Slipping on a Mossy LogLad Moore
I knew the Ten Commandments and The Golden Rule before I could spell my name on Big Chief tablet paper. Not just memorized, but absorbed---like extra ribs in my chest. I was reminded of them whenever I saw others committing forbidden acts. I recalled friends who sneaked into the cloakroom at school to pop their bubble gum, and the filling station man who always told my Aunt Flossie she needed a quart of oil when she didn't. Flossie would just smile and say, "Thanks, I'm about to get it changed anyway." I figured her answer was sort of like turning the other cheek.
I think I did just fine with those Eternal Rules, honoring them to the fullest as the years went by. Yes, all was close to textbook until that one day at Caddo Lake.
I was eleven or maybe twelve. It was one of the summers I came back to East Texas---a short vacation from the harried pace of life overseas. Caddo Lake was my getaway. It was so different from the tropical forests of the Far East, and it restored me with its calmness. Caddo was like a secret elixir with its mossy cypress and caramel-colored waters. The glades were so open and inviting, like alleys into a happy realm I had long since lost. I bathed in the coolness of its brakes; I tasted its purity. It was the rekindling of my slumbering spirit.
This day, my uncle Archie drove me to the lake and left me with seventy-five cents to buy my lunch. I found my way down to the pier that led to the deck of the Caddo Queen. The Queen was a relic of a paddlewheel boat that rode tourists down the river from Big Pines Lodge into the lake. It was a hot and dusty August day, and my thoughts drifted back to the advent of another school year, less than a month away. I was reminded that summer was fleeting, like sleep being interrupted by shards of daylight through venetian blinds.
I sat there with my Big Pines hamburger, mesmerized by the things around me. The river swept by, curling itself around the cypress knees then dancing away with its trail of leaves and Spanish moss. At my foot, I noticed a cord tied to a post on the pier. I pulled at it, and felt something heavy on the end. My curiosity bested me, so I hoisted it up. It was a net-like potato sack, and it contained a six-pack of beer. Had someone left it there to cool beneath the pier? Was it a gift from some god who tempted young men with the stains of adulthood?
Playground rules came to mind. Finders keepers! Ah, and no one was there---no one to see, no one to tell. I stared at the cool dripping cans with some stranger's lust. Surely this cannot be me, slipping into the woods with such forbidden fruit. I found a resting-place in the forest, away from prying eyes. The sweetgum leaves obscured me from anyone approaching the dock, and there were no sounds except the distant staccato of a woodpecker.
As I sat beneath a towering pine, I took out my pocketknife, poked two holes in the can, and watched the foam bubble to the top. I knew from seeing my dad open cans that you put two holes in the top, each opposite the other. I thought this to be as much ritual as practical---keeping a symmetrical aesthetic balance, while the second hole facilitated an unimpeded flow of froth.
I drank four cans before being dashed away on a magical carpet ride. My body was vacated as I rose aloft. I could see everything below, as if perched among the tallest trees. My view was spectacular; below me were my teachers and my Principal, Mr. Beane. They convened a class without me, but all my papers were in order. Mr. Beane spoke to the assembly of beaming faces. I relished the moment he named me "Class Most Promising."
Then, in a flash, all these things vanished, like a vacant stage after the second bow. I felt something at my side. It was my Uncle Archie, nudging me with his boot. I remember thinking his face wouldn't hold still. He had two of everything.
The ride home went swiftly, and there was no conversation. Lights in houses flashed by like a midnight train. Abruptly, I recognized my front porch, with its painted wooden floor and the glider nestled in its grapevine canopy. Archie lifted me inside the house. I lay on the sofa; my awareness still swooning above me like smoke from the chimney. My grandmother came to my side. She stood towering above me, her face obscured in the dim light. She seemed twelve feet tall.
No tub could contain the amount of shame that I bathed in that night. My grandmother made it worse. There was no lecture, no scolding. There was only the look of hurt on her face. What had happened to my commitment to those Eternal Rules? There I had been, drinking forbidden elixir and worse---stealing from some thirsty fisherman who returned to find but an empty potato sack. He would have harsh words to say, and no one there to hear.
Despite my misgivings the night before, there indeed was a dawn the next day. The sun was unusually bright as I sat at the breakfast table with French toast and fresh strawberries. The admonishment I dreaded never came. My grandmother rushed about in her usual way before Sunday services, and my Uncle Archie arrived on time to drive us to First Presbyterian.
That morning, my place on the pew was unusually comforting. I suppose it was because I had survived a double-sin. But something else was different. When Brother Benchoff made his invitation, something seemed to lift me out of my seat. I found myself at the front of the church but my feet never touched the floor.
It was the day I learned about a different kind of magic carpet ride.
Copyright ©2004 Lad Moore. All Rights Reserved.
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