Are you old enough to have had one of those moments when you try to do something you, as we say in the south, used-ta-could, but suddenly realize y’ain’t-never-no-more?
Now, I’ll get back to that question in a few seconds and let you ponder it while I make an aside about the two weird southern phrases you just read/heard.
Used-ta-could. Jeff Foxworthy has touched on this one in his standup routine and I usually try not to use other people’s material, but I absolutely refuse to allow him to take sole ownership of that one. Used-ta-could has been in our Deep South vocabulary since Spot was a pup. What I mean by that is I was already using the term naturally, without being taught it, when I was still knee-high to a grasshopper. It’s in our DNA. And if you need a quick explanation about what it means so you can use this gem to add some color to your own conversation, it simply means this: Used - ta (Once upon a time) Could (I was able).
And then there’s Y’ain’t-never-no-more. Pretty self explanatory, if you ask me. Y‘Ain’t (You are not) Never (never, ever) No-More (ever again.)
Okay. I can move on now.
When I was about as big as a June Bug on a jet plane, I thought I wanted to be a Hollywood stunt man. Those were the days when a group of friends could get together on a summer morning, hop on their bikes, and not show back up until mama called you for lunch. Mamas back then had the power to throw their voices over the whole neighborhood and you could magically pick out your mama’s voice amongst the rest of them. Then you were back out of sight until just before dark when the voices of the mamas began their final call. It was a daily routine that I remember with a smile on my face because I got to experience it, but also with a tear in my eye because the way the world’s gotten, it’s not something my children will ever get to enjoy.
We got into all kinds of mischief, but mostly we jumped ramps and climbed trees. One friend would show up at the door and ask if you could come out and play. The two of you would build a ramp in a back yard with bricks and boards and you’d see who was brave enough to jump the highest. I figure the ramp jumping might have been a thing of the eighties and I blame Bo and Luke Duke for that. I think it was Friday nights that The Dukes of Hazzard came on, but the Duke boys proved that if it was jumpable, you could do it without ever getting hurt or damaging your vehicle. They also proved that evading the police and being an outlaw was cool and if you entered your car by jumping through the side windows, everyone would cheer and hang up posters of you. I found out that the people who owned the cars and were responsible for my safety didn’t cheer after all. They also didn’t like me taking off in a run and sliding across the front of the car to get to the other side. I found out I didn’t like it when I tried to do that once wearing shorts and it was hot as satan’s rectum.
I remember getting a brand new bicycle for Christmas one year and my dad had decorated it with the colors and decals of the General Lee. The General Lee was the Dodge Charger the Duke boys drove and jumped over everything while they were being cool and evading the law. Sometimes their cousin who wore a tiny shirt tied together in the middle so it looked like a bikini top and basically a piece of string for shorts, rode with them.
Dad smiled as I rode off on that bike. He said nothing other than to have fun because he knew that the stuff I’d get into probably paled in comparison to the fun and games he got into as a kid.
Mom, on the other hand, had to give me the warnings you’d expect.
That’s a new bike, Michael. Don’t ruin it by jumping ramps and ditches.
I calmly tried to explain to her that bikes were made for jumping ramps.
No, they’re made for riding with both wheels on the road.
I calmly explained that Evel Knievel never touched the ground.
You’re not Evel Knievel and I don’t want you jumping ramps or lines of cars. Or ditches.
I calmly explained that I intended to be a Hollywood stunt man like John Schneider, or Tom Wopat, or Catherine Bach’s shorts and that I had to jump ramps and ditches if I wanted to be the best.
Then I promised I wouldn’t jump stuff because she went to get a belt and I knew what that meant.
I also knew I’d be out of sight and out of mind until lunch, so when the coast was clear we found the biggest pile of brinks we could and stacked them on one side of a giant ditch. We laid a board on top of them and I dared my sister, who was just as much a Duke Boys fan as I was and could climb a tree higher than I could, to go first. She got on her bike and starting from all the way across the yard, going downhill, cut through the crisp winter air and hit the ramp dead center. She flew through the air like an eagle and let out the signature Duke Boys yell. YEEEEEEE HAAAAWWWW!
She cleared the ditch, landed in the road, and skidded her bike around to a stop like a pro. I couldn’t wait to try out my new Dukes of Hazzard bike.
I rode it up to the house at the top of the hill, kicked the pedals forward and suddenly, I, too, was heading downhill toward the ramp and the ditch beyond it. I felt the cold wind sting my cheeks and Jack Frost nipping at my nose. There were tall pines all around us and I could smell those mixed in with the scent of victory and glory and the mountaintop that was becoming equal with the Duke Boys. The air was sol cold, in fact, that it started to make my eyes water just as I got to the ramp and I couldn’t see. I hit the ramp and an odd angle my brand new Dukes-of-Hazzard-General-Lee-Now-I’m-A-Duke-Boy bicycle went airborne in a way that didn’t excite me. There was emotion, all right, but it wasn’t what I’d hoped for and my yell wasn’t exactly the triumphant YEE HAW my sister had made. It was more like, YEEE-AHHHHHHH!
I think I landed wheels down, but sideways, which sent me tumbling, but not far, into the road. It wasn’t far because when I landed, somehow my right ankle had jammed into the spokes of the front wheel with the impact and got caught there.
As I lay there in the middle of the road, my sister rushed up and helped me get my foot out of the wheel while I howled like a banshee, then she helped me to the house. I’m pretty sure she dismantled the ramp and we told mama that I’d fallen over while we were riding with both wheels on the ground.
Years later, I see my mama’s wisdom in her warning and have seen that it doesn’t matter when it comes to your children thinking they know better than you. It’ll never matter.
My mom gave my son a pair of those shoes with wheels in the heels of them a couple of years ago and he went skating everywhere. We were getting in the car at the local theater after a rehearsal and Noah went skating across a rather steep downgrade in the pavement, so of course, I made him stop.
Don’t do that, son. If you stop quick, you’ll shoot forward and land on your face.
But all the other kids have these and they’re great at it. I need to practice so I can be the best.
The next day, can you guess what happened? Yeah. Face first in the pavement and as soon as I made sure he’d be okay, I said I told you so, proving that even the Duke Boys ain’t smarter than their parents.
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