“Pressure To Perform OR To Cheat” By Chad Robert Parker

“Chad Parker, may I speak with you?” Mrs. Watt spoke low but harshly. She beckoned me with a finger.

I hesitantly walked to the front of the classroom, unfamiliar with her taking this severe tone. She led me to the classroom door, opened it, and ushered me through. “Outside please!” I couldn’t imagine what this was about. Mrs. Watt was always so amiable, but something had her visibly disturbed.

My family was often misunderstood. We were the only Mormons in town. I had heard that Mrs. Watt had been married to a Mormon once, though he was not a practicing member. From what I was told he was unfaithful and they had divorced. That could make anyone jaded, but I knew Mrs. Watt felt no animosity toward me or my family. In truth, Mrs. Watt probably knew how a Mormon was expected to act, better than anyone else would understand in that little town, and she vocally respected it. What I did not realize, however, is that Mrs. Watt may not have known how fully I espoused the doctrines of my church as being the way of life for me; it was not just an imposition of supposed strict parents like many often postured. Seems strange that I should have to remind someone that I know I am in no way perfect, but I certainly had not done what she was accusing me of either.

“Do you know why I called you out here?”

“I have no idea.” I quickly shook my head, concern spreading across my face.

“Your paper is exceptionally good. Too good!” My expression changed to confusion. Upon seeing this she explained herself. “I don’t think you wrote this paper.” She watched my countenance closely.

I stood aghast. My mouth opened but nothing came out.

“Did you cheat? Did your mom write this? This isn’t your work!”

I told the truth. I stayed up all night rewriting it over and over to get a good grade. She didn’t believe me, but with no proof to say I was lying she gave me the A+ the paper deserved.

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Editor’s Note: “I feel to provide a disclaimer of sorts. My view is just one perspective that may or may not be shared by others. The portrayal is not intended to be the definitive source of said events, nor is one instance meant to define the characters of anyone portrayed here, as if it were a microcosm of anyone’s life. It is a simple memory, but it also can’t easily be safeguarded by simply changing names, as though those who knew me would not know I attended Covington High School, not know the story referenced or the players involved, and not have formed their own opinions about who each of us were then and even who we have become now. I take full credit for my telling as given above.” -Chad Parker

“The Bus Stopper,” By Chad Robert Parker

I had a number of run-ins with a scrawny red-headed punk. Our community had sixth graders on up through high school riding on the same school buses together. I wasn’t the typical upperclassmen who sat in the back and made younger kids sit upfront, but for some reason this 6th grade kid had it out for me, a Junior at the time. One day he had his best opportunity to get me in trouble. I surely did deserve more than a reprimand that day, but seeing how the driver of the bus didn’t know who did it, I didn’t see any need to take credit for it. I never got the punishment my nemesis believed I had coming.

We had a substitute bus driver that day. She must have been having a bad day. Before our trip from school home we were all talking loudly, as we always did, until she yelled at us about how she expected a quiet bus ride home. She had a few more uproars to silence the bus every time we got a little too chatty. One of the red-headed kid’s friends dared me to throw a gobstopper at the bus driver. It wasn’t so much animosity as it was wanting to see if I could do it. I was a fairly good aim and was confident, but I was near the back of the bus and the chances of hitting her wasn’t really that good. I chucked it and it thumped off of the back of her head.

Kids near me were shocked. They laughed loudly, including the red-head and his friends, then cupped hands over their mouths and quickly straightened up when the bus screeched to a halt. The driver was out of her seat-belt in an instant. Soon she was standing six rows in front of me. She was looking right at the red-head. I looked out the window and acted uninterested in the discussion. As expected the red-head pointed me out. The driver questioned me, but then I asked, “From here?” She agreed that a throw from there was too absurd.

“Rivalry or Hatred?” By Chad Robert Parker

In 1999, I saw one of the ugliest sides of the BYU/Utah rivalry close-up: the time when the BYU fan tackled the male Ute cheerleader. You could say the BYU freshman-to-be was to blame for everything, but I think it goes deeper. I would say the overall underlying hate in the rivalry played more a part than any actual animosity between key players in this notable instance. One thing led to another. Pride took over and hate spilled over. The rivalry went too far.

