In widescreen, with Technicolor and stereophonic sound, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made the finest Hollywood musicals of the 1950’s. As excellent as these films are they can’t begin to compare with the real life musical extravaganzas that make up our own personal lives. Our lives are journeys filled with music. The music flows from radios, cars, family & friend gatherings, offices, schools, stores, movies, airports, bus & train stations and that stereo inside your head. The times of your life, the best, the worse, the marvelous and the mundane, are stories woven into a musical soundtrack, because as the Ritchie Family sang, “Life Is Music”
Life Is Music:
by Rix Roundtree-Harrison
I have a friend who questioned the story of my making moonshine in our city apartment at age five. He said that he was sure it was "embellished." Well, no it wasn't, but I should have made it clear that I was never a mini mastermind concocting spirits by my lonesome, my stepfather was always there instructing me.
You see, my stepfather was a teacher, no not a school teacher, but a teacher of skills and self reliance, as he himself was a do-it-yourselfer.
Just like when my steppop had my siblings and I working on those weekends at his father's farm, he always had us working on some home improvement project going on at our house.
But prior to moving into our house, when we lived in the city, my steppop did two things, work and drink. He worked hard. He was a carpenter who worked from dawn till dusk, Monday through Friday, never missing a day because of illness, or a hangover.
When he drank he drank hard and could become violent and abusive towards my mom and other adults.
To us kids, when inebriated he was annoying, as he was always telling us in slurred speech and breath laden with alcohol, "daddy loves you; you know daddy loves you don't you? Don't you?"
When he was like this I wanted him away from me as I was feeling many things about him, but love wasn't one of them.
When we left the city and moved into our new house in the suburbs, realizing that he was spinning out of control pop went on the wagon and gave up drinking. This began the 10 year project of totally remodeling our house.
Without hiring professionals, only with the assistance of my siblings and I my stepfather totally remodeled our house.
This project began before I was 10 years old. My steppop did not believe in idle children and he always found something for us to do.
When we moved into our small ranch house it had a living room, kitchen, one bath two bedrooms and a tiny dining room. My parents had the master bed room, my sisters shared the 2nd bedroom, and the tiny dining room became a bedroom for me and my brother.
By the time my stepfather finished with the house (if you can ever call a house finished) it had grown 1/3 in size and became a beautiful totally transformed house.
We kids began by doing the grunt work. As Otis Redding's "Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay" floated from a radio we hauled 2x4’s, 4x6’s, and sheetrock. We held joist steady while steppop nailed them together. We toted bags of cement, mixed cement and pushed the wheel barrels.
After finding us kids competent with these tasks, we moved up to digging foundations, pouring cement into them and when the cement dried, placing the cinder blocks within. My stepfather then taught me how to make sure it was all straight with wooden poles and string, and how to use the level.
Then I graduated to (manual) hand tools, various hand saws, hammers, and screwdrivers. After age 10 I was allowed to use power tools, saws, drills, etc. I discovered that power tools were like toys, only much more fun.
Also after age 10 my stepfather allowed me to join him on the roof of our house to nail down shingles. Now this was not a flat roof, but an A-frame. I thought I would be afraid of being up on that A-frame roof. Being a kid I naturally I pictured myself falling off, but to my surprise once up there I was not afraid, actually being up there was liberating.
I scampered along the roof like a squirrel, happily humming the Drifter's classic "Up On The Roof.” I realized that being up on that roof gave me a sort of freedom. No one could get to me unless they wanted to climb a ladder to do so. So if someone wanted me, they had to wait until I was ready to come down, so being on the roof also gave me a feeling of control.
I was saddened when we completed shingling the roof as I no longer had that away from it all feeling of freedom that being up on the roof gave.
My steppop and his kiddie construction crew added on a den, a second bath, laundry/utility room, a fireplace, a deck, and an expanded kitchen with a dining room to our house.
We ran the pipes beneath the house for the plumbing for the new bath and laundry room.
Uncle Kenny, a mason, built the fireplace and chimney as steppop didn’t feel comfortable about masonry work. But he watched his uncle and learned, and on days that Uncle Kenny was not there he did a little masonry work himself.
The only thing he did not do at all was the electrical work, which he left to a professional. Later I would come to understand this because that is how I would come to feel about the furnace in our house.
