Most of us can remember our first sins. In my hometown of Jackson, we didn’t have the lures of things you’d find in the big city. In fact, our local government prohibited the sale of liquor throughout Butts County. And yes, Jackson is in Butts County. If you are a licensed Jackson driver, you get the joy of riding around the world with the word Butts stamped on your license plate. (I’ve caught more than one person taking pictures of my car tag when I was away at college). But back to sin.
I was 7 years old. I was over at Joey Brown’s house. He and I were best friends since birth. Our parents had put us in the same nursery care at Playtime Nursery. Joey lived off of Highway 36 which was one of the main arteries in and out of Jackson.
Joey’s mother, Cathy, had a green thumb. She had a bed of roses she tended just off her driveway. They were beautiful each year. These were the days before knock-out roses. These roses were bigger, more full and beautiful. They had also long, sharp thorns, a lesson I learned pretty early as I chased errant basketballs. But next to the roses was their apple tree. I don’t remember many apples trees in Jackson, but for some reason they had one. They were pretty sour in taste, but they were just the right size for throwing.
On this particular day Joey and I were outside. The Browns lived on a pretty severe curve of Highway 36. You could hear the cars whizzing down the road for a good half-mile before they suddenly appeared around the corner. I looked at the apple tree and then I listened for the cars.
I said to Joey, “I bet I could nail one of those cars.”
Joey and I stock-piled the apples on their driveway, then ducked behind the tree and waited for cars as if we were deer hunting.
The first car appeared. I jumped out like a ninja and threw the apple with all my might. I missed by a football field. If you’ve ever played quarterback or have shot clay pidgeons, you know the real skill is in leading your target. I had never played quarterback at this point and I certainly had never tried to aim at car screaming down the road at 60 mph. We would need more apples.
For the next 30 minutes, Joey and I took turns but with no luck. Until we did. Through trial and error, we had figured out the secret. You had to throw the apple before you saw the car.
We listened again. We could hear the wobble of rubber tires. Joey and I both jumped out and heaved our apples at the same time. Then a blue Plymouth turned the corner. The apples were high in the air and time stood still for a moment before we heard a thump and watched the pulp splatter across the windshield.
In sheer exhilaration and terror, we high-fived each other. We gathered more apples. But before we could meet our next victim, we saw the same car traveling from the opposite direction turning into the Browns driveway. The Browns had woods and creek in their back yard. Joey and I ran like escaped inmates.
One of the great disadvantages of living in a small town and you know everybody. The lady driving knew the Browns and reported us. Ms. Cathy, perhaps the most generous of people I knew, didn’t say much to me, but the word got back to my father. Have I mentioned my dad was a prison warden?
I grew up in the local Methodist church. A sin like this probably wouldn’t get mentioned at church. But Joey was baptist and this could take a little longer for him. And I felt bad about that.
I’m sure I had committed many sins before this day, but this was the first one I could remember. I knew it was wrong. I bragged about it. I found pleasure in it, despite how dangerous and destructive my actions were. I guess that’s what makes sin what it is.