ABabaRoo was born two years before me. Two years minus a week. That made him infinitely wiser than myself, even though I was six and a half and already in the second grade, six months earlier than normal kids.
My brother was proud of his superior status as first-born. He could do everything better than me. BabaRoo could run faster, throw farther, think better. He was so smart, MamaRoo would leave him “in charge” when she left the house.
We lived on a small horse farm on the outskirts of Raleigh. Even with MamaRoo out running errands by herself, there wasn’t a whole lot of trouble we could get into in a place like that.
Well...there were rocks and bottles.
BabaRoo taught me to walk with my head down, always alert to the rocks at my feet. “Ya never know, Li’l Roo,” he told me, “but that ya might need one someday.”
He fished around in the clay for a second and pulled out a half-dome skipper buried there. I didn’t know how he knew just where to look, but as I said, he was real smart. He hefted the stone and continued with a lecture I knew by heart. I had heard it seventeen times before.
“This here’s a good one,” he said. “It fits into the fingers just right…”
From the lecture notes… Rocks have to be thrown by the fingers…
“…Snapped from the fingers, a good rock…”
… the rock arcs toward the target, so you gotta aim high…
“…tracing an arc through the air, like this…”
… And don’t ever throw a rock at something you don’t wanna hit.
”…and carrying with it, Death.”
BabaRoo spotted a fat brown robin sitting on a tree limb thirty feet away. He let his arms drop smoothly to his sides, then twisted his hips and uncoiled his throwing arm until the mass of the rock had accumulated enough energy to pop free of his fingers.
I stood in awe of this human ballista. His eyes steady, BabaRoo blended his movements with the fluid power of ballet. A born killer, he fired his rock directly at the unsuspecting bird.
The robin was busy preening its wing feathers, so it never saw the rock coming. Neither did it see the rock as it shot past, two feet to the left. BabaRoo pronounced the demonstration successful. “Ain’t no point killin’ it if you ain’t gonna eat it. Besides, that there’s a crow and they taste BAD.” He made an ick face.
Getting good at throwing rocks takes practice, and tossing a random stone at a road sign every other Sunday doesn’t count. You have to throw rocks nearly every chance you get. And everybody knows the best practice targets are bottles.
Which brings us to me and my brother, alone at home, standing in our gravel driveway with an infinite supply of perfectly suitable stones, a few tree stumps, and a half dozen empty soda bottles. Such stuff as dreams are made of.
BabaRoo had been playing a practice game of “Rock and Bottle” for the last fifteen minutes without touching a single target when I wandered over and asked if I could play, too.
“It’s just practice,” he told me. “Let’s move closer.”
We narrowed the range to five yards, but that didn’t help. I couldn’t hit a bottle no matter how hard I threw the rock. I even tried throwing a handful of stones all at the same time. BabaRoo managed to knock one bottle off a stump, but it didn’t break. Without the satisfying tinkle of broken glass spraying in all directions, the knock-over didn’t count. No score is awarded in Rock and Bottle unless the bottle actually breaks. It’s a rule.
Obsessed, we needed to shatter glass, to hear the shards raining down, transforming the impact area into No Man’s Land, closed to bare feet for all eternity. We heard the tires of MamaRoo’s Plymouth Valiant crunching up the driveway behind us. She was home and she didn’t like what she saw.
“Stop that right now,” she ordered.
Without hesitating, BabaRoo and me both pitched the rocks we already had in our hands. Mine went well over the bottle and skipped harmlessly to a stop, still within the boundaries of the driveway. BabaRoo’s rock hit a briar vine and the ricochet went wild.
MamaRoo watched our disobedience and bristled. “STOP!” she commanded. This got our attention momentarily. “Don’t you boys throw ONE MORE ROCK!”
The science of neurolinguistic programming will tell you she had taken the wrong approach. Children must be spoken to in such a manner so as to avoid forming a mental image of the undesirable behavior. Tell a child, “Don’t run, you’ll fall down,” and the running child sees a mental image of themselves falling down and almost immediately they go SPLAT.
What me and BabaRoo heard her say was “blahblahblah… ONE MORE ROCK.” I thought she was being overly generous, but then again, maybe she appreciated the high quality of the rocks we were holding. Maybe she knew what a miscarriage of sport it would be to simply drop them onto the ground.
I saw BabaRoo take his back swing, and since he was infinitely smarter than me, I drew back with my own rock. We let fly simultaneously.
MamaRoo was walking up the steps to the kitchen porch, her arms full of groceries, her ears perked and alert to any sound of danger or disobedience, when our rocks, both of them, found their targets.
Vindicated at last by a pair of center-of-mass hits, we grinned at each other as my rock struck a Royal Crown Cola and his disintegrated a YooHoo. The bottles flew apart, accompanied by the joyous applause of a thousand bits of intermingling glass.
MamaRoo dropped the bag of groceries on the porch and spun on her heels. Her eyes were white fire. She arched her back and extended her right arm in our direction, bony hands gripping at us through the distance, snagging our souls and dragging us across the small back yard to a place at her feet, where we knelt.
