Spring and summer merged together. I had become very close to Aunty Katy. She had not been all that bad. I had a mother figure and it was a good one. I was her little angel. I never told her about how I really felt concerning my father. If I could have stayed with her I would have. She was a nurse at the local hospital and always tried to make time for me. Even though she had helped hide me from my mother, I could no longer hold it against her. All the information she received in her decision making had originated with my father.
Her daughter Charlotte would even play with me on an occasion. Karrie disliked it but hid her true feelings well from them. She would pretend to like me when Aunt Katy or dad was around and beat me up when no one was looking. Uncle Larry had that quiet but very stern look always. I tip toed around him. I knew he liked me. I just didn’t feel the need to ask. I was after all a very shy boy.
Katy and Larry gave us a family. We desperately needed one and I had to open up to someone. Months earlier a distant relative had shown up practically on their door step asking for help. They had not known the real truth. People who often help seldom truly know the truth. In her eyes we were abused children that their father had rescued. In truth, he was a jealous man trying to inflict maximum pain on an ex-wife. My mother had faults, but who was he to make that decision. Father had hoped that one day they would remarry. He was still in love with her. Every time his visitation came he would hang around my mother’s home. Dad would try and get her to sit next to him. On our drive to his home he would play songs about love lost. He would tell us God planned to put them back together. Everything would be alright. How could she have been really all that bad? I could not forgive him. He ripped me from my mother.
I would give whatever it took to seem happy. I did not want his lectures anymore. He would go on ranting and raving about her for hours. God this and God that. My mother was a “Bitch and Whore”. I had been told more about her than an eight year should have. With each day I resented him more while being pulled closer. After all, he was taking care of us. At least there was Aunt Katy. She could be stern but she always meant well.
During the spring I made friends with my Aunts neighbor’s son. His name was Adam. Adam was a blonde haired twelve year old boy. His family was from England and they all had a funny accent I loved to imitate. Adam’s home was as old as Aunt Katy’s. The home was tucked at the base of the hill. Pine trees circled around the old walls, guarding it from the road. With a short hike I could run behind my Aunt’s house to his. Adam’s home sat further up the canyon but not too far away for an eight year old.
Adam’s father made knives and forks. They were giant dinner utensils made of shiny hard metal. In the mornings when school was out I would cross the creek and head up the canyon road to Adam’s house. His Mother would just be finishing their breakfast and off we would go. Adam always wore flannel shirts and old jeans. He carried a big knife his father had made him. His family owned a gangly wire haired beagle mix. Adam’s messy straw hair gave no denial that the dog belonged to him.
Just behind his house there was a slight impression that made the long walk up the hill easier. His Beagle was never far behind. Once on top I could look over the whole valley. The dried earth under my feet, rocks and cacti spread all around. The valley seemed to stretch for miles. Cold breath formed around my head. There was permafrost still on the ground. In the distance fog drifted over the trees. The earth seemed to go on forever. I was somewhere in the world. I was at peace high in the foothills, no one to pester me. I was not “Little Kenny” or that kid, the other one. I was so tired of being everything but me. I was a ghost in a room. There was my baby brother Samuel and my teenage sister Karrie. My Father, the poor guy who’s wife remarried and made him run with his kids. My Papa was all wise and knowing. If you stayed still long enough, maybe even looked into a mirror you might see the other one, me.
Adam called out my name. He was way ahead of me now. His mutt was staring back at me like a big Sheppard dog. Adam’s hands hung there in irritation. Did he really enjoy hanging out with an eight year old? He really needed to comb his hair. I turned from my vista and caught up with Adam.
The hills began to grow higher and higher the more we walked. The ground was barren, sparse with cholla and agave cactus. The sun was barely over the mountains to our left. I walked ten feet behind Adam. Streams of light scattered over the earth. It was quiet. I could hear my heart beat and the sound of shoes walking over tiny rocks. Off to our right was the Pinal Mountains. The Pinal were the southern tip of the Tonto National Forest. Even in the cold you can get hot and soon I was carrying my jacket. Adam and I talked about nothing and everything as usual.
We were two hours into our hike when something caught my eye. I drew closer to it. It was rusty and covered in dirt. Age and wear were read all over it. It was a pirate’s knife! It had to be. I had seen movies where Captain Kidd had one just like it. The handle had been eaten away by the years. Adam was nice enough not to fight over who found it. He had a huge knife anyways. My Dad had bought me last fall a yellow pocket knife but this was a “real man’s knife”.
