When I was five and my brother was seven, my family lived in Gower, Missouri, about an hour from St. Joe and maybe two or three hours from Kansas City. So we lived in the country. But my brother and I were never what you would call “country boys.”
“Country boys” spend their days out doing chores on the farm. Milking the cows, feeding the chickens, tilling the fields, putting up barb wire. “Country boys” have tough skin. Tough from days spent working hard in the sun. “Country boys” are strong and solid. They become big, burly men.
My friend Ben Barber was a country boy. His family has a farm up in North Dakota, and he spent most of his growing up days there busy being a country boy.
I drove up to North Dakota with Ben, Ashley, and my sister this last weekend for Ben’s sister’s wedding. And on Sabbath afternoon we all went out to the farm. They showed me around the yard, showed me the fence, and the cows, and the field. We went exploring and found all their old forts from when they were kids.
I got to talking with Ben’s sister Angela, and I told her that I would never fit in with the men-folk on a farm. I reckoned that I would fit in better with the women-folk, in the kitchen, baking pies and cakes, or maybe sewing a quilt or crocheting an afghan blanket. But Angela pointed out to me that really, the women-folk on a farm spend most their time out with the men-folk working in the barn and the field.
It’s really too bad. When it comes down to it, there’s no place for me on a farm. My place is inside.
And I think, deep down, part of me already knew this, even when I was five years old.
My brother and I would spend our afternoons inside, down in the basement, sprawled out in front of our TV set, heads resting on our elbows, watching cartoons. I like to think that we had just as many exciting adventures as any country boy would on a farm. There were so many different cartoons to choose from: The Jetsons, Felix the Cat, Betty Boop, Inspector Gadget. So many beautiful cartoons. I think our favorite was The Flintstones.
I remember one afternoon when we were watching The Flintstones. We watched, wide-eyed, as Barney Rubble stepped on a mousetrap and let out a shrill cry.
Matt and I both scooted closer to the screen. We didn’t want to miss anything. Sure enough, there was Barney, and there was a big ol’ mousetrap clamped to his toes. Barney was hopping around the room and screeching, seemingly for joy. When he settled down enough to take the mousetrap off his toes, they were pulsating, and each was the size of a football and a deep shade of crimson. Remarkably, Barney stood there with his gargantuous toes, and he laughed. He appeared to be not only okay but somehow better as a result of this experience. To me at five years old, this seemed perfectly natural.
Now a “country boy” would have known all about the workings of a mousetrap. In fact, I bet even five-year-old country boys are already out there in the barn catching mice with their bare hands. Five-year-old “city boys,” however, aren’t in quite the same place. I don’t think I’d ever even seen a live mouse, let alone a trapped one. I didn’t know much about mouse-traps.
After The Flintstones had ended, my brother called me over. “Hey Ben,” he said. “Wanna have some fun?”
And I did want to have some fun. So I said, “Yeah!”
“Well,” said my brother, “you saw how much fun Barney Rubble had just now, didn’t you? When he stepped on that mousetrap and danced around laughing and making lots of noise?”
Matt nodded his head and smiled as he spoke. He seemed to be wanting something from me, so I nodded and smiled also.
Matt stopped his nodding and looked straight in my eyes. “Didn’t it look fun?” he asked.
“Uh huh!” I said. My excitement was growing.
“If you step on a mousetrap,” he said, “you’ll have just as much fun as Barney Rubble did.” His eyes were full of sincerity.
“What will it be like?” I asked. I was already looking forward to it.
“Oh, you’ll enjoy it quite a bit,” he said. “In fact, it won’t hurt at all. And if you’re lucky, you’ll even get to see your foot swell up like a balloon.”
So I thought it over.
Matt wouldn’t let me do something that would hurt me. He’d never ever do that. So, this really must be all the fun he says it is. Wow, Matt’s so nice to share this with me. He must know how much I love balloons. I was convinced.
My brother quickly led me to the mousetrap that just happened to be sitting on our kitchen floor. Once there, he began to cheer me on.
“Go on, Ben, do it! Do it! Do it! Ben! Ben! Ben!”
How would a “country boy” have responded in my situation?
A “country boy” would never be tricked into doing something stupid. “Country boys” have tough skin. “Country boys” are strong and solid.
But I wasn’t a “country boy.” I didn’t have tough skin. I wasn’t strong or solid. And I didn’t know what else to do but believe.
So I did.
In one fluid motion, I stomped my foot down on that mousetrap as hard as I could.