I had a cousin on my dad’s side named Michael. He was a year older than me and a lot bigger. He used to pick on me. In fact, it was standard procedure for him to hit me solidly in the stomach as soon as he saw me when the families got together. After I got my breath back we would have a pretty good time but that punch in the stomach always took a little bit out of me. One day my mom told me Michael and his family were coming over for dinner. She said she wanted me to let him have it as soon as he stepped out of the car and if I didn’t she was going to spank me after they left…...true motherly love….
I was scared to death when I saw their black and white Oldsmobile pull into our driveway. As it rolled to a stop I positioned myself where I thought Michael would step out of the car. As soon as he had both feet on the ground I placed a perfect punch into his stomach. He went to the ground gasping for air and groaning. I figured my uncle was going to finish me off but he just smiled and stepped over his son. I helped Michael up off the ground and we went on our way playing the day away. He never hit me again and we got to be pretty good friends.
I spent a couple of days with Michael one summer weekend. We wandered up and down the hot tar and gravel roads around his house, threw beer bottles at rocks as we found them along the road, and collected coke bottles we could redeem for cash at the convenience store. He taught me the art of getting the most out of my recycled change. I would have bought a nickel Coca Cola and a nickel Snickers. He introduced me to Topp Cola, which was twice as much in volume as the Coca Cola and Big Hunk, which was huge next to a single Snickers. It didn’t matter that these substitutes tasted awful. It was more for the money and we had a few cents left for comic books. We needed to stock up on comic books because we were going to camp out that night in his backyard.
We had a tent set up in the backyard and as soon as the sun went down we went out there. Only young idiots would want to sleep in a canvas tent on a summer night in Texas. We qualified! Our plan was to read all the comics we had bought ourselves and then trade. I have always been of the opinion that a comic book should be funny…..hence the name comic book. I bought Archie, Donald Duck, Little Lulu, and Beetle Bailey. Don’t laugh at me. This was quality stuff. Michael bought Thrills, Death Angel, Quilt Man, and Tales of the Crypt. It took me about half an hour to read all my books. Michael spent nearly two hours getting through his. I read mine two or three more times before getting to trade. After a while they weren’t funny anymore. Finally it came time to trade. I have never read anything more incredibly scary than Tales of the Crypt….and as fate would have it, this was the last one I read….in a dark backyard….that backed up to a deserted country road….at night...in a tent….did I mention it was in the dark? Michael slept peacefully dreaming about Betty and Veronica. I didn’t sleep at all. I saw mummies on the road, zombies sitting on the patio, and one or two ghosts drifting across the backyard. I was sure glad to see the sun come up and my beautiful aunt Evelyn wandering out to see if us boys were ready for breakfast. She was a saint!