by user The Loon
It was a hot, hot day in Midland, Texas on August 3rd, 1956. George sat in his easy chair and read the newspaper waiting for dinner. He whistled low when he saw the advertisement for a 21 inch Color RCA T.V. for Five Hundred dollars. "Man alive!" George thought to himself. "That would be something!" The front door opened and in walked a scruffy 10 year old boy. He sat opposite his father on the sofa and crossed his arms while huffing loudly. Unmoved, George continued to read his paper. The boy bit his lower lip and looked over to the floating newspaper held by two hands over the easy chair. He huffed louder, coupling it with a sigh. "What is it Junior?" George asked with that small hint of knowing annoyance in his voice. "Dad, no one wants to listen to me anymore!" The boy said in a high pitched voice. "I'm trying to get all the kids from the neighborhood to help me, but they won't!" George flipped one side of his paper down and took the boy in for a moment. "How's that now?" The boy sighed and sat on the floor in front of the sofa. He began to spin a top he produced from his pocket on the coffee table. "You know that bully Joe from Sherman?" "The cross eyed Polish kid with the missing front tooth What about him?" George asked. "Well, I got all my friends and most of the kids from the block to help me go beat him up 'cause he said he was gonna throw firecrackers at me..." George put the newspaper down and quickly sat up. "Junior! What did we talk about? We all went down to his house and talked to his parents. You know now that he never had any firecrackers! He was just talking tough. That's all bully's do! What did you do?" The boy hid his top in his pocket and lowered his head. "Nothing!" He said in an exasperated voice. He tried to get up to go back outside but his father grabbed his arm and led him closer to his easy chair. "Junior. Look at me. What did you do?" The boy's pout did not go away, but he did raise his eyes to meet his father's. He opened his mouth to say something, quickly closed it, and then just as quickly opened it again. "Well, I told everyone that he had the firecrackers, and we had to go get them before he used them on me. And Tommy Rogers, see.. he told me he saw 'em.. so we all went over there when his parents weren't home.. and we.. uh.. we threw rocks at him." George opened his jaw slightly and rolled his eyes. It was his turn to interrupt himself as he watched what he was going to say to his son next. "Junior, do you understand JUST how much trouble you're in? I heard about that last night, we thought it was some of those High School kids from across town! You put Joe in the hospital, and he didn't even do anything to you but scare you with talk!" "Well, he was bothering me!" Junior shouted. He tore from his father and ran back outside to the porch. He sat on the stoop and buried his face in his arm, sobbing loudly. George gritted his teeth and slowly walked outside and sat down next to his boy. He produced a tissue from his shirt pocket and instructed him to blow, which he did quite loudly. "Look, Junior. You know I care about you and I'm glad you try to handle your problems like a big boy. I am. You just have to learn that you can't get all these kids to do terrible things to that punk with no merit. You do know what merit means, right?" Junior didn't, but nodded his head anyway. "So, your mother and I will handle it, and we will talk to Joe's parents when they come back from the hospital, and see if we can get this resolved, o.k.?" Junior looked up at his father and became four shades redder than he already was. "Wait a minute..." George said, his voice lowered. "What are you not telling me?" The boy shuffled his feet nervously, but knew the consequences of not answering his father quickly. "Well... I told the guys that we weren't worried about the firecrackers anymore, but what we needed to do was free all the stray dogs they kept in their backyard. All the guys are over there now trying to let them loose, but even though some of them are nice and happy to get out.. some of 'em are being mean and biting and stuff."
"Junior!" George stood up and began pacing the porch. The phrase "Spare the rod, spoil the child. Spare the rod..." rolled around his head over and over for a few moments. He stopped and sat back down next to his son, drawing him close. "You have no right doing that son!" He hissed. "That place is not yours to trespass on! Whether some of those dogs want to be let go or not, it is not YOUR decision to go over there and impose like that! You led these poor boys on and now their mother's have to deal with them coming home with injuries from bites or whatnot! You have an answer for that?" "I need them to listen to me, pop! I know what I'm doing!" the boy answered, desperation in his eyes, highly uncommon for a ten year old.
"What the hell do you mean by that?" his father said, not noticing that he cursed in front of his son. The boy got up and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Some of 'em still think that Joe has firecrackers there, and they are still helping me get these dogs loose, but a lot of 'em are mad and changing their minds. They want to forget about the whole thing, but I told them that if we leave the backyard without finishing, then Joe will think we're weak little babies. They still won't listen to me though! I'm their boss!" He stomped his foot for emphasis.
"Son, you are no boss of anyone! You may be a leader and I'm proud these kids look up to you, but you can't just tell them what to do or expect 'em to keep doing this stupid thing when it isn't getting them anywhere! Now I'm gonna leave you to fix this mess, but you get your little posse out of that yard before the Kowalskis come home. Do I make myself clear?" The boy looked at his father with a dark scowl, but he nodded his head. He did not see the boy's fingers crossed behind his back. George smoothed the front of his shirt with his palms and shifted his weight from his left to his right. "Alright." He said. "Before you go, you need to remember something for me, Junior. You pay attention." "Yes, sir."
"Trust is the most valuable thing you can earn from someone else. It's got no price. If you piss that away... don't look at me like that, yes I said piss. You piss that away and you got nothing of value. You have to work ten times as hard to earn it back, and it's never going to be worth as much as the first time you earned it. Do you understand what I mean?" The boy didn't and was still wrapping his head around the swears he heard his father utter, but he nodded his head anyway. "Now.. get going." The boy went into the yard and grabbed his bike. Before mounting he turned to his father. "Can I go to that new kid Richie's house?" George's face crumpled. "The Cheney kid from Wyoming ? He's not right in the head son, I don't want you going over there. He's only visiting for the summer and I don't want you getting attached to him. Plus, he's only five or six years old! You need to play with kids your age."
"I don't want to hear another word, son! He's always carrying that BB gun everywhere he goes and he's likely to shoot someone on accident handling that thing at his young age. The answer is no. Now, you go figure out how to get those friends of yours out of the neighbor's yard without those dogs nipping at 'em." "Yes, sir." The boy groaned. George watched him ride off for a moment before going back inside the house. He never saw him take a right towards the Cheney house instead of the left he was supposed to take to the Kowalski's. The boy never took that left down that street again.
A few months later, in October, George read in his paper about the Hungarian Revolution. He followed the story through November and for reasons he could never quite put his finger on, it reminded him of his son and what had happened on that hot August day.