Do Not Buy a Car from This Man

In our family, we date things according to which hobby Galahad was obsessed with, and  say such things as “That was back when Dad was into radio-controlled cars, right?” and, “No, that happened the year he was building dulcimers.”

It was during the Dirt Track Year, on an evening that had passed the wee hours of the next morning, the children fast asleep, when I found myself waiting to hear Galahad pull in to the driveway.  That welcome sound was finally heard around 2am, but was swiftly followed by the arrival of another car, and… houseguests.  Houseguests at 2 o’clock in the morning?

Galahad had recently spent every spare dime rebuilding the engine on his International Scout.  During the Mud Running Year, he’d pursued that hobby until the engine was toast, and then happily spent the rest of that year repairing, improving, and enhancing the engine to where we now found ourselves, unsurprisingly, in the Dirt Track Year.  Dozens of suburban yahoos would gather out in Elbridge at a banked oval dirt track and race each other, two at a time.  Galahad has always been an outstanding driver, and his competitive spirit knows no bounds.  He was grinning when he strolled in with his companions, so a good guess would have been he’d been out celebrating, but his companions looked terrified.

“Hey, Sweetie!  It’s been a helluva night!”

“Do tell.  Should I assume you were celebrating your victory to the point where these two had to drive you home?”

“Something like that.”

“O-kay…  There’s a story here?”

“Well, it was down to me and a Blazer.  We got there early and between the two of us we blew the competition away.  You should have heard the crowd!  By the time it was down to me and the Blazer, nobody was leaving – everybody wanted to see the last race.”

One of the Terrified Companions chimed in with an “Oh, yeah!” but his partner hushed him quickly and returned to devouring her fingernails.

“So… you won?”

“Well, no.  You might want to come outside.”

If you’ve ever seen a Scout, you know the general boxy shape of them.  Galahad, in the course of the evening, had modified his hardtop into a prototype we could call “Glassless Flattop.”

“What the hell — ?!”

He talked faster now:  “It was down to the two of us, and we were coming into turn 3.  I’d found the right groove, and knew the track by now, but he started to pull ahead of me – took it low coming into the turn – and he kicked up a stone that cracked the windshield.  At that speed, that’s all it took – one moment of inattention, and the Scout went right over the bank – “

“You [censored] rolled it?!”

“All the way over.  The roof was flat to the doorsill.  Lucky for me, the direction of the roll put me flat across the seat –  “

“You should have heard the crowd!  They were roaring – and then it was silence.”  This from one of the Terrified Companions. One look from me and his lips melted shut while his larynx caught fire.  At that moment, I realized what terrified them, and suggested that they had best be on their way home.  No need for witnesses.

“How did you get out?”

“Forklift.  You aren’t mad, are you?'”

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A Good Knight’s Sleep, Rudely Interrupted.

It is the wee hours of the morning and although another hour of sleep would make a vast improvement in motor skills and clarity of thought, this is not an option. Thirty-six inches of sleep-matted hair must be untangled and washed before 6am; no small feat. I leave Galahad snoring contentedly, go through my morning preparation process with decades of practiced autopilot technique, and am soon in the shower, head upside-down. This is when I notice the quick movement behind me.

It is an established fact that couples who have been together as long as we have need few words for communication. This is significant because I would normally be incoherent at that hour of the morning, but under the present circumstances I have only one means of self-expression.

I am a singer. My voice has been taught and trained to reach listeners in the back seats of auditoriums. In the dark bedroom, the first thing my husband registers is that an air raid siren has gone off in the tiny, acoustically-enhanced room on the other side of the bedroom wall.

Spider.

My eldest son once had a wolf spider crawl up his leg. He was only seven or eight years old when it happened, and it was a terrifying experience. Years later, he decided to write about that event for a school essay on “My Most Frightening Experience.” He wrote that “a big spider crawled up his leg” — I told him he wasn’t really sharing the experience yet: “big” wasn’t enough. I told him to remember that spider on his leg, how it seemed to dwarf the houses nearby and block out the sun, just by claiming ownership of his limb and racing upward toward his soul. In his rewritten essay, the spider became “the size of Chicago.”