We sat there on the ground. It had been a long morning already. The Arizona sun was up and I was getting hot. I asked Adam some questions about his family. Was his parent’s both his birth parents? Did he miss his relatives in England? What was England like? I always avoided answering his questions. I was not allowed to talk about the “before”. This morning was different. I hadn’t really thought about my Mother lately. I was thinking about her now. Adam of course asked the question. Where are you from? Why don’t you have a Mother? I threw my new knife into a large barrel cactus. I had stood up to get it and paused. I wanted to tell him but what if my Dad found out? He would kill me. What if he told his Mother and she told my Aunt Katy this wild story?
Turning around to look at him, slight stiffening crawled up my back. “Can you keep a secret?” I asked him. Adam assured me he would not tell a soul, crossed his heart and hoped to die. Spit on it and shook hands. I told him everything. A rush came over me and I immediately felt better. Someone I knew, someone who is my friend and not my Father’s, Karrie’s or even Aunt Katy’s family; we chose to be friends. I had control. He would not tell my secret.
Afterwards we were laughing while walking back home. We both were kicking and throwing rocks as far as we could. The beagle stayed clear. Besides, there were quail in these hills, good sport for a dog. As we neared the valley a sudden fear entered me and just that fast, it was gone. I trusted Adam, he was my friend. My other friend Todd would rat me out fast to his parents. They were friends with Dad and Aunt Katy’s family.
Adam and I goofed off on the side of the hill until about noon. I headed home, Papa would be making Sammy and him lunch. Later my little chat with Adam would come back to bite me. He had slipped and told. By the time my father found out I was terrified, and for good reason. I was punished for my dark deed. Dad reminded me why I had to keep this secret. What would happen to us if he was thrown in jail? It would be my fault and I would have to think about that. I had an obligation to make sure he never got caught. After all he had done so much for me.
Our house sat at the west end of five houses all identical. Next door to us there lived a boy named Clint he was twelve or fourteen. He had white curly hair and blue eyes. His Mother always had men over and there seemed to be a never ending party. Clint’s sister was a couple years younger than me but she already knew how to play boys for affection.
Clint had a really cool bicycle. It was chrome and black. All I had was a purple girl’s bike with a banana seat. He knew as well as anyone in our neighborhood that I wanted a bike like him. One I could jump off ramps and look cool on. Clint got a new set of hard red tires. They didn’t need airing up and would not get a flat. For five dollars he offered to sell his old tires to me.
My Papa gave me the five dollars and I enthusiastically went next door and purchased them. In my eyes they were the raddest tires I had ever seen. My Papa was not happy by the look on his face but tried to make a smile. He knew the tires were old and balding. He helped me take my tires off the rims and put my new pearls of joy on my bike.
FLAT! They were flat! He gypped me. Clint gypped me. He did it on purpose. I hate him, I hate Clint! I looked stupid. My Grandpa warned me and I didn’t listen. Clint does not like me. He was taking advantage of me. That Jerk, of all the dirty things to do. I bet he is out riding his bike with his “cool” friend’s. Their laughing at me, “Pulled one over on the weird kid”, hahaha.
My Grandfather told me I had to go get my money back. He tricked me and he needs to make this right. I stood there clinching my teeth, double fisted, “that rat”. Papa was always quiet when he spoke. He let me know that it was not my fault. I did not know better. This would be a good lesson for me. Never trust anyone, never! He told me next what I needed to do next.
I went over to Clint’s house and asked to speak with him. He wasn’t home. My Grandfather made me wait on our concrete porch for him to appear. I waited and waited. I was embarrassed at what had happened. I was a fool. My sister would never let me live this down. I could just hear all of them laughing behind my back, “Stupid little Kenny, he’ll never learn”. The longer it took for him to finish enjoying his day, the larger the knot in my throat grew. Finally after what felt like an eternity Clint came home. I waited till he was inside, got up my courage and headed to talk with Clint, man to man.
The five houses were identical to each other accept in variations of color. My heart was pounding, my fingers numb. I noticed I was shaking deep inside. I feared confrontation. What would Clint do to me? I had been in one other fight. It was a year earlier. As a result I was pushed off of a large submarine shaped jungle gym and broke my arm in three places. Not to mention a severely ego. The memory did not help my current situation.
Skirting the invisible boundary of our two houses I eased my way up their front walk to Clint’s door and my obvious doom. Gripping dirty old tires in my right hand the hollow sound of wood hitting flesh with my other. Over and over my hand knocked. Head spinning I felt so clammy. Noise came from inside as this towering twelve year old Goliath stood over me. Clint’s curly white hair and clear eyes looking down at me with a smirk of “smart ass” on his face, “What do you want Kenny”? David stood there, no sling shot insight.
