As I turned off the highway onto the ranch road, I noticed a county sheriff deputy talking to three young boys. They were all standing in front of my friend Leonard’s cabin. I pulled up next to the sheriff’s Jeep Wagoneer and got out. The three boys he was talking to were my son Jonathan and his two friends Jerry and Jamey Johnson.
“Hi, Dad. How come you’re back so early?”
“What’s going on? I asked.
“Hi Ron. Leonard’s cabin was broken into and the boys are helping me out here,” Jim Willis the young deputy answered. “That son of yours sure is a good tracker. He followed two sets of footprints through the woods to a little creek back there. One set went West towards the river road just before the creek and the other set jumped the creek and went to the river and we lost the tracks.”
“Was anything stolen?” I asked.
“Yeah. It looks like a bunch of small stuff and a brand new boom box is missing so far. Leonard’s wife is still inside looking around,” he answered.
“Hmmm…is it okay if I look around?” I asked the deputy.
“Sure. I’ve got pictures of the crime scene and the area around it. I’ll be here until Brenda is done with her inventory list of stuff that’s missing. She came up from the valley when we notified Leonard about the break-in.”
I started towards the house looking at the ground and the footprints. I quickly turned around heading back to my son and his two friends stopping about fifty feet from where they were talking.
“Jonathan. C’mere a minute,” I called out to him.
He came right over and said, “What’s up?”
“Show me where these tracks lead to,” I said.
I followed Jonathan as we walked around to the side of the house where Jonathan pointed towards the woods.
“They go down there to a little irrigation creek. One set goes West, and one went to the river. No telling which way those went from there. It looks like one went straight into the water,” he said.
“Okay. Let’s go back,” I said.
When I got back to where the deputy was I said, “I’ll be right back. I’m going to go get my big black Lab, Sarg. He’ll track ‘em and maybe we can close this mystery in an hour or so.”
Jim Willis replied, “That would be great! Do you think he can sniff them out?”
“Sure he can. We’ll at least know if they had a car waiting up on the river road,” I responded. “You boys stay here with Deputy Willis until I get back. I won’t be long.”
This ought to be interesting, I thought as I drove down the road towards my house.
I had a small old log cabin I had fixed up as a music and writing studio. There was something gnawing at me about what was going on up the road. I stopped at the cabin and got out of my Bronco. As I approached the front door I noticed a lot of footprints in the snow around the entrance area. Wet snow leaves a very distinct track. I got down taking a closer look at the footprints. I traced my fingers over a couple of them. These tracks belonged to the same people who had broken into Leonard’s cabin. My heart jumped. I had thousands of dollars worth of music equipment in the cabin.
I jumped to my feet and went to the door. I noticed the door wasn’t shut all the way. I slowly pushed the door open and entered the cabin carefully, not knowing if someone may be hiding inside. It was dark as I fumbled for the light switch on the wall. Turning the lights on I noticed nothing had been disturbed and everything was in place except for one thing. The ladder to the loft had been pulled down.
I went to my desk and got my Colt .357 Python magnum out and cautiously approached the ladder listening intently for any noise or whispering from the loft. There was none so I started up the ladder and flipped the light switch on that was attached to the cross beam.
“You little shits,” I said aloud as I looked and saw all the booty from Leonard’s cabin arranged neatly on the floor of the loft. There was the boom box, an old china clock, a CO2 air rifle, and a bunch of knick-knacks.
I stuck the .357 into my belt, grabbed the boom box and climbed back down the ladder. I was fuming as I put the gun back in the drawer of my desk. I went back up the ladder and got the china clock. I knew the clock was special to Brenda as she’d talked many times about how it was her grandmother’s. I wrapped the clock carefully in a towel and loaded everything into the rear of the Bronco.
As I started back up the road my heart was racing and I was shaking. I don’t think I’d ever been this angry at Jonathan. For the first time in his life I actually wanted to physically whip Jonathan’s ass. I pulled myself together as I approached Jim Willis and the boys.
“Where’s Sarg?” Jonathan asked as he approached my vehicle.
