Hurricane Rita was going to blow in a few hours later and I was shutting down the hatch. My four sons helped and I was about through when I walked in on them in the garage. They looked guilty. Figures.
I was hurrying so I didn’t ask why they had a life jacket, rope and a new 8’ x 10’ vinyl tarp. I should’ve done a mental stop, drop and roll, but there were just bigger fish to fry. Besides, the next day I’d find out during the peak of the hurricane.
Ever since they were little, Blake, the oldest, has come up with ideas for his younger brothers to try. Jared, the second born would usually pass on the idea, but instead encourage Todd, the third son, to try some scattered brain idea.
Sometimes Todd volunteered. Sometimes they talked him into it. Sometimes he was blackmailed into some wild, half-baked scheme, most of which (surprise, surprise) dealt with some sort of danger or peril.
Regardless how outlandish, or in this case, hazardous it might be, Todd usually tried their brain cramp scams.
Blake had an idea — a homemade parachute, powered by hurricane winds, to make Todd go airborne!
Their secret plan, at least that’s what they called it, was to tie pieces of rope strategically around a life jacket with the other ends tied in sequence to the rivets on a blue vinyl tarp to form a “parachute”. Todd would strap on the life jacket and once out in an open area, throw the tarp in the air at the crest of the hurricane winds.
Their theory was similar to the chimpanzee that NASA sent up in the first space rocket, supposing Todd would fly to the heavens in the parachute. At least, that was the plan. Secrecy, however, was paramount or Dad (me) would be a killjoy to the lame brain notion.
The next day, during the height of Hurricane Rita’s 70 mph gusts, the guys snuck into the garage, strapped the hairless chimpanzee in the life jacket with the “parachute”, then sent the goober outside into the hurricane!
There was hysterical laughing from the kids near a bay window, so I wandered over to see what was so funny. A quick head count revealed all four daughters, but only three sons. As I followed their gaze out the window, there was Todd!
He was 14 years old and was about negative 5% body fat. It took all he had to walk headlong into the 70 miles per hour wind. He was ducking his head and literally leaned at a 45 degree angle into the wind to get traction with the blue tarp tucked under both arms.
When he got to an opening where there were few trees, he wasted no time. He turned around so the wind was at his back, and staying somewhat humped over to keep his balance, he threw the tarp in the air.
For a split second, Blake’s NASA idea worked! But just a split second. The wind caught the tarp perfectly and instantly filled with rushing air. The “parachute” jerked Todd off the ground seven or eight feet high in a burst of airborne flight!
It ended, however, just as quickly when the tarp nose-dived! Todd face planted squarely into ground, but as soon as he landed all sprawled out on the grass, the tarp caught air again and took off. Since he was laying on the ground, the tarp just went sideways dragging him along.
It looked kinda like a wedding when newlyweds are driving away dragging a string of tin cans behind the bumper. Or actually, it was more like an old-time western movie where some wretched guy is tied up behind his running horse and gets drug to death! Yeah, that’s pretty much how it looked.
The tarp drug Todd about a hundred yards along the ground, through a pasture, past several trees and across the backyard. How he missed the trunks of a couple of peach trees, I don’t know.
The sympathy and concern for Todd’s well being from his seven brothers and sisters was absolutely non-existent. Their rip-roaring laughter never stopped! In fact, with every contorted twist and turn of Todd’s body, with every time the wind picked up the tarp and slammed him back into the ground, the louder they laughed! So much for sibling compassion.
After being drug by the failed parachute, Todd reached a line of trees narrowly missing one. He struggled to stand up, retied a rope that popped loose, and then the nitwit walked back into the 70 miles per hour wind for a second try at flying.
The second time wasn’t better. In fact, he was beat to a pulp.
After I yelled over the winds for him to come in, he walked in completely soaked, sporting a number of bruises, scrapes and strawberries. He was quite pleased with himself asking everyone if they saw him go airborne.
I, on the other hand, was not amused. See my tail? This dog ain’t wagging!
Blake was completely surprised at my displeasure when I fussed saying how foolish and dangerous it was and how he, the oldest, should have had the sense God gave him not to send Todd into hurricane force winds.
Blake was wide mouthed shocked! In perplexed justification he answered, “But Dad, it was JUST Todd!”
Oh, well that makes it better, Blake! The smoking section on the Hindenburg was safer than that!
After all was said and done, Blake, Jared and Todd came to me a few minutes later and wanted to drive three-quarters of a mile to a friend’s house who lived on top of a big, open hill. Their logic? “Todd can catch more wind up higher, and since he’ll be on top of a hill, he’ll stay up in the air instead of being drug on the ground.”
Guess who’s idea that was…
I just stared at them. There’s no way that came from my side of the family.
They were all upset when I absolutely refused. We were in the middle of a hurricane for crying out loud, trees were falling, limbs breaking, debris flying, and they say…“But we’ll be careful!”
I wonder, is this what Darwin was talking about with natural selection?
I finally succumbed when the winds slowed to 45 miles an hour and let them go out and try to “catch wind” again in the open area. They quickly tired of it after being slammed into the ground a few times, and then one of them got the tarp tangled in the peach tree.
For a week they mumbled how I was no fun and took all the joy out of a good hurricane.
To this day, they still talk about how I robbed them of a once in a lifetime experience. Yeah, like being called a fatality!
But still, that was a number of years ago, and now that they are grown, responsible young men, I’m pretty sure they now get it….I hope…..maybe…. yeah….umm….no….never mind…