The last time I revealed a family secret, I told you about my mom, the prankster. So we’re crystal clear, this is the same lady I told you about on Mother’s Day, the one who has taught me so many things and that I hope to be just like when I grow up. She’s just as wonderful as I described, but she does have a dark side. A prank-loving, no holds barred, dark side.
To be fair, I come from a family of pranksters on both sides. My dad’s brother told me that he was actually Mac Davis. For you youngsters, he was a country singer from the 70s who had a variety show on TV. My uncle said that Mac Davis was his stage name. Rick could play the guitar, he sang Mac Davis songs, and grown-ups never lie, so I told my teacher at school that Mac Davis was my uncle. You know she might have believed me, if I hadn’t come back to school the next week and told her that my mom’s sister was Darlene from the old Mickey Mouse Club show. That’s what my aunt told me and her name is Darlene, they do resemble each other a little if you squint your eyes just right, and grown-ups never lie. I think at this point my teacher thought that I was either a pathological liar or emotionally disturbed. Now that I reflect on my childhood, I wonder which is truer: that I was surrounded by pranksters or that I was extremely gullible.
You’d think that with all my experience being fooled as child that as I grew older I would have been adept at knowing when my leg was being pulled. That’s what you’d think. And yet….
We moved to Louisiana the summer before my junior year of high school. One day, not long after we moved, my mother, brother, and I were driving somewhere and I asked my mom about the orange balls I saw suspended on the power lines along the road. I didn’t remember ever seeing anything like them when we lived in South Carolina. Have you seen orange balls on power lines? Do you know why they are there? Well, according to Tana Manufacturing, the company that makes orange balls for power lines, the balls are wire markers that “mark power, communication, and guy wires at airport or helicopter approach areas, river and canyon crossings, overhead obstructions at construction sites, or obstructions that present a hazard to birds.” In other words, they make power lines more visible to birds, aircraft, and construction equipment. Is that what my mother told me? No.
“Oh, those?” my mom answered breezily. “Well, you know they sometimes have heavy flooding in this area. When the water gets as high as the power lines, those balls help them locate the lines easily.”
Could you make a case that her explanation was so outlandish that I should have known better? Perhaps. But you were not in the car on that hot summer day. You did not see the confidence with which she delivered her lines. You did not hear that her voice wavered nary a bit in her calm, yet strong assertion of fact. Cool as a cucumber, she was. And isn’t it a testimony of my undying trust in the woman who gave birth to me that I believed that every word that flowed from her lips was the gospel truth?
Oh, that this story ended there in the car on that humid August afternoon!
Fast forward two or three years. I was a student at a small liberal arts school in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. I was a member of the drama team. I know, me? Drama Queen? Hard to wrap your mind around that image, isn’t it? Anyway, our team had been asked to travel with a few staff members from the university to assist with a student recruitment event in a small town in Arkansas. We split into different groups for the trip. I rode in the back seat with my friend Greg who was one of my Ouachita Players comrades. One of the members of the admissions team was in the front passenger seat and Dr. Bud Fray, a former missionary and iconic Bible professor at Ouachita, was our driver.
As we made our way down the roads of rural Arkansas en route to our destination, we small-talked about campus life, future plans, and the like. The conversation had slowed and I was just enjoying the scenery passing by my window, when I remarked, “Oh, they must get a lot of rain in this area.”
“Why do you say that?” the admissions counselor asked curiously.
At this point in the story, you want to get in your time machine, go to the past, and stop me, don’t you? You’re wishing you could tell Whimzie-In-The-Past to say no more, right? You see it coming, don’t you? You don’t actually have a time machine, do you?
“Because of the orange balls on the power lines,” I said offhandedly.
I could see a the top half of Dr. Fray’s face in the rearview mirror. He seemed interested in the path the conversation had taken.
“What do the orange balls have to do with rain?” my friend Greg asked.
“Oh, don’t you know why they put those orange balls on power lines?” I asked suddenly aware that I could potentially become the star of that little car trip.
“I thought I did, but why don’t you tell me?” asked Dr. Fray curiously.
Someone once said that knowledge is power. I was at once drunk with the power of the realization that I obviously knew something that they didn’t. This was my chance to shine. This was my chance to make a lasting impression on not only one of my peers, but with esteemed faculty members of my beloved institution of higher learning. Oh, I was getting ready to make an impression, all right.
“You see,” I answered confidently,”they put those orange balls on power lines in areas that have heavy flooding.When the water gets as high as the power lines, those balls help them locate the lines easily.”
Apparently, at that exact moment, Dr. Fray had to swerve to avoid something on the road. At least, that’s what I guess happened, but I’m not sure if he even knew because he wasn’t looking at the road, he was looking back at me in the rearview mirror. With a weird, almost frightened look on his face. And I don’t know how those crickets got in the car, but suddenly that’s all I heard.
Greg finally broke the silence and said, “You aren’t kidding, are you?”
At that very exact moment, I realized the stupidity of what I had just said in that car to esteemed faculty and my friend. I don’t know what else was said on the trip. This was before cell phones were commonplace so I spent the rest of the evening counting the minutes until I could get back to my dorm room and call my mother and thank her for embarrassing the living daylights out of me.
Do you think she was sympathetic? Do you think she was ashamed of herself? Or do you think she snort laughed so loud that I couldn’t get in another word? When she found out I was revealing family secrets on my blog do you know which one she personally requested? This story. So, this one’s for you, Mom. Enjoy yet another snort laugh at my expense.
So now you know why I never pass an orange ball on a power line that I don’t think of my mother, the prankster.
Stay tuned for Family Secrets Revealed Part #3c, The One About Coalmikinosis. If you haven’t heard the other secrets yet, here are links to the first few: