There’s no prize for being stupid

That’s a saying that we heard a lot throughout our lives. It would be used as a stand-alone vocal thought, or tacked on to the front/back of another sentence. I’ll give you some examples.

Let’s say that on the off-chance, I came home from school after getting suspended for fighting. My (step)father, Paul, would say something like:

“There’s no prize for being stupid.” This would be surrounded by a disappointed look and some head-shaking.

or

“Why would you fight at school? You should have waited until after class and followed him off the school property. Jesus, there’s no prize for being stupid.”

or

“Haven’t I ever told you that there’s no prize for being stupid? Now go put some peroxide on your hands. Those Portuguese have all kinds of diseases.”

Okay, maybe he didn’t say that last thing about the Portuguese, but I think you get the point; it was something that we heard a lot while growing up.

There were a lot of other things that I remember hearing, but most of them are unmentionable as they were spoken at a hunting camp, or on a men’s weekend. I think we all know the saying “What happens at the camp/Vegas/Mexico, stays there”. Well, I’m proud to say that Paul was the first person I had ever heard say that, and to this day there are things that only a handful of people know because of it. “Do as I say, not as I do” was another one. That is perhaps the single worst thing that he taught me. Not because of what he said, but because what he was doing looked so fun that I just had to try it for myself.

I guess that most of you have read yesterday’s post, so you have heard that the man who raised my sisters and I as his own kids passed away the other night. I could sit here and dwell on the shitty, anger-filled part of his death, but there’s no sense in beating a dead horse (another saying he used often), so I’m going to recount some of the good/funny things that I can remember from growing up with one of the most interesting and unique men that I know.

There was a bear that lived our attic named Cubbywoo. This was used to keep us from ever finding our Christmas presents, Warfarin, or who knows what else. It also answered the question of what that creaking noise is that’s coming from our house. I had the trap door to the attic in my room, and Paul or Mom caught me standing on my dresser and trying to push up the piece of wood to see what was up there. It turns out that that was where our presents were hidden, and that was when the legend of Cubbywoo became a scary reality in our world. It turns out that Cubbywoo will eat children if they open the door to the attic, but he won’t eat an adult because they are the ones that look after him. You’d think that a smart kid like myself would figure out that nobody had ever come into my room to feed this bear, and seeing as I possessed the sole portal to this animal’s home above my maple dresser, I should have seen some proof of life, or even smelled a bit of bear shit once in a while. I think that we can all agree that when you are fifteen eight or nine, you will be skeptical, but still unable to gamble your life on that kind of bet.

Like seriously, would you take the chance?

One thing that was never proven or disproven, but has been met with a lot of skepticism is the legend that Paul rode a pig to school when he was a little boy. He claimed that everyone else got to ride horses and ponies to school, but he wasn’t allowed to ride a horse, so he got a pig and saddlebroke it. I’m not saying he didn’t, but I’ve known a ton of farmers in my life, and I’ve never heard of such a thing. I don’t even remember why kids were riding any animals to school in the 60’s, even in Cold Springs, or wherever these events took place. I’m thinking that it was after he was raised in the woods by the Indians.

There’s your proof

Oh yes, I forgot about the time he was raised in the woods by the Native Peoples, and was taught to feed himself  from the land. That was how he got his superb tracking and hunting skills, and is how he was able to sneak up on the fish and animals so quietly. He was so stealthy that he could hunt deer with nothing but a knife, and couldn’t understand why we couldn’t. He told us all of the tricks that he used as a young boy in the forest, and although we had never witnessed any of these feats, we were pretty sure that they had all happened.

