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I remember quite vividly the day my father came home with a brand new motor home. He was smiling as he drove into the driveway and pulled up to the house. With unbridled excitement he explained to mamma and me how he had sold the house we lived in to buy this new home-on-wheels. Now when a storm or hurricane approached, all we had to do was start the engine and drive safely away. We no longer had to worry about our wellbeing, not to mention all the storm damage and the cleanup that always followed.
This was the first time my mamma shot him. She had tried on previous occasions but had always missed. From his hospital bed my father kept saying how he did not understand why she had become so angry. It was just the night before they had talked over dinner about the need to protect their property from the two new storms that had just formed in the Atlantic Ocean. He thought the motor home was the logical choice to protect the family.
It was not long after he was released from the hospital that mamma made bail. Before long we were on the road leaving Florida and the hurricanes behind. We never went back. There was no way we could. Mamma was wanted for failing to appear in court for trial on charges of assault with a deadly weapon.
We made it all the way to North Carolina before the air conditioning broke. Four days in a cheap motel and mamma was ready to shoot him again until he found employment at a local cotton mill. Not long after this the motor coach was fixed and we took up residence in a local trailer park. This is where I found myself at the age of twelve, growing up in the small town of Landis with a hardworking goodhearted father and a quick-on-the-draw mother. It was from here I reveled in my teenage years and learned the meaning of keeping my feet firmly on the ground. I had no choice. As I quickly learned, forces of nature were holding me down.
The trailer park was full of low income families and we fit right in. My father and mamma made friends easily with our neighbors. We were celebrities of a sort. All the other families lived in mobile homes. Ours was the only one with a motor home. The other kids thought I had the coolest parents. My father took full credit for our way of life since it was his idea we leave Florida in our traveling home. Mamma let him talk, but would fold her arms across her chest in contempt when she thought his bragging had gone too far. I was happy just to be the center of attention and for mamma not trying to shoot him again.
Here is where I met my best friend for life. His name is Ralph. Of course, the first time we met, we punched each other in the nose. The next day as we were preparing to fight again, our attention was diverted as the new girl in the park slowly walked by. Her name was Betty. She was an angel in disguise with her golden curly locks, freckles, and the most beautiful smile the world has ever seen. Ralph and I stopped in mid-swing to gaze upon this heavenly radiance of beauty. Immediately, I fell in love with her. Ralph loved her even more.
From that moment on we were a threesome exploring the neighborhood, laughing together, getting into trouble together, and having the best time poor kids could have. We especially enjoyed the wooded area adjacent to the park. It was full of all kinds of creepy creatures, trees reaching for the sky, and the best hiding places a person could want. This is the place where I discovered gravity.
Now, I am not saying gravity is a bad thing. It has a wonderful purpose. Without it everything would go flying off into space. For most people being firmly rooted is what they want, but I have always been one wanting to soar. While I have my sights on the stars gravity keeps holding me down.
The wooded area behind the park was simply known as "the woods." It housed tall oak and pine trees just waiting for someone like me to explore. I was amazed at the sight of them. In Florida, where I was born and had spent my younger days, the trees were much smaller and nowhere as impressive. While Ralph and Betty were seeking out new hiding places I was intent on wrapping myself around a big oak tree and inching my way up the trunk to the first limb.
It took a lot of struggle but I finally made it. I had to be at least twelve feet high. From my perch I was surprised at how clearly I could see the things around me. Ralph and Betty came looking for me, and of course, they could not find me. I yelled at them and they looked up to see me sitting comfortably on the tree branch. It was evident Betty was impressed with my skill. Then Ralph had to go and ask, "Why don't you go higher?" I know he did that just because he was envious of the attention Betty was showing me. His attitude would have made me really mad if he was not such a good friend. So, looking down at them, I nonchalantly replied, "No problem, I'll go to the top."
