By Don Gardner



Wile E. Coyote playing the part of a tiger finally caught up with him


Whenever either of my two sons asked about my childhood, I would tell them of the games I played, who my heroes were, and the music I enjoyed. I would also tell them about my best buddy, Frank Hicks.


Frank and I were in the same class in elementary school and played together constantly. We fought the Battle of Guadalcanal hundreds of times. I played the Marines and Frank was the Japs because I was bigger than him.


They particularly liked to hear me tell about pretending to come down with malaria at Guadalcanal, and how I would take an aspirin from my pocket and pretend it was quinine. I described how I would chew the aspirin before swallowing, and they would laugh when I explained how this would gross Frank out.


And I told them that Frank enjoyed teasing, and how he was sometimes merciless with it. But he knew when to run—and that saved his skin many times when some of the bigger boys became angry from his teasing. Z-O-O-M! S-W-I-S-H! Frank would run from danger as fast as a Roadrunner. We could chase Frank and never come close to catching him. When we got winded, Frank would still be fresh, bouncing up and down in excitement, laughing and teasing us to chase him again.


Most kids don't know what they want to be when they grow up, but Frank always wanted drive an 18-wheeler. He would grasp a pie pan in his hands and pretend it was a steering wheel, then make sounds with his mouth in imitation of a truck's powerful engine, slobbering and double-clutching as if his imaginary truck was pulling up a long, steep hill. I had no idea what double clutching was and couldn't remember for long even after he explained it.


Becoming a “Hooligan”


Frank and I had a scary escapade together, one neither of us would ever forget, and this is the one story I could not bring myself to tell my boys because of the shame.


One Halloween, we went to a house under construction and found a keg of roofing nails. After filling our pockets, we went around the neighborhood putting nails under the tires of parked cars. In those days of the inner tube, a nail in a tire always caused a flat. We also scattered a handful on the streets to get the buses and cars that would come along later. I talked Frank into nailing his father's car to divert suspicion from us. We put nails in front of and behind each tire—his dad would have had to drive sideways out of his driveway to miss a nail. Frank wanted to nail my dad's truck, but I managed convince him we had diverted enough suspicion.


Classes had hardly begun the next day before our teacher made an unexpected, heart-stopping announcement. "There are a couple of hooligans in this school who must think they're funny. The police have reported numerous complaints from the Bus Company and motorists regarding nails in their tires." I knew I looked guilty because she looked straight at me with hard, accusing eyes. Actually being guilty didn’t help either. I prayed for invisibility. Better yet, a hole that would suddenly open and swallow my up, dropping me into China or someplace far off, would have been welcomed just about then.


Our teacher further explained through clenched teeth that if the hooligans would stand and confess their guilt, punishment would be less severe. The gravity of our misdeed dawned on us suddenly—our little Halloween trick had worked too well.


When I sneaked a look at Frank, he gave me the sign that we should step forward and confess, but I shook my head. Frank squirmed in his seat. I thought the recess bell must be broken, but it finally rang and we rushed out to the playground.


"Don, teacher knows we did it! If we confess now, maybe it won't be so bad.” Frank shuffled his feet nervously, anxious to run from the serious problem confronting us.


It wasn't difficult to dissuade Frank, for we knew we would crack under the severe punishment that would surely follow our confession. We vowed to each other to never tell anyone about the nails.


All day long I seemed to hear police sirens in the distance which seemed to be coming toward school. I expected a squad of angry policemen to descend suddenly, grab us by our criminal ears and pull us to a waiting police car. I could hear the cell door clanging shut behind me and my dad saying, “You can spend a couple of nights here before I bail you out.”


I saw the newspaper headline in that large print they use for extra editions: "HALLOWEEN HOODLUMS CAUGHT!"


The air was blue with angry words within Frank's house; his lexicon of cuss words was greatly expanded—he shared the new ones with me. His dad threatened to conduct surgery on the culprits by removing parts from their bodies.


"CUT OFF WHAT!" Frank tried to explain. We knew enough about our anatomy to imagine the pain we would suffer if his father learned the names of the desperadoes. Anyway, we stayed on our best behavior for the rest of the day, hoping and praying we could keep our body parts intact. Such is the life of a criminal.


Frank gave up long-distance driving a few years ago but continued driving on local trips. His recent tragic death came as a shock. I heard several announcements on the radio while I was munching on leftover Halloween candy—someone had left a cage unlocked at the Thomasville Zoo and a tiger was on the loose. The newspaper carried the full story the next day, describing how Frank's truck had developed engine trouble and surmised that he had begun walking toward Thomasville to call for a tow truck when the tiger jumped him.


The newspaper also reported that all that remained of Frank was a pair of brogans, still hot and steaming. No one knows the exact details, of course, but I'll bet Frank gave the tiger quite a run for his money. I can't imagine he taunted the tiger to catch him though, at his ripe old age of 55.


Mom, dad, and I attended Frank's memorial service. The preacher gave an inspiring eulogy, extolling virtues I never knew Frank had. The preacher said Frank went to church every Sunday and had become a deacon. I think guilt over that Halloween night had driven him to seek forgiveness and salvation.


The preacher's eyes seemed to flash whenever he brought out a particular point of Frank's outstanding character. For me, the sermon was hellfire and brimstone. At one point the preacher exclaimed that everyone should confess their sins before they go before God for their final judgement. I felt a strong need to confess: "WE DID IT! FRANK AND I NAILED THOSE TIRES HALLOWEEN NIGHT!"


As I started to rise, I remembered mom and dad, both in there eighties, were sitting beside me. I'm certain mom would have forgiven me—I'm still her favorite little boy—and dad is probably too old to spank my rear like he used to when I was acting up . . . but I didn't want to take the chance.


What REALLY clinched it for me is the memory of that sacred vow Frank and I had made many years ago. A confession in church and at this time seemed out of place and would have destroyed the mood of the wonderful eulogy given for Frank.


Rest in peace, old pal—the secret is still safe.




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