April Fools’ Day came and went at the Stallard house with zero acknowledgment, and part of me is a little sad about that.
When he was small, my son Kyle usually left one of his small plastic dinosaurs in the shower or on top of my stash of Diet Cokes in the refrigerator to mess with me on April Fools’ Day. One year, after he realized how much dad loved his morning newspaper, he informed me a neighborhood dog was running off with my Longview News-Journal.
We all had a good laugh when dad bolted out the door yelling “Get away from my newspaper before I fill your mangy carcass with buckshot!”
Well, Kyle enjoyed it. The jogger passing my house and the nice, but stern, police officer who showed up? Not so much.
Kyle is too old to worry about April Fools’ pranks, and I don’t have the heart to prank my lovely wife since she already has to put up with me the other 364 days of the year.
Besides, it’s all a little anti-climatic when you were a partner in pulling the greatest April Fools’ prank in history more than 40 years ago.
I grew up in the Fishery Community in Erwin, Tennessee, and the Stallard house was the gathering spot for several families to catch the school bus each morning. At the time, there were six school-aged Stallard kids, and when we gathered in front of the house it was a signal for the Vanovers, Kirkpatricks and Tiptons – and occasionally a few other families — to head to the bus stop.
At times there were as many as 15 kids waiting for the bus.
My sister Melissa and I – ages 8 and 9 — were charged with the task of letting our siblings know when the bus crossed a bridge over a large creek and headed up Pippin Hollow.
Barring unforeseen circumstances – a cow getting out of a pasture and blocking the road or a parent administering some “get right” to the backside of a kid who had managed to get into trouble before breakfast – the time it took the bus to get up Pippin Hollow and back to our house was around 10 minutes.
Our job was to watch for the bus and yell “The bus is going up!” so our siblings knew it was time to kick it into high gear. Then, we headed to the bus stop so the rest of the neighborhood kids knew it was time for them to do the same.
On April Fools’ Day in 1975, at around 7:10 instead of the usual 7:20 a.m., we decided it would be fun to prank our siblings. Like most kids our age, we didn’t consider the consequences of our actions.
It’s hard to describe what happened after we yelled “The bus is going up!” 10 minutes earlier than usual, but the only thing that comes to mind is what I think it’ll be like when Jesus comes back — fervent praying and folks scrambling around trying to get stuff done in the last few seconds they should have already taken care of.
As we waited at the bus stop, giggling and high-fiving at the pure genius of our prank, kids from all over the neighborhood began spilling out of their houses and heading to the bus stop. And, they weren’t happy.
Some were still brushing teeth, combing hair, throwing on clothes or eating breakfast. Others were doing homework on the fly, and there was a disturbing mix of prayers and cursing.
Melissa and I hadn’t thought about the possible neighborhood collateral damage, and about the time 15 frazzled kids showed up in front of our house, the bus actually went up Pippin Hollow.
All eyes turned to me and Melissa, and it was at that moment I realized a couple of things about my little sister:
1. We weren’t as close as I thought we were, and, 2. She was a lot faster than me.
Melissa simply said “April Fools’!” and was gone, leaving me to deal with four angry siblings, 11 angry neighborhood kids and a couple of parents.
I told Kyle this story, and he asked me if pulling off the world’s greatest April Fools’ prank was worth the ensuing mob scene.
Yes, son. It was.
Life isn’t about how many breaths you take. It’s about how many moments take your breath away.
And some of those punches knocked the breath right out of me.