Becoming a Man
(From: Growing Up Stories - True Stories of a Brown Dirt Boy)
Kenny A. Chaffin
All Rights Reserved © 2012 Kenny A. Chaffin
As can happen in life I ended up in a bit of a tough spot at age sixteen. A couple of years after my parents’ divorce – that was bad enough, living with mom, dealing with dad – but then mom moved us to Ardmore a nearby town due to work. It was some thirty miles away -- new school, new city, new life. I did my best, but it wasn’t working. The kids seemed weird and cliquish and I just didn’t fit. I was an honors student in Madill and that definitely gave me some advantages that were not immediately available in the new school. It tore me up inside and I’m sure it did mom as well, but after a few weeks she agreed to let me move back to Madill and live with my dad so I could graduate with honors and with my friends. My younger brother and sister both stayed with her. My brother helped her as best he could even moving a second time to Oklahoma City and graduating from a high school there. My sister followed a path similar to me by eventually moving back to Madill.
So, I moved in with my Dad at Grandpa Sid’s house. That in itself was kind of surreal -- three generations of bachelor Chaffins all under one roof. You might think it couldn’t possibly last and of course it didn’t. Grandpa Sid caught me smoking in the bathroom and the sleeping arrangement was cumbersome – I slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room which had to be made ready at bed time and put away at breakfast time and along with trying to do homework while a Southern Baptist fire-and-brimstone radio preacher screamed full blast into Grandpa Sid’s deaf ears it was all more than I could handle.
The only remaining living arrangement was to move in with my other grandparents – which would have been the better choice originally -- Grandad was retired from the oil field and drunk most of the time when he had social security money and Grandmama was a devout Christian who would do anything for her family – even putting up with him. Despite all the turmoil I got back into the swing of things, getting caught up on my school work and beginning to feel a bit better about life. I had a room to myself at the back of the grandparent’s house (much better than a hide-a-bed in the living room) even if it was the throughway to the carport and back door and had the washer and dryer and two industrial size Frigidaire food freezers in it. Think of having a bed in the utility room and you’ll get the idea.
This room had been added on at the back of the house – where the original back door had been. There were temporary wooden steps down from that former back door to the carpet-covered concrete floor. The strangest thing was that the electrical power was supplied from the front porch light of the house. I guess it was easier to run an extension cord around the outside of the house than to connect it inside. The front porch light socket had an extender screwed into it – one of those with a pull-cord to turn the bulb on and two outlets on either side. An extension cord was plugged into that and routed around the outside of the house to provide power for my room. This meant that the front porch light switch had to be left turned on for my room to have power. Let it be evidenced from this that Grandad was clearly no electrician. The cotton pull-cord from the added socket had been extended and threaded through a hole drilled in the living room wall. This was anchored with a lead fishing weight straight out of the fishing tackle box. Pulling the cord would turn the front porch light on or off without affecting the power to my room. This was so weird, so Rube-Goldbergish with a pull-string to turn on the front porch light. Even now I shake my head in disbelief at the wackiness of it.
One night, not long after moving in I was in my room studying when the lights and power went off. I figured the breaker tripped. It was always happening in that old house. There were only two twenty-amp breakers for the whole house. I stepped out into the warm evening air and walked around to the front porch. The porch light was off (it was often left on in the evenings) so I checked it first by reaching up and pulling the pull-cord, but no light. That meant the breaker tripped, the bulb was burned out, or someone had turned the switch off inside the living room. I opened the front door just enough to slip my hand inside and check the switch. Sure enough it had been turned off. I flipped it back on and the porch light and the power came back. No big deal. I figured Grandad or Grandmama must have turned it off by accident when they went to bed. I went back to studying without thinking much more about it -- at least until the lights went off again.
Now I was annoyed and confused. Very strange, I thought. I went around again and instead of just reaching in and checking the switch as I had before, I opened the front door and turned the inside living room light on. A shock went through me. Standing there was Grandad, a shotgun in his hands and drunk splashed across his angry face. I froze not knowing what to think or do. I was sixteen years old. I’d never been in a situation remotely like this, never threatened with a gun before and certainly not by my own family.
Then, either teenage brashness or pure survival instinct took over. I grabbed the gun by its double barrel and stock before he could move and slammed into him. The smell of whiskey assaulted me as I shoved him backwards and jerked the gun out of his hands. He fell in a drunken sprawl on his butt -- banging his head on the gas stove before landing flat on the carpet. Despite my fear and the clearly threatening situation I hoped nothing was broken, that he was okay. I was overwhelmed and shocked with what had just happened and unsure of what I’d just done. Anger burned from me into his blood-shot eyes but that anger quickly turned to pity and sorrow as I saw what he had become. It all happened in a flash but in that instant and in those eyes I saw my own and knew we were the same, the same flesh, the same blood, the same life and I knew as we both did that something had just changed. I took the shells from the shotgun, laid it on the floor beside him and turned away. As I stepped towards the front door bile and shame welled up inside me and as I crossed that threshold I knew I’d taken a large and painful step towards manhood.
About the Author
Kenny A. Chaffin writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction and has published poems and fiction in Vision Magazine, The Bay Review, Caney River Reader, WritersHood, Star*Line, MiPo, Melange and Ad Astra and has published nonfiction in The Writer, The Electron, Writers Journal and Today’s Family. He grew up in southern Oklahoma and now lives in Denver, CO where he works hard to make enough of a living to support two cats, numerous wild birds and a bevy of squirrels. His poetry collections No Longer Dressed in Black and The Poet of Utah Park and his collection of science essays How do we Know are available at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B007S3SMY8. He may be contacted through his website at http://www.kacweb.com.