Maybe 4 years old was a bit young to have a girlfriend.
But 5 year old Suzie (yes, that was her REAL name) possessed all the qualities I have always found irresistible in a woman: she was cute, knew how to climb a tree and liked ME.
You should see my wife Gidget climb a tree. She's a regular Swiss Family Robinson.
When you're 4 years old in the 1960's, you tend to have a lot of free time on your hands. In those days, kids were expected to set their own schedule and if possible get a job. If the weather was good, it was not unusual to be kicked out of the house right after breakfast and told to "go play" for about 9 hours. It wasn't neglectful, it was summer. And when you're 4 years old, it's ALWAYS summer.
With that kind of freedom, it's a good idea to have a strong, idea-generating woman, who loves you, at the ready. Not ALL the time, of course. But after you've built your 5th cardboard box cowboy fort, stuck sticks in 300 ant holes, and poured about 9,000 gallons of hose water all over the back yard just so you can walk through it with your galoshes on, you need somebody to come up with something cool to do. Enter Suzie.
It was about mid-morning when Suzie, along with this kid Brian and I were already fresh out of things to do. Brian was this weird, little kid Suzie's Mom used to babysit. He always had nasal issues. His nose was either constantly running, or completely stuffed up, or both all at the same time. He couldn't climb a tree if a man-eating wart hog was chasin' him. But he always offered to be the guy that got killed first when we played cowboys, so he wasn't totally worthless.
Anyhow, we were standing on the side of my house trying to figure out what to do when Suzie had this great idea.
"Do you have any cookies at your house?" she whispered to me. Suzie always smelled like grape Popsicles.
"Yes." I said, staring at Brian's runny, yet stuffed up nose.
"OK," said Suzie, "Go into your house and ask your Dad for a cookie. If he asks if it's just for you, say 'Yes,' then bring it outside and we'll all go run some place else and eat it."
"But I thought Brian wasn't supposed to have cookies," I said.
"He isn't. He's allergic. If he eats the wrong kind of cookie, he could die."
Brian nodded his head and tried to breath.
"So if your Dad asks if it's just for you, just say 'Yes.' Then bring it outside and we'll all go run someplace else and eat it."
Suzie knew I usually needed instructions twice. Especially when getting ready to poison another kid.
"OK, so go!" she said. "We'll wait here."
Then Brian nodded and tried to sniff, as he and Suzie hid behind the rain pipe.
I went inside my house and back to the kitchen where my Dad was making our sandwiches for lunch. When he was home and my mom wasn't, lunch was always an adventure. He cut our sandwiches side to side. Mom cut them diagonal. We all have our own idea of adventure.
I went right up to my father and said, "Can I have a cookie?"
He kept looking at the sandwich he was cutting wrong and said over his shoulder, "Is it just for you, or are you gonna share it with your friends?"
I thought, "Well, now what kinda of ridiculous, self-incriminating question is that?"
My Dad was amazing. He was my world. He could do anything. He had been in the Air Force, could throw a football the whole length of the front yard, and could set up Christmas trees.
But it wasn't until that moment that I realized he also possessed some sort of magical power to ask just the RIGHT question at the WRONG time. I started to panic.
I knew it was wrong to lie. But I also knew that it was wrong to not do as you were told. And I had been TOLD to LIE from Suzie.
I also liked cookies.
After a split second of internal debate I said, "It's just for me. No one else. And NOT for Suzie and Brian either."
I thought that last bit was particularly genius move. But then, as he so often did, Dad countered brilliantly.
"Are you SURE?" he said.
Oh, no. Am I sure? What is THAT supposed to mean? Sure of what? That I am lying? Yes. That I'm a cookie-stealing Clyde in love with a Popsicle smellin' Bonnie? Yes, again! That I'm going to probably kill Brian? That goes without saying.
"Yes, I'm sure. It's just for me." I lied as sweetly as I could.
Dad finally stopped with the sandwiches, reached over to the cookie jar and pulled out one of my mom's home-made chocolate chip sensations.
"OK, here ya go," he said, looking me straight in the eye and smiling.
I grabbed the cookie and high-tailed it out of the house, jumping off the porch and blazing around the corner where Suzie and Sniffles were waiting.
I handed the cookie over to Suzie who examined it for a split second then said, "OK, now let's run someplace else and eat it!"
Then as the three of us took off running like we'd just robbed the Union Pacific Bakery, I heard my Dad calling from inside the house.
"Preacher! Stop RIGHT there."
I immediately dropped to my knees and began crying. How did he know?
As I watched Suzie and Snuffle-up-agus disappearing around the garage to eat my cookie, I knew the rest of the afternoon for me was going to be filled with a spanking, a lecture, no cartoons and probably a forced nap.
If you're gonna play you have to pay.
I could fill a book with all the times my Father corrected, instructed, encouraged, educated, and challenged me. I could fill another of all the bad roads and dark paths he helped me avoid just by being as vigilant as he was. He did his "dad thing" every day, without fail, whether I liked it or not.
To some parents it was just a cookie. But he saw it as something else, and took the opportunity to make a big point on a little guy. In my case, it worked. I don't think I ever lied to him again. At least not about cookies.
I often wonder what would have happened had he not intervened on that particular day - there is no telling the cookie stealing spree he helped prevent.
Every would-be Bonnie and Clyde should be so lucky. I know I am.
I love you, Dad.
As together we stand and sing.
PS - Brian didn't die.