Monday, March 7, 2011

Adventures With Wert Lawson

 From the time I moved to 118 East Houston Avenue when I was four years old, my next-door neighbors were the Lawsons. Wert Lawson Sr. and his wife Johnnie Lee owned and operated the Humble (later Exxon) service station on the corner next to their house. Wert Senior passed away soon after and I have very few memories of him. My grandmother and Johnnie Lee were close friends and I spent lots of time at her house.
The Lawson's only son, Wert Jr., was in the navy until I was about seven years old. When he got out of the navy, he returned home to run the service station. He married Esta Fay Harrelson of Lovelady and moved into the small two-story house behind the station.
Unfortunately for Wert, his house was located on the primary route Charlie Jackson and I used to travel between our houses. Charlie and I were always looking for something to do to pass the time, and passing Wert's house several times a day gave us a few ideas.
The Lawsons owned a two-acre pasture that extended behind both their house and mine. Shortly after Wert moved into the house, he bought a little bull and named him Snuffy. He planned to eventually take him to his farm, but at first he was more of a pet. He put him in the pasture behind his house. He would take Snuffy a bucket full of feed every afternoon along with some hay. Snuffy would come running when Wert shook the bucket as he approached the gate.
There were about twenty bales of hay along with the bin of feed in a shed behind the house. In a matter of weeks Snuffy began to put on a lot of weight and was growing into a big bull. When
Wert first got Snuffy, he would shove against the bull's head and play chase with him as if he were a puppy. It wasn't long before Snuffy was pushing Wert all over the pasture, and it was getting dangerous to play games with him.
One summer afternoon, Charlie and I were sitting at my kitchen table trying to think of something to do. We decided to make some darts. We got into my Mother's sewing box and removed all of the needles. Next we took a box of the long wooden kitchen matches and cut off the heads. Using a pair of pliers we shoved needles into the ends of the matches. To give them weight at the head we poured hot wax where the needle entered the wooden stick. Finally we took a razor blade and cut two slits in the other end and inserted a couple of pieces of thin cardboard for fins.
After a couple dozen darts had been assembled it was time for a test. We tossed a few into the side of our kitchen cabinets and they worked great. The sharp needles would stick into anything. Putting tiny holes into my Mother's cabinets became boring after a few minutes. As if it were a miracle, we both looked through the screen door and out into the pasture. At the same moment we looked at each other and said, "Let's try them on Snuffy!"
I grabbed a plastic mop bucket off the porch and tossed in a handful of rocks. Charlie followed close behind with a box full of homemade darts. Snuffy was watching with interest as
we approached the fence. When I started shaking the bucket and the rocks began to rattle he came running, sure he was about to have an afternoon snack. Up to that moment, all of his human contacts had been of a friendly nature, but that was about to change.
Charlie split up the darts and we walked a few steps to the side of Snuffy. Charlie fired a dart right into the hump on his back. He twitched a little, but it didn't seem to be causing him much discomfort. I threw three in rapid succession into his shoulder, and he began to take notice. He tossed his head back several times, but the darts were inches out of his reach. Charlie put a few into his other side and Snuffy was starting to get pissed. He was twitching his shoulders as hard as he could, but the needles were firmly embedded in his skin. He bucked a couple of times and snorted at us, then turned to run across the pasture. We threw the rest of our weapons cache before he was out of range. He bellowed a few times, then began to run circles in the pasture. Fearing Wert would soon investigate the commotion, we ran back to my house and hid.
We escaped in the nick of time. Just as we shut the screen door, Wert walked around the side of the barn with a bucket of feed. Snuffy was still jumping and bellowing, but he headed for the gate when he saw Wert with his food. Wert put the bucket on the ground and Snuffy started eating, all the while snorting and twitching. It was then Wert noticed twenty or more darts sticking out of him from his shoulders to his rump. He pulled them out one by one, and each time Snuffy would jump and bump into him. We were a hundred yards away, but I'm sure I heard my name mentioned in the context of "That little bastard!"
