Vernon Howard in the old days.


Steps In The Back

Now I relate a painful story which will surprise you when you discover that the antagonist therein was not my father, but my youth minister - or "yoof minister" as it has become known in the industry.

Youth ministers as a breed walk a fine line in their calling. On the one hand, they must appear composed and pious and mature and so forth when in the presence of the elderly widow ladies in the church and have the respect of all and win the confidence of mothers who are releasing their youthful children into their care on outings to Six Flags Over Texas. On the other hand, they must display as much, if not more, energy, excitement, and childish behavior as the students under their guidance. Thus, most modern yoof ministers are athletic young men with dark whiskers and low voices who can and routinely do go around jumping things as a matter of sport and entertainment for the youngsters who routinely roll their eyes and ask him when he plans on growing up.

Occasionally though, one finds the older, wiser, more heavily-built model who commands his charges with genuine age-based authority, but who also has a streak or two of the ol' yoof minister spirit left in him. Vernon (V.D.) Howard was such a man. It is important to correctly visualize Vernon as standing six feet tall or thereabouts and tipping the scales at something over two hundred pounds.

I am guessing that the occasion was the not-soon-to-be-forgotten youth choir trip to Smackover, Arkansas, because the event in question took place in a hilly, tree-lined waterslide park along side of the highway, and attractions of this description occurred with surprising frequency in the Ozark area in the later seventies and early eighties. Our troupe numbered about fifteen, and we had the waterslide all to ourselves, so there was much sliding and little waiting in lines.

Now, when a group of young people of this size spends more than a half hour at a waterslide, variations on a theme are bound to emerge. The train, for example, is a popular way to break the monotony of the one-at-a-time approach. You have your small trains and your large trains requiring more than one engine, multiple cabooses, and so forth. Eventually, mutations arise, such as the backwards train. And it was this particular mutation that Vernon suggested on the fateful occasion.

A notable feature of this particular waterslide must not go unmentioned. Waterslides have a small pool at their termination point in which the sliders find themselves slowing to a rapid halt. This pool was square with the waterslide dumping its contents in one corner and its contents exiting the pool on the opposite corner by way of a small set of steps which were also in the shape of a square. Perhaps I should say diamond instead of square while describing these attributes. But the nub of all this is that the steps came to a point directly opposite the waterslide. This is significant, and you must get a clear mental picture of the setup here.

Now to further elaborate on the train mutation as proposed by V.D. He suggested that he and I go down together as a two-man train, backwards, with me in front (meaning the lead position) and him bringing up the rear. In my youthful folly, I agreed to the plan and soon found myself bolting backwards down the waterslide at an illegal rate of speed with a two hundred plus pound youth minister propelling us forward, his back in my face and me holding on to him as if I were hitching a ride on the back of his motorcycle.

In record time we reached the conclusion of the course and I suddenly found myself being submerged in the pool with my arms and legs inextricably tangled up in my yoof minister (we called them youth directors in those days, and Vernon was unquestionable directing the course), my head, mouth, nose, and all other breathing apparatuses hopelessly drowning underwater, and still the two of us hurtling across the pool with no sign of slowing down until my back encountered the pointy part of the steps sticking out on the opposite shore. We made a collective, sudden stop. V.D.'s full weight smashed up against my front, impaling me on the protruding steps. (Remember that pool steps are made of concrete.) My spine was instantly rendered into a puree. What little breath remained in me abruptly escaped, leaving nothing but a small collection of bubbles surfacing on the wildly raging waves that occurred upon our entering the pool.

Yes, the trip to Smackover held several points of interest. It would be the last time I would ever enter a waterslide with a yoof minister.

© 2015 Dane Tate