by William Matthew McCarter
Jake and I were playing in our room as the
sweet scent of a gentle, summer rain
streamed in through the window. It mingled
with the scent of Gram frying hamburgers in
the kitchen. Gram made the best hamburgers
that I had ever tasted. She used fresh ground
beef from the IGA, coarse black pepper, and a
little bit of this magical red salt. As the patties
were frying in the pan, Gram added a piece of
Velveeta cheese and then the hamburger
buns. After that, she would steam the buns in
the skillet by placing a lid on the top. When
she took them off of the stove, she would top
them off with dill pickles and a thick slice of
Vidalia onion.

Big Daddy had been in the kitchen watching
the ball game most of the afternoon. Jake and
I heard him cussing a couple of times, so we
figured that the Cardinals must be losing.
While Big Daddy was watching the ball game
and Gram was throwing some frozen potatoes
into her Fry Daddy, Jake and I made a
startling discovery: if you touched a walkie
talkie to a television antenna and keyed the
mic, it caused the screen to go crazy and
messed up the reception. Before we had much
of an opportunity to put this new knowledge to
work for us and explore how it could possibly
change our world, Gram called us for dinner.

Jake and I joined Big Daddy in the kitchen and
sat down in our usual places around the table.
Big Daddy gave the blessing and then we all
said, “Amen,” made the sign of the cross and
dug in.

“The Cardinals lost,” Big Daddy said as he
took a bite of his hamburger. After he chewed
for awhile and swallowed, he added, “to the
goddamned Cubs. It was humiliating. On
national television—the Game of the Week.”

Jake looked at me and I looked at him. We
weren’t sure whether we should ask Big
Daddy about the game or just keep our
mouths shut. Finally, Jake said, “What

“The Cardinals were winning through the
whole damn game. The score was 9-8 in the
bottom of the ninth and we had Sutter on the
mound. I thought it was over at that point,
but like Yogi Berra says, ‘It ain’t over ‘til it’s
over.’ Then Ryne Sandberg stepped up to the
plate and hit a home run and tied the damn

Big Daddy stopped to take another bite out of
his hamburger and chewed it up before he
continued his story. “We got the lead again in
the tenth and then Sutter gave up another
home run to Sandberg in the bottom of the
tenth. The Cubs scored another run in the
eleventh and beat us.”

Jake and I hurried through dinner so that we
could resume our experiment with the walkie-
talkies. Once again, it messed up the picture
on the little television in our bedroom, making
this new revelation more than just
phenomenon—it was a natural law. We took
the walkie-talkies outside and tried it on the
radio that we kept on the patio. As we listened
to the garbled sounds of KREB, laughing
hysterically as a sad country song was
overcome by what sounded like an explosion,
an idea came to me. I looked at Jake and he
looked at me, then we both smiled. I was sure
that he was thinking what I was thinking and
when ideas came to us like that, it was almost
supernatural—like, a gift from some mythical
force. Two things were certain when ideas
came to us like that: they were really cool
ideas and we were sure to get in trouble for
carrying them out.

I wanted to make sure that this divine
inspiration from the trouble fairy was correct,
so I repeated it out loud, just checking to
make sure that Jake was, in fact, thinking
what I was thinking. “Today's Saturday,
right?” I asked as I looked at Jake and smiled.
“Yeah,” he replied, “and we all know what
happens on Saturday nights.” This let me
know that he, in fact, was thinking what I was
thinking and that the trouble fairy had infected
us with divine inspiration. The only real price
of admission to our adventure was a little man
inside of me who kept elbowing me in the
colon, telling me, “Don’t do it.” But, Jake and
I had to put our plan into motion. We really
didn't have much of a choice at this point. We
had thought the idea up collectively and to
turn back now would mean to ignore the
supernatural inspiration of the trouble fairy. It
was a matter of fate so we began to execute
our plan and apply this newly discovered
knowledge in a practical manner.

A small field separated our place from Uncle
Fred and Aunt Irene’s and there was some
undergrowth that surrounded their place like
nature’s barbed wire. This would make the
perfect staging ground for our little assault on
the Fred Plantation. In addition to the
undergrowth providing us with the necessary
cover that we needed, Gram’s cornbread
voodoo—her way of knowing just exactly what
we were up to—got a little weaker after we
crossed the boundaries of our own yard. I
suppose we could have played this trick on
Gram and Big Daddy, but it wouldn’t be nearly
as funny as it was going to be when we did it
to Uncle Fred.

Uncle Fred and Aunt Jean weren't our real
aunt and uncle exactly. They were distant
relatives—what we called “branch kin.” Big
Daddy used to call Uncle Fred “Freddie the
Freeloader” when we were younger, but when
Jake and I started calling Uncle Fred that, Big
Daddy just called him Fred. Sometimes he
would get pissed off at Uncle Fred and then he
would just say, “That son of a bitch borrowed
my ladder and still hasn't brought it back,” or
some other generic term to help express his
contempt. There always seemed to be an
ongoing feud between someone in the family—
sometimes it was Aunt Irene and her sisters,
sometimes it was Big Daddy and Uncle Fred.
Isn't it kind of funny how you'll do to kin what
you wouldn't dream of doing to normal people?

