I used to play a game with my sibling-like substance Leslie’s three youngest kids. Heavens. They’re in their 30s now. When they came of age, around 4 or so, I pulled the same stunt on each, always in Leslie’s welcoming kitchen. One year, it was Eddie’s turn. I still call him, “Coastal.”
In the midst of conversation while she was busy prepping a meal, I’d drop the phrase, “World’s Biggest Hug,” then chatter away to less world-breaking topics. Ever eavesdropping, Coastal Eddie would jump in for clarification.
“Can’t talk about it,” I’d say abruptly. Ignoring them, Les and I would continue yammering.
“NO!” Ed chimed. “You said ‘World’s Biggest Hug.’ What is that?”
I brushed Eddie off. Children, like rust, keep working. I let Ed worm it out of me that I once gave a little kid the World’s Biggest Hug. Frankly, well — he died and I had to go to prison.
Ed looks to Les. If you can’t trust your mother…
Leslie Ann is blessed with the perfect motherly default setting of being able to not exactly lie (in a Snow White, sing-songy voice) while going along with a scam:
“Well. You know how strong Uncle John is…”
Coastal sat on my lap as I spun the tale, how I had hosted a kids’ TV show. The strongest children from America would compete weekly to see if they could survive my hug without passing out. It was filmed in a giant football stadium packed to capacity with screaming fans. Alas, one day, a big third-grader from Iowa couldn’t be revived.
“He — died?” Coastal Eddie asked, with his then Elmer-Fudd-as-a-child accent.
“On live TV,” I said.
At the sink, Leslie shrugged and sighed.
Coastal’s now a grown attorney and I hope less gullible. He finally asked: “I want you to give me the world’s biggest hug.” With his then Fudd-speak affectation, the word, “world’s” didn’t have an “r,” “l” or “d.”
Bless that darn Leslie’s heart. She jumped in as if on cue:
“No, Eddie. And I mean that. No. No World’s Biggest Hug.” All that was missing was a stamping of her foot. Even Eddie’s sister, Christina, a couple years older, joined in to help.
“No, Eddie. You don’t want to. John gave me the World’s Biggest Hug and I had to go to the hospital.”
Mixing hydro metaphors, that sent Coastal over the waterfalls.
His sister got to have a near-fatal experience — ON TV!! — and he didn’t and she was a girl? Coastal threw a minor fit. We relented. Come closer to the trap, my pretty…
Leslie pretended to tear up. EVERYONE in the kitchen knew this was bogus, including Eddie. But, you gotta play through.
I checked my watch. Too late to rent a coliseum let alone pack it with 100,000 screaming fans. Perhaps we could replicate conditions here in the kitchen. Eddie bounced into my lap, took a few deep breaths and nodded. He was ready. Acting as also stadium announcer, I introduced “Coastal Eddie” to the cheering throngs, giving a little background on his life’s achievements, which were pathetic even for a pre-schooler. Background color was added. One hapless child sat unattended, drooling in a lawn chair, under automatic sprinklers, his Teddy bear sopping wet. Another was bravely going through physical therapy, learning how to breathe again.
His sister Christina joined me in measured deep breathing exercises.
It took 20 minutes to wade through introductions of movie stars and sports heroes. All of us waited patiently for the irksome halftime show to end. I asked, no — begged — Coastal Eddie. It wasn’t too late. No one would think him a big, booger-eating cowardly baby-sissy for backing out.
Coastal shook his head and answered to the invisible microphone Christina was holding. “I’m going through with it.” Only the “through” had a “w” in it. A drum magically rolled. Leslie dried her hands and rushed over to cup Eddie’s face and “tearfully” share how much she was going to miss him and that, of all her children, he was the best and her favorite. (She quickly nodded “no” to Christina and Christina nodded back that she understood.)
Like an astronaut before launch, Eddie’s pulse and blood pressure were checked. His eyes examined. Knee struck with a wooden spoon to test reflexes. And then I hugged him. Disneyland never had a better ride. Eddie got shaken to the left, the right, was bounced, jostled and squeezed some more. I’m offering play-by-play that grown professional wrestlers had not made it this far without passing out. Muffled gasps cried from the bleachers. Through previous coaching from his sister on protocol, Eddie pretended to pass out. His little head slumped forward, pipe cleaner arms fell to his sides.
“Oh my goodness!” said me/the announcer. “Poor Eddie! He’s — DEAD!!!!” His mother and sister pretend sobbed. I lifted a wrist. Limply it fell. After more stadium mourning, his wrist fell with finality. Then, Eddie somehow managed to make a fist, a la Hulk Hogan. His fist vibrated. Eddie woke, as if back from the dead. Like Lazarus, he raised both hands and sheepishly smiled. The “audience” went wild.
“Coastal! Coastal! Coastal! EDDIE! IS! AAAAAA-LIVE!!” screamed me/The Announcer.
Eddie spent the next few minutes answering questions from the press (Leslie and Christina) who were “shoving” one another to gain access.
Forty-five minutes later, Eddie had the universal kid’s response: “Let’s do it again!”
Grabbing him by the shirt lapels, I slowly lifted Coastal eye level.
“NO one is supposed to survive the World’s Biggest Hug,” I said, scowling into his soul. “You made a FOOL of me.”
I walked out of the room in a pretend huff. On my heels, Coastal followed. Being the future attorney, he apologized and tried to sell a plea agreement.
Years later, not to cause trouble with Coastal’s four siblings, but I think Edward was, and still IS — his mother’s favorite…
John Boston is a local writer. And, once, he killed a person just by hugging them…