Mike Wilson: Stanley and the Dirt Clod

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, October 12, 2023

Mike Wilson

Mike Wilson

After reading my recent piece on confessions, my daughter hastened to inform me that I had left out a very important one, so here goes:

There was a neighbor family not quite directly across the street from us in Memphis that, to be honest, I didn’t much care for. The father seemed pleasant enough, but he sometimes wasn’t very smart. Witness his pulling bushels of poison ivy off his back fence and then burning the pile in his yard. His daughter, downwind from the project, inhaled the smoke and wound up in the hospital for days taking steroids. The mother was an imposing figure who could have easily been cast as a guard in a Siberian gulag. The son, Stanley, was a couple of years my junior and of a demeanor that I simply didn’t appreciate.

I was an unassuming church-league baseball player at the time, and I had a somewhat decent arm and was thus placed at third most of the time. I was also already an inveterate duck hunter, well versed in ballistics, calculating leads, etc.

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It happened that my front yard had been torn up by the project of removing two silver maples whose roots were clogging our sewer connection. (My poor father had bought the house because it had so many trees, and he was gradually forced to cut down almost all of them for various reasons.) The yard was full of dirt clods of all shapes and sizes. Stanley and I had a disagreement over something, and I turned to walk away. I was then struck right in the middle of my back by a big dirt clod. I don’t know about you, but I have loathed Bruce Dern — and even his children! — ever since he shot John Wayne in the back in “The Cowboys.” Who does that? Well, Stanley took off for his house as fast as his legs could carry him. I knew what I had to do.

I picked up a nice round clod a bit bigger than a golf ball and waited. He had to make an almost 135 degree turn around a hedge to take the steps that led up to his storm door. I eyed the mailbox above his doorbell and let fly as he took the second step. Clod and Stanley’s head met just as he reached for the door handle. He dropped. It was an amazing throw, a career highlight if I may say so. My celebration was brief, however, as his mother heard the din and came to investigate. She saw her baby (actually, a big doofus) crying and saw red. She yelled at me to come over there. Stanley’s smirk was soon wiped away when I showed her the mark on my back. She dragged him into the house by his ear. I don’t think we communicated much after that, but of course we only lived there about 12 more years.

I actually paid for that throwing prowess decades later when we were visiting my family in the Memphis suburbs and we went to a nearby high school to walk laps around the track. It was the Christmas season, and this afternoon was uncharacteristically warm. There was a group of baseball players down at the end of the stadium making long throws and getting an early start on the season. A ball got away from one of them and rolled to our feet. I decided to just throw it back to them, and when I did I strained every piece of my shoulder anatomy and lived off ibuprofen and heating pads for weeks thereafter. I should have quit while I was ahead.

MIKE WILSON is a former Hampden-Sydney Spanish professor and 13-year resident of Prince Edward County, who now calls North Carolina home. He can be reached at jmwilson@catawba.edu.