Where was the playful rivalry I was accustomed to as between two neighboring high schools? LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride didn’t have anger toward their opponent. Why were the fans getting out of hand?

It started innocently enough. The Ute cheerleaders always ran flags around the endzone after a Utah score. No big deal! One of the cheerleaders, however, started using the opportunity to taunt the home crowd with increased jeering and gestures. He acted like he was taking on the whole stadium. Still, it was just a hothead cheerleader, so why were fans like me, allowing him to rile up untoward emotions?

My brother and I weren’t ten rows from the pranksters. The BYU fan seemed to think it funny to take the dumb advice–a dare, or whatever you want to call it–of his buddies and get the last laugh. They lowered him onto the field, and he ran over and made the tackle. We saw what was going on, but didn’t exactly know what they were up to. We couldn’t believe our eyes. He triumphantly raised his hands in silly fashion after he succeeded. I was in shock. What just happened?

He did what all of us wanted to do to that cocky cheerleader, but it was wrong, even illegal. Did he not think how he would react if someone unexpectedly jumped him in a heated environment?

The cheerleader chased him, goaded him, and tackled him, but he covered up rather than fight back. The embarrassed cheerleader kept punching until he was pulled off. Security guards took the smiling trespasser away.

“Happily Soaked in Refreshment” By Chad Robert Parker

When it rained it poured. I had never seen anything like it. Each drop splashed like its own water balloon. But we hadn’t seen rain for months. It was a season of El Ninyo.

Even the locals commented on the heat. The Philippines was said to have two seasons: hot and hotter. This was the hottest year anyone could remember. We all were rationing water. The usually wet rice fields were drying up. Fish ponds had gone down and trenches had to be dug from the sea.

When it did rain it came in waves: on and off like a switch. During typhoon season I’m sure there was such thing as wet and wetter, but I suppose this was the one good thing about a season of drought. We didn’t experience any significant tropical storms that year.

Even the Water Buffalo hole was drying up. The water was long gone. The mud was starting to thicken. We wanted to jump in the mud and roll around to cool down too.

Parched, we didn’t dare drink water offered us that wasn’t purified. My sweat had dried up, a difficult thing to accomplish in the humid air. The sun was blazing. We dragged our feet like we were crossing a dessert only we could move from the narrow shade of one coconut tree trunk to the next. Finally we reached a “tindahan,” or a small “sari sari” store, and it truly was a sorry offshoot of someone’s nippa hut. They had liter sprites. We guzzled them down in one or two tips of the green bottle, glistening beautiful water droplets trickling down the side. The only thing that stopped us from drinking it down faster was the carbonation but even that didn’t slow us down much. Suddenly the sweat from our dried pours released, soaking our white button up shirts. I wiped my forehead with my tie. The air as hot as it was, without a trace of wind, and still humid, would not take the hot water off our skin.

That is my most memorable experience of a drought.

“Elephant Ears and Tractor Pulls” By Chad Robert Parker

For a small town our community held a lot of big events. Everyone knew everyone. We gathered for regular Friday night baseball games and you expected to see everyone in town at one event or another. There was yearly carnivals, fireworks shows, pig kissing, and art shows. Our town’s activities had a unique appeal, a unique identity: it’s own unique flavor, if you will, at least it did for me. I soon embraced it.

I ate my first Elephant Ear, a flat fried pastry covered in cinnamon sugar, at the Covington City Park. I went with my parents and rarely left their side. This was not because of their strict Mormon ways as many supposed, but simply because I was shy and the town’s ways were all new to me. Besides, I liked spending time with my family, even my parents, believe it or not. We tried our hands at the typical carnival games, unable to win a prize, being bested by the ring toss’s parlor tricks among other deceptively challenging games. I was never one for thrill rides. I saw the Carnival workers putting together the rides and I wasn’t certain I trusted their handiwork. There was rumor of several test runs failing prior to opening day. No, I didn’t quite get into that.

My favorite event of all was the tractor pull. I had never seen anything like it. At the time I would not admit how fun it was to watch. I was too busy trying to act like I didn’t identify with farmer boots, songs, or anything else related. But I loved the revving of the engines, the smoke puffing into the air, the tractors rearing back and mud flying into the faces of people pulled on a bed spring. It was hard not to pick a tractor you wanted to see win and to find yourself laughing and cheering with everyone else.

