.
Story One was the “Back In My Day” story, meant to make me realize either how good I’ve got it, or how bad I’ve got it – again, depending on the situation.
The “Back In My Day” story can be condensed thusly: “I remember skipping school one day, driving to Cleveland (Mississippi), and sitting in the parking lot behind the bakery eating hot bread and butter.”
And that was basically it. I never claimed that my dad was Spalding Gray.
The point of that story? Maybe to espouse the dangers of a high-cholesterol diet, maybe to make me really glad I don’t live in Mississippi anymore. Hey, any theories are welcome.
Story Two: The “Life Is Dangerous” story.
Whenever I announced that I was going out with my friends, I was told the cautionary tale of the practical joke that my dad’s friends played one night when THEY went out.
The plan, which also took place in Mississippi, was to scare one of the friends as he approached a house, which they did. I can’t recall what they did to scare him, but apparently it worked, as he ran screaming from the porch. He was so scared, in fact, that as he ran he threw his hands up over his head in quintessential terror. This was a bad move, as phase two of the scaring involved yet another friend shooting off a shotgun over the head of the victim as he ran. Alas, the marksman did not allow for the unexpectedly flailing arms, and several fingers were lost.
My dad would drive home this horrifying climax each time by holding up his own hand with some of his fingers folded down, just in case I was having a hard time visualizing such a thing.
Whatever its intentions, the message I got each time from the story was pretty straightforward – don’t be a redneck.
Finally, there was Story Three, the “Feel Good Story,” which I actually like quite a bit.
When my dad’s friend, RB Higgins, was drafted for the Vietnam War, he was asked to fill out a form – such are the rigors of warfare.
Where it said “First name” on the form, RB wrote his first name: “RB.” You see, “RB” was not a set of initials, but his given name. I’ll mention one last time that RB, like everyone in my dad’s stories, was from the Deep South, where apparently there was a vowel shortage happening around the time of his birth.
The person in charge of forms wasn’t buying it. He needed a name, but RB insisted that it was just “RB.”
“No periods or nothing,” he said. “It’s just ‘R’ only, ‘B’ only.”
“Well, indicate that on the form somehow,” RB was told.
So under “First Name” he wrote, “R only, B only.”
And for the duration of his military career he was officially known to Uncle Sam as “Ronly Bonly Higgins.”
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