This morning’s spider is that one’s vengeful granddaddy, and I give him the scream he deserves.

Kevin cannot teleport, but he executes the 50-year-old’s equivalent, stumbling on newly-wakened legs, squinting against the brilliance of the bathroom lights after the pitch dark of the bedroom. I babble; he says nothing, but looks in the direction I am pointing. A few seconds later, he is squashing something into the floor of the shower with a nearby object.

This is true love, nurtured over 25 years of marriage: that I can waken my Galahad from a sound sleep and know that he will come immediately to slay my spider-dragons, and even give me a reassuring kiss before he returns to the land of Nod.

Gaheris Stories

Possibly my favorite stories of Gaheris were the ones he’d tell us just after they’d happened, when he, too, was still marveling at how they unfolded. A native New Yorker, Gaheris had moved to Pennsylvania because it was what his little family could afford. He and his hard-working wife were both college graduates, but in our part of New York that didn’t help much — education alone couldn’t guarantee a job; there just weren’t that many jobs available.

Gaheris and his family lived right on a main road: up in New York it was Route 26; as soon as it crossed the state line it became PA Route 267 and kept on going, south and then west as the bug crawls. They rented a big old farmhouse with several adjacent acres and a huge barn, and there were no neighbors for miles and miles in any direction.

Each day Gaheris spent outdoors, working on building green houses, mowing the lawn, or tending the family garden, he’d often be the only person passing cars would see — and thus the person they would stop to talk to.

There was the day a man pulled up in a huge shiny truck and called Gaheris over.

“We’ve been contracted to start work on a hunting cabin on that acreage that just sold, up on the hillside above you.”

“Yep. Heard about that.”

“Yes. Well, the way we see it, we’ve only got one option, and that’s to build a temporary road that will cut right through the property alongside the row of trees there, and we’ll have the trucks bring the materials we need up that way.”

“I can see where that’d work.”

“Yes. Well. If that’s not a problem, we’ll get that underway so we can get the job done. Thank you very much!” And the construction foreman clambered back into his truck to leave.

“Y’know…”

“Yes?”

“It’s a good idea and all, but you might want to actually ask the property owner. Past the trees? That’s not my land.”

It was the assumptions that would get Gaheris guffawing, over and over again, although he was not innocent in the confusion.

The southbound folks who pulled up to his house one afternoon, for example, and called him over, may have had stories to tell about Pennsylvanians that weren’t entirely untrue.

“Excuse me! Howdy!”

“Howdy.”

“This road we’re on now, this is 267, right?”

“Yep.”

“This road’ll get us to Vestal Center, New York?”

“Yep.”

“Thank you very much!” and, thus reassured, the driver began to roll up his window and continue down the road.

Gaheris had walked all the way back to his driveway before he suddenly appeared to have a thought, and turned back to the driver. “You might want to turn around, though,” he suggested helpfully. “See, this road’ll get you there, but you’ll have to drive all the way around the world to do it. Turn around, though, and it’ll take you about 20 minutes.”

Trash Removal

In the rural areas of Pennsylvania, there is land aplenty at prices low enough to cause New Jersey city slickers to drool with covetous lust. Left to their own devices, these folks with more dollars than sense will purchase every square acre of land possible and proceed with its destruction instead of appreciating the breathtaking beauty of this forested haven.  Unsurprisingly, there is no love lost between the rural population and the invading urbanites.

Gaheris worked a very early shift on his pie-delivery job, starting his route well before sunrise so that he could be contentedly inebriated by noon.  He was well-known at the taverns throughout the area, and while he listened to the complaints from people on both sides of the property issue, he generally kept his opinions to himself.

Down that way, with no regular trash removal services available, property owners had their own methods, including the use of a huge barrel in which combustibles were collected.  When the barrel was full, the contents were set afire and thus disposed of, with no great fuss.  A burn barrel was a necessary item, so when Gaheris came into possession of a few extras one year he placed an ad in the local paper, and soon thereafter a New Jersey newcomer showed up to buy one.

“I see you have some barrels for sale advertised in the paper.”

“Yep.”

“We just bought twelve acres out here in the middle of nowhere. No paved roads, no garbage collection… we just never thought there were still people living like this!”

