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A View from the Altar / Piggly Wiggly and glass
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Piggly Wiggly and glass

My maternal grandmother lived in Morrilton, Arkansas. Near her house was a ridge comprised almost entirely of thin layers of slate and sedimentary rock. The western, declining end of the ridge had been sheared off and leveled to make room for a Piggly Wiggly grocery store. This formed a man-made cliff perhaps 50 feet high at the rear of the store. For kids throwing rocks, it was paradise. More on that shortly.

Back in those days, soft drink bottles were all made of glass and had a two-cent return deposit. My brother and our cousins occasionally busied ourselves combing road ditches to collect enough bottles to buy a Coke and candy bar at the Piggly Wiggly. Since the Coke and candy were a dime each (long time ago, I know), we’d need ten bottles per kid for the full meal deal. That was usually not too hard to manage since people used to throw trash out their car windows all the time. Even on a lazy day, thirty minutes’ work would net you at least five bottles to swap for a Coke.

Once the Coke and candy were gone, we’d climb the cliff behind Piggly Wiggly and start looking for rock targets.

Now, it so happened that the Piggly Wiggly employees dumped all the returned drink bottles into open bins behind the store. I guess that’s where the bottling company picked them up. The bins were nasty, open top cubes made of wooden slats, maybe four feet square and as many deep. Little dribbles of syrup collected at the bottom and nourished colonies of flies and roaches. It should have discouraged anyone from ever drinking out of a returnable bottle.

To us, open top bins of glass bottles just sitting there in the presence of rocks was begging for a martial response. It was the Ultimate Boy Achievement. Nothing in all the world is so sweet to young boys as smashing glass. Nothing.

Yet we drew back. A meaningful smash would cause a great noise, would it not? But then Lucifer whispered that this was all the more reason to do the deed. Might we be seen? Yes, but he challenged our courage with the wily claim that fun without risk is no fun at all. Glory gathers not to the gutless.

Fear won out for a while. Those were the days when fathers could beat the crap out of you with a belt and get by with it. The whole adult community would approve. The word “stripling” to describe a boy meant something totally different to a Southern dad in 1966 than it did to King James in 1611.

But eventually the temptation overcame the fear. On a muggy summer’s day, my evil cousin Jimmy West and I ascended the ridge of slate, loosened a rock the size of a toilet, and shunning all hesitation lest we fail, heaved it over the side of the mountain. It was a direct hit, though we did not see it. Jimmy and I were already running down the back side of the ridge in full afterburner at Warp Factor Ten.

We heard it, though, the juggernaut sound of stone bashing glass all the way to the bottom of the bin. The sound startled us into laughing so hard we collapsed, went ataxic and couldn’t run. Staggering into a little patch of bushes and muscadine vines, we laughed until bladder control failed and we gasped for air with our sides cramping for relief.

Relief came in the form of a rising fear of discovery. Five minutes later nothing was funny at all.

We took the long way back to my grandmother’s house. The adults were all in the kitchen, talking, relaxed, one or two casually tapping ash from a cigarette, acting like nothing had happened. Jimmy and I strained to look normal. Mostly we avoided eye contact with anybody over 12. Once Jimmy realized word hadn’t reached the grown-ups, he didn’t care any more. His dad was in the Air Force, and they were headed back to Michigan and wouldn’t return for a year or two. But I wasn’t so far away and would be returning sooner. So I had to worry about it for a while.

My parents never did find out about it, though. Till now.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

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