Jake snuck around the back of Uncle Fred's
house and got the ladder that he kept next to
his garage. Quietly, he placed it against Uncle
Fred’s house and climbed up on the roof so he
could get to the TV antenna. I snuck up to the
picture window so I could see into the living
room. Totally unaware of us lurking just
outside in the darkness, Uncle Fred sat in his
easy chair, sipping on a cup of coffee that was
no doubt spiked with some brandy that he
affectionately called “Sweet Lucy,” and tapped
his feet to the sound of Buck Owens and Roy
Clark singing on
Hee Haw. Uncle Fred loved
country music. He thought Hank Williams was
a prophet, Elvis was a saint, and Porter
Wagoner was the sequined Shakespeare of
Southeast Missouri.

I stood by the side of the picture window at
Uncle Fred’s house with a flashlight key chain
that Gram had given me awhile back and
flashed the light a few times giving Jake the
signal. After Jake saw the light flash, he hit
the TV antenna with the walkie-talkie. I
almost pissed myself when Uncle Fred nearly
jumped up out of his chair. Jake couldn’t even
see what happened, but when he saw me
laughing at Uncle Fred, he started laughing,
too, just because he imagined what it looked
like and nearly fell off the roof.

Shhhhh,” I said to Jake, reminding him that
we couldn't laugh out loud or else the jig
would be up.

I looked in the window and saw Uncle Fred
fiddling with the knobs on the TV and started
laughing all over again. He got the picture to
come back in crystal clear and having taken
care of whatever had been ailing ole Buck and
Roy, he sat back down in the easy chair and
picked up his Sweet Lucy. I gave Jake the
signal again and poor ole Uncle Fred didn't
even have time to start tapping his feet before
the screen became unintelligible. Once again,
Jake and I erupted in laughter. I wished we
had discovered this little known trick sooner
because it sure came in handy.

Uncle Fred jumped up out of the chair and
started fiddling with the knobs again, and once
again Jake and I were laughing uncontrollably.
Finally, Uncle Fred dialed the TV back in the
way it was when he started fiddling with it and
sat back down in the chair and picked up
Sweet Lucy. I looked in on him and saw that
they had gone to a commercial break while he
was fiddling so Jake and I just sat there for a
while. Messing up a Charmin commercial
didn't seem like all that much fun anyway.

Hee Haw was back on and Misty Rowe
was wearing a real low cut dress and her
titties were bouncing around while she played
her usual dumb blonde routine in front of the
cornfield backdrop. I watched her cleavage
ebb and flow and dreamed that someday I
would have a dumb blonde like Misty Rowe
out behind the corncrib and get to watch her
titties bounce around up close and personal.
Slowly, I held up the flashlight and gave Jake
the signal again. This was perfect—I couldn’t
imagine anything that could piss a guy off
more than missing out on Misty Rowe
bouncing her titties on
Hee Haw.

This time, Uncle Fred didn't fiddle with the TV.
He just set Sweet Lucy down on the coffee
table and walked straight past the television
and out the front door. Suddenly, I felt as if I
had just been splashed with a pan of cold well
water. Jake and I had a plan for what were
going to do with the walkie-talkies but neither
of us considered the possibility that Uncle Fred
would think there was something wrong with
the antenna on the house and come outside. I
don’t know why we didn’t figure he would
think there was something wrong with the
antenna outside—after all we were the one’s
doing something to it—but we didn’t and there
was nowhere for us to run to when Uncle Fred
walked off of his porch and to the side of the
house. We were busted.

“What the hell are you doin’ out here?” Uncle
Fred said. He gave me a look that suggested
my very existence was an affront to the
natural order of the universe. I guessed it was
an affront to the natural order of the universe
if that natural order consisted of watching
and sipping on Sweet Lucy.

Thoughts raced through my mind like legions
of soldiers rushing into battle. There must
have been something I could have said to get
us out of this one.
Quick, Billy...think...There
must be something...It wasn't us, Uncle Fred...
There is black pajamas...on the
grassy knoll...Use the force, Billy...Luke, I am
your father...
I thought of everything all at
once and yet nothing at the same time. I
wanted to say something—anything—but
everything I thought of saying just seemed
really dumb. My mind was as scrambled as
Uncle Fred’s television had been and I couldn’t
stop it.

There was no way out of this and nothing left
for us to do but surrender. Every war had its
casualties and every victory had its price.
Hee Haw was a small victory in
our ongoing war with Uncle Fred and now it
was time for us to experience the casualties of
war and pay the price.

Uncle Fred rounded us up, took us home and,
slowly, without smiling, he told Gram all about
our escapade. While he was talking to Gram, I
was thinking about where Jake and I went
wrong. We should have just quit while we
were ahead. However, that one last
opportunity to mess up Uncle Fred’s view of
Misty Rowe was just too much of a temptation
to overcome. Besides that, I thought, Jake
and I both knew that we would keep doing it
until we got caught or it wasn't funny
anymore. We knew this was going to happen,
so we braced ourselves for the consequences.
I figured we'd either get the switch or Gram
would yell at us.

