Any man who has lived an interesting life is apt to own a store of interesting stories that may serve to entertain friends or scare the children. I began gathering my stash at the age of 11.
The oldest of these tales illustrates an attempt to make beer in my mama’s kitchen. Several friends and I started with a German grandmother’s recipe for homemade wheat beer, a pressure cooker and three cups of flour.
It ended with a bang. When the lid blew off the pressure cooker, kids hit the floor, my mother hit the door, and my career as a brewmeister hit the skids.
Three-tenths of a second after the flour grenade exploded, Mom skidded into the room. Her face froze, then dissolved into a hundred nervous tics. Little pats of dappled batter pelted her face until tics consolidated into a matte sheet of organic cosmetics. She never asked what we were trying to cook.
Such simple questions were beneath her notice and outside the scope of her curiosity. She wanted to know - specifically - What on God’s Green Earth have you done here?
The question was unfair, of course. I was not in charge of God’s Green Earth. I was not the Lord’s superintendent, not even a field hand. I was just a kid cooking mischief in his mom’s kitchen.
I think the same crew gathered when we broke ground on the Yellowstone Diversionary Project. We started that job without a contract. We did begin with at least three shovels – my dad’s irrigation shovel, a garden spade and a long-handled firefighter’s implement.
We began to chip away at the canal’s bank. Water – first a little, then a lot – tumbled down the bank. Almost immediately, water spilling downhill turned muddy. The ditch bank eroded like sugar.
We planned to spill a little water into a depression at the bottom of the ditch bank to make a swimming hole. Instead, we were destroying the canal.
Had to think fast. Standing in the sun, I peered through holes in a ragged summer straw hat. I saw no solution, only the approach of an angry ditch rider.
“Run like crazy,” one of the boys shouted. In a flash, five of us were running in five different directions – east, west, north, south and ... uh ... another direction.
When I reached town by a roundabout course, Old Emil the ditch rider was already there, sitting on a bench in front of the barber shop. Two of my buddies were also there, sitting stiff as choirboys.
When the last of us arrived, Emil herded us down the street to the Conoco station, which doubled as the sheriff’s office.
The High Sheriff threatened to take us to the city for a taste of jail time. He let us go after Izzy broke out in tears and the rest of us promised never to sabotage another irrigation project.
None of us did.