By Bishop Michael Goings
In this final installment of excerpts from my autobiographical book, Growing Old in Newtown, I’m going to share with you some events that occurred in my childhood that were both wacky and weird. I have selected three from the collection in my book that I hope will amuse, entertain, and enlighten you to some of the experiences I had as a boy growing up. Though I lived in a very disadvantaged and impoverished community, my family, friends, and experiences more than compensated for what I was deficient of in other areas. Looking back in retrospect, I was rich in intangibles and did not know it.
The Fool on the Roof
As a young boy, I was always fascinated by drama, whether it came from the pages of literature, the cinema, or television media. I would often find myself living vicariously through many of these fictional characters. To me, a good story starts with a great title. Take for instance the title, Fiddler on the Roof. When I thought of a heading for this particular real-life incident that unfolded in my life when I was eight years old, the reference Fiddler on the Roof struck me as very appropriate, except for one slight obvious change that defines the leading character in this drama.
Puny (whose real name was Fred Martin, Jr.) and his family were receiving friends and relatives at their home due to the passing of his father, Fred Martin, Sr. (who was my great uncle). I was there with my mother. We called such events “the sitting up” (pronounced setting up) because folks would gather to sit, talk, and reminisce about the deceased. Daylight had given place to an eerie and thick darkness. As everyone sat in various parts of the house, there came a sudden and ghostly sound from the roof, like the steps of a man, and the noise sent a wave of fear and horror throughout the entire place. Back then, people were far more superstitious of the unknown than they are today. Things like ghosts and haunts (pronounce haints) were more believable and the lack of outdoor lighting made them seem more real.
My poor Aunt Mae, the wife of the deceased, was horrified. As the sound from the roof continued, a morbid sense of dread paralyzed the entire house. Finally, someone got up enough nerve to go out and investigate this bizarre phenomenon.
Was it the ghost of Uncle Fred? And if it was, why had he come back to haunt and scare us like that? Who would be next? Preston, my cousin, was bold enough to go outside. He looked up on the roof and a very familiar face greeted him. It was his own brother, Benny, a renowned prankster, who was perpetrating this horrible and very cold-hearted stunt. He showed no respect for the dead and no regard for the living. He was the one who would be remembered as a blooming idiot, the fool on the roof.
The Day Cousin Preston Caught the
Neighborhood Bully Burglarizing Our House
and Whipped Him
A fellow named Toot was known to be mean and mischievous. He was also a burglar who would sneak into many of the houses in the neighborhood while no one was there and steal certain valuables. However, there came a day when Toot would be caught in the act and would pay dearly for it. I do not remember what day of the week it happened, but it was during the week. One day, when my brothers and I came home from visiting our relatives on the other side of Mullins Highway, Cousin Preston had been given the responsibility of escorting us safely home. Having been raised in the same house with my mother by their grandmother, he was more like an elder brother to us than a cousin. When we finally arrived and entered our house, we caught Toot by surprise. Because he was caught off guard, he made a quick dash for the window in an attempt to escape. He was too slow and was quickly apprehended and overpowered by Preston, who was much stronger and bigger than Toot. It was a comical delight to see Toot, who was a bully and terror to boys much younger and smaller than him, finally encounter someone his equal in age and superior in size and strength. Cousin Preston received little aggression and resistance from Toot as he confined and subdued him with a hammerlock. After he secured him in a chair, he instructed my two older brothers to tie him up and strap him down with a long rope. Once they had him tied up and strapped in, Preston got out one of my father’s belts that was wide and thick. Toot’s eyes bulged as he watched Preston raise his right hand with the belt buckle clenched in his grip. As he commenced to whip him with sharp lashes from the belt, Toot hollered and cried like a baby. We cheered and laughed at the sight of seeing the bully, who had dished out much harassment and pain upon others, receiving a dose of his own medicine.
When Preston had finished whipping him, he was unshackled and released. However, before he let him go, Preston warned that if he ever caught him doing that again, the next beating would be much worse than that one had been. Toot must have taken those words from Cousin Preston very seriously because he never burglarized our house again. As a matter of fact, I cannot remember him getting involved in much mischief or trouble afterward. Perhaps that whipping was God-sent, just what Toot needed to keep him from getting into more serious trouble. Whatever the case, it was a joyous and unforgettable moment that I will never forget.