Years later, after my parents split up (and money tight) I had to keep the furnace, which was always breaking down, operating. I kept the thing running, but I don't know how because I had no idea what I was doing.
On a frigid winter's day I was in my room dancing to Italo act Fun Fun's "Living In Japan." My mom knocked on the door and informed me that the house was getting cold because the furnace had stopped working.
The furnace had chosen the coldest day of the year to quit working. My stepfather had abandoned us so now I was "the man of the house" (oh joy) and I had to do something. So I grabbed a flashlight and tools and made what was to be the first of many trips under the house.
With flashlight and tools I crawled into the small cramped crawl space beneath the house. Once under the house and on my back I was perplexed as I stared at the long rectangular mass of metal that was the furnace.
Having no clue as to what to do to get the furnace working I’d screw on and undo this or that apparatus. Then I disconnected and cleaned lines that fed oil to the thing. When that didn't work I'd bang on sections of the furnace with a wrench. Then I'd open and close various valves. When none of that worked I'd beat on the contraption with my hands. Then I'd curse at it, "YOU GOD@$#%MUTHA*&^%PIECE OF %^$$#! I OUGHTTA RIP YOUR SORRY MUTHA*&^%$ASS OUT AND TURN YOU INTO SCRAP METAL! YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF $%#@! WORK YOU LOUSY PIECE OF MUTHA&%#@*JUNK, WORK!!!"
Eventually after much physical and verbal abuse from me a flame would ignite within the furnace, the fan would spin, and the beastly thing would blow out warm air.
Fooling with that dreadful furnace and having no clue as to what I was doing I'm surprised that I didn’t kill my family with fire, or smoke inhalation or carbon monoxide poisoning. I guess since I didn’t know what I was doing but was trying to keep my family from freezing to death, God took pity on me and let us live.
But I prayed, God how I prayed. As I said I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing so I prayed "Lord please don’t let me do something wrong with this blasted furnace that would cause it to catch fire or explode, burning down our house and killing my family."
I consoled myself with the thought, "Well, if I did cause the house to burn down and kill us all, well guess what? I’d be dead too, thus I wouldn’t be alive to feel guilty. Okay, I can live with that."
But the furnace never caught fire. It did cough out some thick black smoke once which blackened the walls (but that was okay I painted the walls).
It was due to the furnace that I really understood why steppop did not mess with something as dangerous as wiring and electricity. He wasn't comfortable with it so he left that to a professional.
After my parent's divorce I also had to maintain the plumbing. The pipes under the house, yes, under the house, no, not the pipes directly beneath the kitchen or bathroom sinks, that would be too easy, it was the pipes under the house that were always clogging.
There I was again, back in the crawl space under the house. I spent a lot of time under that house “Why don’t I just move under here?” I once asked myself.
One day I had to crawl under the house to unclog a large pipe that ran beneath the kitchen. With a large wrench I undid the pipe's large black cap, then jabbed the snake into the clogged opening. Just like in a scene from a sit-com, thick gooey black sludge burped out of the pipe and hit me in my face covering me in a coat dark thick, foul smelling, muck.....it was disgusting.
It was after that when I began to loathe our house. To this day I still have visions of lying on my back in that crawl space under our house for hours and hours, covered in slimy muck, and thinking, "Hell is being in dark hole in the ground, under a house, covered in sludge."
My mom knows I don’t care for our house and I think when she wants to torture or frighten me she tells me that when she passes on the great beyond she will leave the house to me.
She knows full well that I want no part of it. I think that's part oh her plan, knowing that I don't like the place she knows that I will do whatever it takes to make sure that it is quickly divided up equally between my two sisters and brother. They can have the house, the dough, whatever. I don't want to be bothered with the place and I don't want to have to crawl under it.
Some years ago my mom had the furnace replaced, but I still had to crawl under the house to place new air filters in the new furnace. But last year mom hooked up with a new fuel supplier that also takes care of filter replacement. Now I should no longer have to go under our house.....hallelujah!
You know, spending all that time under our house might be why I'm skinny today. Inhaling the fumes and smoke from that defective furnace, and swallowing that sludge from the drain pipes; combined the two elements may have formed some sort of neuralithic pathogen that altered my cell structure and genetic make-up, making me incapable of gaining weight.
