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Harold's BoysObservations, Opinions, and Outright Lies from amid the Chaos
By Mark Gaedtke
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Mark Gaedtke
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Origin of the Species
Harold and Eve Gaedtke fell in love and married not long after Harold returned from World War II, and they soon realized a prodigious talent for producing male babies on a regular basis. It was said among family that Eve was so fertile she couldn't stand downwind from Harold without getting pregnant. The pill came out in 1965, but by then the damage had been done. Faster than you can say "rhythm method," they found themselves sharing their one-hundred-year-old farmhouse in northern Wisconsin with six rambunctious sons.
Frankly, I don't know how it ever happened. I mean, I know how it happened; it's just that none of us want to imagine our parents being romantic. During my formative years mine were always playful and affectionate toward one another, but I guess anything beyond that is a bridge I simply do not care to cross.
At any rate, something happened, and my brothers Hal, Steve, and Rod all arrived on the scene within a span of about four years. Then production halted for a time. I don't know if the hiatus was in any way a criticism of the workmanship, union trouble, or possibly a breakthrough in inventory control, but it wasn't until six years later, November 23, 1956, that I rolled off the line, looking pretty much the same as I do today. Three days less than a year later, my brother Robin made his debut. To be honest, the older boys felt a bit put out by his arrival on the scene, as they'd been praying for a raccoon. Personally, I thought I'd been doing a respectable job, so it hurt to see management go over my head in favor of a newer, flashier model. The pain eased slightly a decade later when Robin was unceremoniously kicked out of his spot by Gregg, the last of a long line of boys. We've always been proud of our mom for having all sons. In our eyes, she batted 1.000. However, it was also a little sad, as our mom had always wanted at least one little girl with whom to share her life. And so no one should have been surprised when years later, an embittered and desperate woman, she compensated for her loss by committing various atrocities upon my brothers and me, including frilled nightgowns and fingernail polish. I'd rather not go into too much detail regarding this unless I could see some sort of therapeutic value (read: movie deal) in it.
My mother, Eve, is a no-nonsense, God-fearing woman who patiently taught her sons a love of music and the value of laughter. For better or for worse, her sense of humor flows through these pages, and although she has exclaimed countless times, "I oughta write a book," indirectly she finally has. To this day she teaches her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren about life, hope, and love. In her family's opinion, she has met all qualifications for sainthood.
My dad, Harold Gaedtke, passed away in November 2006. His was the template for his sons' personalities. He was relentlessly sociable and ruthlessly relational. And he used humor to keep his family on track. In the late summer of his last year, he was fighting lung cancer, undergoing rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. A lifetime Green Bay Packers fan, he somewhere picked up a green Packers cap with a big yellow G emblazoned across the front. This was no ordinary cap, as it was powered by a small battery that lit up the G when you flipped a small switch. In the middle of one of his radiation treatment visits, he peeked out the door of the conference room and, spotting the approach of our nurse, ordered me to turn out the lights. When the nurse walked in, he had turned on his Packers cap, and with the big G blinking, stated, "I think you gave me a little too much radiation this last time." Then he laughed and said, "I sure hope these treatments don't make me sterile!" Eighty-three years old with six grown sons, and laughing out loud about the dangers of sterility in the conference room of the cancer center.
He was a successful businessman in Tomahawk for many years and was a well-loved member of our community. A sheet-metal man with many years of shearing tin, he developed the biggest, strongest hands I've ever seen. Due to his great physical strength, he never felt compelled to prove himself, and so he lived out his life as a true gentle man. His greatest love in this world besides Eve was his boys, and, of course, his boys loved him back. In fact, all of Harold's boys chose to raise our families near Harold and Eve for one simple reason: we realized the importance of knowing who was to blame for it all.
Chapter TwoSister Less by Divine Intervention
Experts agree that in the process of raising our parents it's often better to ignore minor attention-getting behavior, concentrating instead upon the greater issues. For example, in the interest of family harmony, my brothers and I tolerated some amount of fingernail polish and the wearing of some less-than-masculine nightwear, with no apparent ill effects. (Our therapists are in full agreement on this.)
To be honest, those issues were more problematic for our dad than for us. Our father, a navy man, was extremely proud of his crew of sons, and he made sure that once we became toddlers Mom bought our pajamas at Sears rather than Victoria's Secret. He needn't have worried, for two reasons. Not only were all six of the brothers manly, macho-type stud muffins, but secondly, I've found that all those lacy little pieces take forever to iron.