“I don’t need him,” I answered as I got out of the Bronco.
“Well how are you gonna find out where these guys went without Sarg?” he asked indignantly.
“I know who the guys are, Jonathan,” I replied, shooting him a glare as Jim Willis approached. “C’mere, Jim. I’ve got something to show you…you too, Jonathan.”
Jonathan had a look of complete horror on his face as I walked to the back of my Bronco and opened it.
“Is that some of the stuff that was taken?” I asked as I un-wrapped the china clock.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Jim exclaimed. “Where’d you find this stuff?”
“It was in my cabin studio…up in the loft,” I answered calmly.
“They broke into your cabin studio, too?” Willis asked.
“Naw…one of them had a key. Isn’t that right, Jonathan?” I said remaining calm but the anger was building.
Jonathan looked at Jerry and Jamey and then decided to bolt and run. He didn’t get a step out as I grabbed him by his coat collar. He spun around getting loose and tried to run past me. I stuck my foot out and tripped him sending him head first into the snow and sliding to a stop.
I walked over and picked him ip by the collar and said, “Get in the cruiser…NOW,” I said in a deep tone. “You and your two friends, Butch and Sundance are going on a trip to the Yakima County Juvenile Detention Center.”
Jerry and Jamey had started slowly walking away towards the highway.
“You two stop right now,” I yelled. “You can run if you want but I’ll catch you in ten yards and when I do I’ll throttle the both of you. Later on your Dad and I will go up to Whistlin’ Jack Lodge and celebrate with a couple of shots of Crown Royal. Now get your asses over here and have a seat next to Jonathan in the cruiser.”
The deputy had been in state of shock and speechless at what he’d just witnessed. He walked over to the cruiser and looked in at the three frightened boys.
“Ron, I can’t take them down there. Do you know what that place is like? It’s all Mexicans who don’t even speak English. These three will be like fresh meat,” Willis said trying to reason with me. “How do you know it’s the boys, for sure?”
“Well, Jim, it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to figure it out,” I replied. “There are the same tracks in the snow around Leonard’s cabin and mine. The tracks match the sneaker prints the boys have on. My cabin was opened with a key that only Jonathan has and all the booty was in the loft. They tried to run when confronted. Do you need a freight train to hit you?”
I looked at the young deputy and replied, “Cuff ‘em and book ’em Dano. Their weekend is going to be spent down there in Juvey. Maybe they’ll learn some Spanish. Jerome and I will be down Monday to pick them up.”
The boys spent their weekend in Juvenile Detention and Jerome and I picked them up Monday morning. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for Jerry and Jamey. Jerome wasn’t one of the Liberal spare-the-rod parents of the new generation. They were being released because Leonard and Brenda wouldn’t press charges. They had raised four boys and three girls and this was nothing to them as all their kids had been very wild.
Jonathan got into the Bronco and was very quiet for a few miles then he spoke.
“I don’t know what to say, Dad. It was pretty stupid,” he said.
“Jonathan, if I was you I wouldn’t say a word right now. I’m still pretty pissed off,” I replied. “You’re just going to dig yourself a deeper hole. Do you remember Selby’s cowboy philosophy about that kind of stuff?”
“Oh yeah,” Jonathan answered with a chuckle. “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.”
“You got it,” I replied with a wink.
The ride home for the next forty miles was dead silent.
We had an early dinner that day. After we were done and the dishes and kitchen was cleaned up Jonathan and I sat down at the table.
“Now…have you got anything you want to say, Jonathan?” I asked looking him straight in the eye.
“Dad, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. It started out as a joke and then got serious because Jerry saw the boom box through the window and he just had to have it. It went downhill fast after that. I never even went inside. Jerry and Jamey did.”
“Jonathan, you’re just as guilty as they are and to boot, you hid the stolen property in my cabin,” I said as I glared at my son. “You’re trying to justify what you did and there’s no justification for it. It’s like trying to rationalize irrationality. It’s impossible. Just take responsibility for what you did and when you return the rest of the stuff to Leonard and Brenda, apologize to them.”
