Thursday, January 8, 2009

I'm really sorry, Craig

My father's 75th birthday party was great. We had root beer floats and all of dad's favorite treats. Each of us six children had to write a memory about Dad and recite it to the assembled crowd of kids and grandkids. I decided not to share my essay about being a teacher. You see, Depews don't cry, and I intend to keep it that way. Instead, I shared this story. It brought the house down.

This is not just a memory of my dad, but also of my brother. Over forty years later, I have to say: I'm really sorry, Craig. I've felt guilty about this for years. But it's a really good story.

The basement of our house in Wilmington, Delaware, was a great place. We had a ping-pong table. We had a race track set up in the crawlspace. Dad built a workshop for himself, and one for the boys. He put an old radio up in the ceiling between the floor joists, and we used to listen to it while we worked. One time I reached up to turn it on while I was standing on the concrete floor in bare feet, and I experienced my first 110-volt electrical shock.

One day, Craig and I were playing in the basement. I must have been around 10 years old, so Craig was about 8. Apparently we were doing something we shouldn't have been doing, and apparently we were doing it pretty loudly, because Dad came downstairs and he wasn't happy. He took us over to one corner of the basement, got a yardstick out of the shop, and had a little talk with us. At the end of the talk, he told us that, rather than him spanking us, we would have to spank each other.

He handed the yardstick to Craig. That meant I would be on the receiving end first. I dropped my pants and assumed the position. I think Craig and I were both scared to death. Craig's eyes were as big as saucers, and his lower lip was trembling, as he stared fearfully at Dad, reached out with the yardstick and gave me a light tap.

Then we traded positions. Now, in my defense, I must say, honestly, that I was terribly afraid that if we didn't do this properly, Dad was going to take the yardstick from us and demonstrate to us how it was to be done. That's what Mom would have done. And I really didn't want Dad to do that.

So with Craig bent over and the target in clear view, I wound up and delivered. Hard. Just once. Craig jumped up immediately, clamped his hands over his bruised cheeks, and hopped all over that basement like a kangaroo, bawling and wailing, with his pants still down around his ankles.

Fortunately, that's the end of my memory of that scene. Craig or Dad might be able to fill in the rest.

I imagine that what went through Dad's mind while Craig was hopping around was something like, “Well, that didn't work out the way I planned it.”

Or maybe, “I hope I can get all the way upstairs before I bust out laughing.”

Or maybe, “Ma's never gonna believe this one.”

As soon as I started my narration, Craig said, "Hey, that's the story I was going to tell!" Afterwards, he said that my version was essentially correct, and added that "the position" involved bending over a sawhorse. Somebody asked him how long he stayed mad at me. He said, "About two minutes." Dad said he doesn't remember the incident anymore, but that his reaction would have been #2 above.

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