Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BROWN: Sticks, stones and a badminton racket

By LINDA BROWN, Hold Me up a Little Longer, Lord | 5/8/2013

I’ve been nagged lately by the feeling that I somehow am responsible for my childhood neighbor going to prison. The alarming news that the boy, now a man, is viewing the world through steel bars, threw me back to the place known in the cob-webby part of my brain as my childhood home.

Now described as urban living, the homestead back in the day was viewed as being in “the sticks.” Surrounded by wheat and corn fields, we lived in the “valley” part of Kansas terrain that belied the Sunflower State being flat.

I’ve been nagged lately by the feeling that I somehow am responsible for my childhood neighbor going to prison. The alarming news that the boy, now a man, is viewing the world through steel bars, threw me back to the place known in the cob-webby part of my brain as my childhood home.

Now described as urban living, the homestead back in the day was viewed as being in “the sticks.” Surrounded by wheat and corn fields, we lived in the “valley” part of Kansas terrain that belied the Sunflower State being flat.

In what my mother phrased as “needing a good scrubbing,” “the boy” was one of “those boys.” You know, the ones mothers pray will never land at the dinner table at the invitation of their daughters.

His pale, freckled face was always smudged — sometimes with dirt, other times with food, but always with the remnants of a nondescript nasal discharge that he habitually wiped from beneath his nose to one cheek or the other by dragging his forearm in a long sweep under his nose.

Personal hygiene aside, it was his personality that grated on my nerves. Needy and whiney, he cried to be the center of attention, sometimes acting stupid, other times bordering on dangerous.

His constant companion was a slingshot — which he was quite accurate with — until one of the other tormented children in the “neighborhood” tossed it in the back of a grain hauler being filled with corn.

In true parent fashion, and an effort to be neighborly, the folks encouraged like-aged children to play together. To make matters worse, I relished cleanliness and quiet, while my “playmate” lived for the rush of the kill and notoriety.

It was during one of those play dates my “grace” apparently ran dry. We were supposed to be playing a harmless game of badminton when he started flying from his side of the net to my side in order to hit his own birdies. With him in full brat-and-taunt mode, it seemed appropriate for me to take corrective action.

Years and years of pent-up frustration collected in my right arm, and my racket exploded his nose into a runny mass of blood, which in retrospect was a nice change of pace from the usual mixture of snot and boogers.

He squealed like a potbellied pig and ran inside to tattle.

I spent the final six weeks of summer that year grounded and not allowed any more play dates. It was the best six weeks of my childhood.

When I learned about this man’s prison sentence — something to do with domestic abuse — I wondered if I set that ball into motion all those years ago and if a badminton racket somehow was involved.

Linda Brown is marketing director for The Ottawa Herald. Email her at lbrown@ottawaherald.com

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