Slow down. (26)
When I returned back from church camp, life began to feel like a broken record, which is one of the worst feelings in the world. I know there are people out there who find repetitiveness comforting, but I don’t understand that at all. Never have and never will. I love and have always loved randomness. I like stability, don’t get me wrong, but the same thing every day? No thank you. My grandparents loved our routine, which I would later discover only changed slightly from season to season.
We lived on several acres of property right on the bluffs of Lake Eufaula. My Grandfather, who loved to farm, built a massive garden that could feed more families than ours and had an orchard across the house where he liked to make “franken-trees”. One of his many hobbies was grafting several fruit trees on one tree and trying to break a record by doing it. So one of our trees had multiple types of apples, plums, and pears. They sold the farm they had in Lenna, along with the watermelon land that people tended for them while they were teachers and settled in. My Grandmother canned and baked everything Grandpa grew, and he grew just about everything you can imagine.
At first sunlight, Grandpa got up to go fishing. He had a little two-person paddleboat and a lot of trotlines that he had set up past the bluffs. If you don’t know what those are, basically they are stationary lines that you put bait on hooks and then go out and see every day what you’ve caught on them. He didn’t have the patience to sit there with a rod and reel. He also had some traps to catch minnows with, which he’d use as bait if he didn’t have any worms. The lines picked up all sorts of things that weren’t fish. Trash and turtles for example. He always loved to come up after putting the boat away and show me random things that were picked up on the lines.
We had one giant deep freeze dedicated to Grandpa’s fish. Whenever he’d go see a neighbor or one of his or my Grandmother’s siblings, he’d bring fish with him as a present. I grew to despise catfish. To this day, I can’t eat it. I can’t even think about it without almost throwing up. We ate so much catfish. If we didn’t have catfish, we had venison from deer that he hunted. Grandpa didn’t like to pay for food at the grocery store and preferred knowing exactly where it came from. If only he knew he was a trendsetter. Hipsters are all about single origin everything now and mason jars. Maybe hipsters should be accused of culturally appropriating country culture.
Every day my Grandpa would ask me to come out and take photos of the fish he caught. He’d then print those photos and during his usual rounds of dropping off fish, he’d bring those to show to people and he’d tell “fish stories”. Those are “tall tales”, as my Grandpa would tell me. Basically, he embellished a little.
You see, every night after dinner, I took a bucket of slop to the lake and threw it over the bluffs. This fed the fish down below, so we were making them big and fat. So, it only made sense that the fish he was catching on his lines were huge, but he left the illusion when talking to people that he had reeled these guys in. I mean, you have to wrestle with a fish to get it off a line without falling from your boat, so the struggle is indeed real, but you don’t get “oohs” and “ahhs” from a story like that.
Our land extended to the very edge of the bluffs, but for some reason, a lot of the town boys thought that our land was public property and they’d come out to jump off the cliffs to swim and “noodle” fish. These boys fisted fish in the mouth. Not joking. They would dive down to where they hid under the cliffs and lure them with whatever they lured them with and then stick their fist in their mouth and bring them up to the surface. Noodling is actually quite dangerous and people would drown from doing it. If fisting fish wasn’t their thing, they would blow them up in the water. Yes, I said blow up. This makes my Grandfather’s fishing look like an actual sport, because you can’t cheat more than blowing up fish and then collecting whatever rises to the top.
This infuriated my Grandpa. Where we are from, you don’t call the police unless it is absolutely urgent. You deal with the problems yourself first. Trespassing was easily understood in these parts to be a shootable offense, so my Grandfather would head out ther with his shotgun which was filled with rock salt and give them a warning that they had two minutes to get out of the water and head back to their cars or he’d shoot them. You don’t have to warn people, but it is considered polite. He rarely shot anyone. The threat alone was enough to make those boys run. They usually left something behind or some fish and my Grandpa would gather it up as his “loot”. He had many baseball caps that he wore that were acquired this way.
My Grandpa loved hats, but he loved not paying for them more. If he saw a hat along a highway or freeway, he’d stop the car and run into traffic to retrieve it, putting himself into great danger just to get a free hat. He’d come back, dust it off, assess its condition and if it was clean enough, he’d put it on and it would be his hat until he found the next one. Every hat I see on the side of the road, I think of him. I also feel a little bit of guilt that I don’t stop and pick them up.
I wrote to the cute goth boy from church camp and I snuck out one afternoon to catch the mailman on time to send it off. This way it wouldn’t sit in the mailbox for Grandpa to find. I checked the mail every day that I could, and sadly nothing arrived from him or my friends back in Flagstaff.
The boring, repetitive summer came to an end and it was now time for me to start the 9th grade. In Arizona, 9th grade was highschool. In Oklahoma it was junior high. I was going to be in junior high an extra year. Oh boy.
Grandpa walked me to my bus stop on my first day of school, which was at the very end of the bus route. I was the last person to get picked up and had to take any seat that was available. I was also the last person to get dropped off, so I’d eventually get the bus to myself.
I got on that first day and tried to pretend that I knew what I was doing. Everyone else seemed to know each other, and nobody made eye contact with me.
Well, school in Oklahoma is, well, interesting. If you live there, you probably don’t think its different than anywhere else, but Arizona was years, literally years ahead on curriculum. For example, I wasn’t allowed to take math beyond algebra and I had already gone through algebra, so I had to take it again. They wouldn’t let me skip it and wouldn’t accept my previous grades.
More broken records. More repetitiveness.
During English class we took turns reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. When it was my turn, I read how I normally read and one boy in class interrupted me.
“Where on earth are you from? Are you from New York City? You talk way too fast. Slow on down now”.
Slow down? SLOW DOWN?! My life was already too damn slow.
It was bad enough that I was relearning everything again, that now I had to read slower? I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.
“This is how people in Arizona read. Sorry”.
“Oh man, really? Did you live in a tee-pee”?
How was I going to survive this? How?