Above: Image by PhotoVicky from Pixabay.
The Rolling Stones’ classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” notwithstanding, sometimes you can get exactly what you want. I know. I’ve seen it happen. More than once.
But sometimes, to get what you want, you must deal with something you don’t either want or need.
The first time I remember seeing desire surprisingly rewarded came when I was a junior counselor at a YMCA camp.
The camp itself wasn’t fancy, but it operated an even less fancy area about four miles out into the woods where campers could get a taste of living in the woods by sleeping on the ground and eating meals cooked over a fire instead of in the dining hall. That smaller camp, called Wilderness Camp, as run by older, more experienced counselors who stayed there fulltime. We junior counselors packed in with campers. Our job was mostly to make sure nobody got lost in the woods.
About mid-summer, my number came up and I had to help escort a group of 10-year-olds into the wilderness.
When we arrived at the camp, we were greeted by the chief counselor. He told us his top assistant, a guy I remember was called Waddy, was up a tree. Literally. Waddy had climbed a pine with plans to chop it down to build a small bridge across the stream that ran through the camp.
But he had cut the limbs from the tree as he climbed. That meant that when we arrived, he was stuck in the top of the tree with no way to get down. And with no limbs to stabilize it, the tree was swaying from side to side like a giant metronome. Waddy as the weight.
He was yelling for help, but the other counselors just ignored him. It was his problem. We decided to take a hike. Literally. When we returned, Waddy had managed to return to earth. He’d waited till one of the denuded tree’s swings got him close enough to jump into the top of another tree and then climbed down that one.
But that wasn’t the desire Waddy fulfilled.
That came later that night, after we junior counselors and our campers had been packed off to bed. We unrolled sleeping bags in a clearing in the woods and prepared for a night fighting mosquitoes. We found no rest that night. About half past dark, one of the senior counselors appeared to tell us that Waddy was being rushed to the hospital.
The first thing you should know is that the camp’s annual Indian Pageant was coming up that month. Waddy really wanted to appear at the pageant as his idea of a Native American healer. He decided that the way to make his appearance complete was to wear a hat decorated with a real snakeskin. He had the hat but needed the snake.
That night, after our cooked-over-fire-and-badly-burnt dinner, Waddy and the other older, allegedly more mature, counselors went swimming. Afterwards, they lay under the moon to dry off on a wooden platform used to keep supplies off the ground.
Suddenly, Waddy spotted a snake crawling from beneath the platform. He knew this was exactly what he needed for his Indian pageant outfit. Here was a live, wriggling snake of just the right size ready for skinning. He threw his towel over the snake. The snake wriggled away. Waddy followed. He threw his towel over the snake again. The snake, having apparently grown perturbed, bit him on the hand.
That led to the emergency room ride. The senior counselor, a very stable guy, drove the camp truck at breakneck speed to the nearest hospital, which was at least an hour away. When they arrived at the ER in the middle of the night, the nurses asked what kind of snake it was. The senior counselor said he didn’t know.
Waddy held out his towel. He had carried the now docile snake all the way to the hospital wrapped tight in the towel. It was a copperhead. Waddy spent a couple of days in the hospital recovering. But the hospital folks killed the snake and gave him the skin he wanted. With a fresh snakeskin on his hat, Waddy was the star of the Indian Pageant.
The second time I remember witnessing a wish being granted against all odds involved my father.
My father was a fairly serious man. He was a lawyer and a politician and acted the part. He had a sharp wit and after a few drinks would start to recite Shakespeare, but most people thought he was reserved, formal all the time, even a bit stuffy. He had that vibe. He once saw “Sweeney Todd” in London and at intermission loudly announced, in obvious horror, “They’re laughing at cannibalism!” Luckily, my wife and I had seats several rows away.
Dad’s wish was answered during a family vacation to the beach one summer. My father, mother, brother and I were spending a week at Myrtle Beach. My brother and I were in our teens. It was horribly hot and the hotel we were in had little air-conditioning. In those days, to beat the heat in the South, you went to the drug store or the movies. We headed to the local movie house.
It turned out the theater was showing either “Carnal Knowledge” or “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice,” two movies that dealt rather directly with sex, a subject not discussed or even alluded to in our family. These were not movies you comfortably watched with your parents, or that your parents comfortably watched with you.
My dad was not amused. When the lights came up after the movie ended, he sat stone still, refusing to move. My mother suggested we leave. He refused. We sat in stony silent while the rest of the patrons filed out.
Finally, my suggested it was time for us to leave. My father continued to sit.
“I did not enjoy the movie,” he said. “I want to see something I enjoy. I want to see a Woody Woodpecker cartoon.”
I quickly tried to explain that they didn’t show cartoons with movies like this. My mother said Dad was being ridiculous. Dad was unmoved.
After a while, the lights went down again. The projector kicked into action and there on the screen appeared Woody Woodpecker.
A half century or so later, I still have no idea whether Dad knew the cartoon was coming or the projectionist overheard him and dug one out just for him.
I just know he got exactly what he wanted. Sometimes you can.