“Barf me out!” Heather yelled. “This van smells like ALF farts!”

When I was 10 my family picked up everything and moved from Dallas to a little community outside of Mt. Pleasant, Texas. We went from a brick home and manicured lawn to a tiny wooden parsonage built up off the ground – where I could open small trap doors in the walls and greet the “critters” that lived beneath.

I realize now what a huge change this must have been for my mother – no shopping malls, no Thai food, and no central heat. But, as a kid it was heaven.

It was a time when my parents kicked me and my brother out of the house with “Go play” and didn’t let us back in until the sun went down.  It was a time when the most brand pressure I got from schoolmates was in 6th grade when I “like, totally had to have a Guess puffy paint t-shirt.”

It was a place where our church was our country club, entertainment center, and extended family.

For years, every Sunday night, my dad would pick up kids in the church van, bring them to church, feed us all pizza afterwards, and then drop everyone off at their respective homes after dark.

“Who should I take home first?” Dad asked.

The group responded in unison, “Kim!”

Kim flashed a knowing smile. We always wanted to take Kim home first because she lived the furthest out – which meant we got to stay up later. Plus, her house was located in the middle of nowhere past fog covered swamps, abandoned farm houses, and tucked at the end of a bumpy dirt road surrounded by thick woods.  We didn’t need ghost stories when we made that spooky drive every week.

Dad headed towards Kim’s while several of us sang along to “Raspberry Beret” and Misti and Heather debated whether Ralph Macchio or Bon Jovi had the better bod.

“I’m more of a Steve Guttenberg fan myself,” I added.

Dad turned off the radio and the van turned onto a particularly dark side road. The van slowed to a crawl and my father rolled down the front windows.

“Thank goodness!” Heather said. She put her nose up high to catch some air coming through the open windows. “This van needs a bath and some DooDoo VooDoo!”

The van went silent but for the occasional scrape of a tree branch against the side of the van and the gravel crunching under the tires.  Unlike the city, where it’s bright even at midnight, the East Texas nights were often black. No lights, not even stars.

In an ominous tone, Dad asked, “Have you heard the story of the Screaming Bridge?”

“Yes!” we all yelled. It was a story my Dad told us every week as we approached the narrow wooden bridge over the lake tributary.

“A long time ago,” Dad started, as we groaned, “three teenage girls were traveling along the highway when a bunch of mean bikers started hassling them. To get away, the girls turned onto this road and, scared to death, they turned off their headlights—”

Dad turned off the headlights and the van continued to inch along in the pitch-black night. He kept his eyes steady on the road.

“—so that the men couldn’t see them . . . only to switch them back on just in time to see that the bridge was out. The girls plummeted to the rocks below.”

“Dad!” I said exasperated. “You’re so lame!”

I lowered my voice and did my best dad impression: “People say that on certain nights, at this very bridge, you can hear the screams of those girls falling to their deaths.”

My friends chuckled. “Then you’re going to creep onto the bridge, turn the lights on, and then scream like you’re being attacked by Gremlins!” I sighed heavily. “It’s so cheesy!”

Dad didn’t respond immediately. He just stared hard into the darkness.

“Oh,” Dad said in a serious voice. “That’s right. You already know about the Screaming Bridge!”

Dad flicked on the headlights, revealing the narrow wooden bridge. Suddenly a figure materialized in the glare of the van’s headlights.

A HULKING MASKED FREAK WIELDING A MASSIVE CHAINSAW!

The super-predator butcher advanced on the van with his roaring chainsaw wagging wildly.

Everyone screamed, and screamed, and screamed again – afraid of the inbred Texan that wanted to cleave us up and serve us for dinner as a scrumptious brisket!

Heather climbed on my lap and I buried my face in Misti’s Giorgio-scented hair.

texas-chainsaw-massacre

But the chainsaw roar stopped. I heard my father – sounding like Eddie Murphy.

He must be hyperventilating.

I peeked out from my feathered-hair-hideout in time to see my father a wiping tears away. Not tears of fear or horror, though. Tears of laughter.

The chainsaw maniac yanked off his mask.

There stood Mr. Calhoon – our 6 foot 4 inch 250 pound church deacon. He’d traded his ooglay mask for a huge smile and belly laugh.

He opened the van door and jumped in the passenger’s seat next to my father. I whacked the back of his head with my open palm and Misti, Heather, and Kim followed my lead. Mr. C covered his head, laughing while taking his beating.

“Hey, guys!” Mr. Calhoon yelled. “Did you hear the one about the Screaming Bridge?”

Dad turned back on our favorite jams and the van’s tires thumped across the wooden timbers. Over the sounds of Bananarama we each reenacted the hilariousness of our collective wiggin’ out.

I watched my father, with a smile on his face, obviously quite proud of his prank. He looked back at me and winked.

Up ahead the warm glow of Kim’s house shone through the trees.

But this time, it didn’t look so spooky.

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom [and twisted humor].”
― Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum