Epiphany of a Vine Tester

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I was in Mr. Sublett’s AP US History class on a winter Friday, second period, junior year, halfway listening to The Sub expound on the role states’ rights played in the War Between the States and halfway to Daydream Believer Land when it hit me what a bunch of low-down, four-flushing, underhanded rat-finks my buddies were when we were in the late single digits and very early double-digit years of our lives. The epiphany was nothing short of shocking. I let half the class in on my astonishment by suddenly sitting up straight in my desk and muttering loudly, “What a bunch of sorry . . . ” Well, we won’t go into exactly what sort of sorry they were. This is mostly a family blog.

Just because you've got on a cape don't mean you can fly.

Anyway, this is what hit me. When we boys were young and rip-romping around the woods behind our houses, we had two favorite past-times: splashing in the creek looking for “spring lizards” and swinging on vines over the various ravines and gullies that pockmarked the tree choked hills. As I’ve mentioned many times here before, I am not now and never have been a lightweight. I’ve always been fat to the point of being big around as I have been tall. That made my rip-romping a little more difficult than my lithe and agile blood-brethren. As a result of the large disparity between my ability to cover ground and my lighter buddies’, I often lagged behind the gang . . . far behind at times. On good days, I could stay within earshot; on bad days — if I didn’t know the woods intimately — I’d get hopelessly lost.

Luckily, and here’s where my epiphany kicked in, the boys always waited for me at every vine swing or log crossing. Now all my buddies were raised to be kind and mannerly — just like I was. All of our parents and grandparents had been friends and sometimes even kin. So for nearly ten years, I thought the guys were looking out for me. They knew that I was slow AND (I hate to admit this) they knew I was terrified of getting lost in the woods and eaten by a grizzly bear or worse. It didn’t matter to me that no wild grizzly bear had lived east of the Mississippi River — much less Upstate South Carolina — in over a century. I was just an easily scared little boy. (Who, incidentally, grew up into an easily scared man).

But I digress.

Without fail, I’d always find the group waiting for me at the aforementioned log crossing or vine swing and, without fail, they always let me go first. I figured it was their way of keeping me close enough to hear my death screams as Gentle Ben was having me for lunch. That day in Sub’s class though, the harsh ugly truth hit me. Altruism wasn’t anywhere in their equations.

I was the vine tester.

Quite simply, I was always the first to cross the logs over the creeks or gullies. I was always first to swing across the logless gullies on a vine — Tarzan style. What I had mistaken for kindness was cold, calculating self-preservation. I easily outweighed the next heaviest member of our circle by a good fifty pounds. At some point, they all got together and realized if they sent me across first, whatever material was in question would definitely hold them!

They used me and my fat to keep themselves from cuts, sprains, and wet jeans. I was so certain of their tender motives that I never questioned them. After all, I was a very poor vine-swinger so they would always give me a boost up and a good push to make sure I got across. Once or twice, I didn’t. I would have shoes full of muck and poison ivy all over my legs, but they would be safe.

Why sure, guys! I'll go first. Hold my drink will ya'?

I would have gone on to my grave in blissful innocence of my “friends'” duplicity had it not been for night hunting. That was what turned my mind to those halcyon days as I sat in that AP History class. Some of my friends from those bygone days had taken up the quintessential Southern “sport” of coon hunting.

Briefly, coon hunting consists of moving rapidly through woods, fields, and creek bottoms in pursuit of a pack of demented dogs — coon hounds — who are themselves in pursuit of a raccoon. To up the degree of difficulty into the stratosphere, this is all done at night. Usually WAY at night. Oh, yes, and the season is also in the dead of winter.

I had joined these acquaintances on a few of these moonlit excursions and, just as in days of yore, I was always invited to cross the fallen log first. Ten years on, I was still “the vine / log tester!”

Thanks to that second period awakening, however, my tenure as quality control for creek crossings was at an end. We had scheduled a hunt for that very night. I went along as I always did and, we came to a fallen log, as we always did. One of the guys called out, “Wham, you head on across so you don’t get so far behind”, just as they always did.

For the first time, however, I spoke up at the crossing.

“Fellas, it’s taken me a long time, but I’ve finally figured out this game. Y’all gonna send my fat . . . butt across that log so if it don’t break with me you’ll know it’s safe. Now don’t deny it, I’ve come to this conclusion, but I’ve got one thing to say. I’ve worked over this here shotgun of mine and she’s got a nice easy trigger pull. It’s gonna be a shame if a log breaks tonight or any other night from here on out because I’m pretty sure if I fall, this shotgun is going to go off. Furthermore, despite all our training with guns and such, I’m almost CERTAIN this shotgun will be fall out of my hand in such a way as to be pointed in all y’all’s directions. Just thought I’d let you know. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll cross this log.”

It was the last log I ever “tested”.

Now keep those feet clean and remember how much G.S. Feet loves y’all!

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