A Pinch of This, A Dash of That
Macon, Georgia 1964
He saw him coming around the corner and ran excitedly to meet him as the car drove up to the house. His small group of rag tag friends took off after him like dogs after a fox. It seems like they ran to everything and everywhere back then. The red Ford Galaxy that rolled to a stop was dusty and hot. When the boy rested his hand on it without thinking, he jerked it back and shook it.
It was sunny, cloudless and blistering hot with the temperature hovering in the mid nineties.
“Careful, you could fry an egg on there son” his dad said with a tired smile. He slowly uncurled his stiff legs out of the car, grabbing his lunch pail on the way out. He shut the car door, and then like so many times before, opened it back up and then shut it again so it would catch this time.
Exhausted, he stood there, still grinning at his only son.
“Yes sir! I sure could!” the boy said grinning back, rubbing his hand casually and acting like it didn’t hurt.
“Daddy, guess what?” he all but shouted it.
“Well, let’s see Jimbo….I dunno….what?” he said while looking around at the sea of faces that had run panting up the driveway and gathered around. “Looks like somethin’ big though, something real exciting”, he smiled.
As he waited for the answer he sat his aluminum lunch pail down with a clank, leaned his hip against the car and crossed his arms. At 40 or so, his dad was still in great physical shape. He had been a Marine in the South Pacific during WW2 and was now a brick mason by trade.
Big arms, wide shoulders, bull strong. He was damn impressive, especially so for a boy who wanted more than anything in the world to impress him. Years later, the knees would finally not work anymore and the back would betray him but those days were a long ways off though for the man who leaned against that car on that day.
“Yep, we’ve been racin’ all day and I won every race, all of ‘em! Long races and short races, all of us at once and head to head races. And I won ever one of ‘em! I beat ever’body!” He blurted out.
Several boys had looked down or sideways quickly. His dad’s tired smile never changed or faltered though.
“Well, sounds like you boys have been busy today,” he said and looked away from his son to scan the crew cut boys gaggled around in a bunch. They all looked stamped out of the same machine, white t-shirts, blue jeans and Converse tennis shoes.
“Also sounds like we got the next Jesse Owens here, huh?” he winked this at his son and then glanced around at the boys gathered in a semicircle. His eyebrows were raised dramatically for effect.
Jimbo’s grin faded and then froze into a stiff little smile when his dad said that. He felt a sting from the light hearted mocking and maybe felt a little betrayal too.
Bradley Deskins from over on Merrimac Drive, the next street over, took a half step forward out of the crowd. He was a chubby kid, constantly beet red in the face.
“He ain’t that good Mr. Wilson.”
“Beat you didn’t I?….Beat ever’body.” It was him against the world now.
“Yeah well, you won, but our race was right down to the wire.” Brett Parker chipped in. A small kid whose furry little burr haircut always had a little wax on it to make it stand straight up in front. “It was really close.” He looked up at Jimbo's father with sincere and serious eyes.
“I won by at least 10 yards Brett”, Jimbo said with a sigh and a spit.
“Yeah, but you jumped the dang gun in our race…..” mumbled Davey Fredrickson. His voice started out excited but trailed off quickly and he began studying his shoes.
“Ha! He did not Davey!” laughed his best friend Rick. “But, Mr. Wilson, he actually did cheat when him and I raced”, then he poked his friend in the ribs.
“Aw heck, I beat ya’ll! Beat all of you. Heck, I even beat my daddy a week ago, didn’t I daddy?”
“Okay now, alright then, that’ll be enough of all that. Well, listen here you little troublemakers, I have to get cleaned up……you too Jimmy……it’ll be suppertime soon” his father shook his head and he picked up his lunch pail.
After about four steps towards the house though, he stopped and looked back.
“Hey boy….before we go in….how ‘bout a quick rematch? You and me. We’ll just go down to the corner, around the big pine tree, and back. What’cha say there Jesse Owens?”
The small crowd of boys looked at each other wide eyed, then erupted with hoots and yells. It’s a scene that both father and son would never really forget. His dad un-tucked his work shirt, hitched his dusty work pants up, rolled his cuffs and toed the gravel with his work boots. Then they both crouched on an imaginary chalk line.
Rick, who would call the start, stood off to the side and looked very official. Next door, Mr. Bettencourt had just gotten home from work and was standing by his car watching it all unfold. His brow was furrowed and mouth slightly open as he looked on very confused.
The little group of boys was all fidgety and waiting anxiously for the start, like it was an event at the upcoming 1964 Summer Olympics.
The boy had never wanted to win a race so badly in his life, before or since. He was mad at everyone, including his father and determined to rub it in, show them all. He looked to his side quickly and his dad wasn’t smiling anymore, he was just looking straight ahead with no expression. A drop of sweat ran slowly down from his sideburn.
