Friday, July 14, 2006

A less-than-neighborly greeting

July 1973

The corn was tall as Dad drove through the river bottoms looking at crops. That's what farmers call drinking beer all afternoon looking at crops.

We drove past the fields on the Lafayette County side of our ground. The soybeans looked nice, too, he said, but I really didn't know. I just sat on my side of the pickup drinking a Pepsi as we drove around a lake that sat in the middle of the field and Dad talked about how good the soybeans looked.

I liked these trips with Dad. I always got a Pepsi, and a Slim Jim.

Dust poured from the back tires of the pickup like contrails from a jet plane as we drove down the gravel roads. You could always tell when someone was coming toward you on a gravel road, but you had to make sure you rolled up your windows when you passed them.

Dad hit the brakes and dust billowed over the truck like fog in a vampire movie.

"What's the matter?" I asked, wondering how much dust found its way into my Pepsi.

Dad looked past me and down a dirt road that ran atop a levee. A car was there, a Camaro. A few people wandered around the car, disappearing into the thick bank of green weeds that covered the levee.

"Hippies," he said, turning his wheel and driving onto the levee.

Marijuana grew thick in the river bottoms. Dad always said it grew so much better than corn or soybeans he'd grow it for a cash crop if that was legal ... but it wasn't. Too bad. I might have gone to college free.

Dad pulled his dirty red Chevy pickup next to the Camaro, giving it enough room to leave if the driver wanted to, and got out of the truck. The hippies, in their tie-died shirts, bandanas, little round sunglasses and whatever gunk built up on them between baths, came out of the weed.

"You all lost?" Dad asked.

One of the hippies holding an armload of marijuana plants smiled at him.

"Yeah, man," he said, in a slow, anti-war, college professor voice. "We're all lost."

Dad reached into the truck and pulled his deer rifle off the gun rack then he cocked it.

"Then you'd best find your way," he said. "Now."

There are times when people in your life do amazing things, unexpected things, things that make you almost wet your pants. For me, this was one of those times.

Holy moly, I thought. Dad just pulled a gun on hippies.

The Dad I knew didn't do things like this. He'd threaten to spank one of us and never do it. He'd listen to Mom gripe and just nod his head. But would he pretend he was Clint Eastwood? Never.

The hippies dropped the pot and ran to the Camaro. Dad fired a shot into the air as the Camaro's tires tried to tear into the hard, grassy ground on the levee. The car shot off the levee road and fishtailed on the gravel.

I laughed, but I wasn't sure why. In everyday situations, violence was usually wrong I learned that in church. Hippies were generally timid, sheep-like creatures I learned that from "ABC After School Specials." And gun-toting farmers were just stereotypes I learned that from cartoons. But I couldn't shake the fact that Dad scaring the crap out of a bunch of doped-up kids was just funny.

Did I learn a lesson?

Yeah, that I liked these beer-drinking, Slim Jim-eating, crop-looking trips with Dad. I didn't care how many fields we drove past or how much dust I had to swallow, as long as there was a chance someone other than me was going to wet his pants, I was happy.

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