Gunter, Oregon, is 2,430 miles west and slightly north of Washington, D.C., and rises to an elevation of 650 feet above sea level, depending, of course, on where and how and on what you stand.  I only share these facts because whenever I mention Gunter someone always asks: “Where in the blazes is Gunter?” or something of that nature.

As the crow flies, and crows do fly to Gunter, the closest city, Eugene, is about 30 miles to the northeast.  If you were to drive from the city, it could take about 83 miles of highways and winding country roads before reaching that same spot in Gunter where one of those crows might have already alit.  And you could also get lost on the narrow and sometimes very steep 12-mile ascent from Drain, the nearest town, before ever realizing any parity with crows.  And as crows may view it, this information is anything but trivial.  That’s not to say that Gunter is only for the birds; just to point out that, in a proverbial sort of way, that getting to Gunter from anywhere is far easier for birds, the crows, of course, notwithstanding. 

Nor is it to say that I am advocating we emulate birds.  What I am saying is that we should be very careful about emulating or imitating anything in nature, especially the kind that, proverbial wisdom or no, involves a slap-in-the-face of reality.  For no matter how technologically advanced we get or pretend to be, nature always seems to find a better way than we can for doing simply something we simply cannot do.  And, in my life, especially in the non-technological moments I spent as a kid, which is to say that period for me when I did much to advance the advances of nature, there has been no better place than Gunter for experiencing mother nature’s hard, stiff slap of reality – although the resulting impact for me whenever mother nature would finally get hold of me was usually felt not so much in the face as in . . . well, it wasn’t actually mother nature as much a Mom and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you where the real impact was felt.

            Dennis, Marianne, and I had already set fire to a mountain in the spring of 1959.  That was one of our grandest experiences with nature.  Some might say, especially Dennis and Marianne, that all the credit for that experience belongs squarely on my shoulders and that every slap or impact of reality should not have been shared among us and should have gone solely to me, solely, that is, to that part of my body the hands, but not the shoulders, can hold and rub and attempt to soothe once the impact has been felt.  It was, after all, my match that prevailed against the hillside breezes that were blowing out their matches.  It was my match that lit up that side of the mountain.   And lest I ever forget it, it was my match that had ultimately set ablaze the antenna Dad had planted way up the mountain to pull in from the local airwaves the T.V. broadcasts of all the major networks.

When the blaze was out and all of Gunter had returned home, wishing perhaps that they had succeeded in stamping out a grave threat to their community – meaning us – but satisfied I suspect in having at least preserved their homes from fire, out of the ashes came a Phoenix.  Well, Phoenix actually came much later; it took Mom nearly a year and a half before she could get us off the mountain and 1,500 miles away – 1,000 as the crow flies.  There was even a big celebration across the road at Grandma’s just before we left.  All of Gunter again showed up to make sure I suppose that we were really going.

So what really came out of the ashes was the miracle that the antenna still stood and still worked – if only partially.  It had been a towering pole held in place by taut guy wires and crowned with ceramic nodes and protruding aluminum extensions, but now resembled a large, spent, limp match stick, twisted into crisp and slender lumps of delicately stacked charcoal.  It was still a tower to the eternal optimist and maybe even a few crows.  And, when the ionosphere cooperated, the charred remains did receive one lone station: Channel 13, KVAL-TV, from Eugene.  So we continued to get Friday night at the fights and enjoy other similar, albeit limited, programming. 

Daytime broadcasts were less reliable, but we could usually tune in a cartoon show that we liked, hosted by a guy who could have been the Truth or Consequences Bob Barker.  He wasn’t, of course.  He didn’t comb his hair the same. Nor did he wear a business suit and tie the way Bob Barker did, just a regular large black and white striped jacket and ukulele.  And he didn’t get people to promise they’d do stupid things like put on old-fashioned swimming trunks and dangle over a tank of water that they’d get dropped into because they were only as smart as a dog if they couldn’t come up with the answer to the question: “What’s the difference between a tree and a fire hydrant?”