“Today’s Pioneers” By Chad Robert Parker

Utah celebrates Pioneer Day on July 24th each year to recognize the Pioneers who crossed the plains and settled into the state. When I recently moved homes I thought of the Pioneers. I used to live near Nauvoo, Illinois where the Mormon Pioneers began their journey.

It’s a long ways, even by car. I have made that drive more than a few times. The landscape changes drastically. I can’t even imagine the sacrifices of walking through winter snow, losing loved ones to the extreme cold, and leaving so much behind.

When my wife and I moved from my first home I felt some of the grief of picking up and starting again. We, of course, got to keep most of our belongings. But with the down economy striking shortly after me making the house investment we needed to hit the reset button. I felt like I was handing over my baby. I wondered where we would land next. I hoped we would be like the Pioneers in two ways: 1) Leave the place we had as nice for the next occupants; and 2) Look forward to any opportunities ahead.

I remember being in awe with the Mormon Pioneers who were basically pushed out of their homes before the mobs came through with malicious intent and the authority of an extermination order from the government. I was shocked by how they cleaned up their homes to be as presentable as can be. Some placed their fine china down the well to protect it from looting and fire, but they still had to leave it behind for whoever might come along and hopefully take good care of it and benefit by it. That’s how we tried to leave our home as we downgraded to our current living standards.

Writer’s don’t often make enough but that’s the road we are traveling down. No matter. We are happy. We are looking forward to making the most of each new day.

Happy Pioneer Day, world!

“Crowd Rafting” By Chad Robert Parker

I loved river rafting with my family down the Snake River in Jackson Hole. I highly recommend it. They didn’t supply a river guide, which made my mom a little uneasy, upon learning we would face some Class III rapids. She was reassured by seeing families being told that unless it was a Class IV or higher, kids of all ages were making the run. Our company was composed mostly of adults.

We stationed ourselves with experienced paddlers on the outside and the others in the middle. There were a few upsy-daisy moments when your stomach falls to the floor then raises to your throat. Waves splashed against the hot plastic. The day was blazing hot and the breeze through our hair was welcome. The main current keeps you steadily pacing downstream whether your boat is in a spin or not. We opted to paddle hard with the nose usually pointing forward in case we headed for the bank. Before we knew it we were near the biggest wave below a highway view of onlookers. We’d seen it when we drove in, but the ride had lulled us into a mistaken security and the nose of our raft was not pointing correctly.

Sideways we went. The crowd grabbed the attention of those around them. You could hear their anticipation, expecting this would not end well for us. Some uninitiated before us had flipped out of their boats, but far too few. Our pride was on the line. My dad calmed the troops. “Steady. Keep paddling on the right.” He beckoned to me, on the left, sitting on the opposite back corner from him to wait. “When I say, put your oar in deep.” As much as everyone was paddling the raft was righting its path straight into the massive wave, still the hull wasn’t turning head on. I followed my orders and at the last moment thrust my oar along with my dad’s in as a rudder. We floated straight and true and didn’t take a swim. Cheers rose up from our boat followed by sighs of disappointment from above.

Sterling Bridge: Writing Historical Fiction (Part Two)

How do our life dramas relate to common struggles of humanity?

With my parents away on a trip to Europe to visit my mom’s parents, my dad’s parents were at our mercy. We boys had been respectful of the neighborhood to a fault, despite feeling our good nature was being taken advantage of by bullies. Our parents wouldn’t let us get away with pushing back and their parents believed we were already the problem. While our parents were away we decided we were going to mete out some justice of our own and take back the neighborhood. We had built the tree house forts, after all. We chased the occupants out. The next day their mom was talking to our half-blind grandpa to which he honestly replied, “Woman, I didn’t see a thing. Did you?” Knowing she wasn’t getting very far with that she bribed us with chocolate to keep the peace. My older brother gets upset to this day that I took the chocolate…haha. What can I say? If you know me, you know I am a sucker for chocolate.

We liked playing in the park. We told the troubled teens hanging out there to go tell their mommies if they weren’t big enough to keep us out themselves. We outnumbered them. They decided they could go smoke somewhere else.

