My brothers and I were given the chore of cleaning out the horse stalls. Steve was seventeen, Bobby was fourteen and I was ten. Over time, the horse stalls fill up with processed horse feed. My step-father, Lawrence, never one to waste a resource, wanted us to shovel it onto the truck, and then shovel it out into a sandy section of the orange grove to build up the soil.
My brothers made it their mission in life to let me know where I stood in the pecking order. When they were left in charge, I would have to run around the house three times before I could have one potato chip (I was a lot thinner then). When the three of us were assigned chores, they tried to arrange things so they did the supervision and I did the labor. This chore was no different.
The problem, however, with them supervising and me shoveling was that a scrawny ten-year-old boy can’t shovel very much. They soon realized they would have to work as well. Much colorful language ensued as we piled the contents of the horse stalls onto the truck.
We all three crammed into the seat (this was before super crew cabs) and drove over to the sandy place in the grove. A fight ensued about who would drive the truck and who would shovel. My brothers realized that if I shoveled, we’d be there all afternoon. That’s when the miracle occurred: they let me drive.
To those of you aghast at the idea of a ten-year-old driving a truck, I should explain we were all taught to drive early. In the country, driving a truck or a tractor was an essential skill. I learned to drive in a 1959 Willys Jeep truck three-speed, when I was five. No body worried about me running into something. There were only orange trees and cows. The trees would stop me and the cows had enough sense to get out of the way.
My brothers climbed in the back with the shovels, giving me strict instructions that I was to ease forward, then stop. They would shovel out the soil enrichment material and then I would ease forward again. I put the truck in first gear, let out the clutch slow as I had been taught and eased forward.
After about five minutes, boredom had set in. A bored ten-year-old mind is a dangerous thing. I began to remember all the times my brothers made me run around the house for a potato chip. I remembered them telling me about the monsters that only lived under my bed, because they liked young, tender meat. I remembered when they told me I was adopted (I’m not and I have the pictures to prove it). Then temptation came to me.
I can’t say where the idea formed, only that it sprang to life in my conscious. What would happen if the next time they yelled, “Pull forward,” I popped the clutch and plopped them into the load of processed horse feed? They would be covered in revenge.
A small voice in my head said, “Love your enemy, do good to those who persecute you.” Another voice said, “It’s time to get even.” Can you tell which voice belonged to God and which belonged to Satan?
Steve yelled out, “Pull forward.” I popped the clutch. They plopped into the pile of processed horse feed, revenge covering their faces.
I had enough sense not to stick around. I opened the door of the truck and ran for the house. I had a good head start but forgot they had the truck. I looked over my shoulder to see Steve gripping the steering wheel, wiping the processed horse feed out of his eyes, bearing down on me. Bobby was still floundering in the back of the truck, unable to get his footing. I zig-zagged around orange trees, trying to shake them. Steve was grinding gears, making those four cylinders whine. I reached the house just as the truck skidded to a halt. Mamma came out to see what all the fuss was about.
I can still see her, looking at one son, panting, out of breath, then looking at her other sons, covered with processed horse feed. She covered her mouth and tried to look disapproving, but she broke into laughter instead. She did not punish me.
Steve and Bobby, however, got their revenge a few days later. This time we were in the grove, pruning trees. They found a black snake, a harmless little thing. Then a tempting thought entered their mind. They waited until my back was turned and threw the snake at me.
I don’t know who was more traumatized, the snake or me. The snake went one way and I went the other. The war of the brothers continued most of that summer.
It’s been a long time since I thought about that summer and a long time since I was tempted to get revenge on my brothers. My mind focused on different things.
Your battles, your wars always continue until you say “no” to temptation, “no” to revenge. The best way to defeat temptation is to focus your soul elsewhere. Focus on what God wants for you, not on putting people in their place.
Funny, though. Suddenly I have this urge to call my brothers and pretend to be an agent of the IRS, telling them they have a tax audit. Time for me to refocus again.