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Story ID:10269
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Syracuse New York USA
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By Fred Wickert

When I was a kid, to say that I was full of myself was putting it mildly. I’m sure you have seen kids, and many grownups for that matter, that will do almost anything on a dare. Say, “Fred, why don’t you go over there and do that.”
Fred, “Oh no. I might get in trouble if I did that, “ or perhaps, “Oh no. That wouldn’t be nice. That’s wrong to do something like that.”
Instigator, “Oh your just chicken. You don’t dare!” or maybe, “I dare ya. I double dare ya. You don’t have nerve enough!”

Those DARE words were the magic ingredient. Put the word DARE in there somewhere and it practically guaranteed it was going to happen. You could almost take it to the bank.

As a kid, I was one of those fools who had to do whatever somebody dared me to. For that reason, I was always finding myself in trouble. Stupid me, I never figured out that the person or persons daring me, were either setting me up because they wanted to see me get in trouble, or they expected to get their dirty work done for them because they didn’t have the stomach for doing it themselves. Just because I did not want it said that I didn’t DARE do something, I did for them what they could not do for themselves, and I was too stupid to realize it.

In my old age, I guess subconsciously I must be getting ready to meet my maker because some of these things from my child hood long forgotten, are suddenly popping back in to my memory so I can make it right with my God. This is about one of those things.

I was a kid on a farm a half mile outside the city of Syracuse, New York. I’m guessing I was 10 or 11 years old. I worked at the farm work during the summer months. When things slowed down my parents arranged for me to spend a week or even two at what was called a Day Camp. It was a program for kids at the YMCA. It was supposed to be like going to camp except that every night you went home at the end of the day and came back in the morning after breakfast for the next day’s activities.

One day one of the boys brought some cigarette loads with him. These were small things about the size, shape, and looks of a large grain of long rice. You could buy them by the package in a five and dime store. They were also available in joke catalogs. I have not seen or heard of them in many years, so I don’t know if they are still available.

The purpose of them was to use as a joke. They were supposed to be inserted inside of a cigarette without the person who smoked knowing it. Then you watched while the unsuspecting person lit up. When the fire reached the load as they were called, it exploded, destroying the cigarette. No one ever seemed to be hurt by it.

We were all standing around outside the door of the YMCA, waiting for the swimming pool to open. When the pool opened we all went inside for a swim in the pool. There was a man sitting in a chair tilted back against the wall. He was an older man. My guess was that he was around 60 to 65 years of age. He was always there every day. He smoked a corn cob pipe. On this particular day, the boys with the cigarette loads gave me three of them and told me to put them in that man’s pipe.

I had them in my hand, but realizing the man was blind, I didn’t want to do it. They assured me they will do no harm. That it will be funny. We never saw them go off in a pipe before. It will be fun. I was still reluctant. “Oh come on.” They said. “You’re just scared. You don’t dare do ya?” There it was again. That magic word DARE that overcame all common sense.

“Okay, okay,” I said. “I’ll do it.” I walked over and sat down on a chair next to the blind man. Every now and then he laid his pipe down for a few minutes. Then he picked it up, tamped it down with his finger, lit another match to it and took a few more puffs on it. I watched until he laid it down. Then I picked it up, quickly inserted the three loads in the bowl, laid it back down and got ready to get up and go back to the other boys. The man picked up his pipe and stopped me in my tracks.

“Boy,” he said, “do you think that was a very nice thing to do?” I felt the blood rush to my face. I knew it had to be as red as a beet. I felt about two inches high. I was embarrassed beyond belief. I had been caught red handed, doing this thing to a blind man. A blind man of all people! How low could I get?

I answered the man, “No sir. I guess it wasn’t.”

“No, it really wasn’t. Not nice at all. You won’t ever do it again will ya?”

“No sir, I won’t. I know now it was a rotten thing to do.”

“All right Son, as long as you know, I’ll forgive ya this time. Now go on with the other boys.”

We watched as the old man made no effort to knock out the pipe and reload it. He wrapped his hand around the bowl, relit his pipe with a burning match and took several drags on the pipe before he laid it back down. The three plugs never went off.

We never understood first, how that blind man knew what I had done. Secondly, how he managed to keep those loads from going off. I had put them in the bowl of his pipe. They were going to certainly explode, but they never did. How did he do that?

For a while that mystery bugged all of us. Then we gradually forgot it as other things occupied our minds more strongly.

As for me, I never got over that feeling of guilt that hit me like a hammer, when that blind man asked me if I thought what I had done was a very nice thing to do.

Did that experience help to shape the man I was to become when I became an adult? I believe it did play a major role. The impact at the time was enormous.

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