And then there was Ricky and Nicky. They had been destroying the dirt hills that we rode our bikes on. It was time to ambush them. As soon as they thought we were gone we doubled back through the woods. Sure enough they were digging booby traps for the next unsuspecting biker. We popped up on either side of them and they were caught in the crossfire of dirt clods. Of course, they told their parents it was rocks and that they were just innocently riding their bikes on the hills. Those parents decided to tell their kids to fight their own battles. Nicky pulled off his shirt and put up his fists. A circle was formed around him and me, being that I was the oldest I guess. I mocked him to scorn, laughing at his belly fat. I couldn’t take him seriously and he went away crying.

These were three territorial battles I learned from, one way or another. Each is uniquely different. Yet, when I hear about similar stories I have these reference points for understanding some of the emotions involved in the equation in common with the rest of humanity. We all have to learn to deal with sharing our world’s and living with one another.

Do I feel bad for any of my part in such untoward behavior? Yes, of course I do. Is my description accurate? You be the judge, but I think a perspective more honestly captures reality when it reflects both the good and bad that all individuals in the story are wrestling with, while telling it from the viewpoint with the most researched details. Should I be as open about my past, especially mistakes? Maybe not. There is something to be said about not revisiting our past wrongdoings. But then again, we all are imperfect and we can learn from each other’s errors. Once we overcome a failing we can only accentuate the success if we are willing to recognize the obstacle that preceded it. And most of all, should I be worried if the way I tell the story accidentally puts me in a bad light in others’ minds? Perhaps, but I choose not to let how others perceive something, define who I am or even who I was, nor can it change who I am really, unless I let it dissuade or motivate me.

How does “Sterling Bridge” compare to other historical fiction portrayals?

If you recall, in “Sterling Bridge,” I included well-documented historic rock fights between the youth on the E(ast) Street boundary of Old Town, Tooele. That said, how exactly that went down is still anyone’s guess. I knew there were disputes about letting persons from New Town frequent shops and I knew the paperboy’s news was literally spread all over town, at least according to what was recorded from several witnesses. So I used it all and tied it all together with a bow by inserting the made-up record breaking occurrence. If you compare the infighting among neighborhood kids to my own experience with a dirt clod territorial war, Ricky and Nicky’s version will be very different from mine, just as I’m sure many in Tooele noted the rock fighting slightly amiss. Do the boys from my past remember those days? What details stand out to them? These things would all be advantageous to know in order to get the full story, however, stories are usually told from one angle. I’m not planning on rewriting “Sterling Bridge,” from a different POV like Orson Scott Card did with “Enders Game,” for example.

I believe an honest reading of “Sterling Bridge” will amount to a fair interpretation of the characters and of me. I know I did my best to make a great story with universal appeal and do the real story justice with relation to preserving its local charm at the same time. To date, I would safely say it is the best story put to the page so far that has come from any revisiting of said incidents. If put in the same situation I believe many of us would have behaved in much the same way. We would have struggled being in the middle of a conflict of no fault of our own. However, at the end of the day these are exemplary people who showed us how to overcome our biases, our disagreements, and misunderstandings. As near as I can tell they, members of Sterling’s teams, all went on to do good things in their lives. The people of Tooele can be proud of what that group did, and the greater community that supported and came together themselves. For me, they represent the best in all of us as a society and what we are capable of doing when facing today’s similar challenges. In the end, every true-to-life story worth telling should have such a great moral, theme, and outcome.

Sterling Bridge: Writing Historical Fiction (Part One)

“Sterling Bridge” is a work of historical fiction. The people, places, and events are based in truth as indicated by the front cover, where it states that it is “based on a true story.” When we read a disclaimer in books, or in films, we see little variation, but no matter how true the story is, the emphasis invariably remains on the author’s responsibility for expressing views that are not intended to be taken as reality.

How would you write a disclaimer for historical fiction?

It was brought to my attention recently that my publisher’s inclusion seems to be a standard fictional disclaimer that detaches its entity entirely, and even the work itself, from including anything based in reality. Admittedly, that conception disturbs me a little as my creation is obviously a tribute to “Sterling’s Men” of Tooele, Utah leading up to and during the Great Depression. There is no defamation intended, real or perceived, in my attempt to honor the characters who in the history annals overcame much and are credited for the triumph that led to my creation of “Sterling Bridge.”