Thanks to our house I have to hear, "Ricky, you're so skinny, have you got a tape worm in you?" "Wazzup slim?" Some will try to be politically correct and say, "Ricky, you're so, so.......slender," Slender sounds horrible, i'd rather be called skinny.
After my stepfather left us the furnace and the plumbing drove me crazy. But my stepfather had done such an excellent job on the house, its structural integrity so sound, that it never needed any repair work.
Steppop did quality work. His work was so good that years before he and my mom divorced he was encouraged to start his own construction business, which he did.
His construction business took off and his reputation for fine quality construction kept him with a lengthy list of clients. These clients were not only impressed with his exemplary work, but also with him as he possessed a humble sort of charisma making him extremely personable and easy to befriend.
Pop's construction business was a huge success. We now had money; he purchased an additional car and a truck. He also hired a construction crew, things were good.
But success comes with its own little pixies waiting to gum up the works. The little pixie for steppop was his old former hanging partner, booze.
From here I’m speculating, but I imagine that my steppop thought he could conquer the world. After all, business was good, money wasn’t a problem, we kids were doing well in school and staying out of trouble, the family was happy and extremely proud of pop.
Maybe he thought that with the success he was now having he could handle a little drink now and then. Maybe he did for awhile, I say "awhile" because all seemed well when I enlisted in the US Coast Guard.
But halfway through my enlistment all hell broke loose at home. My stepfather's drinking got worse, and he was having an affair with another woman.
By the time my Coast Guard enlistment came to an end my parents were splitting up. Stepfather's drinking continued to worsen, his work became tardy and shoddy and clients starting leaving him. Then his crew started leaving and eventually there was no more construction business.
Ironically it was when I was in the Coast Guard (before steppop's drinking started and the affair began) I thought that we could make his business a family business, as I wanted to join him when my enlistment was over. But when that day came, the business was in decline as was his relationship with the family.
I was groovin' to New Order's "Blue Monday" when my tipsy stepfather came by. He had come to inform us that he had a new love and was putting his (old) family behind him.
As I implored steppop not to do this he said to me, “I have a new woman, new kids, a new family and a new life. I’ve forgotten you and gone on with my life I suggest you forget about me and do the same. Go on with your life, I have.” Ironically Talk Talk's "It's My Life" was loudly playing on the stereo in my bedroom.
Now I’m the type you have to be careful with what you tell me to do, as I will do exactly as you tell me. And then later when you're wondering what's gotten into me, as you have forgotten what you asked of me, I remind you (and take pleasure in it).
When steppop said to me "forget about me," I instantly knew two things, one, this was the alcohol talking and he didn’t mean it, and two, he would regret having said that as he would someday want to be apart of our lives again.
Well, I didn’t have to wait too long. It was about two years later he wanted back in. No, he didn't want to get back with my mom or rebuild their marriage, he wanted to be a part of his kids lives again.
Evil me, who knew this day was coming, took great pleasure in coldly and unemotionally throwing his words (verbatim), back at him. "Uh uh, oh no," I said. "You said “Go on with your life," "Forget about me." Well I did as you asked; I went on with my life and forgot you. Now there's no place in my life for you, so go away and go on with your life.”
That was unnecessarily cruel I know, but I couldn’t help it, as I knew this day was coming and I'd been patiently waiting to throw steppop's words back at him.
Well steppop did as I asked, he went away and never bothered me. When his business totally evaporated, he was consumed by alcoholism. He worked sporadically and had very little money. He would hit up my sisters and brother for dough and cigarettes, but he did not bother me or ask me for anything.
Steppop didn’t bother me. But unbeknownst to me he was still interested in how I was doing and getting along in life.
I learned of this when I was told by a family member that when I graduated from college he attended the graduation. I did not even know he was there as I had not invited him. I never even told him I was going to college, but he knew, and without bothering me or the family he quietly attended my graduation.
When I was told of this I was touched, but not touched enough to form any sort of relationship with my estranged stepfather. I was still miffed with him.
I was a bit angry when my stepfather left us but I got over that quickly as divorce happens to many American families everyday (unfortunately). You can’t let divorcing parents put your life on hold, and I did not, so in actuality my steppop's advise, "go on with your life" was very logical.
I got over the break-up of our family, but one thing I never got over and was extremely angry (for years) with my stepfather about was what he did to himself. He had lost his family, reputation and business and I had a hard time forgiving him for his weaknesses.