He wasn’t mean like that, but he laughed when funny things happened the way Bob Barker laughed and got people to laugh with him.  And he would sometimes hold and shuffle note cards in his hands as he talked.  By coincidence, he held a microphone that looked just like the cigar-shaped one on Queen for a Day.  But mostly he looked more like Truth’s Bob Barker than Queen’s Jack Bailey – not that it made any diffence.

We didn’t know a lot about what he was doing.  We only knew that we liked that he wasn’t like a lot of the grownups.  He wasn’t ever angry, didn’t yell at anybody, didn’t tell us what to do or say or how to do or say anything; he had puppets; he’d once in a while get a pie in the face, and he had all these cartoons.  Besides, he had a name that seemed a good fit for the delight he also took in collecting buttons.  He called himself Addie Bobkins and collected all kinds of buttons, but didn’t wear them.  I don’t recall ever seeing them on his clothes.  The buttons were always colorful and oddly shaped and adorned with elaborate designs or cameos.  Viewers would send these buttons to him and he would hold them up to the camera for all his viewers to see. 

Lots of times we’d get so excited about these buttons we’d run and tell Mom and ask her if we had any buttons we could send.   She was usually stirring something on the stove or carrying laundry somewhere and would sometimes grimace and say something that sounded as if she agreed; other times, she wouldn’t let it bother her and, without turning around or stopping what she was doing, would say, “We’ve got buttons, and you better be wearing ‘em.”  

We’d go back to watching, not quite sure how it was she had said “No!” but sure we had heard her say so.

The show was broadcast live in black and white, and aired every weekday afternoon at 4:30.  The older kids, Joann, Dan, Mark, and Therese, would have just gotten home from school.  We were all fans and not just because of the cartoons and the buttons, not because of the names he mispronounced and the fact that there was no other channel we could watch.  We liked to see ourselves, I mean, viewers just like us.  Addie Bobkins always had viewers appear on the show.  They’d sit in the studio in a couple of rows of folding chairs just off camera and were almost always kids. 

Towards the end of the show, the part of the show we always waited for to see if our name would be mentioned, Addie would go over to his studio audience with his microphone in hand – that Jack Bailey kind of microphone that looked like a big black cigar.  Sometimes I’m sure he’d also carry his ukulele with him, which didn’t look anything like something burning.  But I must have been still fixated on matches and fires and things that burn and smolder because I only remember the microphone.  It could have also looked like a big unwrapped tootsie roll, maybe even a hotdog, but I’m afraid I was set on a burning cigar.  Anyway, as if demonstrating to some lucky kid how to speak into a cigar, Addie would put the microphone up close to his own mouth, and, without touching the rounded ash tip, he’d ask the first kid, “And who are you?”

Then he’d give the kid a try. 

The kid would always grin or giggle or squirm in some way or another and answer, “Timmy.”

We wouldn’t be exactly disappointed that the name wasn’t one of ours.  It would be more fun if the kid had come up with some other name that might very well be the same as one of us.  One of us then would always shout, “Hey! It’s you.”  And Addie’d get an extra burst of laughter from our living room on those occasions.  Whichever one of us was named would then, just like the kid on TV, grin or giggle or squirm, duly embarrassed and excited for having been included in the show by virtue of a common name. 

Whatever the name, Addie would play his trick.

“Where do you go to school, Eat ‘im?” he’d ask, waiting for a laugh from the studio audience, which he always got. 

We’d laugh then, too, because it wasn’t anybody’s name.  We didn’t exactly understand what had happened, understand, that is, why it was a joke; we only knew it was a joke. 

Addie would also wait for Eat ‘im to say, “Uh . . . What?” or something of that nature; then Addie would squinch up his face and apologize and correct himself:

“Sorry!  Eat ‘im – Timmy – What’d you say?” 

