The nights were long and dark at Papa’s house. There were no streetlights anywhere. He was many miles away from any city. To stay up until 9:00 p.m. was a real treat. Papa always got up early. Sometimes I would find him sitting on the front porch, sipping coffee and watching the sunrise above Haney’s Woods in the distance. He said he was thankful that God allowed him to see another sunrise.
There was one lamp in my bedroom. When I switched it off at bedtime, everything was completely dark. I held my hand just a few inches before my face and could not see it. My only light was the pale green one from the luminescent face of my wristwatch that I had received at Christmas, but the darkness swallowed that light as well. It was a little spooky and more than once I pulled the covers over my head so that anything out there might have a harder time finding me. But there was something about those deep, dark nights, absent of almost any sound at all, that led me to fall into the most restful sleep I think I have ever known.
The mornings always welcomed me with a rooster crowing and the aroma of Papa cooking breakfast – sometimes sausage, sometimes bacon, but always eggs – and a fresh pot of coffee. Outback Papa had a hen house so that he always had eggs. Another one of my chores was gathering the eggs each morning. Yes, Papa let me drink coffee. I’m certain that mom and dad would not have liked that, but you didn’t have to tell everything that went on at Papa’s house, right? What happens at your grandparents stays at your grandparents seems to still be a rule.
Anyway, mom and dad didn’t need to worry about that coffee. I didn’t know it at the time, but it had very little coffee and much more milk and sugar. He had a set of white coffee cups that looked like maybe you could get a dozen for a dollar. One he used for his shaving mug that sat on the sink in the bathroom. I assume he didn’t also use the same one for coffee, at least I hoped he didn’t. I have never had better coffee in my life. I felt so grown up. Papa never treated me like a kid but didn’t seem surprised when I acted like one. Papa was just a really big kid, too, who just happened to be kind-of old and worn overalls.
Papa’s oldest son, Uncle Bass, lived not far down the road. Yes, we shared the same first name. We both had been named after Papa’s father. It seems that a woman named Rachel Bass had married in the family years ago and named her first son, my great grandfather, “Bass.” So there had been three of us so far with that first name. Growing up with a name like that was quite an adventure and the subject of perhaps another story or two in the future.
Uncle Bass has two sons, my cousins, Tim and Ben. They were a couple of years older than me. They would often come over to hang out at Papa’s store. How to describe them? They were country boys through and through. Short, black hair. Dark brown eyes. They always wore jeans that had holes in the knees. Whenever they could, they didn’t wear a shirt or even shoes. Papa said that those boys were as “tough as hickory sticks.” They almost always had cuts, bruises and even a black eye or two from getting in scraps, usually with one another. When Uncle Bass didn’t have them working in the fields, they went hunting and fishing all over the county, riding on horses. To me they were cowboys. They were cool. I looked up to them and not just because they stood head and shoulders above me.
Now, they didn’t exactly look up to me at all. They called me, “City Boy.” That hurt a little. I didn’t really know what it meant, especially since where we lived had only a couple hundred people (and that may have included the pets). But I guess that was a city to them and that made me a city boy. They liked nothing more than teasing me about it and a lot of other things. I didn’t really protest or mind too much. After all, they were pretty cool and also could have pounded me into the ground with both hands ties behind their backs. This “City Boy” was smart enough to keep his mouth shut.
You always knew when they were coming to the store. The hooves made that clippity clop sound and usually you could hear those two arguing about something as they tied their horses to a post outside the store. Those horses looked as large as elephants. How they ever managed to mount them was a mystery, but with a sprint and a leap, there they were on the back of those horses and galloping away like in those cowboy movies. They often tried to get me to ride one of the horses. I was too afraid, and, of course, that just gave them another reason to tease me. But I would ride behind one of them from time to time. That was both exciting and terrifying at the same time.
My cousins loved to play pranks on people. A city boy was an irresistible target. I didn’t find this out until it was too late. Here’s what happened…