There had been a time when this man amazed me. Here was a guy who had never finished high school, a guy who had successfully quit drinking for ten years, a guy who through hard work and quality work gained a stellar reputation that led to a successful business and had a wife and kids who were very proud of him.
Then, due to alcohol he threw it all away. What made it worse and made me angry is that unlike when he was younger when he fought against alcohol and successfully quit. This time he seemed to go into his downward spiral willingly, he didn’t seem to put up a fight. I refused to forgive him for what had done to himself.
When steppop was a young man and we still lived in that city apartment, he drank a lot. Alcohol made him hell on wheels....literally. During pop's young and constantly inebriated years he had many a drunken automobile accident. Yet he never ended up in jail for a DUI and he never killed or hurt anyone including himself, when inebriated and behind the wheel of an automobile. It had to be a case of divine intervention, that's the only way to explain it.
There was this one accident where he ran into a telephone pole, or another vehicle, I can't remember which. His car was so damaged that it was no longer drivable. The police arrived on the scene and began looking for the driver of the wrecked vehicle. But my pop was nowhere to be found. This is because my inebriated stepfather had joined the crowd of onlookers that had massed on the street. Looking concerned and mystified, he asked right along with the crowd and the police "where's the driver of that car? Where'd he go?"
I'm told that when the police approached the crowd my pop was one of the people they asked what did he see, and he replied with, "That drunk fool got out of the car and left. Whoever he was, he ain't right."
Steppop held his composure so well that the cops never realized he was the "drunk fool" and the driver of the accident vehicle that they were searching for.
I can't help but shake my head in amazement every time I hear that story....it's crazy, and there are several stories like that one.
Luckily steppop's drunken automobile accidents were more humorous than tragic. But all was not humorous as he could also get violent, combative and abusive when he had been drinking.
Once when inebriated I saw him beat a person senseless, leaving them lying in a pool of their own blood, it was horrible. I remember many times when his brothers, uncles, aunts and friends had to pull him off of another person he was savagely beating.
But to his credit, no matter how drunk and abusive he became, he never at any time was abusive, physically or mentally to his kids. He possessed this unshakable respect and kindness towards children that even alcohol could not break.
Matter of fact, drunk or sober, he never hurt a child, ever. Even when we kids did something bad or were unruly, pop didn’t or couldn’t spank us (my mom had no problem with it; she could spank all day and into the night).
Once my sister Loretta did something bad and she received a spanking from my mother. The spanking did not deter little Loretta and she continued to do whatever it was that got her into trouble.
My mom being fed up and tired of spanking her said to Loretta "I’m going to tell your father when he gets home and he is going to spank you."
Little Loretta gave mom an unafraid look and confidently said, “momma, now you know daddy isn't going to spank me,” and Loretta was right, he didn’t.
When he arrived home he was told by my mom what Loretta had done. He asked mom if she had spanked little Loretta, she said she had, and pop said then that was enough.
Another time after I’d just finished watching Frank Sinatra's WW2 film "Von Ryan’s Express" on television. I made paper airplanes and then threw them into the red hot filaments of a space heater and watched them catch fire. I was recreating the scene where the Nazi plane crashed into the mountainside and exploded into hellish flame.
Now I realized what I was doing was dangerous and that I could have caught our house on fire, but I didn’t care, I was having fun.
My steppop caught me doing this when he walked into the room. Alarm was written all over his face as he shouted "BOY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
Filled with fear, I thought “I’m in for it now, pop is gonna beat the crap outta me.”
With anger blanketing his face he walked up to me, I braced myself for the assault.
With his open hand he hit me upside my head once…once…and it didn’t even hurt! I looked at him and thought “that’s all I get? I could have burned the house down and that’s all I get?”
My stepfather was just not into hurting children. Once when my mom was giving my sibling and I our daily spanking, pop walked in while it was taking place. He got quiet, pulled mom aside and asked her "do you have to hit them so hard?"
I think my steppop's questioning of the intensity of my mom's spanking infuriated her and then she wanted to spank him too. But she couldn’t so she took it out on us kids by spanking us longer and harder.
The only one of us to ever receive a spanking from pop was my brother Ronald. While playing, Ronnie accidentally pushed Loretta through the glass storm door.