However, I am also keenly aware that my depiction should not be used as a historical reference. I provide my references to actualities, but in truth I did not live the tale, nor do I profess to believe that my description is much more than a perpetuation of folklore in writing. I arrived at my conclusions after weeding through a conglomeration of varying sources and differing conceptions. And then I take it a step further and completely fictionalize the structure, order, and flow of a story; it is definitely not to be mistaken word for word or point by point as being anything other than my own making.

How does a good film depict historical fiction?

While watching Disney’s “Secretariat,” I couldn’t help but analyze the film’s depiction of real events. Obviously, I personally was not alive during the 1970’s, nor was anyone that I know of close enough to the events to even give me a secondhand or passed down account (though my dad recalls news broadcasts and races aired on TV). Like everyone else though, I do have access to the history books. Let’s just say I sought out the historical fiction films story over perusing the library or Wikipedia for too long. I’m too lazy to discount someone else’s wonderful research as translated into film.

The movie is great! It tells some minor events slant, such as mentioning win after win to the point that you would think one loss even outside of the Triple Crown could ruin everything, but for the most part I would say it seems to stay true to the historical timeline of main events, despite the nature of needing to condense a legendary tale–dubbed as “the impossible true story”–into the sped-up drama of a film format of just 123 minutes.

How does “Secretariat” portray the personal side of history?

Some would argue that the movie starts out rather slow, but I think it does so to provide us the necessary background that I would describe as giving us a “homey” feel only true stories can do so well. Next, enter some true-to-life drama. I think the writer picked out some gripping points. Still centered around home, the film portrays the difficulties of pursuing a dream and the support needed by one’s family of understanding and oftentimes time without the dreamer around. Did I think we saw the most trying lowest of lows with the relationship strains put on this woman’s family? Or could we really understand and ultimately feel the highest of highs experienced by them? Probably not. A film takes a snapshot of instances that depict an ongoing challenge and/or a portion of how grand the triumph really is. I remember thinking that there were many conversations and events that were only partially defined in the film version of a life’s daily toil. But that is what historical fiction is. It gives us an idea of how things could have happened, albeit in a sped up time frame that purposely gets to the point a little quicker. None of us actually experience the full depth of anyone’s story unless we are walking in their shoes or at least hand in hand walking beside them. Nonetheless, the film picks out the important highlights in the case of “Secretariat,” near as I could tell. I felt like I experienced the main events and some of the more personalized thoughts and feelings surrounding those central to this awesome point in history.

How do we portray our own lives? 

When I was a child I remember a week when my aging grandparents had to watch after us. There are six boys in the Parker family. While my memory of youth is already quite fuzzy I can remember some poignant details rather well. Ancillary details, not so much. Certainly the story being told from my perspective will be viewed from all the reference points that make up my experiences in life. At this point I might tell a story very differently from how I told it when I was younger. Different moral threads, for example, might stand out. But the main points will still be in place for an audience to interpret as they will from their current vantage point. We learn from living a story directly or even by experiencing it indirectly. Anyway, back to my personal story.

(To Be Continued: See Part Two)

“Hip Sliding Away” By Chad Robert Parker

As kids we used to put a tarp at the bottom of the waterslide to pool all the water. It made for a fun splash zone. I’m a big chicken so I don’t have much experience with real waterpark slides. I’ve heard of block party slides that cities are setting up along roadways. The best waterslide I have been on was a makeshift slide of three 30×10 foot billboard vinyls attached together.

We formed trains of people running one after the other and grabbing ankles for a slick ride. We raced. We surfed as far as possible and tried to catch a football on the way down.

I had a bad hip from popping it out of place in a recent indoor soccer game. I must have been about 28 years old and I was thinking there was no way I was going to sit this event out like an old man. After a few times down I tried sliding on my feet and quickly crashed down on my bad hip. I was writhing in pain all the way down the slide. Then someone at the side of the slide grabbed my ankle and sent me spinning. I slid across the grass holding my hip. A mass of humanity followed and piled on top of me where I was unable to get up out of the way. I stuck around to watch others but I didn’t go down the slide again that day. It was hard enough just walking up the hill. I felt like an old man, after all.