The problem soon took care of itself as we each grew into long, lanky, wiry-haired boys with a penchant for forgetting "bath night." By our fourth birthdays Mom had given up on the hope of raising a genteel son, much less a feminine one. After all, as The Ed Sullivan Show had taught us, you can put a tutu on a monkey and you'll probably get a lot of laughs, but, when all is said and done, you're still dealing with a monkey, and a slightly dysfunctional one at that.
As we grew up, we eventually learned that our mother had no more control over her chromosomes than she had over us. With this came the realization that the fact of our gender was due more to the grace of God than anything else. Now, before all you women decide to go out and start burning your undergarments in protest, let me say this. I have absolutely nothing against women. In fact, my best friend in the world is a woman. I am also reasonably certain that her best friend in the world is also a woman. Somehow I seem to have been left out of that loop, but I guess I have to learn to be okay with that.
Although I have great love and respect for females in general, I simply didn't want one for a sister. I felt this way because I didn't want to see her get hurt. You see, I believe God knew that my mother had originally hoped for daughters, as she was forever bugging him about it. As a matter of fact, she was so confident in the power of prayer that she'd already picked out several daughter names, and, of course, God knew them all, although I can't imagine his having liked any of them. Names like Pearl and Opal and Marcella Mae, etc.—all lovely enough names just a century or two ago, but to my generation these names almost certainly would've been an open invitation to a severe beating in some high school hallway, possibly from a teacher.
To make matters worse, my brothers and I are all what you might consider to be big men (or small gorillas), each one well over six feet tall, 250 pounds, with big, broad shoulders, long arms, and legs that resemble telephone poles with hinges. I can't help but believe it would be very difficult for a woman to live in that kind of body. In fact, it's no picnic for us. And, although the Tomahawk High School football team could always use a six-foot-three-inch linebacker who weighs a deuce and a half and runs the forty in 4.5 seconds—an uncaged animal that arrives at the scene of the tackle with the disposition of a jaundiced badger—I don't think they would ideally want her to be named Opal.
And so, for all of those reasons and so many more, I believe God, in his infinite wisdom, gave Harold and Eve Gaedtke six sons. To much of the community, we didn't even have individual names. We were known simply as Harold's boys, and to our way of thinking that was more than good enough.
Chapter ThreeDancin' Fool
When I was three years old, I considered myself an accomplished dancer. My cousin Denny had an ancient record player and lots of those 45 rpm records with the big holes in the middle. I've always wondered why they had those big holes when all the other records of the day had tiny holes. It makes no sense to me that you had to put a special spacer in the middle of the record in order to get the thing properly centered on the turntable. It should be noted that if you didn't use the spacer and got the record slightly off center, you could also get some interesting sounds. However, I don't think it was set up that way for the entertainment value. I wish I could explain the "big hole" records, but I think it must remain a mystery, not unlike the Bermuda Triangle and the popularity of Regis Philbin.
Denny was a real-life Fonzie (kids, ask your parents), and he was the one who encouraged me to dance. He would stick a pencil into the gears of his battered old RCA Victor record player to coax it into doing its job, and suddenly Elvis would be singing "Don't Be Cruel," and I would be dancing like a three-foot-tall "King of Rock 'n' Roll." When I think about it, many of Elvis's moves were the same as mine. I'd always felt honored that he would choose to emulate my style. My bright red Mickey Mouse jacket would flash in the sunlight, and soon my flattop crew cut would be gleaming with sweat. Those first few years I was a dancin' fool.
Then one day something happened. I'm not sure what it was. Maybe somebody laughed at me. It could be that I simply lost my cuteness. When you're three feet tall with a flattop and you tend to walk like a farmer, you can get away with a lot. People automatically think you're cute. If you had put jeans and a flannel shirt on me back then, I would have looked as though I were going out to the north forty to plant beets. I also suspect that my change of dance fortune had something to do with the length of my hair, kind of like Samson in reverse. It seems that once my hair got longer than half an inch I somehow lost "the gift." Unfortunately, society still expected me to dance. Obviously, society didn't know what it was asking.
Eventually, I stumbled upon the prospect of playing in a band and found that by playing the music I could attend lots of dances and yet never be expected to dance. My brothers and I played rock 'n' roll for nearly three decades. We called ourselves the Brothers Band—edgy name, huh? (We were a very good band but not what you'd describe as "wildly creative.") Then in 1996 the band broke up, and I found myself back in dance purgatory.
Now whenever I try to dance, medical people rush to my aid, assuming that I am suffering from some type of seizure. It only takes one or two episodes of that sort for a fellow to realize he probably shouldn't be dancing. Unfortunately, I'm still moved by music. I was at a street dance the other night and found myself really starting to get into it. You've seen it before—the basic white guy's maneuver—hands in pockets and bending the knees ever so slightly to the music. To a descendent of the great northern Germanic tribes (me), this feels like I am moving with wild animal abandon. Unfortunate experience has shown that any movement beyond this might result in the appearance of some helpful person armed with a wallet to shove into my mouth. Although the money comes in handy, it's certainly not worth the embarrassment.