More laughter and the kid would get another chance at the cigar.

We never knew Addie’s real name was Bobby Adkins.  Perhaps Mom knew his name and of his penchant for spoonerisms and anagrams.  Perhaps every grownup knew that he was doing purposely to his own name what he often did on purpose when he spoke and mixed up words and mixed up everyone he spoke to until someone was embarrassed and laughing for all the mistakes he made with words.  The grownups were perhaps only embarrassed for him, having to mix it up the way he did with kids.  We, on the other hand, were only slightly embarrassed, mostly impressed, if he mixed up our names.

“Oh, you’re Tap,” he’d say, and I’d blush.  Or he might say, “Nad?,” or “Did you say you’re Kram?” and my older brothers Mark and Dan would flinch.

Once, Dennis was the name.   We pointed at Dennis and, like Pavlov’s dogs, salivated in our usual “Hey! It’s you” way.  Dennis grinned. 

Addie paused for a moment and looked a little surprised.  “Oh,” he said finally, “and where do you go to –” 

Addie was going to make us laugh.  We knew it.  He was getting that squinched up look.  And we were getting ready to laugh.

“Did you say Sinned?” 

The kid said, “Yeah.”

Now, we’d not only been to church, but played church quite enough, taking turns as priests saying Mass and baptizing dolls or forlorn puppies, even sticks sometimes.  Joann and Dan, Therese and Mark had already received their first communion and been to real confession.  They knew sinned, knew what it meant, knew what happens to those who have done it, and had lately advised us all about what Mom would do if she ever caught any of us doing it.  So, like any good congregation upon hearing the word that spoke to our potential for doom, we at first collectively gasped.

Addie, on the other hand, who had been stooping over to get that cigar-shaped microphone to the kid’s mouth and remained that way even after the kid had said what he had said, immediately reached out and grabbed the back of the kid’s chair with one hand while dropping the other hand, still clutching the microphone, on the kid’s knee, then on his own.   He stayed that way, mouth agape, eyes closed, laughing loudly for a long time.  The kid and all the kids in the studio by this time were also squealing in laughing.  We could even hear grownups bellowing off-camera.

So, like any good audience to a show that gave us the likes of Popeye and Krazy Kat, we started laughing, too.  Our concern or bewilderment about the idea thus expressed and the impact it may have on one so named, like our brother, gave way to a higher spirit of . . . .  Actually, we didn’t bother any further about the event beyond the simple conclusion that we were not going to get into trouble for laughing about Sinned, especially if everyone else, even the grownups, was laughing.

Addie soon regained his composure and moved on to the next kid in the audience.  After he signed off, encouraging everybody to “Moon in Motorrow,” I spent the rest of the evening taunting Dennis with his name, bumping up next to him every chance I got and whirred like an annoying fly the word Sinned into his ear for a laugh.  We loved that show, even if Dennis quickly tired of my in-the-ear whirring and finally swatted me into playing something else.

            When the Gunter School 5th grade, which totaled about four kids, decided to take a field trip to sit in Addie Bobkins’ studio audience, it was quite a big deal for all of us.  Joann was going to be on the Addie Bobkins Show; she was also going to be on T.V.  On the day of the event, after the older kids had gone to school, Mom had instructed the rest of us to stay close to home so that we could all sit down at the appointed time and see our big sister in a way and place that had never happened before in Gunter.

            Mom’s instructions amounted to a prohibition against having fun that day.  Even before lunch, we were bored with hanging around and being restricted to playing close to the house.  Our good friend and neighbor Bradley Carpenter lived just a half mile down the road from us and we conspired to play with Bradley because he lived just a half mile down the road.  We had  pleaded with Mom to let us go to Bradley’s – even promised we could be home before Joann’s show came on. 

Mom said “No!”

