Saturday, December 24, 2016

Me 'n Poot Ride with Some Bad Boys

For my 700th post, I did a little review on how this blog has expanded. I mentioned that I have not written any fiction lately and needed to return to my Poot series. That prompted Shawn C. Turner to ask if Poot was fiction. In my Poot stories, I sometimes use my imagination to fill in the details that my memory has lost. It's the English teacher in me who has trouble not practicing what I steadily preach to my students: detail, detail, detail. Well, I am about to break my own advice and tell you a 100% true Poot story. The details be danged, here it is.

I am not sure what year it was but my best guess was 1972. This guess is based on who we were with. By 1974, Poot and I were mostly terrorizing Carroll County, just the two of us. It could have been '73 or even '71, but I think it was 72. I don't remember how this group got together, and I don't even remember who one of us was. Bubba Golden was driving and we were in an old, old car, maybe a 1950s something, old even for that day. Mac Carr was in the passenger's front, me 'n Poot were in the back, and for the life of me I know there was someone else back there but I don't remember who.

We were riding around Greenwood, on a Friday night I think, summertime, and we had bottle rockets. Five teenage boys on a summer's night with a full tank of gas and bottle rockets. What could possibly go wrong?

I remember we had a Coke bottle and Mac was using the bottle to put the bottle rockets in and he was shooting stop signs while we randomly roamed the roads. Then we fell in behind a car load of girls. We were on Popular Street headed north and stopped behind them at the intersection of Popular and East Jeff Davis. By the way, even if you have never been to Greenwood, you might know this intersection. The Help ends here when Abileen turns left onto Jeff Davis at this same four-way stop. The girls turned right, however, giving Mac a nice target for a bottle rocket. Probably he couldn't reproduce his shot if he had a year to practice, but that night the rocket went straight into the open passenger's window and although I don't remember the sound of the explosion, the sight of the interior of that car lighting up is still vivid in my mind.

Kathleen Saffold spilled out of the rear passenger's window and proceeded to dog cuss us at what seemed like the speed of light. I don't fault her for it. Her anger was justified, righteous even. But I did not know that girls our age knew those words, and I had never heard them coming out of the mouth of a female. It was a different age. Later, I got a date with Kathleen. In fact I dated her much of 1973 and 1974, maybe some of '72, but none of us got a date that night.

What we did do was drive over the Tallahatchie Bridge where Billy Joe McCallister took his jump and turn right onto what is now known as County Road 150. Again, if you have seen The Help, this road shows up as part of the drive Hilly makes when she is en route to confront Skeeter about her book. But then as now County Road 150 is a simple gravel road that dead ends at what we called The Trestle, a train bridge over the Yalabusha River. One way in and one way out, a testament to our intelligence when you consider what we did next.

What happened next was somebody fired another bottle rocket. According to my memory, it wasn't planned and I don't even know which one of us did it. Mac may have done it but he was on the wrong side because the houses were to our left. At that time, there were still a few people living in what we called shotgun houses on that road. The ones Poot and I didn't burn down were later moved to Tallahatchie Flats, and if you aren't from around here you can Google that and see pictures. One of those houses is the one we shot that night with a bottle rocket.

Whoever fired it off had a good aim because it hit the front porch and exploded with what sounded like an atomic bomb. Bubba floored the weak-engined car while we all laughed hysterically. We were having ourselves a night. We bombed a car load of girls and now a house. We went to The Trestle and parked there and got out and smoked cigarettes in the hot summer air and laughed some more. For whatever reason, we were not drinking beer that night. Despite living neck deep in sin, I firmly believe that was Providential and may have saved our lives because if we had said the wrong thing-- and alcohol helps you say and do the wrong things-- we very likely would have been killed.

When we felt it was safe, we headed back out but Bubba drove slowly with the headlights off so we could sneak out without being seen. Remember, we were smart enough to shoot the house going in not going out. Bubba lost his nerve driving in the dark, however, and just as we were almost to the house we had shot, he turned the headlights on and not a moment too soon. The road was covered over with firewood. Bubba hit the brakes hard, and we slid to a stop about two feet short of the wood pile. A black man with a rifle rose out of the ditch and said, "Get out of the car."

We climbed out, hands up, and faced an irate man pointing what looked like a .22 at our heads. He wanted us in the car's headlights so he could see us. He looked about thirty-five, wore a white T-shirt, and was as pissed as Kathleen Saffold, more so. He kept saying he was sick of this and that we did the same thing just last night. We tried to tell him and were not lying when we said we had never done this before. We weren't the only teenage boys in Greenwood who did stupid stuff, but we got credit for it all that night.

I stared at his mouth. His lips were tight. His jaw muscles flexed while his teeth clinched. His eyes were filled with hatred, and while he kept saying he ought to make us pay, I heard the gentle waters of the Tallahatchie trickling over a log. He had ears too, and I thought how easy it would be for him to sink our bodies in the river only fifty yards away where we would likely never be found. 

When he said, "Clear the road," we worked like it was a job and the boss was watching. After neatly re-stacking his firewood, he told us to get out of there and never come back. I really think the only reason he didn't kill us was the boy. When he got out of the ditch, a little boy, maybe nine years old, got out with him, his son I suppose. I believe he didn't want to murder us in front of the kid.

We drove to town and stopped at Jitney Jr on Park Avenue where there were always some kids hanging out. Bubba and the others were telling everybody what had happened, but I was quiet. I really wanted to go home. The one thing I always wanted when I got in a tight spot was to be in my bed at 422 West Harding. For most of my life, I have felt unsafe. My bed at 422 was the only place I ever felt safe. Now after forty-five years, I have not been back on that road at night. I sometimes run the road in the daylight. I drive by often with the sun up. But neither God nor demon has caught me out there in the dark. On Money Road, or Wade Road, yes, but that road, no.

I learned one lesson from that experience. People don't like to be shot with bottle rockets. This is another testament to our, my, intelligence. I had to learn that.