…when I was growing up, each member of my family absolutely detested their counterpart in our next-door neighbors' family.
…my mom hated the mom. Dad thought the dad was a phony. My brothers had a beef with the son. And their daughter was my nemesis.
…no idea what happened to make it so. It just was and everyone accepted that we hated each other.
…every once in a while there would be some thawing of relations. A detente. Christmastime seemed to put everyone on their best behavior, for example.
…never lasted long.
…one day, shortly after Christmas 1978, Rufus, the oldest son, who my parents only ever referred to as “dufus” (us being a unified front when it came to talking shit about the Winkers), was pacing around in their backyard talking into some kind of walkie-talkie, looking up at the sky. My dad pulls up in the driveway that intersects our two backyards. Home from work, gets out of his “company” car. Sees Rufus acting weird and shouts over at him “Watcha up to Ruf?”
“I got this for Christmas. Trying to talk to an airplane,” he replied, still staring at the clouds.
“Ah. That’s neat. Good luck!”
…Dad comes in the back door and heads straight downstairs to his TV workshop in the corner of the basement (he had taught himself TV repair as a side hustle in the early 60’s). Which just happens to have a ham radio and a small window with a good, slightly hidden view of the Winkers' backyard. And Rufus.
…after cracking open a fresh beer. Dad calls me downstairs. And after some dial twirling he finally latches onto Rufus’s frequency and begins a conversation—in the dead bored, matter-of-fact, jargon-y style of an ex-military airline pilot.
…“comin’ in loud and clear…*KRRCHK*..what’s your 20…*KRRCHK*…TWA 1855…*KRRCHK*…outbound Wichita…*KRRCHK*…over…*KRRCHK*”
…my dad sipping on his beer in the dark with me watching Rufus excitedly running around in circles shouting his name and home address into his handset.
…tickled, and trying to contain his own glee, dad growls at me “Stop giggling, boy!” “Now watch this…”
…“…*KRRCHK*…10-4 Hello, Rufus Winker of Illinois!..*KRRCHK*…TWA 1855…*KRRCHK*…We’ll be back overhead—inbound at 19:00 hours..*KRRCHK”…gather up some flashlights and shine em up at the sky and I’ll fly by real low and flash my emergency lights..*KRRCHK*”
…7:30pm CST, casually walking outside with mom and dad to ask the Winkers “what the hell are they up to now with them goddamn flashlights?!” Just as their arms were growing heavy and their frustration was starting to boil over laying bare delicious internal cracks, fissures, and flaws. Starting to snipe at each other. Ol’ Rufus getting derided from all sides.
…A veritable schadenfreude buffet.
…Might be the closest I ever felt to my Mom and Dad at the same time.
…I hate that we bonded over something so mean.
…I’ll take it. But I wish there was more.
…I hate that there wasn’t.