I have a vivid memory that begins at the end of a car ride with my dad. I remember that we had driven into town, Dad behind the wheel and me in the passenger seat. I was old enough to see over the dashboard, but just barely. At my feet were two green, glass gallon jugs that were filled with draft beer. There was a party that night that Dad was hosting, football game on tv, cards, fish fry, I can’t really remember. But the two gallon jugs represented the evening’s liquid refreshments.
As we drove along the road to home Dad kept asking me to keep the two jugs, sitting in the foot space in front of me, from banging together. “Sure, no problem.” I’m not sure if I said it or just thought it. But I mean, come on, how hard can it be to keep two jugs from banging together?
Problem. I’m a daydreamer. Actually, morning, day, afternoon, evening, night time, it’s a problem. Somewhere just before our driveway while I was busy saving the universe from destruction or hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the 9th inning of the last game of the World Series, they banged. Boy did they bang. And they broke. And what was inside quickly got outside. Two gallons of beer in the carpet. Two gallons of beer smell filling the car.
We came to an abrupt stop in our driveway. I’m sure my Dad reacted and I honestly wouldn’t cover it up if it was bad but I really don’t remember. What I remember is looking up at him and thinking that 10 years wasn’t all that long to have gotten to live.
I jumped out of the car before anything else could happen. I ran through our garage, out the back door and into the back yard. Behind our house was a big cornfield. It was green and tall and you could smell the nitrogen (at least that’s what we said the smell of a corn field was) thick like my grandma’s perfume. I was about to jump into the field and just keep running but just before I left home for good I spotted a hiding spot.
Now, let me say that my dad NEVER beat me. Discipline at our house was being ‘grounded’ which was a pretty big drag but didn’t leave bruises. So my reaction was just some sort of instinct, more shame than fear. I turned to the shelter I spotted. My dog’s house.
Seriously, I wish I was making this up but it’s the truth. In seconds I was literally in the dog house. But I was too young to appreciate the symbolism.
So there I was, all tucked inside my dog’s house trying to figure out my next brilliant move. “Maybe I could just move in here.” “I can get food out of the garbage late at night.” “Beer stinks.” A jumble of thoughts under a great big cloud of shame, guilt, embarrassment.
Then I heard Dad coming. He was calling for me. He came to the edge of the yard, right up to the first row of corn and he yelled my name. From where I was I could see him but he couldn’t see me. I tried to get smaller.
But as Dad kept calling for me my little boy brain registered something important. In the sound of my Father’s voice as he called my name at the edge of the cornfield wasn’t full of anger, it was full of distress. I was surprised and confused. I expected wrath, thunder, and lightening. My Dad was concerned.
Slowly I unfolded myself and came out of my hiding place. I was slow in looking up but when I did I remember Dad’s whole body seemed to sigh. “Why did you run away?” I was pretty sure it was a trick question but as he embraced me and led me back, through my tears, to the scene of the crime to help clean up I was finally convinced, he was just glad to see me. Me being gone was worse than the smell of 2 gallons of beer in the car’s carpet. And even worse than the prospective smell of 2 gallons of stale, warmed beer.
At the time I couldn’t appreciate the fact that I had actually been caught up in an old, old story. Back in the oldest part of the Bible, in Genesis, a book full of ‘Once upon a time’ stories (after all what is “In the beginning” but another way of saying, “Once upon a time”?) another father and another son played a shame based game of hide and seek. Adam blew it and hid. He and Eve decided to go the opposite direction from God when they suddenly realized they’d left home without any clothes. So they hid. Like me. In the shame dog house.
I bump into people there all the time.
The thing that got them, Adam and Eve, and me out was the revelation that the sound in our Father’s voice isn’t anger. It’s concern. It’s love. The cry is, “Mercy!” Get’s me every time.