Regretfully Thinking About Mrs. Bolden, Smoke Bombs, and Sea Monsters

RMlogo Regrettfullly Thinking About Mrs. Bolden, Smoke Bombs, and Sea Monsters

Mrs. Bolden was a lovely 10th grade English teacher at Forest Hills High School in Marshville, NC. I don’t think she ever did anything wrong. She was sweet, enjoyed her job, did it well, and probably never caused anyone an ounce of trouble. Her wonderfulness makes what I did to her classroom so much worse.

Making Smoke Bombs

Someone taught me how to make “timed, smoke bombs.” It’s a simple thing to learn, and I trust that I don’t regret teaching this prank to my son. It’s a “time-release” smoke bomb—the critical key—that goes off about ten minutes after you light it.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.

You put a lit cigarette without its filter over the fuse. Eventually, the cig will burn down to the wick, and, well, you know the rest.

Just before the start of Mrs. Bolden’s English class, I placed a smoke bomb outside the door’s entrance to the classroom. After the proper placement of my prank, I entered the room, took my chair, and began paying attention to Mrs. Bolden. Paying attention should have been a clue that I was up to something.

About ten minutes into the class period, smoke began to pour into the room. The alarms went off, the class emptied, and chaos took over. After the smoke cleared, being the good student that I was, I wanted to help Mrs. Bolden get to the bottom of this prank.

She never realized the culprit, I think.

The Regretful Christian

About 20 years later.

I went back to Forest Hills High School, looking for Mrs. Bolden to apologize to her. After I became a Christian and began to reflect on some of the antics of my youth, I wanted to make things right with a few unsuspecting folks. She was one of them.

She never meant harm to anyone. She was doing her job, and I was a jerk. Sadly, I could not find her. She was “old” in my day, so I imagine she had passed away by the time remorse arrived.

Killing Sea Monsters

On another day, a few of us skipped school and went to the ABC Store to get a case of beer. And we were doing acid. The crew this day was my brother Gary, plus Ricky and Randy Traywick (aka, Randy Travis).

We went to Lake Lee, rented a boat, and spent the afternoon peacefully rowing. And then, all of a sudden and out of the deep blue lake, Ricky stood up and began screaming, “Sea Monster, Sea Monster!” at the top of his lungs.

He took an oar and began swinging it wildly toward the sea monster that was approaching the boat. I was grateful for his leadership initiative. Upon closer inspection, we noticed the sea monster was a limb floating across the lake near the boat. Ricky was tripping.

He broke the oar.

The weird part was trying to explain to the guy who rented us the boat that we broke the oar over the back of a sea monster. I don’t think he believed us. As I was standing there talking to him, a beer rolled down my pant leg and down the dock ramp. We had to hide our remaining beers because we didn’t want him calling the law on underage kids drinking on the lake.

As the beer hit the pavement and rolled down the dock toward the lake, we both stood there in silence, staring at the rolling beer can. It seemed like it was moving in slow motion.

I remember thinking how we snookered the attendant with the sea monster story, but there was no way he was going to believe we weren’t drinking.

We briskly walked to our car and got out of there.

Streaking, Throwing Eggs, and Destroying an Airplane

RMlogo Streaking, Throwing Eggs, Destorying an Airplane

I wrote the purpose of these blogs in my “Apology” for this website. I need to say this to you because of the next batch of family stories. I write these posts for my children. I want them to know what it was like for the “Thomas boys.” One of the biggest problems we have in our country today is that there are several generations who have no clue what it is like to suffer. They have only known a flourishing America. To forget where you came from is to slip into things you’ll regret.

Our three children have lived a blessed life, and they will tell you that if you ask. They do not have my categories, experiences, or darkness. I’m not writing to glorify an evil past (or brag or “one-up” you, or any other misguided interpretation). I want our children to know that God’s grace works and the gospel transforms. I don’t want them to assume they can deviate from God’s path, and it will go well for them.

I began my life by walking down an evil path, and then I found the gospel (Christ). Our children have never known anything but a gospel environment. I want them to see how things could be if they choose to walk from the blessedness of all that they have known.

They Call Him the Streak

We five brothers were notorious for doing pranks. Some of them were fun and funny, while others were mean and regretful. In the mid-seventies, streaking was a big rage. Remember Ray Stevens? To streak, you have to get bum-naked and run through a crowd of people.

One day, I was perusing the Monroe Enquirer and saw a picture of my brother (Gary) on the front page. Yes, the big picture that they put at the top. He was sitting on the back of a rag-top, naked, riding down the main drag of Wingate College (now Wingate University). The front page! Literally. I was so impressed at his boldness and thankful it was not me.

