… but I’m pretty sure he’s retired now.
When I was a little kid, my father had the rare gift of striking fear into the hearts of all of my friends. This was an ability that seemed to require no effort on his part – he simply had an aura about him that caused sphincters to tighten and hair to raise.
I think most of my friends were allowed to get away with many more things than I was. By a fairly young age, I had figured out how to keep a low profile and get into minimal trouble. My two younger brothers never seemed to get quite as good at that as I did, but they still knew how to play it safe. However, when our friends came over, we were usually persuaded to do something ridiculously stupid, which typically ended with spankings for me and my siblings, while our friends cowered in abject terror.
Of course, we (my siblings and I) had no problems getting into trouble on our own. We were fully capable of performing asinine stunts even when none of our friends were around.
For example, when I was about 11 or 12, my parents would sometimes go out for the evening and leave me and my brother Josh in charge. Why my parents needed a break from 4 children, I can’t imagine, but occasionally, they did. Anyway, let’s say I was 12 at this time; that would have made Josh 10, Ryley (my sister) 7, and Daniel 5.
As soon as my parents left (they were going out for dinner and a movie), we decided that it would be an excellent idea to have a watergun fight. Furthermore, we didn’t feel like doing this outside.
So we galloped about the house, darting in and out of bedrooms and bathrooms, firing water at one another in some bizarre acquatic urban warfare. Josh was, and I believe still is, rather prone to nosebleeds, and it was at this time that his nostrils gushed forth jets of blood. Under normal circumstances, a truce would have been called while Josh took care of this problem, but we didn’t go for that option that night. Instead, Josh tore off his shirt and smeared the blood all over his chest and face, never pausing in the watergun fight.
I remember rounding the corner toward the front door with Josh in hot pursuit when I heard the jingle of keys come from the other side of the door. I skidded to a halt in my sock-feet and watched in horror as the front door swung inward, revealing my parents. Apparently, the movie had sold out.
Yeah, we got in trouble over that one…
But I should probably point out that my father was in no way abusive; in fact, he enjoyed playing and roughhousing as much as we did. Now that I have kids of my own, it’s hard for me to believe that Dad actually took me and Josh for rides with him in one of those Radio Flyer wagons. We would all climb in and rocket down a hill, while he tried to steer with that little black handle. We rarely made it all the way to the bottom of the hill (at least not while still in the wagon), and our wagon didn’t long resemble the ones you see in the store.
But at the same time, he believed that there was a time and place for everything. For instance, the place for waterguns was not indoors…
But I think the other thing that may have contributed to his sometimes frightening demeanor was his work. On the surface, he worked as a general manager for Jenkins Brick Company. But while I was in high school, Josh and I began to wonder if perhaps he was doing something else.
In the early 90’s, Dad had to go to London on business, and then to Ireland, shortly after. Why would someone in the brick business need to go to Europe? He took other trips as well, though we didn’t always know to what locales.
And as the 90’s progressed, strange things would sometimes happen around our house. One day, Josh and I walked out into the front yard and noticed a Ford Ranger parked just up the street. We didn’t recognize it, but didn’t think a lot about it, until we saw some man sprint from the far side of our house, jump into the truck, and speed away. We’ve never been able to figure that out.
And then there was the Schwan’s ice cream truck. I think someone was spying on our family for a long time, and they were using the Schwan’s truck as cover. I know that sounds ridiculous. I mean, if someone really had been trying to scope us out, wouldn’t they have used something a little less conspicuous? But perhaps that was the idea. Using an ice cream truck for cover is so ludicrous that they probably thought everyone would dismiss it.
About two houses down from us, our street did one of those things that looks like a cul-de-sac, but is actually a 90 degree turn. I’d say at least once a week, a Schwan’s delivery truck would sit in that 90 degree bend for an hour or more at a time. We might have assumed that the driver knew someone at that address or something, but he never got out of his truck.
Ok, ok, so what, right? I mean, who really cares if the Schwan’s guy sits at the end of your street for no apparent reason on a regular basis. That doesn’t really mean anything.
And that’s true. But what made it a little more bizarre was that the Schwan’s guy started turning up in weird places. One afternoon, I had gone to the dentist, and my dad had met me at the dentist’s office, for some reason. After my appointment, he and I were sitting in his car talking (I was getting ready to get into my truck so we could go back home), and something across the street caught my eye. Across the street, not directly, but down the road a little ways, a guy in a Schwan’s delivery truck was sitting in an abandoned parking lot. I pointed this out to my Dad, but he didn’t really comment on it much. Shortly after that, we headed back home, but the Schwan’s guy sat there the whole time.
Then, a couple of years later, me and some friends had been driving around Pensacola, where we lived, and decided on a whim to stop at this little roadside park. We got out of the car, and immediately, a Schwan’s truck pulled up next to us. We played around on the swings and stuff for a little while, and I kept stealing glances at the Schwan’s guy, who was still sitting in his truck. We didn’t stay at the park long, and as soon as we walked back toward our car, the Schwan’s guy started up his truck and pulled away.
It was also around this time that Dad quit his “job” at Jenkins in order to start his own masonry business (I won’t bother enumerating all the potential benefits that working with concrete could have for someone who might have to “dispose” of things), but this change only caused Dad to travel more than ever, and he managed to get into probably the best shape he’d been in in years.
But I also moved away from home shortly after that, so it’s hard for me to say if the Schwan’s guy continued to come around. Now, Mom and Dad have relocated to the Atlanta area, and Dad’s gotten a job with another brick company. Things seem to have settled down for them, and I’ve got a feeling that if my father ever did work as a spy, those days are behind him now.
But I still think about it every time I see a Schwan’s delivery truck.