Another thing that you will all be thankful for, is that Paul taught me how to swear, even if he didn’t know it. When I was a kid, he would take me fishing, camping, etc… with him, Glenn, Mike, and sometimes Shaun. I had never heard him swear until an ice fishing trip up to Glenn’s cottage on Lasswade Lake. Mike and I were riding Old 12 around the lake while the men just stood around the holes and drank whiskey and cherry brandy. I hadn’t ever ridden a snowmobile before, so when it was my turn to drive, I leaned out on the corner. Don’t laugh, in my young boy mind, I was trying to get it to straighten up. We flipped the old Ski-doo over, and I was probably crying and not wanting to get back on it, so Paul and Glenn got a fire going, and I went over by the island to keep warm. I was trying to get as close to land as I could, because I thought it would melt through the ice, and we would surely drown. Paul assured me that it wouldn’t, and Mike started to talk me into allowing him to bury me in snow, because it was the best insulator in the world. I of course agreed to this, and soon enough was covered in a couple feet of heavy packing snow. While I was in there, I suppose that I was kind of forgotten, and after a while the cursing started. I heard words that I didn’t hear again until I was an adult, and at the time, they were just odd sounding words that were spoken with a lot of emphasis and enthusiasm.

I never did say anything about hearing those words that day, or any of the times I heard them after that. Mostly because I longed to be a part of his life and wanted him to like me, but also because no one had ever taken an interest in teaching me all of the things I had been missing. Things that boys need to learn to become men. Things like how to tie on a fish hook, how to stand up for yourself, and more importantly, how to handle yourself when you did. He taught me how to think for myself, and not to stray from what I think is right, even if it resulted in us butting heads a lot of the time.  I hope he was glad that he did.

I was talking with Mrs. Birdman on our way home from Mom’s tonight, and I explained to her that all of my life I had thought of Paul when I had done anything good or bad. If I built something properly, I would think about how he would have liked to see that I had finally picked up some of his carpentry skills, or maybe I had finally done an oil change that I didn’t forget a key component. It might have been something that I wasn’t proud of, and I would have to look at his disappointed face in my mind until I had made it right with my own self. I was telling her about my belief that instead of peoples spirits floating around when they die; I think that their spirit is really just their memory, as well as the values and characteristics that you have pilfered from them over the time that you were together. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s what I believe and if I took anything from what Paul has taught me, it’s to not back down from what you believe.

I hope I’m wrong though. I hope that everything does turn out for the best after you’re gone, and you get to hang out with all of your friends, and none of the annoying assholes get to sit with you. If that’s the way it is, I know that he’s sitting at a big old kitchen table with Nana, Papa, and Michael right now. There’s a never ending supply of whiskey(not that cheap shit either), cigarettes and beef jerky.

I’d be willing to bet that Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash are alternately playing, and the cheese curds are all so fresh that they squeak. I hope they are talking about all of the good times to come, and planning that maybe tomorrow Mike and Paul will go duck hunting, because Nan is there to pluck and gut every single one of those stinking birds now.

Paul, I’m incredibly sad that you’re gone, but I know I’ll get over it. Just like I get over everything, I guess. The good thing is that now I have an outlet, and anytime I feel like telling a story that I remember, I can. I know that there are going to be a lot of them, and I’ll try to leave out the incriminating shit, but I can’t promise anything. I’m also sad that you won’t be able to answer the questions that I always seem to have, about the things that you always seem to know about, but I guess I can use Google for that. I hope someone invents a search engine that calls a guy an asshole when he wears orange pants, or puts his hat on sideways, but I’m not going to hold my breath for it. Right now I feel torn apart, because you are really gone this time, but I’m so happy to have known you like I did, and I’m so glad that your pain is gone. I know that Mom’s is still there, but we’re going to help her with hers, just like she helped you with yours.

With all of my love,

Chris

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9 thoughts on “There’s no prize for being stupid

  1. That was real touching Chris, I am so sorry for your families loss. On the high side you are one hell of a writer and should be selling your stories.

  2. Patti said what I was thinking. What a great tribute, and to a step-father! Kind of long but definitely worth the read. (And where is the damn subscribe to comments thingy?)

    • Thanks, Lilly. I don’t know where the subscribe to comments thingy is. I think that’s a blogger thing. I guess if it’s important to you, I could find one and put it up.

      *There you go. I just installed it. Let me know how it works. :)*

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