“You mean I’ve got to bring the stuff back to them?” Jonathan asked surprised.
“Well I sure didn’t steal the stuff,” I responded quickly. “You took the stuff…you return the stuff.”
Jonathan sat quiet for a minute and then said, “I know I did wrong and I deserve to be punished severely for what I did. You’re right. I’m responsible just like Jerry and Jamey and I’ve spent all weekend thinking about it. I knew we were caught the minute I saw you come back up the road without Sarg. What’s going to happen to me? What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know Jonathan,” I answered. “I’m out of shotgun shells. I can’t find the bull whip so I guess you’re safe that way.”
“I’ve got an idea,” Jonathan said calmly.
“Is that so? This I really want to hear,” I responded skeptically.
“I think I should be grounded for the next three months. I think my allowance should be suspended, too. All my privileges should be suspended. I should be confined to the house…kinda like ‘house arrest’. I don’t get to do anything or go anywhere,” he explained in a serious tone.
I thought a few seconds and said, “Let me see if I’ve got this right. You want no privileges, no allowance, and house arrest for three months confined to my house with my TV, my video player, my stereo, my refrigerator, my phone, and all the other comforts here? Is that right?”
“You make it sound like it’s easy,” Jonathan responded a little perturbed.
“Well I’m just trying to figure out who’s getting punished here. It sure isn’t you, my little Mr. Life-of-Riley,” I said sarcastically. “Hand me the phone.”
Jonathan handed me the phone with a puzzled look on his face and watched as I dialed the number.
“Hey, Ronnie! How’s it going down there at your place?” Jerome asked.
“Pretty good. How about you?” I asked.
“Great,” Jerome responded. “I whipped the shit out of the boys and grounded them for a couple of weeks. They’re down in the barn mucking stalls right now. I think I hurt my hand when I smacked Jerry.”
“Ouch,” I said. “Have you still got those two log trucks loads of Tamarack.”
“Yeah,” Jerome answered. “Do you want ‘em?”
“Yeah. Drop them down by the barn tomorrow morning. I’ll pay the driver.”
“Oh oh,” Jerome said with a laugh. “I feel one of your character building lessons comin’ on. You know, there’s about eighteen cord of wood there. That’s enough to heat that place of yours for the next three years or better.”
“Yeah…I know. I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said and hung up.
Jonathan was looking at me with a puzzled expression and then asked, “What’s up? Did Jerome punish Jerry and Jamey?”
“Yes he did. He kicked their asses and grounded them for two weeks,” I responded.
Jonathan laughed and said, “Like that’ll do any good with those two.”
“My thoughts, exactly,” I responded with a smile. “Here’s what we’re going to do. Jerome is dropping off two log truck loads of Tamarck down by the barn tomorrow. It scales out to about eighteen cord all bucked up and split. You, my young friend get to buck, split, and stack all the wood up here by the house. I want a nice snow fence barrier built with stacked wood on this northeast corner.”
Jonathan’s mouth was open a little in total surprise.
“Uh uh,” I said. “Don’t speak. There’s more. You can’t run the chain saw in the morning. You can only split wood in the morning. I need my sleep because I work late. I don’t care when you start the barrier fence but I’d suggest hauling it up to that corner every time you’ve got a couple of cords split up. You can use the big wheel barrow to do that.
“Now, I’m not going to be a total ogre about this, Jonathan. I don’t want your ‘active social life’ and ‘jock’ status to take too big of a hit here and I know you’ve got some school functions you may want to attend. You just let me know a week ahead, in writing, and I’ll take your request under advisement and let you have my answer within forty-eight hours.”
I wish I’d had a video of the look on his face. It looked like one of those Mastercard commercials…
Breaking into a cabin….Three days in Juvenile detention.
Silent ride home with Dad…Nerve racking.
Jonathan’s offer to serve a self imposed punishment…Not so fast my friend!
Dad’s solution for the punishment and the look on Jonathan’s face when he hears the solution…PRICELESS!
