Why parents get prematurely grey

Over the years, my siblings and I pulled some pretty good stunts on our parents.  These were almost always, but no by all means totally, at my instigation.  Don’t get me wrong; I got along reasonably well with my parents, but there were times when the little ‘gotcha’ bug burrowed deeply into my body and planted an idea.

There was the time that my brother and I took great care dabbing little mercurochrome dots all over my young sister’s body.  She was about 2 if I remember correctly and didn’t have any real say in the matter.  She did, however, hold still for us while we worked – occasionally trying to rub off a spot or two.

My mom was downstairs doing the washing at the time and came back upstairs with an armload of clean folded clothing for us kids to put away.  My brother’s stuff and mine were laid neatly on our beds and we were given the admonishment to ‘not mess around and put it away’.  Then she turned and went in our sister’s room.

“Yikes!” I think she said (I could be wrong; it might have been something entirely different).

“What?” I asked.

She didn’t answer right away and I soon heard her rushing around the bedroom grabbing baby clothes from drawers and putting them on my sister in preparation to rushing her to the base hospital.  She did begin to smell a rat I think when my brother and I erupted in poorly suppressed mirth at her consternation.

“All right, who did it,” she intoned, casting an eye over the two of us.

“I cannot tell a lie” I answered with wide innocent eyes aimed at my brother.  “He did.”

Once I was able to master the one-tube receiver and began to absorb a deeper understanding of radio theory I came across an advertisement for a simple one-tube broadcast band transmitter in one of my electronic magazines:

“Have fun in your own home fooling your friends.  Using this simple circuit and a short antenna you, too, can broadcast your voice through any available radio.  All you need is to speak into the microphone and you are instantly ‘on the air’”.

This sounded almost too good to be true I thought.  I could immediately see the possibilities of this fantastic device.  For the next three weeks I saved what little allowance I got ($2 a week) and carefully cut out the coupon, liberated an envelope from my mom’s desk, and mailed off my $5 (plus postage).

I haunted the mailbox for several weeks following the mailing hoping that the transmitter would arrive soon.  Finally, the mail carrier walked down the street, turned into our house and reached into his bag to pull out a square box (and some other stuff).  Since I happened to be in the vicinity, I volunteered to take the mail to my mom and he handed all of it to me.

I hot-footed into the living room, tossed the rest of the mail on the coffee table, and rushed immediately upstairs to my room – holding the box carefully like a delicate flower – and put the box on my desk.  Carefully, I cut the top and folded back the lid.  Inside were several paper bags, another small (but heavy) box, and an RCA tube box.  The instruction book consisted of several printed pages and a detailed schematic of the device.

It took me most of the week to assemble the device, mainly because I had a couple of false starts and had to reverse my steps.  After I dumped the contents of all the different paper envelopes on the desk I then read in the instructions to wait until each pack was called out before opening it.  Hey, I was twelve – who reads instructions?

Finally!  It was assembled and ready to test.  After making sure my mom was out of the house for the afternoon, I went downstairs, tuned the radio to a dead spot on the dial and rushed back upstairs. I hooked up the “A” battery (1.5 volts) to the filament of the tube and snapped the contact plate to the larger “B” battery (45 volts) and slowly turned the dial.  At one point there was a horrible screech from the radio downstairs as my transmitter matched the radio’s frequency.

I thumped my finger on the microphone and was rewarded by a matching thump downstairs.

“Hello?  Hello?  Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” was repeated much amplified from downstairs.

“What the hell are you doing now” my brother asked from the doorway (he was forbidden to enter my room on pain of death).  “Dad’s gonna have a fit if he thinks you’ve messed with his radio.”

“I haven’t done a thing to it.  It’s this” I said, indicating the breadboarded device on my desk.  “This is transmitting to the radio.”

“Cool!” He responded.  “What are you gonna do with it?”

He can be a real dim bulb sometimes, but he had hit on exactly the dilemma I was trying to work out – what to do with it.

“I don’t know” I responded.  “Any ideas?”

We talked about several things we could do until he mentioned that our father liked to listen to the news in the evening.  He and I thought it might be nice to maybe do some campaigning for our Christmas desires a bit early (it was October, I think) so we wrote a script outlining what we wanted from “Santa”.