I knew that Gram was going to yell at us
when she looked at Uncle Fred and said, “I
tried to teach them boys respect but it just
never took. It just slid right off of them like
they was covered in bacon grease.”

After Uncle Fred left, Gram went straight up,
turned left, and nearly caught fire. “I ought to
skin you alive,” she said. “I don’t know why
you boys have always got to be doing stuff to
your Uncle Fred.”

Gram grabbed a hold of us and set us down at
the kitchen table. By then, I was sure she was
going to lecture us. I guess it was too dark for
her to try and cut a switch off the tree or she
just didn't feel like it, but if we were going to
get the switch, she would have walked over to
the cherry tree before she grabbed us. I didn’t
like the switch, but sometimes I thought the
lectures were worse because Gram could
make us feel as guilty as sin. Sometimes she
would even tear up and cry a little bit while
she was talking and that brought the shame to
us quicker than anything.

“You boys make me mad enough to go bear
hunting with a switch, pulling your
shenanigans all the time,” she began. “Jake,
I'd send you back up to your dad right here
and now if he wasn't going through a divorce
and working all the time.”

I looked at Jake and he looked at me. We
knew that despite all of the fun we had with
Uncle Fred, we were going to feel lower than a
rat turd in a root cellar by the time Gram was
finished with us.

“And you,” she said, pointing at me, “I'd send
you off too, if I had a place to send you, but
you ain't got nowhere to go,” hinting that I
should be a little more grateful that she and
Big Daddy took me to raise and not be getting
into trouble all of the time.

Gram was off to a good start on her lecture.
She was never one to mince words anyway,
so she just moved in for the kill right away
and then kept on chewing from there. She
made us feel as if we were just a couple of
rotten kids and she was a saint for looking out
for us. I think the reason her lectures hurt so
bad was because there was an awful lot of
truth in them.

“Now,” she asked, “do you have anything to
say for yourselves?” I looked at Jake and Jake
looked at me. We felt the guilt crash down like
a tidal wave threatening to drown us.

“I’m sorry, Gram,” Jake said. Quickly, I
followed with my own apology.

Gram accepted our apology and then said,
“Now, go to bed.”

“But Gram, it’s early,” Jake said.

“I don’t care. If you boys are asleep, you can’t
get into anything. Now go to bed.”

We were so overcome with remorse and
regret that we gave up on having any more
fun ever. When we said our prayers, both of
us asked the Lord for wisdom, guidance, and
all of the other things that He hadn’t seen fit
to grant us yet. We couldn't sleep for the
longest time. Mostly, we just looked at each
other and then stared at the ceiling, thinking
about all the things that Gram had said to us,
realizing that there was a dark spot on our
soul and that there was a cancer inside us,
eating away at the very things that Gram had
tried to teach us over the years. We would
never become the fine young men that she
had envisioned, we were destined to be
hoodlums and forever disappoint and torment
her for as long as we lived.

Finally, after the ten o'clock news was over
and Big Daddy turned off the television, we
could hear Gram and Big Daddy talking about
us and our escapade with Uncle Fred. Big
Daddy was laughing about it and told Gram
that it was pretty clever of us to come up with
such a plan. That's when I realized what
grandpas were for: Grandpas were supposed
to teach you about things like checking out the
chicks at the grocery store and fun things to
do like playing pranks on the neighbors.
Grandpas were all about baseball, dirty jokes
and fun things like that.

I supposed that was the difference between
Big Daddy and Gram. Big Daddy was a
grandpa to the fullest extent of the definition,
but Gram, she had to be so much more than
that. Gram had to be a parent of sorts
because I didn't have any parental figures in
my life; she had to be that guardian angel—
that person in your life that helped you find
your way when you strayed off the path and I
was glad that she was, because if anyone
needed a guardian angel, it was me. Listening
to them talk and Big Daddy having a laugh
about it all, seemed to lift away a layer of
guilt that I had felt after Gram's crippling

The house grew quiet after that and the
crickets, katydids and the other little
creatures of the night seemed to be singing
Jake and I a lullaby just outside the open
window. I looked over and Jake had fallen off
to sleep; his conscience, apparently, was
absolved long before mine. I, then, continued
reflecting on the day's events, weighing them
on the scales of life and trying to understand
how all of it fit together in the grand scheme
of things. It was my favorite time of the
night—that time, just before you fell off to
sleep, when the muses of the soul seemed to
bloom and blossom like a dogwood in the

William Matthew McCarter’s book, “Homo Redneckus: On
Being Not Qwhite in America,” was published this year. A
college professor from Southeast Missouri, he writes and
publishes work that brings attention to his native rural
America. Recent creative work can be found in journals such
as A Few Lines, Stellaria, and Midwestern Gothic.