Disclaimer: Dave Barry is NOT my Daddy! But his weekly newspaper column never failed to make me laugh out loud. Laughing out loud was what we had to do before lol-ing was enforced. He taught me that maybe being different and silly could be socially acceptable, and (dare Dave and me say?) fun and entertaining (to me and him, and a handful of other people)!
I spent some time (my entire childhood, in fact), trying to grow up in the extremely rural, waaaaay down Soufth-est (Redneck Ghetto) part of our great country.
In those days, Dave Barry was like a father to me. An absentee father, but a father just the same.
There were certain constants that defined that era of pretend innocence. We were not entirely without luxury, understand, but our one "luxury" was that we always maintained local home delivery of the daily local newspaper.
I use the term "home delivery" lightly. Not because of the word HOME, mind you. It's an undeniable truth that no building daring to house NINE blood-related human beings at one time can run or hide from being called a home.
This was not a city street, subdivision, trailer park, or anything else that might be mistaken for a "neighborhood" such as might sustain the kind of paper routes imagined and portrayed in the many books we would read, but not yet see on television, which, despite having been invented for quite some time, was given and taken away, for religious reasons that escape me now. "Home" was a small, yet crowded, structure, situated smack dab in the middle of fifteen acres of prime Mississippi Pine.
Back to topic, which was, I believe, Luxury.
Let's just agree that there weren't any kids on bicycles slinging papers at porches where WE lived.
Instead, these jobs went to adults, independently contracted newspaper deliverypersons who drove their privately owned, maintained, and insured vehicles to the newspaper factory in the dark, wee hours each morning to obtain their product, which they would then deliver to each of their paid-up customers, usually by the time the sun got all the way up. I'm sorry, but I don't have any further details on what-all else went on in the mysterious, syndicatish world of the newspaper industry in the 1980's.
Delivery is, of course, the word in question. Either our succession of newspaper guys through the years considered the risk of damage to their vehicles too great to consider our satisfaction, or maybe they were too drunk to navigate without the guidance of the mandatory, brightly reflective, painted borders that even the most pitiful paved roads had.
At any rate, unless it was time to demand payment, they all chose NOT to drive down the one-tenth of a mile of carefully maintained (hahaha! I couldn't even TYPE that with a straight face!) driveway composed primarily of indigenous red clay dirt, plus seemingly random, and constantly changing, combinations and amounts of "other."
"Other" included dirt and sand of every natural color, assorted rocks, oyster shells, something called gravel, and bits of our own blood and skin. Gravel was that stuff put down to cushion your falls when you crashed your bicycle. Gravel was the externally scarring shrapnel of childhood. Not even the threat of possible death due to "blood poisoning" made the pain and suffering of cleaning scrapes filled with gravel out of your legs and arms seem worthwhile. We had plenty of that iodine stuff, but our parents were either too poor or too sadistic to buy any of the numbing stuff we'd heard about on the streets (meaning: from library books).
If I had to guess, I'd say most of our net worth was tied up in that driveway. When in need of some fast cash, we would sift through the driveway like stereotypical gold prospectors of another time. A pretty or unusual rock or shell, or even a colorful piece of a broken bottle could get you a quick dime or a quarter, once cleaned and displayed attractively. Daddy was usually good for a little change, and you never knew when Papaw and Mamaw might stop by, either.
Our driveway was bordered by two ditches, non-ironically called The Big Ditch and The Little Ditch. While The Little Ditch spent its time being small and unremarkable, with significant rain, The Big Ditch became our one other luxury: a wading or semi-fishing hole.
Hordes of tadpoles swam around in The Big Ditch like the sperms we would eventually see on educational videos at rural public school. Watching tadpoles never got boring, though. Once you know about tadpoles, it takes a whole lot more than a bunch of nameless, untalented sperms on a screen to impress you.
The superiority of tadpoles was obvious even then. Tadpoles aren't IN a cutthroat race against time and each other to reach some mysterious holy ovum grail and then "fertilize" it!
If they were celebrities, Tadpoles would be Bono and Sperms would be New Kids on the Block, or Wile E. Coyote.
Chapter Two: The Beginning of our collective Blue Period
One year it was so hot in the waaaaay down Soufth that even tears would evaporate before they could reach the ground.
When Mister Sun dried up all the water in The Big Ditch before the tadpoles finished turning all the way into frogs, we were upset and tried desperately to save them. We formed kind of a makeshift Bucket Brigade, filling all the milk jugs, pots, and bowls we could, hauling little red wagons back and forth, hell-bent on saving as many tiny lives as we possibly could.
Sadly, the "foundation" and building materials of The Big Ditch turned out to be just plain regular dirt, and the dry earth quickly absorbed all that water, and THAT's what broke our hearts.
I'm gonna go cry now. Survivors of the Failed Frog Saving Brigade will meet first Friday of each month at my house as usual. See y'all then.
Remember to bring a covered dish, enough Kleenex for yourself, and plenty of hugs and encouragement.I'll have the ice and drinks. We CAN get through this, but not without each other...