The only time I ever give in to the urge to dance anymore is when my children are present and I want to humiliate them. It doesn't take long, especially when I start to dance provocatively, doing my grooviest Mick Jagger. Soon they are moaning and wailing in a most satisfactory fashion. My grandchildren, on the other hand, like it when I dance, mainly because they're too little to comprehend an abomination when they see one. They even join me in the dance and copy my moves. They look adorable. I hope they enjoy it while they can.
Chapter FourNo Time for Naps
I love taking naps. If I had to choose between a nice juicy steak smothered with mushrooms and onions or forty-five minutes of uninterrupted sleep, I would certainly choose the steak. Then I would go lie down for an hour and a half.
It wasn't always like that. When I was four years old, naps were an anathema to me, and I didn't even know what anathema was, but it sounds suspiciously like "enema," doesn't it? And an enema was something with which I was acquainted. Did I mention that I hated naps?
I suppose Robin, who was only a year younger, must have had to take naps too, but I don't recall taking naps with him. I suspect our mom knew she'd have to split us up or there would be no chance of us sleeping. I recall nap time to be a solitary venture, and this was problematic to me, as I've always been a people person. Robin, on the other hand, was much more of a loner, comfortable in his own skin, as they say, probably because he knew he could get away with more of the things he wanted to do if there were no witnesses present.
The trick was to get us to stay in the bed. There were no doors on our bedrooms, so you could normally come and go pretty much as you chose, but at nap time you were confined to the bed. Try to imagine a warm summer day, and the big boys are out playing in the yard, and there you are lying on the bed, trying to sleep. The sounds of baseball are ringing in your ears, yet you are to remain quiet until sleep occurs. I find it ironic that my mother would have killed for a chance to sleep in the middle of the day, while I was desperately plotting how to get out of it.
Eventually, I would crawl out of the bed and saunter out into the yard, hoping to be allowed to play, without actually being noticed. Soon the boys would spot me and report me to the warden, and we would start the process all over again. After several of those occurrences the guys came up with a plan. One of the most popular musical hits of the day was a song called "The One-Eyed, One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater." While this song had a catchy refrain and clever lyrics, I was terrified at the prospect of such a creature and more than a little shocked that people would walk around singing its praises.
I suppose I would have enjoyed it too, if someone had explained that the "monster" only enjoyed eating purple people. Unfortunately, no one filled me in on that all-important detail, and so I lived in mortal fear of this man-eater with its very own theme song. My brothers took advantage of my fear by telling me at nap time that they had posted the monster just outside my bedroom door, and if I tried to leave the room, it would eat me. "Good Lord," I thought. "What kind of sick, depraved people would let something like that happen to a defenseless little boy? They have to be lying. But what if they aren't? I've never even seen a picture of the thing! But everybody's singing about it!"
It was the bravest, most desperate act I had ever performed in my young life. I slowly crept out of that bedroom, looking behind every nook and cranny, as I passed silent as smoke through our old farmhouse. Thankful for the sparing of my life, I walked out into the sunlight. When you're four years old, and your life passes before your eyes, it really doesn't take very long. Ask anyone who has ever sidestepped certain death, and you'll learn that it changes a man. You tend to appreciate things more. The air is fresher. The colors of nature are brighter. I had wasted so many months. From now on my life would be better. I was already four years old, but it wasn't too late for me; it couldn't be! I would become a new man, a better man.
The big boys were surprised to see me until I told them that the One-Eyed, One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater must've left his post. I offered to ask Mom about it. They quickly replied that I wouldn't have to trouble her about the Purple People Eater. Apparently she hadn't known that the creature had been posted outside my door, and at thirty-four years old you shouldn't be given too much shocking news—bad for the heart. Besides, having Mom find out would have been anathema (or possibly an enema) to my brothers. And now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for my nap.
Chapter FiveFirst Grade in the Fetal Position
My parents were quite certain I was ready for school by the time I was four. I don't think it absolutely had to be school, either. Anything that kept me away from home for an extended period of time would have been fine with them. I'm sure they would have happily signed me up for the merchant marine if it weren't for the height requirements.
There was no kindergarten program offered in our community at the time, and so my parents were forced to campaign for my early enrollment into first grade. They brought in my drawings, trying to convince the warden that these were indeed artistic endeavors, almost certain to be worth money someday.
Excerpted from Harold's Boys by Mark Gaedtke Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gaedtke. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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