Growing up in the Church of Christ, I knew all about the evils of alcohol. One day, soon after the aerial attack on Snuffy, Charlie and I were snooping around in the little barn where the feed and hay were kept. Behind a stack of hay we found a six pak of beer. Of course we were shocked to think Wert would be so low as to drink beer! Wert's Mother lived next door to me and attended the same church, so I'm pretty sure the beer was being hidden from her. He must have picked up that nasty habit in the navy.
Now, Charlie was a Baptist and was as appalled as I was that a consumer of alcohol lived in our midst. It was our Christian duty to remove the temptation in order to start Wert down the path to the straight and narrow. We took the beer from the barn to a large pile of bricks in a field next to Snuffy's pasture. We shook each can until it felt like it was about to explode, then we would throw it onto the pile of bricks as hard as we could. It would spray beer in every direction and split the can wide open. We felt closer to heaven with each exploding can, knowing we were keeping a poor sinner away from the devil's brew.
After disposing of the beer, we returned to the barn to check for more items of sin, but we could find none. There was only a bin full of feed and a couple dozen bales of hay. Every few days Wert would pull a bale of hay from the top of the stack and carry it to the pasture. He would then cut the twine and break the bale into a few squares and toss them along the fence line for Snuffy to eat.
While we were poking around the barn, Charlie found an old razor blade. He had a brilliant idea to further punish Wert for his sins. He took the razor blade and cut the twine on each bale of hay. Every string was cut about ninety percent through, but just a few strands were left to hold it together. That evening we saw Wert go into the barn to get a bale of hay for Snuffy. A few seconds later we heard him cussing, so were figured he had pulled down a bale and it had fallen apart on his head. The next couple of bales he pulled down had him fighting mad. We were near enough to hear him yelling, and when his voice reached a homicidal pitch we ran like hell. I'm sure he wanted a beer pretty bad at that moment.
A couple weeks later Wert decided to take Snuffy to the farm. It was October and the days and nights were getting cooler. The grass was waist high to a sixth grader when Snuffy left. Wert told my mother he was going to mow the pasture the following spring and didn't plan to put animals out there again.
Our house was next door to the family grocery store, so all my life I wandered in and out of the store dozens of times a day. I would get a Coke from the old icebox six or seven times a day along with a piece of candy, and the thought of paying for them never crossed my mind. Those were the days of a three-cent deposit on glass soft drink bottles, but I never gave that any consideration either. I wonder how much money the family lost over the years due to my constant snacking. It is a miracle I didn't weigh three hundred pounds by the time I was in high school.
Shortly after Snuffy was taken away, I was standing on the back steps of my house drinking one of my many "free" Cokes. Sometimes I would muster up the energy to return the empty bottle to the store, but usually I just tossed it on the ground and my Mother would pick them up later and chew me out. That particular day when I finished the Coke I began to wonder if I could stand on the steps and throw the bottle into the pasture. I swung the bottle with all my might and it barely cleared the top wire and dropped into the weeds. I was impressed with my strength and accuracy. It became a great game, and I repeated it dozens of times over the next few months. By the time spring rolled around I couldn't toss a bottle into the field without hitting another one. I loved the sound of shattering glass.
The grass in the pasture was growing rapidly in the warm, wet spring weather. One Saturday morning I awoke to the sound of an engine running behind my house. I looked out my bedroom window to see what it was. Wert had just driven his tractor into the pasture. There was a large mower attached to the back of the tractor and Wert was starting his first sweep along the edge of the fence to mow the pasture. The mower was set low and was cutting the grass low to the ground. Suddenly I remembered my pile of glass bottles that were just over the fence in the tall grass behind my house. Should I run out and tell him? Hell No! I decided to watch the show and deny everything if confronted.
I watched as Wert approached the "mined" area. He had slowed down a little because the grass was a little thicker along our property line. I held my breath as the tractor passed over the glass. A second later there was a sound like a hundred windows breaking. Glass was flying in every direction! Miraculously Wert didn't get a scratch, but he killed the engine and hit the
ground running. After the blades stopped turning on the mower, he cautiously approached the disaster site to see what caused all the trouble. When he saw it was a pile of Coke bottles, he looked right at my house and started cussing. I didn't get it all, but "Worthless little son of a bitch" was quoted in there somewhere. He started the tractor and drove it back to the trailer and loaded it up. He never finished mowing that year. I felt so bad I went to the pasture and started picking up the broken glass. Unfortunately I got tired after about ten minutes and quit, but my intentions were good.