The Egg Caper

My grandfather had chicken eggs. Lots of them. Papa Grant had an entrepreneurial spirit, though he was more like Fred G. Sanford than anyone else. He had scores of washing machines, dryers, and refrigerators in his yard.

Mama Grant accepted it.

One evening Robby and Joey stole some eggs from our grandfather and took them to Wingate College and began throwing them into the windows of the dorms. In those days, there was no air conditioning; they used window fans. When those eggs “hit the fan,” gooey slime splattered all over the dorm rooms. I have always imagined a college student finishing up his term paper on a manual typewriter, and he could not make any mistakes. Remember “whiteout.” This prank made a colossal mess and incited several students.

The chase was on.

Robby, being the athlete, jumped a nearby ravine and kept going. Joey, who was following close behind, tried to leap the large ditch but came up a yard short. He landed on the dark side of the bank. The first thing to make contact was his knee, which caught the corner of a concrete block. It knocked his knee to the backside of his leg. Joey was in screaming pain. The ambulance and police showed up at the same time.

I believe he went to the hospital first.

Is That Your Plane?

Dwayne, the youngest, demolished an airplane that belonged to the neighbors of one of his friends. Dwayne’s friend said the plane was his, as I understand the story, and Dwayne did not believe him and told him so.

The young boy “proved it” was his plane by attacking it with a club. I’m not sure what that proved, other than they were dumb. Dwayne joined in with his buddy. They threw rocks through the windows and beat the body up with sticks. They totaled the airplane.

Dwayne and his friend were about 12 years old. They were too young to prosecute.

Eight Illustrations From an Evil Brother’s Diary

RMlogo Eight Illustrations From an Evil Brother's Diary

Robby was a mean brother. There is no pleasant way of saying it. He was incorrigible. I have no idea why he was so angry or why he had a perverse pleasure in hurting people. If I had to guess, I would say he was reacting to dad while imitating his evilness. I do not recall one good thing that he ever did for anyone. I have illustrations.

One time he took a bedsheet from our beds and tied strings to each corner. He was rigging a makeshift parachute. He forced two of us (me) to climb a tree and jump into a pile of sticks that he had pointing in our direction. The protruding limbs were a nice touch; that’s my brother.

If you’re wondering, the chute did not open during the 12-foot drop. Fortunately, we were not hurt, as I remember it—other than our feelings. Perhaps you’re thinking, why did you do it? A good question. Robby always gave us two options: do what he said or he would beat us, and it was not a friendly beating. Typically, wisdom said it was better to follow along with his plans.

Another time he urinated in the lawnmower because he did not want to cut the grass. I can still see my dad yanking the cord, trying to start the mower while cursing a blue streak. It was humorous to us twisted, angry kids. Of course, Robby miscalculated. By the time dad got the mower repaired, the grass was more than a foot high. It was a beast to cut.

On another occasion, he took a rope and made a “squared circle” (wrestling term) around a few trees and bushes to form a wrestling ring. He got hyped-up from watching the Saturday wrestling show, so he and the next older brother, Joey, put on ski masks and pretended to be the “Masked Bolos,” a wrestling team back in the day.

They beat up two of the three young siblings (me). We oscillated between continual fear of getting beat up by Robby and enduring the wrath a drunk dad who verbally taunted and hit us. It was a sad childhood.

One time Robby strung up a cat inside an open soda machine. (I’m not sure why the soda machine was open, though I have an idea.) Then he beat the animal to death. Robby topped this event by hanging a boy from the second story of our old school building by his ankles just for kicks.

Childhood Karma

The funniest time was when he strung a thick string between two trees at the end of a path that led to our grandmother’s home. We lived about 50 yards from her. He was hoping that one of us would run down the lane to grandma’s house and get clipped at the neck. The funny part happened shortly after he strung up the string. Mother called him back to the house to do something. He forgot about his trap. Later, mom asked him to get something at grandma’s house.

Mother said she was washing the dishes, looking out the kitchen window that faced grandma’s house when she saw her oldest son run down the path. And all of a sudden, Robby was nearly decapitated as his legs shot out from under him. This “kid karma” was one of the more excellent moments from my weird childhood–from my perspective.

One evening Robby and Joey got into one of their “normal fights.” It escalated to the point where they broke a window in the living room. The glass cut a primary vein, and Robby began to spurt blood on the floor. They stopped fighting, as Robby was weakening and collapsing on the floor. It was a surreal moment. They called the ambulance, who arrived at the nick of time. He almost died. It was the oddest thing to sit there, not able to do anything other than watching your brother die.

And then there was the time when mother was so angry at him that she threw an ashtray and hit him on the side of his head. It was a heavy ashtray.

I was glad in the way of enjoying wrestling where you vicariously take pleasure in good beating up evil.