There seemed to be no turning his mind, a deal was a deal, buyer beware. My Papa emerged from our front door step. He was standing there, “tell him tell him”. “Clint you must give me my money back, this was not a fair trade”. Clint’s voice echoed his body as he shoved me to the ground. He was laughing. I lay there like a turtle on my back. My Papa had started running to my side. He was telling the boy off. Clint didn’t care. He was going to teach me a lesson. His fists raised in the air like a judge’s hammer. Crawling on my side trying to get free of his fists as each point was driven into my body. Crying through tears of humiliation and pain, the scene became a blur as I ran to my room burrowing my face into a pillow.
Later that night my Papa was in his chair tooling away at a piece of wood. Old cracked hands working rhythmically like a poet, the knife an extension of his hand. He did not say much to me after the fight. I had embarrassed him so. I was ashamed, he was the only one not to look down at me or make jokes at my expense. The pain inside was terrible. My grief inside was raging. Black eyed and bruised I sat beside him. Papa never looked over. Instead he just worked harder at his piece of wood.
He calmly asked me what I had planned to do next. This large stone began to grow in my throat. How about forget it, run and hide, pretend I was an ostrich. Could that work? I did not want to fight. I wanted to just run and hide. I knew with my Dad and Papa there would be no way out of this. “I guess I will go and get my money back, right?” hoping this would end how he expected me to get it back. I was wrong, dead wrong with a capital “W”.
My Grandfather had been in his youth a boxer. William Lawson Connelly had the most feared fists in Coleman County, Texas. After a fight during his younger days his sister fell in love with the boy he laid out. Evidently the boy’s sister was so impressed with the “Connelly Prowess” that she married Papa’s other brother later.
Grandpa had been to every Civilian Conservation Corp camp during the depression. One of his favorite and often repeated stories was how he would find the biggest guy in camp and go knock him out. I was in deep here and had a lot to live up to. The Connelly pride was at stake. My father had also been a fighter in his day. He had grown up in Watts, CA. A small Hispanic community called “Crows Village”. Dad’s family was one of only two Caucasian families to live there during the 50’s and 60’s. He had been a member of a gang called “King of the Crows”. This was bad. I would have to make my last stand.
Papa walked around the yard and was telling me a story about David and Goliath. Davis was smaller, much smaller but he had a weapon. Out of the shadows of our back yard Grandpa produced a large stick. This piece of wood from our back yard was to be my slingshot. David held the board tightly. He thought to himself, now I can defeat my enemy. I will restore my pride and my five dollars too.
The next day Grandfather and I waited for the local public school bus to make its fateful stop. Looking out from our front window with great impatience I could see the faint color of bumblebee yellow making its way down our dirt road. One stop, two stop, next was Clint’s fate. Almost forgetting my stick I ran to the bus, Papa behind me. Perching just out of site of the double glass doors I prepared my assault. Here crouching was the Globe Arizona T-Ball Mariner’s top home run hitter. I could hear that brat talking as he took the first step to destiny. I closed my eyes and never quit swinging. If he got to his feet I was dead. Bits of wood crumbled away in my white-knuckled grip. He was on the ground screaming. An older adult figure ran from his home to save him. Papa pulled me back yelling for me to stop hitting him. The other adult, his mother I presumed was picking Clint up and screaming at Papa. I was a horrid boy. I ambushed her son and beat him down with a stick. My Grandfather apologized and told her that I would be dealt with sternly. He was telling me to go home and return to my room till he got there.
What wait a minute you told me to do it; I did what he had said? This was so wrong. I defended my honor, should have made everyone happy. Here I was “David defeating Goliath”, walking with my tail between my legs back to what was sure a spanking. Had I over done it? I dreamed of making Papa proud of me. My Dad would find out and I would forever here the praises of his son. All was a failure, or worse. Maybe the police would get called and Dad would get in trouble? That would be bad. We would get sent back to Nomie, our Mom. She hated us. What was I going to do? I could run away. No one would miss me. Would they?
Papa walked in the front door. His normal quite voice searching for me. Lying on my bed I turned to face him. Not knowing what he was going to do. Surprised to see his smiling face bigger than ever, such pride in his eyes I was wrong. In his left hand was five dollars. Clint’s Mother had cooled off and the two had a talk. Papa explained the previous day’s events and the untruthfulness of her son. He acknowledged to her face that I was wrong for the retaliation and I would be severely punished. Seeing this made her happy. He asked for a refund and they parted ways.
The whole affair had been a ploy. Never planning to punish me but unwilling to let her know his true motive. Yelling at me had been an act never meant to be for real. This was how you did things. When they were bigger you found the “slingshot” to be the equalizer. I would never forget his pearls of wisdom. I was just like Papa and my Dad; I took the law in to my own hands and kept my honor. This was how you did things. This was the Connelly way.
