A few years ago, Hyundai made a commercial announcing their new partnership with the NFL. Watch it here and see if anything seems off:

If you’ve never been there, you might not notice it at first, but that yard looks nothing like what you’d typically find in the Arizona I know. Some yards may have some fake grass, but most will just have rocks. Because it’s Arizona and you try maintaining a lush lawn there.

Yes, I know Arizona is more than just Phoenix and it’s possible that the commercial is supposed to take place in some other part of the state. Or maybe it’s not even supposed to be in Arizona at all, but it’s about a small community of Arizona Cardinal fans who have happened to find each other in a state other than Arizona, that miraculously happens to have an NFL team that somehow hosts Cardinals games in consecutive weeks.

Probably not, though.

So, with all of that out of the way, what follows are two stories from my childhood in Arizona that heavily feature the rocks (and not grass) that made up the front and back yards of houses in the Phoenix area when I was seven or eight years old.

Wheelbarrow Full of Rocks

The first story is about me doing something stupid, being punished for it, and then finding my own way out of the punishment.

One night, my brothers and I went on a walk around the neighborhood with our father. It was dark and apparently the conversation was lacking because I started mindlessly throwing rocks. I would pick them out of the front yards of the houses we were walking past, and then I side-armed them into the street. I would gather a handful and then toss them as we kept walking.

I must have been trailing my father because he didn’t seem to notice what I was doing. And in my mind, I wasn’t really doing anything. It was like I was walking by a lake. I would see a rock and then mid-stroll, pick it up, skip it across the lake, and never break stride.

Except it wasn’t a lake; it was a major street with plenty of traffic. And considering I wasn’t thinking about any possible consequences of mindlessly throwing these rocks, I paid no attention to where they ended up after they left my hand. That is until a car turned around and skidded to a stop next to us.

The driver rolled down the window and informed my father that I had pelted his car with a rock. The driver actually was pretty nice about it; he didn’t demand that we pay for any damages (if there was any). He basically just wanted to tell my dad that one of his dumb kids was throwing rocks into traffic and maybe he should stop said kid from doing that dumb thing.

My father apologized.

I apologized.

And then I ran as fast as I could back home.

In case you haven’t spent like an entire seven minutes with me in person, you probably haven’t had the exquisite opportunity to hear me talk about my father. Because I tend to just unload all of my daddy issues on anyone who is willing to let me speak. And now I have a website that gives me a virtual space to do that very thing. So, here we go.

My father had a temper, and as such, I was afraid of him. Now there will probably be some who read that and see nothing wrong with it. To many, a boy is supposed to be fearful of his father. I disagree, if only because of my relationship with my father.

You see, while I did fear him, I didn’t respect him. Not as a father, not as a husband, and not as a man. Because to me, being able to raise your voice to say hurtful, hateful things to the people you supposedly love, is not worthy of respect.

Basically, everything I did (at least in regard to my father,) was to not provoke him. I didn’t want him to blow up and was afraid of doing something that would cause him to start yelling. Obviously, it wasn’t so bad that it would stop me from unknowingly chucking rocks at a car, but the fear of what was coming came crashing down as soon as I realized what I did.

And that’s why I ran.

I really wanted to get home as soon as possible because I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to have much time left on the planet. I burst in the front door, tears streaming down my face, and found my mom in the kitchen. I’m sure I tried to explain what was going on, but I doubt she could understand through all of my blubbering.

Eventually, my dad and brothers returned home and my mom was brought up to speed. Of course my dad was furious, and after some yelling, I was sent to my room where I waited for my inevitable punishment.

And the punishment was this: I would wake up at 4 AM the next morning. I would then go to the backyard where I would find a wheelbarrow full of rocks from our back yard. And I would have to throw each and every one of the rocks before I could go back to bed.

Looking back on this, I don’t think this was a bad punishment. It is definitely a better version of when parents find that their kid is smoking a cigarette and then they make them smoke the entire pack. As far as I know, throwing rocks does not contribute to lung cancer, but my opinion on the matter might just be what it is because the backyard rock industry has better lobbyists than the Big Tobacco.

Anyway, it was an appropriate punishment because I didn’t want to be awake so early in the morning and I didn’t want to throw all of these rocks. My displeasure in the situation would then be so ingrained in my genetic makeup that I would think twice before throwing rocks ever again.

The only problem with the punishment was that staying up to make sure it was carried out would also be a punishment on my father. He also didn’t want to be awake so early in the morning and he didn’t want to watch me throw all of the rocks. Plus, he was the one who had to shovel all of the rocks into the wheelbarrow in the first place. (If he thought it through, he should have made me do that part, too.)

So, after he told me what I had to do, he went back to bed. And I began throwing rocks.

I did this for awhile, but it quickly got pretty boring. So, then I picked out a few of the rocks and named them. I placed my new rock family on the fence and vowed to never throw them. Then I threw some other rocks, played with my rock family, and then threw a few more.

Eventually, I decided I didn’t want to do any of this any longer and just dumped all of the remaining rocks out of the wheelbarrow. I was clever enough to know to level them out so that there wasn’t a pile of rocks sitting there.

With all of the rocks out of the wheelbarrow, I considered my punishment over. It was probably 6 AM at this point, and everyone in my family was still asleep. I took advantage of this fact by going to the then-unguarded pantry. There I grabbed a handful of leftover Easter candy, ate it for my early morning breakfast, and went back to bed.

