Biff America: Memories of a Jelly Donut (column) | SummitDaily.com

Biff America: Memories of a Jelly Donut (column)

"If any of you little pissants breaks your damn-fool neck, don't come crying to me." That was as much of a legal disclaimer as any of us 'pissants' got from Henry Gunter.

Henry Gunter owned a landfill in my hometown. It wasn't so much an official landfill as it was a place where, for a price, you could leave stuff. Henry would buy and sell old cars and parts and if you had anything you needed to get rid of you could pay Henry to come and take it away.

He was a surly man with a body the size of a Buick.

One day my Mum called him to take away an old refrigerator from behind our house. Henry drove up in an old truck, got out, knocked on the door and asked, "So where is that God damn ice box?"

He wrapped a strap around the fridge, dragged it to his truck and tossed it in the back as if it were a pillow. Mr. Gunter was a large man and he scared me.

All of the kids in my neighborhood were afraid of him; he was huge, dirty, and, when he caught us trespassing, called us bad names. But for one short autumn in 1966, Mr. Gunter was the hero of every wild kid in town.

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Henry would dig big holes to dispose of all the junk he could not sell. With an old smoking bulldozer, he would create huge trenches often over one hundred feet long. In the pit, he would throw ovens, washing machines, stumps and assorted rusting junk. When the hole was almost full, it would be covered with dirt.

Word got out that over one of his holes, between two trees, Henry had strung a steel cable. From a meat market that was closing, he got a few pulleys with hooks attached. He did all that so the neighborhood kids could ride the cable like a zip-line.

This act of kid-kindness coming from Mr. Gunter caused both shock and suspicion in the kid-community. Up to that point the only contact most of us had with him was being chased out of his junk yard when he caught us in there after dark playing 'hide and seek'. But after a few clandestine visits, we found the rumors were true.

Mr. Gunter drove spikes into the uphill tree to act as a ladder allowing you to climb high enough to place the pulley on the cable. Then it was a matter of letting gravity hurl you over the junk-filled-pit, gaining speed with every yard traveled. Once clearing the trench, you had to jump off quickly before crashing into the opposite tree. The pulley would then hit the tree, bounce off, and fall to the ground.

My first day there, Henry drove up in his truck, walked over with a cigarette hanging from his lips, and said, "If any of you little pissants breaks your damn-fool neck, don't come crying to me." He then added, "And if I find any of your empty pop bottles or cigarette butts left here, I'm cutting this damn thing down." He then threw his cigarette on the ground and left.

After that, I rode the zip line almost every day and never saw Mr. Gunter up close again. But off in the distance, he could be seen sitting on the tailgate of his truck watching us play.

Almost every day I'd go there, fly through the air, crash to the ground, then run back and do it again. I felt like a combination of Batman and James Bond. There was no reason for that gruff man to do what he did other than to make children, who were scared of him, happy. That might have been my first life-lesson of the human jelly-donut principal—crusty on the outside, soft and mushy in the middle.

I remember riding my bike home tired and dirty, thanking God for Mr. Gunter.

One day after school I rushed to Henry's hole and found the cable had been cut down. Of course none of us had the courage to ask why, but we heard later that some little kid got hit in the head by a falling meat hook and his parents complained to the cops.

For about six months I hated that kid.

Our nation has become more enlightened, inclusive and cautious, sensible and safe since the days of my youth. We have car seats, shoulder harnesses, air bags, and helmets for just about every activity. We have outlawed cherry bombs, lawn darts and Easy Bake Ovens as well as those plastic clacker balls that could knock out your teeth. I suppose if I had children or grandkids I'd be happy about that. But having said that, I'm glad I was young and resilient when crotchety old jelly-donuts could create an attractive nuisance where pissants could play…..

Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at biffbreck@yahoo.com. Biff's new book "Mind, Body, Soul." is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.HolPublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul

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