Mom had a mean fastball.

The Boy Who Could, But Chose Not To

The Boy That Could, But Chose Not To

Robby was one of those boys who had destiny written all over him. Specifically, in the area of athletics. I do not remember when he first took the field in the big three: baseball, football, and basketball—the main sports for kids in our day. He was best at baseball, probably because he enjoyed it more and had greater access through Little LeagueBabe Ruth, and high school.

A Star In Sports

To illustrate his destiny, I recall when he was playing on a Little League team, and they were behind. It was the last inning. Robby hit the ball, and it had just enough force to roll to the back fence and stop. Barely. The ball went under the glove of the third baseman and rolled unimpeded to the left-field fence. It was like the ball had eyes and the defense was playing in slow motion. Robby knocked in the winning run.

He was the hero. Again.

Another time on the high school football team, someone knocked him down on the 20-yard line of the opposing team. He got up and ran diagonally across the field to make the tackle on the player near the 10-yard line—70 yards away. It was a magic moment. Nobody could catch the opposing player. It was even more spectacular because when the guy knocked Robby down, his helmet came off. He got up, ran the guy down, and tackled him with no helmet.

A Star In Prison

When Robby was in Central Prison in Raleigh, NC, Clyde King of the New York Yankees came to interview him. He was that good. Unfortunately, only Robby could mess up his destiny. He was incarcerated and would never be able to fulfill his dreams on the field.

Robby was typically the first person to break a record, or he was the youngest to do “this or that.” I recall reading the papers many times where it said, “Robby Thomas was the first to (fill in the blank).” He was gifted. Even when he went to prison, he played on the prison teams, was a star, and got the MVP trophies.

An Angry Child

I do not know what went wrong with him. I’m not sure why he was angry all the time. Perhaps it was the same reason that I was an angry kid. All five boys were unhappy. We were pagans. Dad yelled and beat us every day, virtually. Dad was mostly verbal, which was typically the result of his drinking. I don’t recall him ever being sober, though I’m sure he was.

Robby was caught in the wake of awful parenting and continued to spin out of control. There was no spiritual intervention. His path was set. The boy who was destined to succeed rewrote his destiny and died a tragic death.

I never assumed Robby would be an old person, sitting in a rocking chair on a back porch somewhere with a wife and grandkids. He never gave that vibe. He was born to die young.

And he did.

The Brother With the Most Talent Was Murdered Young

The Brother With the Most Talent Was Murdered Young

My oldest brother, Robby, was born in July 1956. It feels weird to sound out his name in my mind. I only knew him during my pre-salvation years, and that was more than forty years ago. To think that he was my brother is surreal, as he seems to have belonged to another mother. But he was my oldest sibling, and then he wasn’t because a man murdered him.

And nobody cared.

Robby was a rare individual. He was more gifted than the rest of us, speaking of sports specifically. If someone would have voted “the most likely to succeed” from the bunch of us, Robby was the hands-down favorite. I was jealous because we all knew that he would make it out of our hell-hole with success.

I’m not sure where it went wrong, but it did in the worst kind of way.

The Dreaded Phone Call

In June 1987, I received the phone call that nobody wants. It was from mother. It was early. She told me that Robby had broken into a mobile home, and a man was sitting across the room with a double-barrel shotgun in hand. He unloaded both barrels toward Robby’s head. Robby put his hands in front of his face in an attempt to protect himself. It shredded his hands. He fell face down on the floor. It reminded me of Goliath when David sunk a rock into his forehead. The Bible says that Goliath fell forward, face down (1 Samuel 17:49).

The man took the shotgun, spun it around to where he was holding the barrels. He used it as a sledgehammer on the back of Robby’s skull. He broke the stock of the gun by crushing my brother’s head. It was the blows that killed him, though he could have died from the gunshot wounds if he had time to bleed out.

And then it was over. Robby was gone, a dash between two dates: 1957-1987.

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14).

The authorities did not prosecute the killer. The police looked at it as one less criminal off the streets, and Robby broke into the mobile home anyhow—as the killer described what happened with no witnesses. Robby had just gotten out of prison in February (1987). He lived most of his adult life incarcerated.

He was an “institutionalized convict,” a person so acclimated to the inside that he could not live well on the outside. The rehabilitation programs didn’t work for him. Doing crime was his passion, which became the portal to prison, where he thrived. The three times they released him, he did things that led back to his “comfort zone.” His last release led to his murder.

A Girl With a Significant Other

Robby had a girlfriend on the outside while he was on the inside. They were pen-pals. The plot twist is that his girlfriend had a husband (or significant other). Robby decided he wanted the letters, which is why he showed up at the mobile home one dark evening. The one brother with the most potential was the first one to die. One more would follow a similar fate ten years later.

