In my entire life, I only had one serious enemy. My foe, Johnny Cain, had enormous blue eyes and sandy hair. Each afternoon, while walking from school to my Grandmother Glover’s house, Johnny pretended to run me down with his little blue bicycle. In an effort to maintain some shred of dignity, I showed no fear. I stared straight ahead, kept walking at a steady pace, and refused to look at my cruel tormentor. The more I pretended bravery the more this game appealed to eight-year-old Johnny.
You probably can’t imagine the horror I felt when Daddy announced that he and I would be going to a fish fry with Catherine Cain and her son, Johnny. “You can’t be serious! Johnny is the meanest person in the whole world,” I responded in a panic. Seventy years later, I know this world can be cruel. At eight, I thought surely Daddy would listen to reason. However, the following Saturday, I found myself scrunched against a back seat door staring out the window. Johnny stared with equal determination out the opposite side of the car. We refused to speak to one another.
Inevitably, all the kids at the fish fry ate together as the adults enjoyed their fish, beer, and cigarettes. (Everyone smoked in those days.) Suddenly, I felt a distinct prick in my throat. It became imperative that I break the silence and talk to Johnny. “I just swallowed a fish bone and it’s stuck in my throat.” Johnny may have tormented me but he was not quite as cruel as I had imagined. Up he jumped and away he ran to get Daddy.
Daddy was a tall, thin, handsome cowboy with hands much too large to reach into a young child’s throat. No more fish, nor more beer, no more fun for the adults. We piled into the car to make the long trip into Pecos to see Dr. Hay. As we drove, Johnny, who felt certain no one could possibly live with a fish bone lodged in the throat, gave me his apt attention. I am certain that he anticipated imminent death occurring right before his eyes and he did not want to miss it.
In spite of breathing smoke all the way into town, I did not die. Dr. Hay deftly plucked the bone out of my right tonsil and Daddy drove me back to Grandmother’s house. From that time on, Johnny and I became friends. While his mother and my daddy enjoyed one another’s a company at the country club, Johnny and I pestered the bartenders and played hide and seek in the dance hall. Many years later, we both attended TCU.
However, Johnny’s streak of meanness continued until a class reunion a few years ago. Through all the years, Johnny insisted that he never had a little blue bike and he felt certain someone else chased him home from school. The last time we discussed the issue, I began to question my memory. Seeing my halting confusion, Johnny finally confessed to being the bike-chasing culprit.
As I share this story, I notice one regret. My poor daddy had been a widower for less than a year. Catherine turned out to be lovely and gracious. I’m fairly certain I ruined their relationship. Interestingly, Johnny blames himself for the lost friendship of our parents. At least I can say that since being tormented by a cute third grader on a bike, I have never had another enemy. Not too bad for an old grandmother to be able to say. Now, am I forgetting something?
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy —