The sun was coming down heavy over the mountain ridge that night, painting the sky a bright red. Round back, my father was chopping wood for the fire. I was sitting under the old elm tree, like I surely did most nights, just watching him work.
“Dad?” I said. “What’s it like to kiss a girl?”
My father set his axe down, staring off into that crimson sky. “Well,” he said, “there comes a time in every boy’s life where he starts to see the fairer sex a little differently. Why, I reckon that time might have come for you, too.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, staring at my feet.
“The first girl I ever kissed,” he said, “was a pretty young thing called Becky Sue. I don’t mind telling you she made a fool out of me, boy. She gave me weak knees and butterflies in my stomach. When I finally worked up the courage to kiss her on that spring morning, it was soft and sweet, like a summer’s breeze. After that, I don’t figure I felt so nervous around her anymore.”
“Wow,” I said. “I hope I get to kiss a girl someday.”
My father chuckled. “In your time,” he said, “I reckon you’ll kiss your share.” Then he picked up his axe and went straight back to work.
“Dad?” I asked. “What’s it like to cheat on your wife?”
He turned to me, setting his axe down again. “Now, that’s a very serious question,” he said. “You see, every man’s got a duty to stand by his wife and children. But sometimes, a man gets to feeling like a buffalo, like he’s got to get moving on. But that kind of thinking gets a man into trouble, you understand?”
I nodded, even though I didn’t quite understand.
“The first woman I ever cheated on your mother with,” he said, “was a pretty young thing called Wanda May. She had a face like an angel, blonde hair rolling down her shoulders like a river, and a bosom like Christmas morning.” He let out a hearty laugh. “She had a big ol’ behind too, the biggest you ever saw!”
I laughed along with him, only to watch his face grow stern. “But let me tell you something about buffalo making love,” he said. “It’s not a pretty business, and it’s nothing a man would want to get involved in. Being with Wanda May felt good for a while, I’ll tell you that. But I love your mother, and she loves me back, and that’s the way it ought to be, you hear?”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Good,” he said, picking up his axe. “Because I don’t want to hear about you running around behind a woman’s back.”
“What about punching the mailman?” I asked. “What’s that like?”
“Funny thing about cheating,” my father said. “It breeds jealousy, and not even God himself can hold back a jealous man. Now, I was wrong about your mother and the mailman, I know that now. But damned if I didn’t give that fellow a run for his money.”
“And Dad?” I asked. “What’s it like to stuff a dead, bloated rat with gunpowder and mail it to the President of the United States?”
My father chuckled. “Well, you’re just a whole mess of questions today, ain’t you?” he asked.
I nodded dumbly, feeling awfully sheepish about keeping him from his work.
“Well,” he said, “I’ll tell you something about this country of ours, and that’s that I believe it to be the finest country on God’s green earth. But a country like that comes with a price, son. You know, our forefathers fought long and hard for our freedom, and I reckon it’s every man’s duty to keep on fighting to preserve that freedom. And every once in a while, that means you even have to go against your own government and express your dissent, just like our founding fathers.
“And sometimes,” he said, “the best way to express that dissent is to go up in the attic, find yourself a big ol’ dead rat, slice its belly open, fill it all full of gunpowder, sew it up, put it in a box, and send it to the President of these United States.”
I remember thinking that I had a lot to learn about life, and wondering if I’d ever know as much about it as my father.
“Why, I still remember that fine autumn morning when those men from the government came around,” he said. “Ain’t never seen nothing like it.” He stared into the distance a while, before shaking his head as if to dislodge a bad memory stuck inside his brain. Then he picked up his axe and went back to work.
“Dad?” I asked. “What’s it like to drink a jug of your own moonshine, strip yourself naked, and run through the woods trying to catch the biggest jackrabbit you can find with your bare hands, only to wind up in the parking lot of the local Sheriff’s office several hours later, still buck naked, trying to set yourself on fire?”
My father laughed a booming laugh. “Maybe I’ll tell you about that one when you’re older,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” I answered.
He got down on his knee and mussed my hair, grinning that big old grin of his. “In fact,” he said, “I think that’s enough questions for one day. Why don’t you go in the house and help your mother with the dishes?”
I nodded and ran back inside. My mother was standing at the sink, minding her own business, looking just as pretty and gentle as I suppose any young boy’s mother does.
“Momma?” I said. “What’s it like to put on high heels and a little red dress, and then go down to the docks at midnight and try to get sailors and longshoremen to have sex with you for money?”
My mother just smiled her smile. “Go ask your father,” she said.