Boot Camp at Home

jn_military"If the fresh skin of an animal, cleaned and divested of all hair, fat and other extraneous matter, be immersed in a dilute solution of tannic acid, a chemical combination ensues. The gelatinous portion of the tissue is converted into a nonputrescible substance, impervious to and insoluble in water. This, sir, is leather. Can I go get some cereal now, Dad?"

 

 

My dad ran the house a little like a boot camp sometimes. For his birthday one year I memorized some of the Plebe Bible from West Point. I was eleven at the time and he thought it was great. The upperclassmen of the academy would ask the freshmen questions that they were supposed to answer with these long, drawn-out answers meant to teach thinking on your feet.

Q: What time is it?

A: Sir, I am deeply and greatly humiliated that, due to unforeseen circumstances over which I have no control, the inner workings and hidden mechanisms of my chronometer are in such in accord with the great sidereal movements by which time is commonly reckoned, that I cannot with any degree of accuracy state the exact time, but without fear of being very far off I will state that it is so twelve minutes and forty seven seconds past the twenty third hour.

I used the current time just to be topical. For the next week or so he'd try to catch me off guard. I'd get out of bed on the weekend and he'd catch me in the hall:

"What's the definition of leather?"

And I'd reply, still as yet half asleep, "If the fresh skin of an animal, cleaned and divested of all hair, fat and other extraneous matter, be immersed in a dilute solution of tannic acid, a chemical combination ensues. The gelatinous portion of the tissue is converted into a nonputrescible substance, impervious to and insoluble in water. This, sir, is leather. Can I go get some cereal now, Dad?"

In spite of his fanaticism, I never felt he'd put me in harm's way. I have to have at least a little admiration for a man who has laid a finger on me maybe three times in my life after his father beat him until he couldn't see straight twice a week for no reason. Once when he was thirteen he came home from school and knew his dad was going to be angry about something so he hid. They lived in an old house in Connecticut that no longer stands and it was heated by coal. In the basement was a small door in the wall that led to a crawlspace which opened up into a large coal chamber. My dad hid behind that door for eight hours that day until finally his dad came down to get some coal and saw him.

"You want to stay down here? Well then goddammnit you can stay here," and then he closed the door again and came back with a loaf of bread and some water.

Then he went and got a hammer and nail.

He kept my dad there for a week. | Joseph Watts

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