She didn’t have time to get us to Bradley’s or to worry about getting us home on time for the show.  Her concerns about time weren’t something she voiced or even explained.   She was busy getting our lunch together, consoling little Frank who was only a year old and crying about something, loading the washer with diapers, ironing a blouse I think she wanted to wear because Frank had thrown up on the one she was wearing, changing sheets on the beds, stirring something in a can that looked like the paint she was going to use to cover up the plaster she had applied to a crack in the bathroom wall.  So all she had time for was “No!” 

We weren’t all that stupid and certainly understood and appreciated her predicament.  She was worried about the time.  If we could find a way to make sure about time, then we could get some play time in with Bradley and still be home in time for the show.  Besides, we had heard “No!” and understood that a “No!” only lasts for just a short time.  If we didn’t hear it again after, say, lunchtime, then perhaps it didn’t mean “No!” anymore.  

We didn’t have a clock or a watch to help us, but in our musings over Mom’s biggest concern, one of us noted that Bradley’s older brother, Steve, could tell time by just looking at the sun – you know, the way the Indians on TV do.  Well, it dawned on me that I could tell time that way, too.  I wasn’t a TV Indian or Steve Carpenter, but neither was he.  Well, he was Steve, but he wasn’t an Indian on TV.  You know what I mean.  How hard could it be? 

“I can tell time looking at the sun,” I said, proclaiming a fact that was not a fact because I couldn’t even tell time by looking at a clock.  But I could pretend about the clock, too, because neither Dennis nor Marianne could tell time by looking at either sun or clock and didn’t pretend to.  Whether they believed me didn’t matter either because we had found a solution to the problem.  We’d have time to get down to Bradley’s and home again without missing the show. 

We wouldn’t tell Mom because, as I said, her “No!” came before lunch.  She could say “No!” again if we asked her and, much worse, she would think I was lying if I told her I could tell time by just looking at the sun.  There was no point in carrying my imaginary chronometrical skills too far, no point in getting too technical with Mom, no point in seeking any more willing believers than Dennis and Marianne.  So we decided to sneak down to Bradley’s.

            “What time is it?”  Dennis asked before we’d set out.

            “About 3:00,” I’d respond.  I knew 3:00 came before 4:30.

            “Got an hour,” Dennis said.

            “Yeah,” I, of course, agreed.  An hour was a long time.

            “Let us know when we should head back.”  Dennis was being careful to remind me to pretend really well.
            “In about a quarter hour,” I said.

 I’d often heard Mom use the expression.   It was about how much more time we needed to wait for something – usually the end of Mass.  Our waiting or lack of waiting every Sunday morning for Mass to be over as we sat crowded and hungry in our pew at the rear of the church often brought Mom to the brink of sin.  It was not that it was a sin to yank the one or two of us who were the least attentive to suggestions like ssshh! out of the pew and drag us outside for a proper explanation about how much time from Mass we had deprived Mom.  The sin was in missing any part of the Mass, especially the consecration or communion, which always came within the very long quarter hour Mom insisted we had left to wait.  Mom’s parking lot voice, unlike her church voice, came through clenched teeth and always conveyed a final warning that were she to risk the wrath of God in the next quarter hour we risked a greater wrath not yet having had breakfast. 

Dennis looked at me in surprise when I had used the phrase, perhaps mindful of where he, too, was used to hearing it and very concerned that I wasn’t pretending as well as I should.

When we got to the Carpenters’, Bradley was out by the road just sitting on the fence by the gate that opened onto his driveway.

“Wanna swing on the gate?” Bradley asked.
            “Should we leave yet?” Dennis asked.  In hindsight, I can tell that he was getting nervous.  We’d never attempted anything like this before – pretending to rely on the sun for answers.  And because the sun doesn’t change much when you’re looking at it or to it even when you know you don’t know what you’re looking for, neither do the answers that come to you and, ultimately, from you.  You’d think that pretending would offer you all kinds of possibilities.  And maybe it does if you know anything about what you’re pretending.  But I didn’t know, so my answer to Dennis was always the same.

