This story begins as e-mail sent to me by brother Walter. We had been swapping nostalgic stories when he happened to resurrect an incident of some forty-five years ago. Walter used to like building small fires. A couple of times this obsession ran afoul of the local flora and fauna.
Date: Sun, 3 Feb 02 10:26:19 -0800
You’re now resurrecting some long forgotten memories from bio RAM. I recall the event quite vividly and as memory serves, it was related to activities in your “Boy Scout” mode.
This has makings of another Vignette – Let’s call it # 22 I can see it now . . . . (Rewind to 1958)
Before going further, I must explain there were four boys in the family spanning eight years in age. At the time, Herb, the oldest, would have been about 25, making me about 17. We also had a younger sister Gert, aged eight. The boys were close and at this age interacted quite a bit and would, on weekends, go to Lot 95 of Bluewater Beach near Goderich, Ontario, the site of a family cottage to do construction work, interspersed with a bit of swimming, and other recreation. Walt, the second oldest had a proclivity to tease. Cats, dogs, frogs, insects, siblings; none were spared in his relentless pursuits. As an ancillary obsession, Walt loved to play practical jokes. He would plan, in detail, some elaborate hoax designed to wind up or spoof the hapless victims. In this light the following tale is couched.
My brother Walt was a pyro; loved to make little grass fires, raking up leaves, sticks and twigs which he would then set alight creating a little incense grotto in the trees whenever the opportunity arose. “Feuerle Hatzen” in the colloquial Austrian. This allure would occupy him for hours, innocent enough, except that this particular day, Mother Nature, being a bitch, would produce unexpected events.
The curtain rises on a warm Saturday morning in August with Walt busily raking under a mixed stand of cedars and linden trees. A small blaze smoulders behind him and a coffee klatch of brothers sit at a picnic bench under a distant tree.
“Boy Scout”, as we had named him for his love of building fires, launches activities by decapitating an in-ground wasp nest with a rake. This was the innocent by-product of a simple fuel-gathering mission to feed his fledgling fire. The rake caught a substantial root and as he jerked to break it, twanged a tranquil sawdust community into the air, catapulting workers, drones and eggs into the low branches, exposing the tunnelled innards of a wasp nest, leaving the earthbound residents running amok in confusion.
It was Pearl Harbour all over again. As one, an entire chorus of black Zero fighters rose from the ground and went straight for their attacker – my brother Walt, who was only one rake-handle away. Legs pumping like pistons, ejecting the now useless rake high to one side to allow full use of both arms, Walt heads east, smartly reaching a full adrenalin stride. Swish, Walt went by. One thousand and one, one thousand and two, then bzzzzzzz came 150 bandits on a red alert scramble.
The bad news: they were gaining on him. He made for the back sun porch, opened the screen door and was inside. The door slammed followed by the sound of a hundred wasps boinking into the mesh and bouncing off, regrouping in an angry mob, looking for an opening. But some got inside where they went to work unleashing their genetic software program on their objective. Ooh, oh, slap, ooh, OW !
Three coffee-drinking brothers were, casually conversing of vital life things – girls, cars, movies, electronics and girls. We were first made aware of the sibling saga by the blur of his heroic dash followed by Walt slapping himself, and concluded that this was Scene 1 of an overdue practical joke. We were laughing at how authentic his attempts appeared from where we sat. Spastic jerks, sound effects; he really had it dialled in this time. Short seconds after the door slam, we were folded on the ground in laughter; a rapt audience captivated by the outstanding theatrics he mustered for this performance, now viewed through the screened porch.
Flailing arms staving off airborne attackers, full body contortions, chasing one down his pant leg, pulling one out of his hair; it was a classic performance. Herbie is horizontal on the bench, bleating like a sheep and clutching his belly, “Cut it out Walt, you’re killing me” he gasps between stolen breaths. His gesturing coffee mug spills with each jerk of his body.
