Not only was the world different when our generation of baby boomers was young; we were different too. And that’s what comes across in BoomerCafé contributor Eric Mondschein’s book, Life at 12 College Road. Life itself was different. This excerpt, called The Mist, will remind you of some of the reasons why.
One weekend morning, while my parents were entertaining friends and my brother was at a sleepover, I excused myself and headed outdoors with my trusty Benjamin bolt action .22 and a pocket full of ammo.
Being fourteen, I understood that a rifle was no toy. If not handled correctly, it could cause serious harm or injury. I had taken all the safety courses.
And I was, in fact, a crack shot, having won several shooting competitions at summer camp.
But when I was alone outdoors, with the Benjamin in the crook of my arm, all that knowledge didn’t mean that my imagination didn’t wander. That I couldn’t see myself in some far off place where wild animals roamed. That I didn’t sense dangers (i.e. potential targets) lurking behind every large rock, every tree, even the corner of my house. So I set off in search of what might lie in wait.
Just beyond our yard, the trees quickly became dense forest on three sides. Not a single neighbor’s house could be seen from them, not even from the edges of our property. The only encroachment of civilization was the New York State Thruway, which ran along the edge of our property to the south, hundreds of feet below the cliff’s edge. Although you couldn’t see it from our home, the sound of trucks shifting gears late at night reminded us it was there.
The thick woods beyond our backyard eventually ended at a huge apple orchard, which went on as far as the eye could see. Granted, you could not see that far, as the land was hilly and full of trees.
To a rifleman, the deep woods always called. I was no big game hunter, but I could hold my own. And there was always something, somewhere that presented itself as a challenge to be dispatched. Now, mind you, I’m not talking about living things. (That didn’t come until later.) There were no birds, squirrels, or rabbits harmed in any way during the making of this story—nor were any put between my cross – hairs. Anyone who shoots will tell you that you never aim at something you don’t plan to shoot.
I can still remember that day clearly. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which was a deep, almost endless blue. The trees were full of colors—yellows, oranges, and reds from the oaks and maples to go with the greens of the pines and birches. The air was crisp. I could even see my breath.
I stalked the yard in search of danger. And find it, I did.
The dead limb hanging from the oak in the corner of the yard: boom!
A knot in the last post of the split-rail fence: bam!
The old bucket next to the garage that tried in vain to sneak up on me: bang!
The empty birdhouse hiding out on the edge of the forest: see ya!
There wasn’t much that missed my hunter’s eye. After spending what seemed like days in such forbidden and dangerous surroundings, I thought I’d take a breather, and go down to the end of the drive to check the mailbox. Empty.
After closing the mailbox and turning around to look up the driveway, I saw it. It was in the garage, on a high shelf on the back wall. Isolated. I could feel it taunting me, daring me, letting me know that it was safe. That I could never hit it from such a distance.
Now, there might have been something to that notion. It was a good forty yards from where I was standing. But I was more than willing to meet the challenge. I carefully chambered a round and closed the bolt. Brought the iron sights up. And with the de ant one in the middle of my crosshairs, I slowly released my breath and squeezed the trigger.
Boom—got it! A wave of well-earned pride surged through me. Seeing my quarry dispatched with a shot worthy of even the best marksman was an event worth sharing with my friends. Heck, even my parents should know! That is, until I looked again at the vanquished target. A target that in its death throes was emitting, like an octopus, a fine black mist.
I watched in horror as the tarry mist began to fill the garage. Eventually it became an impenetrable thick fog, blocking out everything. I headed for it, increasing my speed with each step. As I neared the garage, I saw that damn fog for what it really was: a can of black enamel spray paint.
Order author Eric Mondschein’s book — Life at 12 College Road — from Amazon.com.
I looked at the can and then at the car. Yes, the car. My parents’ brand new, white, two-door 1964 Pontiac Catalina. Well, that is not exactly accurate. It was no longer white. Every inch of it, including the windows, was now speckled with the black paint.
There was nothing to say. And there was no escaping the fact that life, as I knew it, had come to an end. I just hoped it would be swift and painless.
It is remarkable how mothers just seem to know when something is wrong. I think they have some kind of sixth sense. I know my dad didn’t have that ability, but my mom sure did. And right on cue, there she was.
She looked at me. She looked at the car. She looked at the gun. She looked at that damn paint can.
And without saying a word, she turned around and walked back to the house.
When she returned, Dad was with her. I hadn’t moved a muscle or an inch since she left. I can’t really tell you how long she had been gone, for time and place no longer mattered. They both looked at the car. Dad withheld comment before turning back to the house. That’s how I knew he was really upset, because while the little things always set him off, the big things turned him stone-cold silent.
Mom handed me an old toothbrush. With no emotion in her voice, she said, “Do not come inside until you’re finished.” Then she left me there. There was no shouting. No words of incrimination. And there was no visible disappointment. Just the sentence, which seemed fair.
Standing there alone, with the Benjamin in my left hand and the toothbrush in my right, there are simply no words to adequately describe how alone, how small, how unworthy, and how miserable I felt.
As the sun was setting, Mom came back outside. I had worked feverishly to erase the evidence of what my hands had wrought. But alas, it was to no avail, as not one spot had been removed in my entire day’s labor. Mom put her arm around me and said it was time to come in and get cleaned up for dinner.
I began to tell her how truly sorry I was. She held up her hand and said: “Don’t! We know. We’ll get the car painted next week.” She hugged me. “You’ve had a really bad day. Let’s go inside and have dinner. We’ll figure out just what your payment plan will be for that new paint job.”