Chad Beninati; The Early Years: Part One
I grew up in a small, one-horse town with dirt roads and white picket fences. I wanted to be an astronaut, then a cowboy, then a policeman, then astronaut again; it went on like that until I was about twelve, and then I grew up.
When I say “grew up”, I mean that I realized the reality of the ugliness of life for the first time. It happened when I saw my Uncle Rip get real mad and shoot the neighbor’s Cocker Spaniel- Pete. Uncle Rip (his real name was Roger, but no one ever called him that around us kids) was usually a pretty easygoing type, but sometimes he would just up and get irritated for something. You never knew what it would be, so it was usually better to just avoid him unless he initiated conversation in good a mood, which wasn’t very often. He always reminded me of a volcano- peaceful and serene and then, without cause, violent and vulgar.
Uncle Rip was ok, but then there was his wife- Aunt Martha. I could generally deal with Uncle Rip by avoiding him, which contented us both, but there’s one thing I can’t tolerate and that is an artificial prig. Aunt Martha was one of those people that always put on a polite smile, all the while making subtle suggestions that you do something for her. That pretty little smile would turn into a quick snarl if you ever got up the pluck and defied her.
Unfortunately for me, I’m the guy that lets you know just what he thinks, with little (if any) sweet discretion. I guess I just never lost that basic innocence of believing that the bare facts were what people wanted to hear. It always confused me when the adults kept saying to tell the truth and then reacted with such adversity when I did it. I wasn’t usually an obedient kid, but it took me a long while before I learned to lie, and even longer before I was able to muster up the guts and actually do it well. By the time I got to that point, the other kids had long left me behind, maturing quickly in the revered art of vice.
Uncle Rip and his wife lived two streets south of us, so I usually tried to do my business to the North. There was another street with houses on it just north of mine and after that, there was a good, straight stretch until Main Street. Russell Springs was a small, frontier town out what we called the “Dead West”; that just meant that the major wagon trails never made it near our town, the railroad didn’t find us either, and the highway followed another route.
But life in Russell Springs was largely uneventful in retrospect; I played cowboys and built mud forts and made treasure maps with the neighbor boys, but I really didn’t do anything significant, nor did anything significant happen to me. That was, of course, until I was twelve and I realized two important things about people- two things that devastated my life of innocence.
The first thing was that people change. I learned that my father, whom I naively imagined to be somehow super-human (and that means ageless), was actually just another ordinary man. He worked, which to me meant that he left in the morning and came home around six. But as time went on, I watched him age slightly; and then, he switched favorite salad dressings. If my dad could change, what refuge was there? I decided to change dressings to, and that was my last stand against the innocence of immutability.
The second thing I learned is that people are fallible. I knew it since early on, but I first believed it when I saw Pete (the Cocker Spaniel that Uncle Pete eradicated)- innocent of all crimes but barking –dead and messy, lying in the dirt. Uncle Pete had lost his temper heaps of times before; but this time, he went off and did something awful. I don’t remember being taught that shooting a dog was wrong or terrible, but I sure felt like it was that day.
Until I really believed (and mostly understood) those two things, I was content in my ignorance- bliss. Food was on the table and I wanted to decide what was good for me and what was unworthy of my consumption. It was not until I went without food that I understood its worth.
On Friday nights, my neighbor “Ferry” (his real name was Ferdinand) and his parents would come over. The women would hover about in some part of the house and cackle on about who-knows-what; but Ferry and I would watch as our dads, with other guys, would play poker with nickels and pennies. Once, when Uncle Rip was playing, he gave me and Ferry seven pennies apiece and we played each other until I had fourteen pennies. Ferry was mad for a bit, but it was my house so he had to straighten up or he couldn’t use my toys.
And so, my life went on in innocence. I did well in school at first, loving the environment in which I so easily excelled. I reveled in the games, the activities, the work, the friendships and the freedom. By the seventh grade though, I had tired of it all. I wanted a challenge. Why were they wasting my time?
But school isn’t why I’m writing this. I can’t think of anything valuable that I got from school after the seventh grade anyways. So I set my mind to other things.
I had long abandoned the dreams of gun slinging and space exploring, and had traded them in for more practical “goals” of wealth and prestige.