            “Still got about a quarter hour,” I’d say looking up at the sky, but not at Dennis or anyone, for that matter, who might have a vested interest in what time it really was.  I could tell how interminably long an hour was whenever we had to wait a whole hour for something and how much a quarter hour always seemed to last because it was suppose to be a shorter part of an hour, so I was pretty confident there had to be lots of time.

            At about the time I had given my fourth or fifth “still got about a quarter hour” announcement, we saw Bradley’s mom walking out to the gate where we were still trying to decide whether we wanted to swing on the gate.  She didn’t come all the way out to the gate.  She stopped about midway and shouted to us, “Your mama just called, thought she would find you here.  She’ll be right down to get you.  Even though you still have a quarter hour before you have to leave – according to the sun.”

            I made up that last part of her message.  I thought she should have said it, should have given us some consolation, because right after she turned to go back to her house Mom pulled up to the gate.  No one said a word.  Had we known how to swear, I suspect I would have cursed the sun – had to curse something besides me because by the looks on Dennis and Marianne’s faces they were doing plenty of that already.  Mom didn’t say a word either.  Maybe she was silently cursing the sun, too – only maybe I also made up that part of the story or, at least, changed the spelling of sun a little.  As I recall, Mom didn’t get out of the car, just opened the passenger door behind her and watched as we slunk our way into the back seat.  Maybe Frank was crying on the front seat beside her.  Bradley must have still been sitting on that fence when we drove away.  The quarter hour seemed to have worked for him.

            Mom was first out of the car and into the house when we got home, cradling Frank in her arms.  She must have hurried up and bundled him away in his crib before getting herself ready for us because I don’t remember seeing him after we got to the front door.  I don’t remember whether I heard him crying either.  I remember we were crying, but not until after Mom had said what she was going to say and did what she didn’t have to say.  And I don’t remember her saying anything or that she even had to.  Time is playing tricks on me.  Everything had stopped for us, but at the same time everything was happening all at once. 

Just as we had slunk into the car, we slunk ourselves out of it.  We followed behind Mom to the front door and, when we looked into the house, found her sitting alone waiting for us on the far side of the living room in one of the chairs from the dining table.  Well, she wasn’t really alone.  She had the stick in her hand that she kept within easy reach atop the kitchen cupboard.

She beckoned each of us singly into the house and to her, whereupon one after the other she folded us onto her knee in a way contrary to the manner she had earlier been cradling Frank: our little rears pointing upward across her lap instead of neatly tucked down into her arms.  With the help of her stick she instructed us successively in the lessons of waiting, of what we had sinned, of not being able to tell time by the sun.

            Afterwards, Mark and Dan and Therese were home.  Mom was then sitting in a different chair watching TV with us.  Dennis, Marianne, and I said nothing.  Our eyes had dried, and our little rears had cooled enough to join the rest of the family on the floor in front of the TV.   There was Joann saying her name and giggling when Addie mispronounced it.  We all laughed.  Now and then I let go an involuntary gasp for air as my body and, I suppose, my entire being strived to recover from the lesson I’d been given.  I hoped these little episodes in my breathing went unnoticed.  I didn’t want anything to remind Mom that I had been crying for fear she may suddenly realize that I wasn’t crying anymore, and may just want to do something about that.  Dennis and Marianne were probably gasping now and then, too, and going through the same anxiety as I.  I couldn’t be sure.  They may have only had a secret wish that Mom would notice I wasn’t crying anymore.

One Response to “Story 007 – Sun Time Soon”

  1. Margaret Says:

    PK,

    I saved Addie for a day I needed cheering up, and boy did he work. We had Bozo the clown, and you had Addie the unusual. We had the bucket contest, and you had cartoons. A boy from my school was televised on Bozo, but didn’t even make it to bucket #1.
    Good times, dude.


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