I don’t think I ever told my father about any of this before he died, but I hope he is proud that I never threw a rock anywhere near a car ever again.

Between Some Rocks and a High Place

This story also features some rock throwing, but I was not the thrower.

On one particular Sunday, my little brother and I were at home by ourselves. My father was out-of-town visiting family, and my mother and older brother were at a store returning a jigsaw puzzle.

I should just go ahead and apologize to my mother for mentioning that she left me at home as a seven-year old with my four-year-old brother. She has mentioned multiple times in the intervening years that she didn’t know what she was thinking letting her children be latch-key kids since I was in Kindergarten. I don’t blame her, partially because before Arizona we grew up in Wyoming and I don’t think many parents back then thought about something nefarious happening to their kids in Laramie. I also don’t blame her because for most of this time, she was either working to support my father while he went to grad school, or working because we needed a second income and because childcare is/was expensive.

Plus, the fact that we were home alone is important to the story.

I should probably also apologize for mentioning that she was out returning a puzzle on the Sabbath. The story could have just as easily happened on any other day of the week, so specifying that her breaking a Commandment contributed to what happened is included just because I like that particular detail.

Sorry, Mom.

While we were home alone, I, too, decided that I wasn’t going to keep the Sabbath Day holy and went to the front yard to climb the tree that was out there. I’m sure it wasn’t as tall as I am remembering it through the eyes of my younger self, but it still had to have been at least twenty feet tall.

Not being an arborist, I cannot tell you what kind of tree it was. It wasn’t a palm tree; I know that much. It had some sturdy branches and my brothers and I climbed it often.

While up in the tree (and my little brother still inside the house), some kids playing across the street started throwing rocks towards my tree. The rocks weren’t coming close to hitting me and I don’t know if they were actually aiming at me. They might have just been mindlessly throwing rocks, which I hear was quite common among Arizona youth in the earlier 1990s.

But I heard the rocks hitting the tree and then falling on top of the other rocks that made up our lawn, and a thought went through my head. What if I just let go of the branch I was holding onto and made these kids think they had hit and knocked me out of my perch?

Another thought telling me that this was an idiotic idea never came, so I let go and fell backwards out of the tree. I had to have been at least fifteen feet up and I landed on my back on the rocks beneath me.

I maintained consciousness, but my head was spinning. I remember my little brother coming out of the house, seeing me on the ground, him starting to cry, and then him running back into the house. I tried to get up myself, but I only took a couple of steps before I was back on the ground.

The kids across the street summoned their parents, who rushed to my side. Trying to help, some of them picked me up and carried me into one of their homes and laid me on their couch. Probably not the best idea to move someone with a potential back injury, but I’m in no position to judge them. I was the moron who purposely fell out of a tree to potentially teach kids my own lesson on why throwing rocks can have unintended consequences.

Someone called 9-1-1 and eventually an ambulance arrived. Two EMTs walked into the house with a stretcher and proceeded to strap me onto it. I remember this part being really uncomfortable. I also remember feeling really embarrassed that all of this attention was being paid to me. I was also embarrassed because I was wearing a silly green button-up shirt with sunglasses-wearing sharks on it, and now medical professionals would be seeing me in it.

Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to let go of that branch.

I don’t remember when my mother got back from the store, but according to her, she got back home to see me being loaded into the ambulance. After finding out what happened, she got my brothers to another neighbor’s house, and then followed the ambulance to the hospital. It was my first (and so far, only) trip in an ambulance, but it wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be because it so uncomfortable being strapped to that stretcher.

Once at the hospital, I was examined and luckily, I was practically injury-free. No broken bones. No concussion. All I had to show for my idiocy was a bruised kidney and a couple of scrapes on my back.

The ER doctors cleared us to go home, I buttoned that stupid shark shirt back up, and walked with my mom to her car. When we got home, she called my dad in California and I got to tell him what happened. I didn’t mention that it was pretty much on purpose, but I told him that I fell out of the tree. And his first question to me was asking if I hit any branches on the way down. I told him that I didn’t and he replied, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

In the moment, that hurt more than the fall itself. It sounded like my dad was upset that I hadn’t managed to hit my back on thick branches before landing on the rocky ground. He probably meant that it was too bad because they might have slowed my fall, but he never clarified what he meant by, “Oh, that’s too bad,” and I never asked what he meant, either. I just thought he was disappointed that I wasn’t injured more during my fall.

For years, I would tell these stories, mainly as further examples of the dumb things I did as a kid. It took me becoming a parent to begin to think of them through my parents’ perspectives. I’m sure my father was embarrassed when a stranger told him that one of his sons launched a rock into traffic and hit a car. I know my mom felt like she was the worst mother in the world coming home from returning a puzzle on a Sunday to see an ambulance in front of her house. And before writing these stories up, I never considered what that ambulance ride and trip to the hospital must have cost them.

All because I was a kid who did things without thinking. And I know that I’m not special or rare in this regard; all kids do things without thinking. That’s pretty much what being a kid is.

Along the way, though, most of us learn from our mistakes, grow, and become more aware of the potential consequences of our actions.

But there are still some who, well into adulthood, continue to not think things through, and they’re the ones who make commercials depicting green lawns in Phoenix.