“Yep.”

“Television reception is nonexistent, and we’re still waiting for phone lines. What on earth do people do out here? Ha! Probably don’t have a clue which century we’re in!”

“Yep.”

“So, ah, anyway, it looks like we need some sort of barrel for collecting trash. The ones you have would be what we’re looking for?”

“Yep.”

“Good. Yes. Well, I’ll buy both, then.”

“That’s great. Where were you planning to keep these barrels?”

“Out behind the house — far enough away to burn the rubbish safely, right?”

“Yep, that’s a good idea. You’ll find rain gets in there, too, you know.”

“Oh! Yes! Do I need a cover?  Do you have a cover?”

“Nah.  Around here, we just drill some holes in the bottom of the barrels and let the rain go right back out. Tell you what: you wait right here for a minute. I’ve got a tool just right for the job. Let me go get the drill.”

At which point, Gaheris went inside and emerged with a handgun, and proceeded to blow six holes into the bottom of a barrel.

The city slicker drove off with just the one barrel.

Lunacy

Not long after I met my husband Galahad, I met his best friend — Gaheris. Back then, Galahad had lots of shaggy dark hair and a reddish-black beard and mustache. Since this also described Gaheris exactly, they perfectly fit the term “twin sons of different mothers.”

Galahad and Gaheris graduated together — same high school, same year — but didn’t really become close friends until they enrolled at the local community college. Gaheris soon became a father and husband, and since he was only 18 at the time he has often said he and his child grew up together. By the time I met Gaheris, they were about age 5.

Since laws pay more attention to date of birth than to maturity, Galahad and Gaheris invested in fishing licenses every year and went smelting. Smelt are small freshwater fish that prefer deep water until Spring, when they rush upriver by the thousands to spawn. This is the time to harvest these tasty guys, by way of dip-net fishing.

Gaheris knew to watch for the full moon in the month of May, which helped to illuminate the silver flash of the fish — the runs took place at night. Galahad insisted that we wives would have a wonderful time coming along on this outing, and I hadn’t known these guys long enough to realize the full value of their opinions. Midnight in May can be fun, until you are soaking wet, reeking of fish, and freezing.

What did I learn? Ask for details before agreeing to any outing. I wound up sitting on the shore with a bottle of blackberry brandy helping me towards numbness. Not only was I freezing, I was terrified: we were near a power station on one of the Finger Lakes, where the security floodlights were so bright that places where they did not shine were plunged into profound darkness, all night vision destroyed. We had to negotiate our way along the top of a gravel bank that dropped nearly straight down to the lake below. I can’t swim, but it didn’t matter, since the fall would have killed me.

Galahad and Gaheris were having a jolly time already, leaving the driving to the wives so that they could freely fortify themselves with alcohol. Since alcohol does not freeze, making sure there was plenty of it in their systems was one way to prevent themselves from freezing. Several beers later, the time had arrived. Gaheris donned chest waders, but Galahad did him one better: a wetsuit, which would allow him to venture further out into the waters. The wives waited on shore with the buckets: each fishing license allowed us to take home a 5-gallon bucketful of fish — and not one fish more. We were careful to watch our limits because the fine for exceeding them was $15 per fish.

Out in the water, the ritual began. Gaheris announced the sighting, yelling “Git ’em! They’re running!” at the top of his lungs. This signaled the start of the hunt. The next step was the challenge: as each man caught his first smelt, he would grab it from the net, bite off its head, and spit it back at the rest of the smelt in defiance. The theory was, this would infuriate the smelt and they would rush to avenge their fallen comrades — straight into the waiting dip-nets. After a while, I felt pretty certain I knew why they called it a dip net, and it had nothing to do with submerging the device in water.

The night ended, no human life was lost, and we spent the bulk of the next day recovering from hangovers whilst cleaning hundreds of little fish.

A few weeks later, when we’d returned home an hour north, Galahad got a phone call from Gaheris, who said he’d been to a local bar, listening to the old guys swapping tales. One piped up with the story of some damn fool yahoos yelling “Git ’em! They’re running!” and biting the heads off their fish. Gaheris agreed with the speaker that some idiots just shouldn’t be allowed out unsupervised.