Realizing that Ronnie's actions could have been seriously injured Loretta, pop gave Ronnie a good spanking.
As far as I can recall that was the only spanking my steppop ever meted out, and by the look on his face when he did it, it was hurting him as much (if not more) as it was hurting Ronnie.
Pop wasn't very good at non physical punishment either. One day he punished Ronnie by grounding him and confining him to the yard.
Later that very day pop was working on a construction project in the backyard and every time pop turned around there was Ronnie under foot. Pop would move, turn, etc and run smack into Ronnie. Frustrated he told Ronnie "Why don't you go somewhere and play? Go play with your friends."
Ronnie said "I can’t pop, I'm grounded."
"You're grounded? Who grounded you?"
"You did pop."
"I grounded you?"
"Yep, so I'm gonna help you with what you’re doing."
"No! You're ungrounded, you're free! Go away!
With that, Ronnie, happily left the yard and joined his friends somewhere in the neighborhood.
When my stepfather fell off the wagon after 10 years of sobriety there were many times I felt bad for him. As I told you, when he wanted back in our lives and I made it impossible for him to reenter mine. My sisters and brother were more accommodating than I, but they didn't make it easy for him.
When little Loretta grew into womanhood and got married pop was drinking like a fish. There was something up with Loretta's wedding, I can't exactly remember what it was but due to his drinking pop was not invited to be a part of some aspect of the wedding (maybe he wasn’t invited to reception, I can't remember).
I do remember that he was very angry and hurt by it, plus as usual he was tipsy. He wanted to lash out and hurt someone the way he was hurting.
I was alone in a room of the hall where the wedding reception was taking place. In solitude I was enjoying the r&b sound of Melba Moore's "Mind Up Tonight" that the hired DJ was playing in the area where the reception was taking place.
To my surprise my stepfather entered the room, and he was brooding. Due to his drinking he was banished to this room, but he desperately wanted to be a part of the festivities.
This was ironic because I was in this room hiding out as I'm shy, quiet, and not big on crowds, parties or weddings receptions. I wanted to be anywhere but a part of the festivities.
Since I was all he had to choose from he tried to hurt me. The alcohol on his breath was laced with venom when he said to me, “You know what? I’m not your father, Bob is, so now what do you think of your sainted mother?”
I looked at steppop as if he had lost his mind and said “Pop, I know that, I’ve known that for years. It's not a secret. How could you think I didn't know? Geez, before my father died the man came to visit me at least once a year and you were always there.”
I gave steppop an unsympathetic look and thought, "Geez, liquor has pickled the man's brain."
Then I felt sad. Pop's attempt to hurt me had failed. He hung his head solemnly and walked away looking even more hurt and dejected….I felt so sorry for him.
But during the 10 sober years steppop was a very good father, he was an excellent provider, he was fair. When something was asked of him he listened and we discussed it before he said "yes," or "no."
Steppop didn't get mad when I had my first car accident with that dreadful 1963 Ford Galaxie 500 (remember it, "The Car That Wouldn't Die?" I wrote about it in my piece "Cars").
The accident was my fault, I was excited. I had made my first trip to a record store and purchased "I Want To Do Something Freaky To You," by Leon Hayward, "Fox On The Run," by the Sweet and other assorted 45rpm records.
In my rush to get home and play these records I ran into a vehicle sitting at the intersection waiting for the light to change.
Oh, and then, I left the scene of the accident (hey, I was 16 years old; I didn't know you were to stay put until the police arrived). The Galaxie still functioned (it wouldn't die, remember?) so I drove it to a Shoney's restaurant and called my folks to inform them that I'd had an accident.
The police officer (told by the driver of the car that I hit where I'd gone to), came to Shoney's after me.
When my folks arrived the police officer told them that since I was a clueless teenager who was stupid as I obviously hadn't learned a thing from driver's ed class (he didn't say that, but it was implied when he said to me, "Son, don’t you know that you are never to leave the scene of an accident?") he was going to ignore the fact that I left the scene of the accident.
Naturally, due to my accident the cost of pop's auto insurance increased. Pop made a point of telling me this. But just as with the car accident there was never any anger in his voice, just disappointment, and that hurt far more than yelling at me could have.
My mom didn't really care for animals, when she spanked us I wondered if she even cared for children. But pop did manage to talk her into allowing us to have a kitten named "Penelope."