The topper came when Walt ran from the sun porch, through the back door, into the cottage. The door slams and a muted, “Ma, get these things off me” was heard from where we stood. This was truly Walt’s best ever. More slapping sounds. “My neck, my neck!” He was just so persistent, not satisfied with just a simple spoof, he had mounted a full-blown production that made it almost believable that at least fifty demons had stung him. This was Academy Award stuff !
Slowly we gathered ourselves, shaking our head over this one, “One of Walt’s best” we nod in agreement, still wiping tears from our eyes. Several minutes pass before the principal actor cautiously appears at the front door, suspiciously surveying his environs. He retreats once, slamming the door in the face of a patrolling insect, then finally exits. He just won’t give up ! The laughter starts again. Werner yells, “That was without doubt one of your best, Walt.”
“What are you guys laughing at?” He dabs himself with a washcloth and ice cube. Props he has even arranged for ! “I could have been killed, I was stung in at least seven places.” “I could have had a histamine reaction and ended up in the hospital.” A new burst of guffaws tapers to seriousness as a bruised brother approaches the group. Rude red welts are evident on hands, arms, face and neck. His eyes are swollen and teary. Wasp guts adorn his cheek.
Suddenly we see it’s for real and this awareness sets off another round of unkind, unexplainable howls. The group had obviously spiralled beyond redemption into one of those self-feeding loops where one participant infects another, making it impossible to stop. The sight of brothers jackknifed in tears sparks it. Simple eye contact is now enough to flash another shameless outburst even thought the original source of humour had passed.
“It’s not funny,” says the irate victim leaving, slamming down his washcloth, semaphoring a wasp away as he stomps off toward the door he came from. Ashamed and sheepish we finally settle down, restoring ourselves into an appropriate contrite frame of mind. We really did love our brother and this really wasn’t funny. Walt was a hurting unit. We had laughed at him. We were wrong. For once he wasn’t fooling. It could have been serious.
After some minutes, we sober up and start to pull it together until Herb points to the rake poking skyward from the vegetable garden at a crazy angle, handle first, a root dangling from the tines. Titters start. To the left, Werner points to a backdrop of a thousand kamikazes orbiting parts of a broken nest. A loud guffaw is heard. Despite our attempted act of contrition, I let out a howl. I am certain that I am committing a mortal sin; my soul is damned and I am fully possessed by Satan and in some perverse, black mode, this irreverent awareness itself is funny: I’m going to go to hell ! I can’t help myself because I’m looking at the innocent genesis of this whole adventure; smoke from a lone Boy Scout fire tranquilly spirals upward some five yards past the nest.
I point there and this appears to void all good intentions, dissolving the group into new, uncontrolled hoots, painfully re-paralyzing face and stomach muscles. Herb in spasms, weakly gestures toward the rake again; now patrolled by a detachment of two “Devine Wind” aviators. By this time it hurts so much it’s not funny any more and we are relieved when Mom, apron-clad, comes out the door, attempting to pacify the rebels and console the victim.
Dishtowel in hand, accompanied by the offended one, she shames us for laughing at our poor brother, pointing to his violated body parts, spinning him once to display swollen flesh bumps everywhere. I thought at one point I saw her look away, stifling an unchristian smirk, but I wasn’t sure. Walt, now righteous, his lower lip bulging red, wears an asymmetrical Mona Lisa smirk. Reprimanded, yet relieved, we dutifully attempt remorse and walk off in different directions, avoiding looking at each other; our only way to break the frenzied cycle.
The curtain drops on an irate mother and four brothers, swollen faced, teary eyed and in pain, while wasps sound like machinery in the lazy morning.
After having been sent a complimentary copy of this piece, in an e-mail of Feb.10, 2002, Walt provided some additional information that had slipped into the cracks on the Boy scout caper. Walt writes: Your vignette, has a couple of sprockets missing, with a little acetate editing the image shall become much clearer:
- Big grass fires – lieu of little ones. (for smoke, to keep mosquitoes away.
- Charlie McCarthy said: ” I wood return”
- Douglas McArthur said: ” I shall return”.
- The Pyro did return, rousting the “Devine Wind “stronghold.
- A few drops of gasoline – voila, internal combustion at root level. Only the Kentucky Colonel has more singed wings.
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