The brother, who never missed a day of school until his 10th-grade year, died 31 days before his 32 birthday. The person who was always one of the best at whatever sport’s league he participated threw his life away.

And there was no mercy.

When an Arrogant Christian Responds Angrily to the World

RMlogo Thank You For This Ministry02 (1).jpg

Circa 1990 – There are a few moments in our lives when we reflect with regret while wondering what life would be like if we had a do-over. The Peabody Hotel, in Memphis, TN, is one of those places where a mulligan would have been nice. Sigh!

The Peabody is a historic hotel, always in the top ten of someone’s best hotels to stay. In 2015, I took the family there because it’s cool. And, of course, I wanted to get a few ribs from Central BBQ. The customers snaked their way out the door and into the parking lot. I’m talking about Central BBQ, not the Peabody. So good. I can still smell them ribs.

Back to the Peabody

I was there for a manager’s meeting with Alcoa. Shortly after them buying out our little plant, they promoted me. I know you’re impressed, but I was the only employee; what could they do?

Hollywood was also there, filming The Firm, with Tom Cruise. I did not see him or the other stars. Of course, I was only “secretly” looking for them since I was a fundamentalist. We disdain movies. Ironically, we were in New Orleans this summer, and they were filming the third edition of Bill and Ted. I have not seen that series, but we did stand in the street for several hours, watching them shoot while trying to catch a glimpse of Keanu Reeves.

The niche of the Peabody is the duck walk that they have twice a day. The ducks stay in the “Penthouse,” which are cages on the roof. Every morning a guy in a tux comes down the elevator with the ducks, and they walk the red carpet to the pool in the middle of the hotel lobby. Onlookers gather on both sides of the carpet with cameras ready. In the afternoon, they do it all over again, as the ducks go back to their penthouse.

All the managers came for a national meeting, perhaps a couple hundred men and women. We toured the Memphis recycling facility and a processing plant. Those events were the okay parts of this three-day meeting. The rest of it, I would love to forget, but it’s etched, as they say.

In This Corner, the Self-Righteous

My agony had little to do with the trip, the people, or the work. It was all about me; it was my fault. As a fundamentalist with a pinch of self-righteousness, mixed with a splash of anger, let’s just say it was a recipe for disaster. 

To put it plainly, I refused to fit in. I could not have been more self-righteous, arrogant, stubborn, or angry. I had standards that nobody in my company believed or practiced. My peers were living an expected debauchery.

Wives were flirting with men and husbands doing the same. The alcohol was flowing, and the jokes were perverse. In one of the plenary meetings, they showed an org chart that had “God” under the title, CEO. It was supposed to be a joke, as the room was bursting with laughter. I was burning inside and was at my self-righteous limit. 

At one point, I went to my room after dinner, took out my giant-sized KJV Bible, Authorized Version, laid it on the floor, and started praying. I was begging the Lord to convert my pagan friends and give me the grace to play nice. He did neither. Perhaps it was because God did not come for the righteous, but sinners. My self-righteousness was red-lining that week.

It’s Feedback Time

As I was waiting in the lobby for the ride to the airport, I listened to the player piano. I also started a “Luther-Esque” styled diatribe to zip off to headquarters upon arriving back in Greenville. Rather than mixing it up with the lower echelon, I sent this letter to the President of Alcoa in Pittsburg. This President later had a cabinet position with one of our US Presidents. Boom!

It was a mean-spirited, scathing, angry, self-righteous indictment of the company, the people in the company, and my utter disgust with their attitudes and behavior. I said something about lewd women and shameless men. It was the low-point of my career. 

This “low point” was not because of their sin but because of mine. I was totally out of step with reality, my culture, expectations of pagans, and a sound methodology on reaching my culture. I couldn’t have been more arrogant. (Okay, maybe I could be more arrogant, but my soul can’t bear to think about it.) But they were wrong, and I was right; it was so clear to me.

Of course, they were behaving according to their worldview. My mistake was expecting my colleagues to be as “holy” as I was, which is quite the feat without regeneration. Yep, I was winning friends and influencing people. 

The President called my boss, a super-nice guy. He was a black fellow, and though he was perplexed, he did say I had a rhythmic, colorful, and compelling writing style. It reminded him of Jesse Jackson, and I kid you not. He was prophetic. Who knew that I would make a living as a writer. It just would not be with Alcoa Corporation.

The upper-brass began to strategize how to fire me. In January 1993, they shut down the plant. I was a stellar employee, with the second-highest-ranking plant in the system. After the Peabody debacle, the black marks started piling up on my record.

When the ignorant pokes the bear, there’s nothing left to do but ask how the bear wants his meal.