Column: An out-of-control temper can come back to hurt you

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 16, 2002

It was a masterful performance.

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

It was a masterful performance. Academy Awards have been given for lesser performances. I and a number of other shoppers in a local supermarket had all we could do to keep from applauding.

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The actor par excellence was a small child throwing a temper tantrum in the candy aisle. The little boy wanted a candy bar and his mother did not want him to have it. Upon learning of her decision, the young fellow whined for a bit and then went right into a full-fledged temper tantrum. He cried, he wailed and he flopped on the floor. His utter and total despair was evident to anyone with any sense of hearing living within a mile of the store. Although I admired the tot’s technique and appreciated the entertainment he provided, I felt sorry for his mother.

It is much easier to enjoy such temper tantrums when the one displaying it is not a relative. I felt compassion for the mother because I could throw an awe-inspiring temper tantrum myself at an early age. I had a temper -&160;and I knew how to use it. I got mad when I didn’t get my way. I got mad when we lost in baseball. I got mad when I didn’t get a perfect score in spelling. I got mad when the cows or pigs didn’t do exactly what I wanted them to do. My father would either ignore me or get mad right back at me. My mother tried to reason with me. She told me that every time I became angry, I lost. What she said made sense and that made me mad.

I stopped being an angry young man, not from what my mother told me, but from a lesson taught to me by a neighbor. This neighbor didn’t know he was teaching me anything. He wasn’t trying to.

This neighbor, Hap, had a temper that he had perfected with age. He had a vocabulary to go with his temper.

Swearing was unfamiliar territory for me. Neither one of my parents used anything that could even remotely be construed as cussing. Hap could string swear words together like Whoopee John did oompas. A hush would fall over the crowd when one of his John Deere tractors would misbehave. Such an occurrence would cause Hap to produce a vile monologue that would have made the worldliest of sailors blush. The cows would gather to listen to his outbursts.

He was one of the nicest men, except when things went wrong.

One day, I was stacking bales in Hap’s haymow -&160;a dreadful task on a hot and humid day. After stacking for several hours in the stuffy old barn, I walked to one of the small doors in the upper level of the building. I sat on a bale of hay and enjoyed the bit of fresh air coming through the door. While sitting there, I heard Hap muttering a few swear words. Pretty mild stuff, usually the opening to the stream of profanity that would follow.

I leaned out the door a little and could see that Hap was fussing with another one of his John Deere tractors. I felt a bit sorry for the tractor. Hap was using a wrench on a well-rounded nut and the wrench slipped. This allowed Hap to smash his knuckles against a treacherous portion of the green tractor.

Hap let out a yip, grabbed his injured hand with his good hand and did a few steps of that &uot;I’m hurt&uot; dance that men are known to do. I was amazed at the dexterity Hap demonstrated as he danced. Once the pain subsided a bit and Hap realized that he was going to live, he began to lose his temper. He called that poor old tractor every foul name he could think of. In anger, Hap threw the wrench as hard as he could at the tractor. Hap had a black belt in tractor repair. The wrench hit one of the big rear tires and ricocheted back, hitting Hap right in the face, breaking his glasses and bloodying his nose in the process. Hap stopped his cussing and just stared at that tractor.

I skulked away from the door so that Hap wouldn’t know that I had seen his disgrace. I couldn’t wait to hear what kind of a story that Hap would concoct to explain his broken glasses and his bloody nose.

After that incident, each time I have thought about losing my temper, I think of Hap and the flying wrench.

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.