“You’ve gotta be kidding me, Dad! I won’t get that done for six months! My friends won’t recognize me by the time I’m free,” Jonathan said pleading and hoping for a break. “I hate it when you do stuff like this. Why don’t go just take me down to the barn and beat the shit out of me and ground me for a while like any other normal parent would do?”
I looked at Jonathan with a smile and said, “I’m not going to beat you, son. I play guitar for a living and I could hurt my hands. However, I’m sure by the time this is all over with you’ll understand that old saying, ‘If you can’t do the time…don’t do the crime.’
I watched Jonathan pretty closely that first week. I bought him six cases of Gatorade and told him to stay hydrated. I wanted him to get over his anger without hurting himself. He was right about the six month completion estimate. At the rate he was going he’d be having eggnog with Santa on Christmas Eve at the woodpile. However, I left him alone to deal with his thoughts and figure it all out for himself..
By the end of the second week he had a slow rhythm going. By the end of the third week he was getting faster. His anger was gone and his intensity was getting stronger. Not only was he picking up his speed but he was eating more and resting more. He started to put on a few pounds and was looking a little more buffed up. By the time Memorial Day rolled around, ten weeks into his ‘sentence’, he was half way done with his project. I was amazed. We took three days off and then school let out for the summer allowing him to spend all day on his project.
A month later, a week before the Fourth of July weekend started I called Jonathan up from the woodpile when I heard the chainsaw shut off.
He ran up to the patio and said, “What do you need, Dad?”
I looked at him as he wiped the sweat off himself with a grungy towel.
“Stay right there. I’ll be right back,” I said as I headed into the house.
When I came back out I tossed Jonathan a cold beer and watched the expression on his face.
“What’s this all about?” he asked surprised as he popped the top and took a gulp.
“Jonathan, if you’re man enough to do the job you’ve done this past twelve weeks, along with all your other chores and school, then you’re man enough to have a beer with me,” I said as we raised the cans in a salute and took a swallow together.
“I want you to quit the woodpile. Enough is enough. Punishment’s over. We can finish it this summer…together,” I said.
“I won’t do that,” he said sternly.
“What?” I replied in astonishment.
“I said I won’t do that,” he answered calmly.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Remember that little book you wrote about how everybody wants to go to heaven?”
“Yeah. What about it?” I asked puzzled.
“Well, I read it and it kind of made sense,” he replied as he reached in his back pocket and handed me a laminated index card. “I read this every day a few times a day.”
I took the card and read what was written in his own handwriting.
1. Set of goal
*** Finish wood by the 4th of July!!!
2. Make a plan
*** Work smarter. Get a rhythm going. Do a little more each day!
3. Prepare yourself
*** Eat better. Eat more. Keep hydrated. Say my prayers! Get rest!
4. Have pride
*** I LOVE THIS JOB!!!!
*** Keep all these promises to myself.
Signed: Jonathan Matthew Karcz
I looked at Jonathan as my eyes welled up. Standing before me was not a child anymore but the developing body of a young man. He was starting to get that v-shape and build… complete with six pack abs. His attitude had changed. Filled with pride I stepped forward and embraced him.
“I love you, Jonathan. I love you very much,” I said.
“I love you, too, Dad. Thanks,” he said. “I’m going to get a shower and grab something to eat.”
“Just get a shower. I’ll buy dinner at Whistlin’ Jack Lodge,” I said.
“Wow! That’s cool! Can I have trout?” he asked excitedly.
“Hell no,” I shot back. “You can catch a trout any time you want in the back yard. It’s Prime Rib night. All you can eat!”
“Double cool! I hope they made and extra one ‘cuz I’m starved,” he said as he headed off to the shower.
Later that evening and out of the blue, Jonathan asked Doug Williams, the owner of the lodge, for a summer job bussing tables. Doug hired him on the spot as long as he could start on the Fourth of July weekend. I nodded a ‘yes’ to Jonathan.
Jonathan and I finished the woodpile as a father-son project that summer. Actually, it was mostly Jonathan. I couldn’t keep up with him.