My brother – ever practical – said the he would probably recognize my voice the first time he heard it.  Shoot, he’s right I thought.  How was I going to mask my voice?  We tried many different ways to sound different from the ridiculous (put marbles in my mouth) to the sublime (see if I could talk another adult into helping me).  While trying one method, I took a drink of water while talking.  As the glass neared my lips, the timbre of my voice changed into a positively Boris Karloff-like intonation.  This caused me to finally end up with a wash bucket over my head and, after my brother’s hysterics had passed, he went downstairs and listened to how it sounded.

He came back up and said that it really sounded good to him so we tuned the radio to my dad’s favorite station and I re-tuned the transmitter to that frequency.  When the batteries were connected, the normal station was completely eliminated and my voice began filling the living room.  I disconnected the batteries again and we were ready.

He came home at the usual time and, after dinner, dropped into his easy chair after turning on the radio.  After letting him listen to a couple of news stories I connected the batteries and began to read.

“Good evening” I intoned.  “This broadcast is being brought to you by Baedeker’s Toy Store.  The only toy store that has what all kids really want for Christmas.”

I didn’t get much farther than that before a bellow from below came echoing from downstairs.

“All right.  If I find out you’ve screwed up my radio you’re in big trouble kiddo.”

I could hear the sounds of the radio being pulled away from the wall as he checked for wires as I kept up my listing of toys the two of us would like to have.

Things would have been just fine except that I managed to reach up with my hand, touch the metal bucket, and (since I was holding the microphone in my other hand) complete the circuit between the antenna, my elbow, and the 45-volt battery.

Now, 45 volts won’t kill you, but it WILL definitely force a wild, banshee-like sound from deep inside you to be emitted.  This, coupled with the echo from inside the bucket, caused the radio downstairs to greatly amplify my anguish.  This also caused the bucket to be launched across the room and my own pain-filled voice to announce:

“WAH!  SHIT!  That hurts!”

Retribution swiftly followed; I was sentenced to ten swats with The Paddle.

We were foraging behind one of the stores in our huge four-store strip mall near home and found a perfectly good left arm.  Not a real one (that would have been cool too) but one from a store dummy.  It was smooth, flesh-toned, and had all its fingers.  We thought that the reason it had been discarded was the clip on the ‘shoulder’ had broken so that it wouldn’t stick to a torso any more.  This, I decided, had possibilities; and the wheels began turning.

We kept our garbage can on our back porch which was attached to the rear of the kitchen.  Since the back yard was lower than the level of the porch there was a set of steps down to ground level.  One of my jobs every week to earn my allowance ($2) was to horse the garbage can down those steps and out to the street.  It was a hazardous job most of the time, but after a huge meal ending up with watermelon, it made the can very heavy.  In this, the plan was hatched.

I stashed the fake arm under the back steps wrapped in an old t-shirt of mine, ready for instant action.  On Tuesday evening (our garbage was picked up on Wednesday) I carried out my plan.  As I went out the back door I noticed that my dad had piled some empty paint cans near the door.  Heck, I thought, those would help make noise too.

With deliberation I wrestled the garbage can to the bottom of the steps and carefully tipped it on its side. Next I set the paint cans on the top step and added several other items that would certainly make more noise.  The scene was set.

I gave out with a blood-curdling yell, pushed the paint cans down the steps and stomped down the stairs after them.  Reaching the bottom, I quickly lay down, pulled the fake arm out from beneath the step, folded my real arm under me, extended the fake arm – but disconnected by about six inches – from my shoulder, and waited.

My sister was the first on the scene and, when she took in my apparently disjointed arm, started screaming for my parents.  Next up was my brother, who scanned the accident and began laughing.  My mother followed closely by my dad was next.  She began to hyperventilate until my dad looked at all the apparent carnage and told my brother to go get a hammer and some nails to stick my arm back on.

I could suddenly hear the crickets under the porch chirping and the sigh of wind through the porch screens as it became very quiet.  My mom broke the silence by asking:

“It’s not real?”

“Nah” said my dad.  “Look at the hand, the nails are clean and it’s not dirty.  So it can’t be his.”

Dads are so practical.



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