With more than a little nervousness and deliberate care I pulled myself from one limb to the other. About half way to the top I made the mistake of looking down at Ralph and Betty. This made me dizzy and I had to quickly grab the tree and cling to it for a minute until my senses quit spinning around. Out of concern Betty yelled up to me, "Are you okay?" I was too woozy to reply so I carefully waved to them and then hastily grasped the tree again. For a moment I had thoughts of giving up my climb to the top until I heard Ralph tell Betty, "I could go a lot higher than that."
Slowly but surely I continued to climb until I was at the top. The tree was much smaller at its peak and actually began to gently sway back and forth due to my weight on it. From this vantage point I could see for miles around. Our motor home looked like a toy and Ralph and Betty looked like ants. The view and the sense of not being held to the ground started a euphoria in me that has lasted until today. I knew this was my destiny. My life would have to be high above the ground. Unfortunately, I did not realize it at the time, but gravity was about to rear its ugly head.
From my loft in the top of the tree I could hear Betty giggling with delight at my achievement. Even as I rocked to and fro I could tell even Ralph was impressed with my accomplishment. I was feeling very good about myself until I heard a loud crack as the tree top I was clinging to broke off and starting falling toward the ground with me hanging on for dear life.
The sense of falling was not that bad at all. There was a sort of exhilaration at being able to float through the air even though it was a downward spiral. I was brought quickly back to reality when I landed on a large limb of the tree. This probably saved me from hitting the ground and breaking my neck, but the way I landed made we wish I could have died. I came to a sudden stop as my fall made me straddle the limb. Now, if I had been a girl this would have proven to be simply an embarrassing moment. But, since I was a boy, this proved to be a moment of excruciating pain. As a young man, especially one going through puberty, the area between the legs is quite sensitive to any sudden impact. My impact with the tree limb had not only been sudden but it was quite a forcible blow, too. Stunned and in severe agony, I sat there trying to avoid unconsciousness. From the ground I could hear Ralph laughing as he shouted at me, "Haven't you ever heard of gravity? What goes up must come down." I wanted to punch him in the nose, but I was hurting too much, and besides, he was my best friend. With concern in her voice Betty yelled up at me, "Are you okay?" It took all the strength I could muster to reply in a very high shrilly voice, "Yeah."
It took me awhile but I finally made my way down the tree to solid footing on the ground. Once he realized the pain I was in, Ralph was very good in helping me back to my home. Betty was good too, but being a girl she could not fully understand how sore it was for a boy to be hit where I was hit.
Later that night when my parents wanted to know why I was slow and walked funny, I lied and said I had twisted my ankle. I know it is wrong to lie and I do not make a habit of it, but I was embarrassed at my condition and was afraid to tell them I had climbed to the top of a big oak tree. Not only would I get a spanking, but more than likely, my mamma would wind up shooting something or somebody.
When I finally went to bed I found I could not pull my legs together. So, I had to lie on my back with both of them spread wide apart. I was still tender and remained that way for most of a week. As I tried to ignore the pain I reflected on what Ralph had said in the woods. He had mentioned something about gravity. I had always known about gravity but now I was coming to view it in a totally different light. Instead of being a useful force of nature, I came to believe it was a beast out to devour me. How else could you explain why it tried to drag me out of that tree and crash me to the ground? Gravity was not to be trusted. It will hold you down and make you submit to its power. If you try to break free it will reach up, grab you and yank you brutally back to earth. Anyone who defies its will can be assured of being injured or even killed.
Laying there in my bed I contemplated this great truth and became quite angry. It was unfair how gravity could get away with such heavy-handed tactics. A person should not be hindered by such an unforgiving monster. To an adult these musings would bring a smile, but to a young man of twelve this was a serious matter demanding immediate attention. If gravity would have been a person I would have punched him in the nose. From my bed, I made my decision. I declared war on gravity. When I fell from that tree he may have won the first battle, but the war was far from being over.
Over the next year or so I became quite agile at working my way up a big old tree and dangling from one of its limbs while Ralph and Betty played below. As we grew older their playing developed into hugging and kissing as they fell into a full blown romance. I was happy for them but my greatest pleasure was hopping from one tree branch to another. Every time I successfully made a jump I would silently declare, "Hah, gravity, beat you again!" Sometimes my foot would slip and I would almost fall. When that happened I could swear I heard gravity laughing at me. He was confident that it was only a matter of time before he snatched me out of the tree tops and hurled me to the ground. As it turned out, he was right.
