If you read last week’s column, you’ll remember the half hour job of installing a wall sconce night light took me over five hours. If it weren’t for my dad, I would’ve quit after the first hour.
When we were growing up, I lost count how many times he said, “Never, ever, quit.” It was a phrase he repeated after giving us a difficult task, just before one of our many sport events, or as we studied for a big test in school. Never, ever, quit.
Those three words have had a lot to do with forming who I am today. As a kid or an adult, I’ve been true to those words … except once. A long, long time ago while living on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo, I did quit something. I quit a game of tag … and it saved my life.
It may seem odd to remember a game of tag played over fifty-six years ago, but it was different than all the rest. Remembering, unfortunately, isn’t my problem. Being able to forget is.
The Wife calls them the screaming meemies. She knows the screaming meemies are around when she is suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by me screaming, thrashing about trying to fight off something in my dreams. Monsters attacking, a distant fire department memory of a horrific call, or Down the Street Bully Brad beating me up have all been fertile earth from which nightmares grow unabated, but not this time.
Last night the screaming meemies came for Yours Truly just after 2:00 a.m., dragging me back to Flamingo to a sunny Saturday afternoon and an ill-fated game of tag.
It was tradition. All the kids who live on Flamingo, even Down the Street Bully Brad, gathered behind Neighbor Thomas’s house on the first Saturday of May. Bully Brad set aside his bullyness and became just a normal kid two times a year, and the annual spring tag game was one of those days.
With fourteen kids and three connected backyards full of huge trees to run and hide behind, the game usually lasted hours. The longest game was over four hours, and that included a time out for lunch. The shortest was an hour. That’s if you don’t count the game I quit. That game started out like all the others, but only lasted ten minutes.
It was a chilly Saturday when Bully Brad was voted to be the first kid who ran around tagging others. Running away from Bully Brad was something I was good at, so I was sure he’d never tag me. Wrong. I was the first and last person that he chased and tagged.
After running around between the three backyards, out of breath and looking for a break, I hid behind a giant pine tree in the back of ours. It wasn’t long before Bully Brad found and tagged me, announcing “You’re It,” and ran away.
I didn’t move. He came back, tagged me again, yelled, “I said you’re it!” and ran away again. Again, I didn’t move.
Then Bully Brad walked back over, punched me in the arm and yelled, “Didn’t you hear me? You’re it, Spitball!!” I looked down at my left foot, then back up at him and said one word. That word caused the meanest kid who ever lived on Flamingo, and everyone else, to run away and make for the shortest spring game of tag in Flamingo Street history.
Yes, Dear Reader. Yours Truly was standing on top of the entrance way to an underground nest. It must’ve been a huge nest because I could feel angry bees buzzing, trying to get out from under my tennis shoe. Everyone had run away, even my brothers and The Sister, but I didn’t blame them. If one of them were standing on the world’s largest bee nest calling for help, I’d run away also.
Standing there all alone, I had two options. First, not moving until nighttime when hopefully all the bees were asleep. Second, move and try to outrun an angry swarm. Unfortunately, the decision wasn’t made by me. It was made by a lone bee returning to the hive only to find a giant standing on the entrance to his home. He stung me on my nose causing me to forget for a moment why I wasn’t supposed to move until nightfall. I lifted my foot.
Mom heard me screaming as I was running back up to the house and was standing at the top of the hill to meet me. My brothers and The Sister heard me and were also standing — safely in our living room. Surprisingly, I had indeed outrun all the bees, leaving them far behind … except for the ones that were crawling up inside the leg of my jeans. Note to Readers: Bees are not yellow-jackets.
Bees sting only once and then die, but yellow-jackets can sting multiple times. Don’t slap yellow jackets if you find them crawling up inside your jeans. Trust me, it only makes them mad, and they’ll start to sting you and will never stop! Guess what kind of nest I’d really been standing on?
Outside in our backyard, I was yelling and screaming, slapping, and dancing around while stripping off clothes. The more I took off, the more I aggravated the yellow-jackets and the more they stung.
With my brothers and The Sister laughing from the safety of the living room, I stood right in front of Mom, crying, with no clothes on. It was only after we returned home from seeing the doctor that I found out she too had been stung numerous times.
This is just one of countless examples of how our mom took care of us kids and never once complained. She was always there cleaning our wounds, wiping away our tears and giving those special mom hugs. Our mom’s hugs were magical and helped take away any pain. Her hugs made us feel safe and helped us see that everything would be okay again.
On this Mother’s Day, or any day, hug your mom. Even though our mom has been gone for over forty years, I will never, ever quit remembering all that she did for us kids. And never, ever, quit wanting just one more mom hug to make everything okay.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]