She pointed a craggy index finger at us, her whole body trembling with a terrible purpose. BabaRoo turned to me and spoke with quiet wisdom, “It appears we may have misunderstood.”
“SILENCE!” MamaRoo hissed. “Silence! I told ye to STOP and yet ye did not STOP. Faceth now MAMAROO’S WRATH.”
“Oh, Jeez,” my brother said. “Dad’s gonna have kittens when he gets home.”
Daddy Roo always handled punishments. He got the job, we figured, ‘cause he wore a belt, and was naturally predisposed to whackin’.
“No,” said MamaRoo. “We are NOT going to wait for thy father.”
Uh-oh. This was going to be bad. MamaRoo didn’t whack. Her punishments were more cerebral…devious and cruel, like World War II Japanese interrogations.
“Thee hast disobeyed ME,” she said, “and there shall be a PRICE TO PAY!” She stiffened her spine and stood upright, her sixty-inch frame towering over her condemned sons.
“GO YE OUT INTO THE FIELD,” she boomed, pointing at our pasture (which hadn’t been mowed in nearly six months). Then her voice dropped almost to a whisper.
“...and... pick... your... switches.”
I gasped. She was gonna hit us with switches. Our mother wouldn’t even hit a HORSE with a switch, except old Jock, her Tennessee Walker, who she once hit in the head with a rotten limb. And both me and BabaRoo knew she loved that horse, but she hit him in the head anyway ‘cause she was mad at him.
And now she was mad at us.
”GO!” she ordered. BabaRoo didn’t wait. He dashed out into the brush and disappeared. I slinked off with far less enthusiasm. We had been given five minutes to return with our selected Instruments of Punishment.
All I wanted to do was to lie down and never go home again, but the field was due for mowing and I didn’t want to be found all chopped up so I started looking for my switch.
A few minutes later, I found it. A young willow growing in the field had an abundance of wispy limbs, and I snapped off the slightest hint of a switch it had to offer. I calculated that the wind resistance generated when MamaRoo swung it would bend the switch backward, shortening the arc and making her miss. At the same time I would yelp in pain and cry out in fear, completing the illusion.
It was a good plan. MamaRoo would be blinded by rage, unable to tell that her favorite son was play-acting. All I needed now was a little luck. I could get away with the ruse five times in a row, assuming this was a five-stroke punishment. If I was sentenced to ten strokes, however, I was screwed.
BabaRoo suddenly popped out of the brush into my little clearing. “Lookit what I found,” he said, out of breath.
I recoiled in horror. His eight-year old fist was gripping a cleared spot on a four-foot long, half-inch diameter wild briar stalk. The top of this murderous club was festooned with sharp, dagger-like prongs. You could bleed to death just by looking at it.
“You can’t give that to HER!” I objected, holding up my willow branch to show him my choice. “If she hits you with THAT, you’ll die!”
He grinned. “She’ll never hit us with this thing,” he swung it through the air to make his point. Swish. Zing. “She loves us.”
It was a risky scheme. I didn’t think it was well thought out, but he insisted. “Here,” he said. “I brought one for you.” The handle area had already been cleared.
Well, as I said earlier, BabaRoo was a lot smarter than me. I dropped my willow branch and accepted his weapon. It was hefty, but stiff and business-like. I could have killed a polar bear with it.
A few minutes later, we emerged from the underbrush and fell to our knees before MamaRoo, The All Powerful.
“WELL?” she trumpeted. “Let’s have thy SWITCHES.”
We fixed our gaze on the ground in front of us, never daring to meet her eyes. No point adding insubordination to the list of charges. Blindly, we held out our skin-ripping poles. I felt MamaRoo pull mine from my tiny fist and terror stabbed at my guts. And then...
Sobs? Did I hear sobs? I looked over at BabaRoo. He glanced at me sideways, asking himself the same question. Together, we risked her wrath and looked up. MamaRoo was holding our flesh-rippers in one giant hand, covering her mouth and nose with the other. Tears streamed from her eyes and her chest heaved with paroxysms of maternal blubbering.
“Oh!” she squeaked. “Oooh…oh…ho! Oh…ho…ho!” Fighting for words, she managed to blurt, “Oh! My babies!”
BabaRoo grabbed my arm. “Come on!” he said, tugging at me. Together, we made a clean escape around the side of the house where we crouched, breathless from our close call.
We were free! BabaRoo had saved us both. “Wow! I don’t believe it!” I said, “Your plan worked!”
He smiled tightly. I didn’t hold the smirk against him. An evil genius is entitled to a certain freedom of expression.
“Yeah,” he agreed, “but now we gotta behave. It’ll take at least a week for all this to blow over.”
That was a sad fact. MamaRoo’s temper was legendary. It would be a while before she settled back down. Until then, BabaRoo and me would have to be quiet, helpful, courteous, neat, brave, reverent, and true.
BabaRoo got a glint in his eye and grinned. “C’mon Li’l Roo,” he beckoned, “I know where there’s a can of gas we can play with!”Z
Excerpted from "The Incredibly Normal Adventures of Roosterboots: 2nd Edition" by Jon Etheredge. Copyright © 0 by Jon Etheredge. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.