I was fourteen and a half when it finally happened. Ralph and Betty were a hundred or so feet away as I bounced from one limb to another. The sound of Betty's laughter distracted my attention and down I came. As I was falling I prayed I would not land on a limb the way I had before. My prayer was answered. With a loud thud I hit the ground. My left arm broke in two as it struck a rock. I could hear the roaring laughter of my sworn enemy, gravity, as I surrendered to the blackness of unconsciousness.
After an overnight stay in the hospital I was sent home to recover. I joined my father as we both healed from our wounds. Mine was a broken arm and his was a gunshot wound. The night before, when I was in the hospital, my mamma had gone out and shot the tree I fell from. My father told her it was stupid to shoot something that did not know it was being shot. So, she shot him.
Thankfully, my father had only received a flesh wound. He lied and told the police he had shot himself while cleaning the gun. I guess that was better than having mamma go to jail again. At least, that is the way my father explained it to me. He said we were not able to afford our medical bills and mamma's court cost, too. This way everything would return to normal, and all he and I had to do was heal.
As we sat together on the couch watching TV my arm developed an itch. The cast prevented me from scratching it. I mumbled to myself, "That dang old gravity!"
My father glanced at me and then asked, "What's that about gravity?"
"I don't like gravity," I replied. "It made me fall and break my arm."
"Well, I guess it did," he pondered for a moment. "But it was you who was acting like a monkey in them trees."
"All I was doing was climbing," I declared in my defense. "That mean old gravity was what made me fall."
"Well, maybe that's cuz you keep fightin' it," offered my father.
I had to sit and think about that for a second. Of course I had been fighting gravity. It was the enemy. I wanted to fly and it kept holding me down. Turning to look his way I said, "I thought that's what you're supposed to do."
He smiled and offered, "That's what it wants you to think, but you've got to be smarter than it is."
"How can I do that?" I asked as my interest grew in the possibility of learning a new tactical strategy in the war against my old enemy.
"You've got to figure out its strengths and then use them against it," he declared.
I was stunned. Here I had always been trying to learn gravity's weaknesses and now my father was saying I should be looking at its strong points. The revelation of this struck me like a blinding light. How could I turn gravity's strengths against it and to my advantage? I was going to have to think about this for a long time. In fact, to this day I still think about it.
My father and I both healed and got back to our normal way of life. I still climbed trees but I never fell again as I was constantly trying to beat gravity at its own game. Ralph, Betty, and me grew into fine young people intent on making our mark in the world. One day my father came up to me and asked, "You still fightin' gravity?" I was somewhat surprised he remembered our conversation from some years before. Smiling at him I replied, "Of course I am." He reached into his back pocket, pulled out a pamphlet and handed it to me. It had an application in it for an airplane pilot school. "Then, why don't you go and learn to fly," he asked as he turned and walked back toward our motor home. I thought about it and decided I would.
Ralph and Betty got married shortly after high school. It was to be expected. They had loved each other for a long time. As for me, I occupied my time learning to be a pilot. It was not long before I had graduated and had joined a small outfit ferrying sightseers over Lake Norman. I was having the time of my life doing what I liked to do and feeling like I had beaten gravity with every flight I took. My confidence grew as my skill grew. It brought me great pleasure to thrill people with a view of the lake from a thousand feet in the air. Sometimes I would play my favorite trick on them. If a small cloud was nearby I would pull alongside it and let one of the wings dip into it. With the cloud covering the wing it looked like it was gone. At just the right moment I would look out and yell in mocked horror, "Oh, my God! The wing's fallen off!" Most people appreciated my attempt at humor. There were a few who did not.
