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Forest, Jr. was first to get his Sky King Decoder ring. I collected my Corn Flakes box tops and mailed them up north. Every day I would wait for the rural mail carrier beside a dust covered mail box. Finally the package arrived. I tore into it as fast as I could to examine the genuine article. It was shiny, with a tiny, built in compass, but no instructions.
I pressed the " one size fits all" sides around my small finger and admired how good it looked. Then I walked to the store to find Forest, Jr.
The store was located directly across the road from the Lloyd Star school. Like many country stores of that era, this one was a structure built to display merchcandise inside with gas pumps out front. Forest, Jr. and his family lived in the back of the building.
Reaching the store I found my cousin and held up my hand to show off my new ring, but Forest, Jr. was not impressed.
"Let's go to the hideout," he ordered. And as quick as a cat, slipped a pack of cigarettes into his pocket. (It was not the first pack he had stolen.)
Our hideout was in the woods behind the store. We had placed a large metal Clabber Girl Baking Powder sign over a ravine. It was perfect. We could crawl under the sign for secret missions and sit on top of it for a lookout. Burlap bag walls hung loosely and danced in the wind to hide our trophies inside.
Some of our trophies were two molasses cans, one filled with long wooden kitchen matches, and another filled with Rabbit Tobacco. There was also a mason jar filled with possum grape wine that we had made.
Today I would graduate from smoking Rabbit Tobacco to the real thing. After summers of smoking Rabbit Tobacco and grapevines, with parched lips and sore tongues, we couldn't wait to get started on some Camels.
Forest, Jr. had watched carefully as adults performed the smoking ritual. He pulled the pack from his overall pocket and tapped the cigarettes rapidly on his knee, then with great care, he removed the cellophane and tin foil from the pack and gently pulled out two white Camels.
"Get the matches," he commanded.
We struck the matches on our overall zippers and fired up. We didn't know it at the time, but a habit would be born that day that would follow my cousin for the rest of his life. Smoking didn't snare me, but the wine would.
One sin often begats another, and on this smoke filled afternoon, Forest, Jr. said his first cuss word.
"Damn," he exclaimed, "we got to come up with us a code."
"Hell, yes," I replied.
"Damn right, a code so we can decode it."
"Hell," I said, "I don't get it."
"Get what?"
"If we make up a code we won't need to decode it if we already know the answer."
Forest, Jr. shot me an unapproving look.
Then he turned his attention quickly to something else. He started examining his Sky King Decoder Ring. "This ring only has a damn compass on it. What good is that?"
"Hell, to find a direction, I guess."
"And what in the damn hell good is that if you're not lost?"
That made sense to me and I became silent.
Then a nicotine rush set in and suddenly my cousin sprang to his feet, pulled his Sky King Decoder Ring off his finger and screamed,"Damn Sky," and then he caught himself. Even the sudden rush of nicotine could not bring him to profane our hero. "Well then, damn Corn Flakes, and to hell with all the sons of bitches that make them. I'll never eat another bowl of Corn Flakes as long as I live." In one swift motion he threw his Sky King Decoder ring deep into the woods. I kept mine.
note: This thing is already turning on my finger.