Penelope grew to adulthood and had several kittens. Of Penelope's line of children, my favorite cat was Puff-Puff. Puff, as we called her, was beautiful. She was a big fluffy pure black ball of fur. When she relaxed she would roll herself up into a ball, looking like a big powder puff, thus the name Puff-Puff.
My sisters, brother and I adored Puff and she us (or so we thought). When we came home from school or work, Puff would rush to greet us. Puff was attentive, playful and affectionate. We treated Puff like royalty making sure had had all she needed and was comfortable.
Puff did not eat human leftovers or table scraps we feed her cat food, specifically Meow Mix. I loved the Meow Mix television commercials, you know the ones with the cats singing, "meow-meow-meow-meow."
My favorites were the country cats meowing with their southern country twang and the Meow Mix cat orchestra and their operatic meows.
Because we loved the commercials Meow Mix became the food we chose for Puff. Little did we know that this would later be our undoing.
One day while strolling the neighborhood, Puff decided to visit out neighbor across the street, the sweet as apple pie (or so we thought) Mrs. Taylor.
Mrs. Taylor was.....between cats, at the time and had tins of cat food left over. This cat food was the expensive moist premium cat food, Fancy Feast.
Mrs. Taylor treated Puff to some Fancy Feast….do you know Puff left us and moved in with that temptress Taylor…..left us! I couldn’t believe it, after the wonderful treatment she received from us.
Not only did Puff leave us, she stopped speaking to us, she ignored us, treated us like strangers….the ungrateful kitty. But nonetheless we missed her so.
In order to see our cat my siblings and I would go over to Mrs. Taylor’s to visit Puff. I would say “hi Puff” and she would just look at me as if she didn’t recognize me. Then the veil of forgetfulness would lift from her eyes and it was if I could see behind them and read her thoughts, she would think, “oh, it’s you, the dry cat food people.”
I would cry out "Puff come home we love and miss you."
Then I read her eyes again as they said, “If you loved me so why were you feeding me dry cat food? Why weren’t you giving me the good stuff? If you think I'm coming back to you, think again....cheapskates.”
I would go to stroke her beautiful fur and her body would twist away from me as if my touch were poisonous. Puff moved to the other side of the room, looks up at Mrs. Taylor with sad pleading eyes that seem to say, "please get these annoying dry cat food people away from me, they're getting on my last cat nerve."
Then Mrs. Taylor said as she hustled us out the door, "I’m afraid you'll have to leave, Puff is tired. Perhaps you should visit her another time, but call first; she may not be up for visitors.”
We had to schedule an appointment to see our cat, can you believe that? I was livid with both Puff and that temptress Taylor.
When I remember Puff I also remember a Lassie commercial from the early part of the 21st century. In that commercial, Lassie is bombarded with the frantic cries of the obviously helpless town folk pleading, "Lassie, save little Timmy from the kidnappers!" "Lassie, fix the damn before it burst!" Lassie, stop the forest fire!" "Lassie, catch the bank robbers!"
Having had enough of the pitiful town folk, Lassie was like, "to hell with these worrisome people," and runs into the house, logs on to the Internet, finds a search engine and looks up "Pet Adoption Services."
Next you see a happy and content Lassie living the life of luxury. Lassie is laid back on an elegant sofa while a woman with a French accent coos "Lass-sie, eat your bon-bon."
I thought to myself, "that's Puff and Mrs. Taylor." I also thought, "Miss Lauren Bacall, you with your sultry voice of the Fancy Feast commercials, I so detest you and Fancy Feast, you cost me my favorite cat."
Pop could not talk mom into letting us have a dog. The closest I ever came to having a dog of my own was when I moved to DC and my landlord Tim had two dogs, Sedona and Morgan.
The day I moved into my new Washington DC apartment, so did another new tenant. This was my landlord's brand new rambunctious puppy Sedona. Sedona, part Golden Retriever was named after Sedona Arizona as he is the golden color of the terrain found there.
Being that we were both new Sedona and I became instant friends. When my landlord was not at home Sedona would wait for me to come outside. Once I was outside Sedona would run a couple of laps around the back yard, building up speed. Then when he reached top speed Sedona would jump on this mound of earth in the corner of the yard where the two sides of the fence met.