As time passed I became restless with flying small aircraft so I went to school to become a jet pilot. The thought of controlling all that power in a jet engine intrigued me. Besides, the freedom it gave me would be another victory in my constant battle with gravity. Before long I had my license and was hired by a firm out of Chicago that chartered planes and pilots. I met some very interesting people. Most flights were businessmen and women, but occasionally there was a famous actor or musician.
I had been working with this company for about six months when one day I received a call from Ralph. We spoke a bit about he and Betty and the kids and then he told me why he had called. Mamma had shot my father again. He would live but he was in the hospital and mamma was in jail. They had gotten into an argument over one of those reality shows on TV. It was just heated words until my father told her it was dumb to be watching all that stuff anyway. This was when she shot him. Before we hung up Ralph made this observation, "You know, no matter where you go your family keeps pulling you back." On my way to the airport I thought about this. It dawned on me how I had lived my whole life just waiting for my mamma to kill my father. This was no way for me or them to live. It was here I had the revelation that gravity may not be the only thing holding me down.
I flew into Charlotte and hired a taxi to take me to Concord to the hospital. My father was propped up watching a reality show on TV. He was glad to see me and I pulled a chair near his bed. After some small talk I asked him, "Dad, why does mamma keep shooting you?"
He turned the volume on the TV down and replied, "Oh, I guess I get her all mad sometimes. We love each other but, you may not know this, but I'll do some crazy things sometimes."
"Yeah, I know," I agreed. "But she shouldn't be shooting you. One of these days she may kill you."
He laughed and said, "Oh, I don't think so. She ain't never tried to hit me."
"She's done shot you three times," I protested. "It sounds like to me she's pretty good at hitting you."
"Oh, no she ain't," he disagreed. "She always aims to miss me. She's gets mad at me and just wants to get my attention. It's just sometimes she misses her miss and hits me."
"She misses her miss?" I asked with amusement.
"Yep, she means to miss but sometimes she misses that," he explained. I had to ponder that for a moment. Finally I said, "Dad, can I ask you a question?"
"Why don't you just take the gun away from her?" I asked. He sat there staring at me. I could tell from the way his eyes were blinking he had never thought of that before.
After giving him bail money for mamma I traveled back to the airport for my return trip to Chicago. For the first time in my life I believed I had shared some important information with my father that would change our lives. He now knew what he had to do to keep mamma from shooting him. This gave me a sense of relief and a feeling of newfound freedom. If he followed through and got rid of the gun I would be able to rest easier. A weight would be lifted from my shoulders as I would no longer cringe from fearing the worst every time my phone rang. It was as if I had won a great battle against my old adversary, gravity. For the first time in my life I no longer felt held down by my wacky family.
A few days later I received a letter from my mamma. She had made bail and they were in the motor home on their way to Phoenix, Arizona. This way she would not have to go to court for shooting my father. Now North Carolina was added to Florida as the list of states they could never go to again. Her gun was resting comfortably in a case at a pawn shop in downtown Landis. I breathed a sigh of relief.
My father had listened to my advice just as I had listened to him about gravity. It paid off big for both of us. He and mamma were living peaceably in Phoenix and I was about to put his advice to good use.
A rock group called Mishmash had chartered a plane for the entire band and I was assigned its pilot. They are one of my favorite bands. My good friend, Pete, was my copilot. We left Chicago one morning on our way to Atlanta. They were scheduled for a concert there later that night. The road manager had allowed the president of the fan club to accompany us on the trip. Her name was Cathy and no one knew at the time she was crazy as they come.
We had been in the air for almost an hour and had reached our cruising speed when I asked Pete for a readout on the outside temperature. He did not respond and when I looked his way there was crazy Cathy holding a butcher knife to his throat.
"Hey!" I shouted. She pressed the knife against his neck and yelled, "Shut up or I'll cut him!"
I could see the fear in Pete's eyes so I said, "Okay, take it easy lady. What do you want?" She handed me a piece of paper and ordered, "I want you to fly us there." I looked at the paper and exclaimed, "That's down in Mexico."
"I know," she said. "Now get us there or your buddy gets cut."
"Okay, but I'm gonna have to turn the plane," I offered. She simply said, "Do it."
