Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Pandora’s Box

I have been asked to open Pandora’s Box, but I will harm no one, including myself, in doing so. The contents are fluid, figuratively, coming and going, sometimes building pressure, forcing the lid open and spilling out. When that happens I slap the lid closed, slide a stronger lock through its hasp and wait, because it will happen again and again. I will search inside my box, on this day, to find some event that I would change. That is what causes me stress. The box is full of things I would change; that is the easiest way for an event to get into the box in the first place. And many of those thing or events I would change are similar, if not the same, as the things and events locked in the boxes of other people. Everyone has a box.

I lift the lid and find the contents are in no particular order. I would not have become addicted to the Three Stooges, as a third grader, and asked Charlotte to “pick two fingers” which resulted in me poking her in the eyes, and left me scribbling “I will not poke others in the eyes” on the chalkboard during every recess for a week. I would change that action, but will set it aside for now.

I would certainly not have squatted in the bushes under my friend Teddy’s kitchen window and snickered until I could hardly breathe as his brother was viciously beaten, by their drunken dad, for leaving bread crumbs on the butter stick. I have always felt bad about that, as an adult. I may come back to that.

A definite do-over would be the incessant brawling in junior high and first two years of high school. It would be great to have been known as the kind and gentle Steve, rather than the guy who might pound you into sloppy joe meat because of your shirt color. Lots of guilt with this one, but those were the pecking order years, so, I will look at that one later.

The summer I was fourteen I went into Webb’s woods and shot twenty-one woodpeckers, just because I wanted to, and because their calls annoyed me. I knew it was wrong, particularly as I placed them in a straight row and then stared at the bodies. Nature is a priority with me now, so, I did learn something valuable, but the event deserves consideration.

In 1962, when in the second grade, I told Mrs. Alexander I hated her, because she made me take a note, written in cursive, to my mom, describing how I was a boy of bad behavior in class. I got a whipping. Mrs. Alexander, who looked every bit of a wrinkly, pasty, eighty years old, was only our teacher for a few days after I said that to her. She died before I could say “sorry.” However, I am not sure this event is high on the priority list for the task currently at hand. It goes back in the box.

In August, 1973, after working construction jobs for my father, a drinker and womanizer, I went to see him to collect the money he was saving for me. I was only paid for two weeks of work after having worked about ten weeks. He walked up the driveway, with flask in hand, and asked what I wanted. I told him. He became irate, said I was trying to pull something over on him, that he had paid me what was owed. I said nothing in return, borrowed gas money from my uncle and drove back to Ohio to start my sophomore year of college. I had grown out of the brawling and wickedness that gripped me as a kid. I should have talked to my father, man to man, about the money and other things muddying up our lives. But, I didn’t. I will put this on the top of the stack.

Finally, after considerable time and exhausting review I have come to a decision about the decision I would change, first. The initial decision happened in July, 1969. It involved me, obviously, a gun, a dog named Tip and my cousin. I need to first offer a brief back-story. My parents were divorced in 1965, after my father went to Vietnam, leaving my mother with five children under eleven years of age, no support financially or emotionally. Being the oldest and the most likely to make a go of it, I was handed over to one relative after another to live with. In 1968 I went to live with my aunt and uncle in Ohio. Cousin Jimmy was my age and we bonded like a weld bead to a piece of steel, doing everything together. We hunted, trapped, brawled, explored nature and discovered the delights in dating. Near the top of what we shared and cared about was Tip. She was a mix of German shorthaired pointer and blue tick. She was a smart dog. I know everyone’s dog is the smartest dog ever born, but I will say with surety that it is the truth about Tip. In May, she had a litter of pups and for several weeks did not join us on our daily adventures. One morning Jimmy and Bob, our friend from across the road, went to the power dam to club carp, which would spawn against the rapid flow at the dam’s bottom. Carping, as we called it, was fun and there were always hippies at the dam who would take the bludgeoned fish for food. However, I wanted to go to Five Mile and hunt snakes, so I did not go with them. 

Around noon I got my .22 rifle and started out. To my surprise Tip joined me. She loved to retrieve whatever we hunted, it came natural to her. I found water snakes immediately, sunning on the rocky banks. The snakes would slide into the water and surface several yards away, in the waters of the back bay. That is when I took  my shot, almost always deadly with the first trigger pull. Tip eagerly dove in and brought the dead, or not dead, snake to shore. I always patted and hugged her and we would search for another victim. It didn’t take but a couple minutes. The snake slid, I fired and Tip jumped. I made the decision at that point, as she was swimming out to the snake, to cross State Rt. 111, a busy county road, to look along the riverbank. I hesitated, wondering if I should wait for Tip, but I didn’t. On the river side of the road I saw a couple large snakes right away, both slid into the water and surfaced after about half a minute. I took two shots. As I was looking to see if I hit either, I heard a loud thump and turned in time to see Tip sliding along the road, and a pickup truck coming to a stop. I screamed her name and ran to her. She was already dead. The driver touched my shoulder and said, “She just bolted right out in front of me, son. I am sorry. Can I help you take her to your place?” I was already crying and told him no. We moved her to the side of the road and I ran home, got on my bike and peddled the two miles to the power dam to find my cousin.

He was on a path, leaving the dam area, when I told him. He didn’t believe me, but ran to his bike and rode to Five Mile, where he found her. She was a medium large dog, but he picked her up and carried the body home, maybe half a mile, where he placed her on the garage floor, next to the nearly weaned pups. After a couple hours we buried her in the woods behind the house.

Although as cousins we remained close our unbreakable, unbendable friendship was destroyed. We argued and had fist fights with one another and within three months I moved, to live with my grandparents, in the same town.

We remained under the strained relationship for years. It repaired itself and we talked about it nearly every meeting. We talked about all the good things as well. I told him once, about five years ago, that if I could I would change that morning, decide to wait for Tip to swim back to me before crossing the road. He hugged me and we both got teary, two men in their fifties, bonded again like weld bead on steel. Jimmy passed away in 2011. It is perhaps time to remove this event from my Pandora’s Box, because the decision cannot be changed and it needs to be no more than a sad memory in the middle of a beautiful story.