Dad was a Christ-loving pacifist. That was the only reason I lived to reach the age of 18.
It was the early 80’s and shows like Miami Vice were big in popular culture. Many things became acceptable to young people in rural Kansas that probably didn’t sit so well with the older folks.
In high school I didn’t usually see my father too much on the weekends. He was generally pre-occupied with the upcoming church services along with all the other issues a minister dealt with. There were always details and minor emergencies to work through as he prepared.
I didn’t really have a curfew that was enforced, but the understanding was that I would be in church on Sunday morning, no matter how late I’d stayed out the night before. Dad made sure that I was usually on the rotation list as church liturgist, usher or running the service tape recorder. This ensured that I generally had a job to do and couldn’t just zone out from lack of sleep. He was sneaky-smart that way.
During my junior year of high school in Valley Falls, I was out running around with friends on a regular basis. We would meet up somewhere or just go cruise Main. I had a car and a girlfriend so there were always parties to organize out in the country at our usual meeting spots. They had names like the quarter mile, the Y, Bakers Bridge, and the old quarry. At this point it was legal to drink at age 18, so it wasn’t hard for a 16 or 17 year old to get ahold of a case of beer and put it in a cooler on ice.
Many times we’d take up a collection at school on Friday and someone would get a keg of beer and take it out to one of our regular spots for a Keg Party. We’d hang out, drink beer, and listen to the loudest car stereo that was available.
It was the age of the cassette tape so we’d play cassettes on the car stereo or we’d tune in the radio and listen to rock on KY-102 out of Kansas City. There was always music playing no matter what you were doing or where you were.
On one of these weekends I got involved in a discussion about guys with pierced ears. As I said, the culture on tv was changing a lot of attitudes and it was now acceptable for high school guys to get their ear pierced. Now I’m not talking about a big pirate hoop, but a very simple gold stud. Something just visible enough to tell your family and friends that you have a little bit of rebellion in you.
As a preachers kid in a small community, being a rebel appealled to me. I got satisfaction from the idea of going to church and wearing an earring. So on that particular Saturday evening, we made sure that I had consumed enough beer to where I was brave enough to face the needle.
Late that night we ended up in the bathroom of a friends house along with my girlfriend and several other girls. This also ensured that I wouldn’t chicken out because all the girls were there.
As I stood there swaying from the effects of the beer, my girlfriend came up with a piece of ice and a large sewing needle. Then with several friends watching, she jabbed my ear with the needle. ………….OUCH!!……… We’d forgotten to apply the ice first!
Apparently I wasn’t all that anesthetized. I could feel the bravery quickly leaving through my throbbing ear lobe.
So we held the ice on my ear lobe for several minutes till the feeling seemed to be gone and again came the jab…..OK,……. not so bad this time. My girlfriend then quickly pushed through a gold stud that she happened to have.
It bled a little, but not much. Someone said to kill the germs by splashing beer on it. There’s always one knucklehead in the group that finds a reason to pour beer on someone. I obliged the knucklehead and let them splash beer on my ear. Not sure about the effect on germs, but it sure made a sticky mess. It seemed that my entire head was covered just to make extra sure the germs were all gone.
Eventually, I went home and luckily no one was up. I quietly skulked into the house and got into the shower. I was now sticky and smelled like beer from the splashing on my ear for germs. The last thing I needed was for mom to show up and smell beer. She’d then take a closer look and probably notice my red swollen ear with a gold stud through it. Conversations on these topics typically don’t go well after a certain time of night.
The next morning I got up and dressed for church. I had to quietly check the house to see if I was alone. Luckily for me, mom and everyone else was already gone. I remember looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. I had to make sure I had actually done it and hadn’t imagined piercing the ear.
This was my last chance. I could pull it out and claim it was a mysterious injury if mom or dad saw it. The problem was that I was in high school and several friends had been present for the piercing. Several of them said they thought I’d chicken out before church, so I was stuck.
No, I just had to make sure I was doing it for the right reasons………….to annoy dad. Like I said, I was in high school and annoying dad was on the list of good reasons to do just about anything.
I laughed to myself as I went over to the church. Dad is going to come unglued. It will be great!
I arrived at church.
I was scheduled to be an usher.
So I ushered……..no turning back, now.
Pierced ear and all.
I remember passing the offering plate to each row of pews and the people would give me the usual smile and nod. On this day, however, there were several doubletakes. The old lady would smile at me and then snap her head back around to make sure she actually saw what she thought she saw.
For a preachers kid in high school, this was priceless.
Being good Methodists, they didn’t jump up and yell some bible verse at me or lead the congregation in group prayer for my salvation and healing of the hole in my ear.
No, Methodists tend to be a little more controlled and subtle. They waited till I turned around and then jabbed each other in the ribs with an elbow and whispered, “Is that what I think it is?” Or they got in the car and laughed on the way home. Some may have even felt sorry for Reverend Purvis because of that darned son of his. “I’ll bet Reverend Purvis is going to kill that boy!”, they probably said. Of course, that is what I was expecting to happen when we got home after church.
On this occasion they were pretty close to right. I’d done it to be ornery and cause embarrassment for dad. I had no great desire to have a pierced ear. I think I did it because I was showing off. In a way, going to church with the earring was a way of giving my dad the finger for all the expectations placed on a preachers family. Not just by the congregation, but especially by my parents.
When we got home I braced myself for the expected storm. I figured dad had thought about it long enough to get seriously mad! What is the penalty for manslaughter in Kansas? Would dad be able to claim justifiable homicide based on extreme teenage behavior and aggravated embarrassment?
He came in the house and walked into the living room where I was waiting. He looked at me, smiled, and his only comment was, “So, do you get good radio reception with that thing?”
WHAT? That’s it?……No yelling? No scolding? No lecture? no punishment?
Darn that man! After raising all those kids, he had learned the art of ignoring drama and letting it just fizzle out. Its a real buzz-kill when you do something for shock value and there is no shock.
It was like he was saying, “Is that all you got? I’ve raised numerous children and grandchildren. It’ll take more than a little earring to shock me.”
I kept the stud in my ear for most of that year, but eventually let it grow over. I had thought that an earring would shock dad and he’d want to get rid of me. I was hoping to cause drama and mayhem. I was so sadly mistaken. I was child number 6 out of 7. He’d been there,…. done that.
Yes, I tried to shock my dad…. and that Christ-loving pacifist refused to take the bait and pummel me.
Oh well….Back to the drawing board………