Joe the Lion

He remains the only 15-year old I've ever personally known with a full set of denures, uppers and lowers.

It's true that I grew up in a trailer. Not a "modular home"--these structures actually resemble houses--but an old-school trailer. We didn't live in a trailer park, however. My mother inherited two acres of land from her Uncle Mark, so, in 1963, my parents, my sister Frankie, and I moved into the very first non-rental property my parents had known in their 30+ year marriage. My mother was an inveterate cleaner, so it was one immaculate mobile home!

Joe, his mother, and his stepfather lived "up the hill" in a two-story brick home that was, to me, the epitome of suburban living. Joe's mother bore a striking resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor c. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?, right down to the blowsy hair and Ray-Ban® Balorama wraparounds; her husband Marvin wore the same cool-assed shades. Joe was a year younger than I, and in the three years he was my neighbor, he was involved in a devestating car accident that left his fair, freckled face mapped with scars. He remains the only 15-year old I've ever personally known with a full set of denures, uppers and lowers. His parternal grandparents in Texas had some money and indulged his every whim in a sweet, desperate attempt to make up for the tragedy. They bought him stereos, bikes, clothes . . . and two horses.

And as Tennessee Williams was wont to say, this is where the story gets a little fantastic. Dreamlike. But completely true. Joe and I would often go horseback riding, and we became proficient enough to gallop bareback through the surrounding woods. Our part of the county was about to be incorporated into the city of Chattanooga, and we were teetering on the precipice of widespread housing development. Early one summer Saturday, Joe called and woke me, and I slipped out of the trailer and up the hill where the horses were already bridled. In a scene right out of Tim Burton movie, we tore through a new subdivision a few miles away, the newly sodded lawns shrouded in mist and the horses' shoes striking honest-to-God sparks on the pavement. We were Paul Revere. The Headless Horseman. Unbridled freedom. It never entered our minds that our skinny legs gripped the heaving sides of thousands of pounds of living flesh that could've tossed us, crushed us, killed us.

Is my memory colored by embellishment? No. I can still see individual dogwood tree leaves, outrageously green and shimmering in the morning dew, whipping past as we invaded this drowsey new neighborhood, so full of silent dreams and hopes. I'd like to think that some children heard our antics, got up to see what was going on, and then, having missed our comet-like visitation, decided to turn on the TV, pour a bowl of Kellogg's Puffa Puffa Rice, and settle into a carefree morning of cartoons.


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