Four months later it was the middle of summer and as always it was hot, humid, and overall miserable. In those days not many people had air conditioners. Like most of our neighbors, we had an attic fan in the middle of the house. We ran it day and night during the summer with all the windows in the house open. The window screens kept the bugs out and let in the warm, moist air. In July and August the temperature would stay in the nineties well into the night. The attic fan wasn't great, but it was better than nothing. At that time we hadn't been exposed to air conditioning, so we didn't know life could be any different.
Wert's little two-story house had one bedroom on the second floor. I had been inside a couple of times with Wert's mother before he moved in. There was a large fan with long metal blades mounted on a platform outside of the bedroom window. The fan blew through the window screen directly onto the bed inside. During the summer months it was running at high speed every night.

One evening at about ten o'clock, Charlie and I were walking to my house from his, and naturally we cut across Wert's yard. It was a hot and muggy night as usual. As we crossed Wert's backyard, the light went out upstairs in his bedroom. The fan was humming outside the window. I don't remember which of us came up with the idea, but we decide to give Wert and Esta Fay a little surprise.
The pasture behind the house was in a low area and was wet most of the time. The ground was covered with crawfish mounds. The crawfish would burrow deep into the ground and push a large mound of dirt to the surface. When dry it would form a hard mass about the size of a softball. It would break apart into a fine white powder and make a huge mess. Charlie and I found a bucket and filled it full of the dirt clods. We walked to the back of Wert's house and positioned ourselves under the open back of the fan where the blades were exposed. We each tossed several large chunks of dirt into the back of the fan. The long metal blades broke them apart and blew them directly onto Wert's bed.
We only had about five seconds to stand under the fan and appreciate our deed. Wert started screaming and cussing, then we could hear him running down the stairs at top speed. We hauled ass to my house, but the back door was locked. We ran to the Parker's house on the other side of the grocery store. George Worsham, a friend of the Parkers, was sitting in his car listening to the radio. We ran to the car and begged George not to tell Wert where we were, then we dove under the car just before Wert rounded the corner.
Wert was madder than I had ever seen him. He was calling my name for some reason and making all kinds of threats. He asked George if he had seen me or Charlie. Thank goodness George said no. He cussed a little more and told George he was going to shoot our asses when he found us. As he walked away he appeared to be carrying a shotgun, but it was probably just our imaginations. We stayed under the car for about twenty minutes after he left, just to be safe. I ran home as fast as I could. George gave Charlie a ride home, being careful to drive the long way around the block so as not to pass Wert's house with Charlie in the car.
Needless to say Wert scared the crap out of us that night. Charlie and I went to great lengths to not go near Wert's house or the service station for the next month. It was inevitable that one of us would slip up, and as usual it was me. At noon one day I decided to walk to Charlie's house. Rather than walk the long way around the block I decided to chance passing Wert's door. He and Esta Fay were sitting just inside their doorway eating lunch. As I walked by I heard Esta Fay say, "There he is!"
Wert was out the door and had my by the shoulders before I had a chance to react. He lifted me off the ground and shook me as hard as he could. Note, there is a law against shaking babies, but the protection doesn't extend to little jackasses. He yelled and made all kinds of threats to me. I believed every one of them too. I may have even learned a couple of new words. I was dizzy and disoriented when he put me down. The fear of God had finally been implanted. I never bothered Wert again.
Wert was always nice to me for some reason.  He eventually built a house on his farm and moved out of town. Teresa and I lived in Wichita Falls our first year marriage, then we moved back to Crockett. Wert's little house was vacant, and we were looking for a place to rent. He rented it to us for a ridiculously low rate and would help us out with anything we needed. I have always felt bad about the crap we pulled on him and told him so a couple of times. He just smiled and said we were just "being kids." I'm not sure I could have been that understanding in his place. Wert, if you ever read this, I'M REALLY SORRY!

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