POST 6: It's Electric! (boogywoogywoogy)

My Grandpa Roby was a wonderful person. Knowing him is one of the greatest highlights of my life and he was my absolute favorite person as a child. Even now as an adult I like to recall funny and sweet memories of him. He was more than my grandfather; he was a father. I didn't live in his home and he wasn't the one responsible for me, but he helped to take care of me in ways no one else did. I felt safe when I sat in his lap. I would make up stories or jokes and he would sit and listen like it was the best story he had ever heard. He gave me Cokes from a bottle on hot summer days and he let me talk on the CB radio he kept in his pickup truck. Breaker, Breaker 1 - 9. This is Little Crystal to Rosco P. Coltrane. Anybody listenin'? Over. He let me take rides into town with him and on days when Frances was home and she and Bud could be heard fighting from up the street, he would scoop me up and take me on walks through the woods or let me help him with farm chores. He was amazing to me. I know what you may be thinking and it would be easy to judge him for not doing more for us since he lived next door to us all of those years, but don't you dare. He was always good to me and I loved him the most of any one in my childhood. Maybe he could have done more, but he did the most to care for my damaged spirit than anyone else did.

Grandpa Roby was a tall man with skin that was tanned a lovely brown from years as a farmer. His hair was a thick and silky gray. He always smelled like Old Spice, but in a nice way. He chewed tobacco which is repulsive when anyone else does it but somehow not when he did it. To this day, the smell of dried tobacco is one of the most pleasant, comforting smells in the world to me and instantly pulls sweet files from my memory bank of the two of us going to tobacco auctions together. He had a thick, unrefined southern accent and when he talked he slurred his words and mumbled, so sometimes if he was telling you something what you really heard was, "Abaw mee uh knaw uh-huh. Mumblemumblemumblemumble." Uh... what? And then he would laugh and slap his knee, "Heh! Heh! Heh! Heh!" like he had just told you the funniest thing ever, and you just wish you had understood it so you could laugh too. He was great. Really great. A tobacco farmer for most of his younger years, he worked the farm alongside my grandma and his seven children, Bud included. After small farms became obsolete, he got a job as a security guard for the local community college. He held this job until he retired, but who really retires anyway? He missed farming but knew he couldn't maintain a big farm on his own, so he decided to raise bob white quail.

Grandpa built several bird coops to house his quail at various stages in their growth which we just referred to as bird pens. In the back of my grandparents' house, attached outside to their back porch, was a little bird room. It was a small room just large enough to keep some feed and equipment, an egg incubator, and one long wooden box equipped with feeders and heat bulbs for newborn chicks. In the backyard close to the woods behind our home were larger bird pens big enough for the birds to fly around in, each designated for a particular stage in the life cycle of these bob white quail. The final bird pen was for full-grown birds who were ready to be sold or eaten. Smothered quail is so delicious. (FYI: I don't mean "smother" as in "suffocate"; smothering is a tasty, southern way of cooking meat in it's own gravy.) All of the pens were surrounded in hot electric wire, which we were instructed never to touch. It was there to prevent owls and other animals from stalking the birds. "If 'em owls come, 'em birds 'ill get scurred and break 'ere necks tryin' get out, see?" Oh. I see.

Whatever my grandfather told me, I obeyed. I can only remember two times when I got into trouble with him and both were completely my fault. The first was when I was four-years-old and I was watching him work with his power saw. I guess I wanted his attention because I grabbed one of the spare saw blades and began running with it in my hands. He chased after me screaming for me to STOP. I obviously did not see the danger and when he finally got a hold of me, well, there's a word for it- Whoopin.' I got a major whoopin.' The second time my grandfather scolded me was after we had driven up the street to talk with a neighbor. Grandpa Roby left my brother and me in the truck with the engine on. Folly. The windows were down so we could get plenty of air and he was literally standing so close to us we could have touched him. He was keeping an eye on us and he gave us explicit instructions, "Ya'll don' touch nothin' in this truck, hear?" We agreed, but somehow we managed to knock the truck into reverse gear and it just happened that the truck was parked on a hill. The truck went rolling down the hill with us inside the cab. Grandpa yelled. We froze in panic. Somehow Grandpa managed to get his arm in the truck, pull himself inside, and put the truck in park before any real damage was done. Except our frayed nerves. Oh man! He yelled and cursed and we knew he was furious. We didn't get a whoopin' but he made us walk home.

I listened to my grandpa. I had experienced what could happen when I didn't listen to him and the results were seriously unpleasant. So when grandpa told us, "Don' touch that thar' electric war' now. It'll hut' ya'." We knew it was NOT to be touched. Ever. If that wire had enough current flowing through it to kill or injure an owl or a dog that would dare attack those bird pens, then I knew it would do some serious damage to me. I had gotten a taste of it's power a few times when my leg would brush up against it as I was passing through the bird pens to change out feed or water. It hurt. Bad.

One Saturday afternoon my brother and I were playing outside. We spent most of our time outside exploring the woods or riding bikes. My brother and I often played together, but on this particular day we had ventured off to play in separate parts of the yard. I was playing at the back porch while Buddy was exploring around the outside of the bird pens. My brother was playing with this large metal spike. Where did that come from? I wondered. He had dug it up out of the dirt and was swinging it around his head. My brother was six-years-old, a small frame and skinny arms. He couldn't hold the spike in the air for long before it came crashing down on the dirt sending little clouds of dust up with every hit. WHAP! Another swing around the head. WHAP! On his last swing of the spike, he miscalculated how close he was to the bird pen and BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! My brother was paralyzed holding that metal spike to the electric fence. He couldn't move and his face was terror stricken. He was shaking. I screamed. "BUUUUUDDDDDY!!!" I ran over to the electric fence. I'll save you, Buddy! I grabbed onto his shoulders to pry him away from the electric fence. BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! I don't know if you've ever experienced the feeling of high voltage electricity, but it is No Joke. My brain was operating fine; I knew I was being electrocuted. I knew I wanted to let go but my brain could not communicate with my arms and legs. We just stood there, our bodies pulsating with electric current. BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

Bud was walking across the yard at precisely the right moment. He saw us standing there being hammered by wave after wave of electricity. He ran over and kicked the spike with his rubber soled boots, knocking it free from Buddy's hands. The electricity stopped. We stood frozen in place for minutes after that, crying and shaking from little electric after-shocks.

"We tol' you kids ya'll can't touch tha' electric fence! Now I hope ya'll learned yer' lesson."

I sure did: the human body is a conductor, friends. Which no one had bothered to tell me BEFORE I was almost fried to a crisp. You better believe I remember that story. And the next year, when my science teacher started a chapter on electricity and read aloud a list of conductors (like metal and bodies), I turned to the girl sitting next to me and said with the voice of experience, "That's true, ya' know. Your body really is a conductor."