There’s a sign out by the road on my way to work that is advertising “Free Kids Event” and I doubt it’s about adoption. I also doubt that it is really free because whoever is throwing this event has something they’re selling. It’s like passing a used car lot where there is a “Free Hot Dogs!” being shilled. No one really thinks a free hot dog is going to talk anyone into buying a used car but the idea is to get a target within range and then unload some sort of sales speak upon the unwary. After all, they gave you a hot dog, right, you have to listen to them, right?
When I was a kid my parents told me there was going to be a free “Recreation Hall” opening up and if I wanted to go I could. Wow, how great! What’s a “Recreation Hall”? I was told there would be other kids there and pool tables and games and it would be great! I was wary. I was very wary. Very rarely did adults act in my best interest without there being some sort of quid pro quo. So I asked the questions that I thought were appropriate; who’s doing this? Why are they doing it? What do they want from me?
My parents threatened to pull my invitation for my impertinence and I thought it might be better if they did. Parents wanted their kids to be smart and figure things out until the kids were smart and figured things out. I knew there was a catch. I just didn’t know what it might be.
So there we were; there was a dozen or so boys running wild and free inside this old house where there was a pool table, some card tables with games set up on them and in the kitchen there were cookies and Kool-Aid. I hesitated. This meant church people. Cookies and Kool-Aid meant there were church people lurking about. We got jacked up on the cookies and Kool-Aid but I kept my eyes on the door. I think I was the one who realized there were no girls in the building. This meant whatever was going to happen was meant to happen without girls. They meant to lure us in with church bait and then work us! It’s a trap!
Then Gene Flowers arrived and I slipped out of a side window, got under the house through a hole in the underpinning, made my way to the front porch, and I hid. I knew my time would come and it would come soon. I would have less than thirty seconds to make a break for it, but, fleet of foot, all I needed was about half that.
Gene Flowers was an ex-military man who breathed scripture and lived for the church. He played gospel music on the school bus he drove. He preached military discipline to children as if right after the third grade they would be engaged in bayonet training. Mr. Gene thought that everyone over the age of ten ought to wear a uniform and salute him. It had been decades since he had been in the Army but he still wore his dog tags. I knew when he arrived that could only mean one thing; we were being indoctrinated in some shape or form. For a ten year old, I was totally savvy when it came to this sort of thing.
Remember “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”?
Gene Flowers was just like that. I knew if he was involved in getting us into that house he was up to no good. My thirty seconds arrived. Mr. Gene called the boys to attention and made them form a circle. “Now hold hands and bow your heads…” he said and that was my cue. I could be a quarter mile away before Mr. Gene said, “Amen!”
But I just couldn’t stand it. I had to know what mission he had for those poor souls he had trapped inside.
“Mike!” there was a whisper in the dark. I nearly yelped but controlled it. There was Lyman Harold. Lyman was a year younger than I but clearly he had fled at the sight of Mr. Gene, too.
“What do we do, Mike?” Lyman hissed and I hissed back, “Be quiet!”
We waited. There was the sound of a small herd of boys being marshalled out of the back of the house so we crept along the with the sound of the marching tennis shoes and flip flops and peeks out from the pieces of tin that lined the side of the house. It was terrible. In an old shed Mr. Gene was pulling out brand new hand tools of all varieties and he was issuing orders. He was going to march the boys to the church, a half mile away, and they were going to do yardwork for the rest of the day. But there would be Kool-Aid and cookies. Lyman and I waited until we were sure the place was deserted and Lyman took off running.
Against my better judgment I went back inside. It felt odd being in that house alone. Mr. Gene was one of those adults who took to spanking children other than his own, and most parents were okay with that. Back during that time almost any adult who knew a kid could whip off the belt and wear a kid out with it. Gene Flowers would eventually run into a mom who disapproved of it and he nearly went to jail. The day he parked the school bus a mile from the school and made the kids get off doomed him, but by that time he was an old man.
In the “Recreation Hall” all the games were still lying where they had been dropped and the pool table had an unfinished session going. The eight ball hung near a side pocket and I wondered how long it would have been before the unskilled would have sank it accidently. I also wondered why if serving God was such a great thing Gene Flowers had to resort to the sort of trickery that is usually reserved for movies and used car salesmen.
“Free Kids Event”
It’s a trap!