Playing Trucks, Undermining Foundations

Uncle Dillon had bought my brother Dale and me a set of toy tractor-trailer trucks and an assortment of accessories. Each of us had his own tractor, one red and one blue, I think. The set included a variety of kinds of trailers: a flatbed, a box trailer, a cattle trailer, and a car carrier. And then there was an assortment of highway signs.

Dale and I decided that the best place to play with these wonderful toys on hot summer days was in our cool basement. The basement was still unfinished, and its floor was just hard, leveled dirt. In the center of the basement were two 5 x 5-inch support posts sitting atop concrete piers about 6-8 inches deep. They held up the center beam of the house.

We already had a Tonka or Buddy L road grader, so we graded roads all over that basement. And we ran our tractor-trailer loads of imaginary consumer goods and livestock all over our basement roadway network.

At some point, I decided to start an excavation company to expand the economy of our basement world. The site I selected was right beside the first of the support posts, the one that was in the dead center of the house. I dug our dirt, loaded it onto an empty plastic dish on the deck of our flatbed trailer, and hauled it elsewhere in Basementville. I kept up my work faithfully every time we played there, which was practically every day.

One day, Daddy came down into this tiny world on some errand, and he immediately noticed my pit, where I had dug all the way down to the bottom of the pier and all the way around it. Suddenly we noticed that Daddy had added a Cape Canaveral (it wasn’t yet called Cape Kennedy) to our little world because he lifted off the ground. Was he ever angry!

Daddy caught up with me somewhere outside, where I was roaming the fields and woods, and he carried me quickly down to Basementville, but he wasn’t wanting to play trucks. He sat me down in front of my excavation site and gave me a very graphic lesson in what would happen to our house if I continued to dig away at the foundation post. I got the lesson with all of my senses: I saw what he meant, I heard what he said, and I certainly felt the intensity of his conviction!

The Bible asks, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psa. 11:3). As a child, I learned an important lesson about how a little chipping away at foundations, a little erosion of values, and a little undermining of standards can go a long way toward producing massive failure. Just as I had threatened the very structural integrity of our home by my digging around the basement foundation post, even so our nation has eroded its Judeo-Christian values, and it will ultimately (short of a spiritual revival) lead to God’s judgment, just as my digging around the footer led to my punishment. I learned my lesson in that instance. The bigger question is whether the United States of America will learn God’s lesson before it’s too late.

Not long after the episode I’ve described, Daddy found the time and money to pour concrete in the basement. . . . Supporting the upper floors then were not wooden beams but strong, adjustable metal posts. His “urban renewal”program spelled the end of Basementville. It wasn’t merely a ghost town; it ceased to exist altogether. But the lesson has stayed with me ever since.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

(Excerpted from Look Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East Tennessee. Available from http://www.amazon.com.)

 

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Playin’ Indians

Throughout much of my childhood, our family had no television. Although we apparently had been one of the first homes in the community to get a TV, a little disagreement between my brother and me over which of the two local channels we would watch resulted in one of us angrily turning the set off and on repeatedly until the tube blew. Daddy put the set into the attic and refused to get it fixed because of the animosity it had created between us boys. When I was nearly ready for college, he gave the set to my grandfather.

But during the short time we did have a TV, we watched a lot of “cowboys-and-Indians” programs. And, as kids are wont to do, after watching some of them, we ran outside and reenacted much of what we had seen, using our vivid imaginations in our play. Because our Uncle Dillon had given us cowboy outfits, complete with holsters and guns, that part of our costume department was pretty well stocked, but we were a bit lacking in the necessities for the Indian portion of our play. But that didn’t stop my brother from using available materials to create the proper attire and atmosphere to make our play realistic. As the younger, impressionable–and gullible–brother, I followed his lead.

One day, while playing Indians, my brother got a brilliant idea. He ran inside and soon returned with four of Daddy’s large work hankies.

“Take off your pants,” he ordered. I stood with my mouth open, but he was already stripping to his underwear. “And take off your shirt and underwear.”

In my innocence and trusting my all-wise older brother, I did as instructed.

“Now get your belt from your pants.” I did just as he was doing.

“Put your belt on.” He put his belt around his naked waist and cinched it tight. I imitated his every move. There we both stood, buck naked except for a thin belt around our waist.

“Now tuck these hankies into your belt–one in the front and the other in the back.” He demonstrated. I followed his example. And we were dressed like real Indians, complete with loin cloths. Near-naked savages.

“Something’s missing, though,” my brother lamented. He couldn’t stand for anything to be incomplete. For him, play was not real play unless you had everything just right. He didn’t want to leave anything to the imagination. That’s generally how it is when you’re buck naked–nothing left to the imagination.

“Indians wear war paint,” he mused aloud. “What can we use for paint?”

I didn’t like the sound of that, but I stood by dumbly, waiting for him to come up with an answer. He always did. I could pretend that we were covered with war paint and have a grand time playing, but not him. He had to have the real thing. He thought for a long time about our dilemma. He looked through the garage. (Looking back now, I’m surprised that he didn’t use Daddy’s house paint.) He looked through the chicken house. (I’m really glad he didn’t try to make war paint out of chicken manure!)

He went back outside and stood thinking. I waited patiently for the answer that he soon would arrive at and dug my bare toes into the sand where we played with our trucks and road graders and where we called doodlebugs from their under-sand burrows.

Suddenly, my brother’s eyes lit up. “I’ve got it!” he cried. “Come on!”

Like an innocent lamb, I meekly followed him to the nearby fence row. He reached up and pulled a handful of plump, dark polk berries from the stalk that rose through the barbed-wire strands. He took one berry between his thumb and index finger and squeezed it. Out came a deep, reddish-purple liquid.

“Here.” He handed me some of the berries he’d picked. “Now, squeeze them and put the juice on your chest. See? It’s just like war paint!”

We both applied copious amounts of the liquid all over our bodies. We painted designs on each other. On our chests, on our arms, on our backs, on our faces.

“Now we look like Indians!” my brother declared.

Or like something.

We played Indians for what seemed like hours and had a wonderful time. There we were in all of our natural glory, running and jumping and whooping like savages–for all the neighbors and passing strangers to see. Just the two of us, our nakedness covered–or not–by those loin hankies and polk berry war paint.

My memory is blank about what Mother did when she finally saw us. She was probably mortified. I’m sure, though, that whatever she did wasn’t pretty, and it surely must have hurt us more than it did her.

The Bible warns us against following a multitude in doing evil. I would have been better off learning not to be led astray by one bad example! I shudder to think what would have happened if he had encouraged me to eat those poisonous polkberries! Wait, maybe he did do something similar with grapes that our dad had just sprayed with insecticide, but that’s another story.