Jimbo looked straight ahead now too, digging the toe of his tennis shoe into the loose gravel and waited.
A dog barked from somewhere a long way off, stopped and then barked once more. It was suddenly very quiet.
One of the boys couldn’t help himself and said in a hushed tone, almost a whispered prayer in fact, “Beat him, Mr. Wilson…oh please, beat him.”
“On yer Marrrrk……Git settttt…….GO!” Rick said loudly, delivering the start perfectly.
As they both came blasting off the starting line, another wild cheer went up from the boys. Down the road they went, father and son. Oblivious to everything and everyone but the hot road in front of them and each other.
At thirteen, the physical gap was shrinking quickly between father and son. Youth and all its advantages would certainly be a deciding factor here. The father was already behind but not by much.
The boy pulled even farther ahead about two thirds of the way to the turn and then he used his hand to slingshot himself around the big pine that represented halfway. He was catapulted forward on his way back to the finish, legs moving like pistons and arms pumping.
He never heard him coming, didn’t know he was even that close.
His daddy was just there suddenly, just off his right shoulder. As he pulled even, the boy looked over quickly with big eyes, but his dad just looked straight ahead. Emotionless, relentless and driven, he pounded forward like a freight train at full throttle and edged ahead.
As they got closer to the finish both had naturally started to tire and slow down from the blazing start. The father still forged ahead though, seeming to be unstoppable now, inching ahead more and more.
With only forty yards or so left to the house and the ragged little crowd yelling them back to the start line, the father’s lead was at least five feet ahead. The boy dug down and reached for whatever he had left but knew there wasn’t anything there.
Then like a switch had been thrown, by some miracle, the boy began to gain on him. With only twenty yards to go they were, just for one precious split second, shoulder to shoulder. Only then, did the father look over at him and only then, did the boy know.
When it was all over there were claps on the back all around, while they caught their breaths with hands on knees. The father got a drink out of the garden hose. It had been a heck of a race, everybody agreed.
Eventually, the boys had finally started to drift away as another summer day was ending. Everyone headed home to chores and suppertimes of their own.
It was just the two of them now, still sweating but much more relaxed. They leaned on the Galaxy and looked at the evening sky. The boy was chewing on a blade of grass and he was lost in some thought, watching a beautiful plum and orange sunset.
“Daddy?” he asked quietly, matching the peaceful dusk sounds around them. An early cricket or two, some cicadas in the backyard oak trees and a mournful dove high up somewhere were about the only noises. It was very still, a summer evening of heavy air and warm quiet.
“Yes?” he answered, breaking away from the spell the sunset had also been holding him in. He cocked his head around and looked at his son.
“Why’d you do that?”
“Why did I do what boy?”
“Let me win like that?” he asked in a deeper voice, a voice that he really didn’t own yet.
“Because I knew you’d get the message anyway, without me rubbing your nose in it.” He looked hard at his son. “Because I knew you could figure out who won, without having to prove it in front of your friends and then have you listen to me crow about it afterward. Nothing worse than a braggart boy. If you’re good at something, you don’t have to tell people such.” He looked away then and spit. Then spit again.
The sky was a dark purple hue now, deepening and turning to black with each passing moment. A few early stars could already be seen.
He looked at his father, understanding lesson and message both.
He scooted over a little closer to his father then, not feeling like he was thirteen anymore. He didn’t want to be older or stronger or faster right then. He just wanted to be picked up and given a ride on his father’s shoulders. Once more, like he used to……just once more.
That part was confusing to him because he was far too old for that anymore.
He leaned over on his dad a little but didn’t say anything. The cicadas were really going now.
“Well, c’mon boy, let’s go get washed up. I don’t know about you, but I’m starvin’.” he smiled, loosening up on the reigns a little. “You know, you are gettin' pretty fast, but still not faster than your old man.”
He grinned and ruffled the boy’s hair, then slung a strong arm over his shoulder.
The boy answered by putting an arm around his father’s waist and hooked a thumb on one of his side belt loops, like he had so many times before. It wasn’t a ride on the shoulders but it was good.
The father thought that it was probably impossible for him to love the boy anymore than he did and wondered why life always went so damn fast when you didn’t want it to.
They walked like that all the way up to the house without saying another word.
Author: Jim Wilsky
Bio- Jim J. Wilsky has had a lifelong passion for writing and storytelling. He has written over 200 fictional short stories in the genres of mainstream, suspense, westerns, crime and historical fiction. His work has appeared in online magazines such as Mystercial-E, Boston Literary Magazine, Hardluck Stories and Amazon Short Stories, as well as several print anthologies, including The World Outside My Window. He is supported and strengthened by a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters. http://word-counts.blogspot.com