There is a little unknown fact in the Arizona State official guide to wildlife. Under species native to Arizona is a little animal known as a “Snipe”. The snipe is the only miniature dinosaur to have not lost its reptilian skin on the underbelly while having evolved bird like feathers on the back and spine. There is even a picture of it in the guide. The only way to hunt the little sucker is at night with a flash light while little kids or novice hunters hold paper grocery bags in the dark.
When the chance came one summer night to hunt Snipe; my sister Karrie, my friend Todd and myself jumped at the chance. The Pinal Mountain range was only five miles up the canyon from where we lived. After work one Friday night Uncle Larry, Dad, Papa and Todd’s older brother piled us into a truck and we headed up the mountain pass. The air was cold on my face. Aunt Katy had insisted that Karrie and I wear jackets at least for the drive up. Pickup beds were notoriously cold and windy on the warmest of nights. Between the three of us we passed our one flashlight back and forth holding it under our chins making faces in the dark. Pine trees and spruce filled the air. The exhilaration of my first hunt scared and excited me. Uncle Larry was an avid hunter. The land around his home was littered with yellow, green and red spent shot gun shells. A Popsicle stick in the hands of Larry was a Pigeon caller. Hearing many stories at the dinner table of his hunting exploits had become normal over the past few months.
The old ford came to a stop. With anticipation I prepared to leap from the side onto the ground. My Father’s hand tapped the window, “Stay inside”. The three of us were laughing with bravado. I could almost taste the snipes I planned to catch. No one would have as many as me. I would show them all. Father had reappeared after a long walk to scout out the area with Larry. He was smiling and rubbing his hands together asking us if we were ready for a night of fun. All three of us answered back in excitement. Uncle Larry looked around the trees and told us to be quite. We did not want to scare off the “big game” before we were ready.
It seemed like half an hour had passed hiking through the deep underbrush. Todd’s brother had gone up ahead to find where the snipe had been nestling. These were the only birds that burrowed in old dry beds. Far up ahead the trees became illuminated with his flash light. We got closer and closer to him. The four of them talked amongst themselves while the three of us snickered in our excitement.
One by one Dad led us on our hands and knees to a little impression in the black night. On closer examination pine needles painted the ground about me. Lectured on the rules again I was handed my brown paper bag and told which way to face. Soon Karrie and Todd would join me. Lumped together in a soldier’s line we held out our bags between our knees and hands. Our one and only flashlight had been called to duty with Uncle Larry. Slowly the lights and sounds disappeared. The cold had settled in. The moon cast an eerie glow over the trees. Birds chirped, coyotes sang their night calls. No one dared speak first or let out that they were terrified.
After an eternity serpent like bird sounds could be heard. Flashes of light wisped through the tree branches. The occasional mimic of bird call was made to direct the critters in our direction. The nervousness went away. Cold vanished from fingers. I was Peter and my wolf was somewhere there in the distance. Three, four, no half a dozen Kenny would have the most and be the best. My heart was pumping. I could see little feathered lizards hopping by the hundreds right up to me.
More lights appeared with voices. The chase was on. My Father was somewhere behind us. Uncle Larry was off to my left and Todd’s brother ahead of us. Somehow in the commotion the snipe got away. Father reassured us that they were heading them off back in our direction. Another half hour passed. Strange animal sounds could be heard with a flutter of light. They were getting close again. Then everything stopped. Dead silence. The cold crept back in. None of us wanted to say a word. I looked at Karrie and tried to smile. She gazed back annoyed. The look of fear was written in bold type across her face. Todd was in the same boat.
Karrie and I took turns calling out to Dad. We convinced our selves we were not scared but only concerned for his welfare. Todd had the great idea that all the snipe got away and we should probably go check on his Brother. One by one crawling on our dirty hands and knees we made our way up the impression. I had completely left the brown paper bag behind. The snipe could play in it for all I care. It turned out I was not the only one to leave empty handed. The crawl back up seemed three times as long than the way down. My legs could not move me fast enough. Todd was in front and moving like a turtle. Karrie was laughing behind me saying we were scared. The taunts could not cover up the look on her face I had seen earlier. The thought gave me an inner smile.
The three of us were up now and running for the truck. Snap! Lights and screeches came from everywhere. Between the howling and the moon I failed to understand. Dad and the others were jumping up and down laughing and flashing there lights at us. It was a prank. Nothing more than a prank played on us. The oldest prank in the state of Arizona and I had fallen for it. I glanced over at my sister. She gave a cold look over at me while informing us she knew it was a prank all along. Yeah, right!
***This book is now in print