As I started to bank the plane to the right I noticed Pete still had his seatbelt on, as did I. My father's advice about using gravity's strength to my advantage gave me an idea for a plan. Pretending to flip some switches for the trip to Mexico I turned the seat belt sign on for the passengers. I knew our flight attendant would see the sign and make everyone buckle up including herself. Now was my chance to do as my father had said and use gravity's strength against him. I was depending on my old adversary to behave as he always had.
After a couple of minutes I straightened the plane's flight path and looked at Pete. I could see my apparent willingness to go along with Cathy's demands made her relax a little and she was not holding the knife close to Pete's neck. I winked at him and then slammed the plane's wheel forward as hard as I could. The plane lurched and pitched downward at a violent rate. Anything that was not bolted down went flying toward the windshield as gravity tried its best to drag everything to the ground. This included crazy Cathy. She hit the glass with a giant thud and was immediately knocked unconscious. At first, I thought she had broken the windshield but it held firm.
Pete and I both struggled with the wheel to bring the plane's nose back level. My old foe was not going to give up without a fight. For a moment I thought he was not only going to win this battle but we were all going to crash and he would have won the war. But it was not long before we were flying level again and Cathy was a crumpled heap of unconscious flesh lying in the floor. My father had been right. I had been able to use gravity's strength to my advantage.
We flew on to Atlanta and safely landed the plane. When we disembarked I looked down at the ground and smiled. I believe gravity was smiling back at me. He knew, on that particular day, I had managed to grab the upper hand.
Of course, Pete and I were the heroes of the day. We had saved a popular rock group from being kidnapped and held hostage by a money seeking, attention grabbing crazed fan. Mishmash inducted us as honorary members of the band and gave us free admission to their concerts for the rest of our lives.
Two great things in my life came out of this experience. One was Amy. She was one of the backup singers for the band and had been on the plane with us. When we landed she hugged and kissed me and we fell in love. Our wedding is planned for next June. The other thing is my application to be an astronaut has been accepted. I believe the notoriety from saving Mishmash from being abducted by crazy Cathy helped in being selected as part of the astronaut corps. Now I will have a chance to spend six months in zero gravity on the space station circling 240 miles above the earth. Floating free for six months without my old enemy gravity bothering me. I may not have won the war but I have certainly won another big battle. Take that you beast of nature!
To celebrate Amy and I decided to visit my parents in Phoenix. It had been awhile since I had seen them and they had never met Amy. When we arrived they were so happy to see us. Mamma instantly liked Amy and they started talking like they had been close friends all their lives. My father took me around proudly introducing me to all his neighbors as his son, the astronaut.
Life was good. I should have known it would never last as it was going a little too good. The next morning we were suddenly awaken by a loud roaring sound coming from the front lawn. Mamma, Amy, and me rushed outside to find my father sitting on top of one of the biggest motorcycles I have ever seen. He revved the engine and then did a wheelie down the road before turning and coming back to us.
I immediately knew this was going to be trouble. Mamma hated motorcycles. Actually, she was afraid of them. She had told me more than once the only reason they make you wear a helmet is so the undertaker will have something to bury. I could tell she was as mad at my father as she had ever been.
He roared up into the driveway, cut the engine off, and hopped off the bike.
"What d'you think?"
"Well, it's big," I surmised.
"And loud," offered Amy.
"I know. That's the way I like them," he declared. "Now your mamma and me have got something we can ride all over the Rocky Mountains."
Mamma stood there looking at him with the most disgusted look on her face. It was evident to all trouble was brewing, but my father could not help himself. He moved real close to her, almost in her face, with the biggest grin across his lips. They both knew she wanted to shoot him, but she no longer had a gun. He slowly licked his lips in obvious delight and then broke into a hearty laugh. I was amazed at his new-found confidence, as I had never seen him be this bold with her before. He cleared his throat, spit on the ground, rubbed his tongue against the inside of his cheek, and smirked, "You ain't got no gun no more."
This was the first time my mamma stabbed him.
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