Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Big Carrot (A Short Story: 1958, out of St. Paul, Minnesota)

Uncle Ernest, whom I called uncle really was not my uncle but my mother’s boyfriend for some forty-years, found out my secret when I was eleven years old, back in the summer of 1959. Let me explain: Earnest Brandt, had about a half-acre of land in the city proper off Cayuga Street, it was all fenced in, and in the back of his house was a fairly large garden and he gave me a small section of it to grow carrots.
       Well, I was grateful, and so I tried to copy him by planting my seeds in a number of rows: not too close, not too far apart, and picking out the weeds, watering it when needed, and so forth and so on; but my carrots just didn’t grow like his, thus comes the envy of a growing youth, I was eleven years old. This would be the beginning and the conclusion of my Al Capone Days, you know, the big gangster of the 1920s; actually, he died the year I was born, 1947, he was a kingpin for seven years, I was for seven hours.
       Well, we lived next door to Earnest—kind of—an empty lot separating us, my brother Mike, my mother and my grandpa, we lived together; but it was grandpa’s house. And Earnest had two children who lived with him, Gloria and Don. And so it wasn’t a long hike to his garden, and Donald and I had a few things in common and were best of friends, he actually taught me how to dance. Anyhow, it was easy to simply jump over the fence, which he never liked the neighborhood boys doing but he had an apple tree and many a time one of us boys went over that fence to fetch apples for the throng.
       So it was that that every so often I’d go and check on my garden to see how my carrots were doing: and they were not doing very well in comparison to Mr. Brandt’s. This one day, summer day, 1958 (the year he traded his old 1950-Chevy and bought his New Galaxy 500 Ford 500, not sure what the ‘500’ meant, I saw him go into his house using the backdoor, my mother had just come down to visit him (he could see her walking from our home to his), and so I knew he’d not be back in the garden for the rest of the evening. They took turns going to each other’s houses, for the most part, but as time went on, and I got older, it seemed she preferred his, because of grandpa, and his moods, and I suppose privacy, but grandpa could be ornery at times, and so for a less of a disrupted evening, it was a simple choice of who’s house was better to mingle in.
        As I was about to say, Ernie went into his house, and I went looking into his garden, he had many things growing but somehow I was more interested in how his carrots were doing. The top of his carrots were as round as my writs, and mine were as round as my thumb: this was not just, not fair by any means I felt, and envy set in, and I’ll let you know, envy is not like jealousy, jealous comes and goes; envy, grows, and sticks in your mind like white on rice. Consequently, I looked here and there, mostly at the backdoor that lead out to a wooden platform, an open porch kind of, to see if Ernie was coming, and he wasn’t. Carefully I dug around and pulled out one humungous carrot, the size of 2 x 4 log, so it appeared to my mind’s eye, even if that is a tinge of exaggeration.   I pulled it out like I was Jack pulling out the deep rooted roots of his bean-stock. Then I padded the dirt around it so no one would be the wiser of my dirty deed (but life is never so sweet is it).
       So the deed was done, and I went back home to watch television with grandpa, hid a few apples in the side of the sofa—because grandpa always had a fit about my chewing and chewing, it bothered him, and I’d eat apple after apple, or an orange, or a carrot, and it bugged him to kingdom-come.  And across from me was grandpa in his padded sofa chair, always watching me as if I was overdoing it to annoy him.  He always liked those cowboy movies: Gun Smoke, or Have Gun Will Travel, or Wagon Train, or The Texan, and of course Hopalong Cassidy, his number one favorite, cowboy TV-series, with those “Sugar Crip” commercials, and his number one hero, William Boyd, to me he was an old man, with white hair, and I couldn’t figure how he’d even be able to climb up on that horse half the time, I was waiting for him to rock off. But that was grandpa for yaw. He never took into consideration that cigar or pipe half out, half lit, half the time, and half the time in the ashtray burning slowly, didn’t bother me. But it was Grandpa’s house, so what can you say.
       And grandpa he’d be mumbling, not looking directly at me, but from the corner of his eye, ‘…vat he doin’, ya, ya, ya, et, eet, eet, and vait tell you got to buy da food ya’d not ate so much…’ in his old Russian tongue with bits and pieces of English, complaining. Nevertheless, I had the two other apples in the corner so when he saw me eating one apple, call it ‘the apple’ I would  eat the seeds and all (I still do to this day), and when he looked at me again, he kept seeing the one apple, never knowing I had three, two hidden in the couch. He thought I was really eating slowly, two hours to eat one apple. He never was the wiser, or if he was, he didn’t say so, and it would have been against his nature not to go through that ‘Vat he doin’.
       Anyhow, about 9:30 p.m., the next day, my bedtime was 10:00 p.m., Ernie brought my mother home, walked her home, and they were in the kitchen. My mother asked me to come into the kitchen for a moment, and I did. Ernie was there with a big carrot in his hands—the very one I replace into my garden, and took from his, having given him the little one from mine, actually he had both of them if I recall, the big one and my little one. For a moment I thought it was just some vegetables from his garden he was bringing over (he did that quite often), and he said: “Does this look familiar?”
        Well you know it did, but I said “No …mm…why?
       “I think it does,” said my mother, with a disappointed look on her face.
       “Well,” she said, “Ernie found this in your garden, and for some odd reason it didn’t seem to belong there with all your little carrots.” (That was the big one.)
       “Yup,” I said (I couldn’t talk my way out of it I knew), adding, “I, I didn’t think taking one carrot would matter, I mean you got all the big ones, I got only small ones.”   
       No logic to my statement, but at eleven years old, has any kid got logic, or all that much to say! I think they were trying to hold back the humor of the situation, but it was theft, and it had to be dealt with a theft.
       “Didn’t it seem obvious that it would stand out?” Asked my mother (I think my envy blinded me).
       I looked a bit uneasy for being caught in such a silly predicament, I guess I was sorrier for being caught, than for taking the carrot, but it proved I couldn’t be a thief: in any case, I said, I never thought of it. And that was the truth. And that was the end, of my Al Capone days.

Written: September 6, 2012/reedited: 9-28-2016