Using his speed and the height he attained from the mound of earth, Sedona would bound over the fence and out of the yard.
Sedona would land beautifully on his paws in the middle of the street. This side street dead ended so there was no danger of a car hitting him.
Then standing perfectly still, the smiling dog with his tongue hanging out and tail wagging would look at me.
In Sedona's eyes I read what he was saying to me, "I'm out of the yard and free! Now, you and I both know I'm not suppose to be out here, so come out here and get me and put me back in the yard. You have to, you must, as my master is not here that makes you responsible. So if you don't come and get me and something should happen to me, you'll be in trouble with your landlord. So come and get me. I'll stand here perfectly still and wait for you......I promise."
I immediately thought of the Charlie Brown comic strip, specifically Charlie Brown, Lucy and the football, you know the scene? Lucy promises Charlie Brown that she will hold the football still and allow him to kick it. Then just as Charlie Brown is about to kick it she pulls it away and he falls flat on his back.
My thought was not wrong, I went out into the street to get Sedona and bring him back into the yard. Just as I got close enough to Sedona to grab his collar, he bounced to the left "ha, ha, fooled you," the happy dog thought. I reached to grab him again and he bounced to the right out of my reach, “ha, ha, what a dope, I fooled you again,” I heard the dog thinking.
This went on for awhile but I eventually got Sedona back into the yard, but I was so stressed that it took several plays of the crass but humorous song “Frank Sinatra” by the electroclash band Miss Kitten and the Hacker's to calm me down.
But that would not be the last time that Sedona would force me to play his "I jump fence-U come get me" game.
Later Sedona was joined by Morgan a small female Golden Retriever mix. I call Morgan the "Escape Artist." Morgan is too small to jump the fence, so like a convict busting out of the state penitentiary, she would dig tunnels, or make holes in the fence to escape the yard.
I was being enthralled by the electrical lightening of the synthpop band Ganymede's "Only Pictures Cry," when Hilda my next door neighbor, told me that Morgan had made one of her great escapes but had been found and brought back from Pennsylvania.
I thought, "that's not so bad, Pennsylvania Avenue (where the White House is located) is only cross-town, 15-20 minutes away, a little farther than her usual prison breaks, but not too far.
When I ran into Tim he began to fill me in on Morgan's latest escape, he said to me, “Morgan had made it to Pennsylvania."
"Yeah I know,” I said “Hilda told me she made it to Pennsylvania Avenue."
"No, not Pennsylvania Avenue," said my landlord, "Pennsylvania, the state."
Dumbfounded I said, "Pennsylvania the state! But how....but when.....THE STATE?"
I don't know what happened to Morgan after her trip to the Keystone State. But it was after that little jaunt that when Morgan would escape and half the neighborhood was out searching for her, we would return home to find Morgan waiting at the front door, ready to be let in and taken back to her cell…..without a fuss. Never again did she make any long trips.
My landlord Tim brought a new house and asked me to be a tenant in the new house. The house needed some work and Tim was looking for a reputable carpenter to do it.
While listening to Green Day's "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" I thought of stepop and thought of him for the carpentry work my landlord needed to have done. I thought pop probably needed the work and definitely needed the money.
I called pop, told him of my landlord's need and asked would he be interested. I was stunned when he thanked me but told he could not do it.
He explained to me that he had come to that point that many who suffer alcoholism reach. He had been told by his doctor that years of alcohol abuse had ravaged his body; it was stop drinking or die. He chose to live and had stopped drinking.
But the years of alcohol abuse had taken its toll. With sadness in his voice he informed me that do to alcohol his eyesight was now bad and his hands shook and were unsteady. So though he would have liked to, he was not the man for my landlord's job.
When he told me this, suddenly the last of any remaining ill feelings I had for towards pop dissipated. I felt so bad for him, to not to be able to do that in which you excelled.
Alcohol took from steppop that skill that once made him outstanding, he could never regain it, and the fault was solely his own.
To me this was a tragedy, a tragedy I would never wish on anyone. To loose a part of yourself, a part that no person could ever take from you, but you recklessly threw it away yourself. But I guess that's what substance abuse does to people.
But "our house in the middle of our street" still stands, and due to my stepfather's 10 years of sobriety and his kiddie construction crew our house became the best looking and most talked about house in the neighborhood.
© 2010 Rix Roundtree-Harrison