Early one morning, with razor in hand, a look in the mirror revealed more than I expected.
Okay, stop laughing. I’m not talking about the extra few pounds that somehow I’ve picked up.
Thinning hair has finally revealed a scar from long ago – a scar that has been covered for over 46 years. On top of my head was a 2-inch reminder of the true wrath of God.
At least to a 7-year–old, that’s exactly what happened. A punishment dealt swiftly and hard by none other than The Almighty Himself. Had I known He was going to do such a thing, I never would have asked to be excused from Mrs. Scranton’s Sunday school class in order to go to the bathroom.
Now thinking back, it wasn’t the first time punishment had seemed to have been dealt to us from above. The summer before found all four of us boys at death’s door for something we’d done – although the day started harmlessly enough, like many during the summer, playing chase on our bikes and cutting through the backyards of all who were fortunate enough to live on Flamingo Street. After a couple of hours, we found ourselves up at Mr. Winkle’s 7/11 store.
For 10 cents, a Coke-Cola in a bottle so cold that ice formed on the outside could be yours. We quickly drained our bottles, and after seeing who could sustain the longest burrrp, mounted up to head back home.
Except this time, Big Brother James took detours that lead us to the back of the church. An odd destination for a Saturday afternoon, it was almost a dead end for all of us.
The week’s theme at the church had been Hawaiian, why I really didn’t know. The trash was picked up on Friday, but one item wasn’t – a coconut. It must’ve fallen from the cans and rolled to freedom. It hid in the tall grass until found by James who immediately proclaimed it as ours. We quickly rode to the vacant lot next to Neighbor Thomas’s house to play the first ever coconut football game.
Older Brother Richard, James and Thomas were one team. Twin Brother Mark, Bubba Hanks, and me, we were the other. Even though they were older, my team was sure to win – we had a Bubba.
For three hours we played in the hot Georgia sun, kicking, passing, and rolling the coconut. At the end of the game, Bubba used a huge rock to smash open our makeshift football. After drinking the warm liquid, we ate the insides. Bubba didn’t, he was allergic, and Thomas didn’t, he didn’t like coconut.
That night, my three brothers and I thought we were going to die. We all knew the reason for our illness had to be from the stolen discarded coconut. If spared, I promised never to take something that wasn’t mine again.
While I’m confessing, I really didn’t have to go to the bathroom that day when asked to be excused from Sunday school class. It was just an excuse to run around outside – to breathe fresh air and be free – free to run right into the sharp metal corner of a window Mrs. Scranton had just cranked opened.
A trip to the hospital and five stitches later, I promised never to make a phony excuse to get out of class.
Nowadays, just to be on the safe side, any coconut I eat comes out of a bag. I learned my lessons that fateful day long ago on Flamingo Street.
Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you, even if it has somehow fallen out and rolled away from a trashcan. And don’t eat whole coconuts. You never know if some kids played football for three hours in the hot sun with them.
Trust me, it’s not the wrath of God that will get you in the end – it’s Montezuma’s revenge.
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. His book is available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]