BJ Condike

BJ Condike

Published On: June 9, 20174 min readCategories: Fiction

The boys in our neighborhood hated Old Man Brennan.

There were seven of us. Robby, being the oldest, naturally felt like he should be in charge. We mostly let him, until that one time last May.

We were playing whiffle ball in Gary’s yard when Robby hit one onto Mr. Brennan’s porch. We all knew what came next. One of us would fetch the ball, and the old man would yell at the unlucky one picked to retrieve it. The unlucky one might also get grounded if Mr. Brennan complained to the boy’s parents, which he had done before. The old man was responsible for most of the groundings in our neighborhood. He disliked us cutting through his yard or retrieving stray balls, and we retaliated with pranks and practical jokes. We never got malicious or destructive, if you don’t count throwing eggs at Halloween, or ringing his bell and leaving a burning bag of dog shit on his front porch.

Before Robby could pick someone to rescue the ball, Mr. Brennan opened his front door with a letter in his hand. He limped to the street and deposited the letter in his mailbox, raised the flag with his good arm, and headed back to the house. He spied the ball on the porch, picked it up, and took it with him back inside.

“What are we going to do now?” moaned Gary. It was his ball.

“This calls for desperate measures,” Robby said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“We’ll flamingo him,” he said smugly.

“What’s that?” Gary said.

“Well,” said Robby, “someone played a joke on my aunt and planted a hundred plastic pink flamingos in her front yard. She was supposed to return them, but she got so mad she kept them. They’re still in her garage.” Robby looked at us each in turn. “Wouldn’t it be cool to put them all in Old Man Brennan’s yard late some night? Can you imagine how mad he’ll get when he sees them in the morning?”

We all agreed that it would be way cool to flamingo Old Man Brennan and decided to do it Friday night. We were sleeping out in Gary’s back yard in our scout tents, and we needed a bit of mischief for our sleep-out anyway. We were tired of stealing road signs or filching vegetables from Mrs. Reilly’s garden.

Our upcoming adventure got us pretty excited. Too excited, apparently. One of us must have talked, because my grandfather found out. Grampa didn’t get mad or yell, but he got quiet, which oftentimes was worse. Friday afternoon he took me out on the back patio and sat me down at the picnic table. He didn’t speak for a long while.

“Tommy,” he said, “I heard about your plans for tonight. Before you embark on your little escapade, I want to tell you about Mr. Brennan.”

“I don’t know what you’re—”

He held up his hand. “Just stop right there. I don’t recall your lying to me before, so don’t start now.”

Warmth spread up my neck to my ears. I didn’t say anything.

“Okay. As I was saying, Tom Brennan and I were best friends in school…”

“No way,” I said. “He’s old. You can’t be the same age.”

“Be quiet and listen. We had just graduated high school when the war broke out. The government needed men for the army, so they had a lottery. Those with low numbers got drafted into service, those with higher numbers didn’t. Tom was number nine, and I was two fifty-six. He went overseas, and I stayed home.”

“So, what happened?”

“I went to college. Mr. Brennan returned a hero. He saved his platoon in a firefight and carried one man to safety. They gave him a medal for valor, and one for being wounded. That’s why he limps and lost the use of his left arm.”

Grampa paused and looked off somewhere I couldn’t see. “Tom was never the same. He wouldn’t talk about the war, or what happened to him. He became a hermit and barely spoke to anyone. But he’s still my friend.” Grampa looked at me. “And he deserves respect for serving his country.”

That night we slept out in Gary’s yard. We kept to our plan and had our adventure. We overruled Robby, though. Instead of one hundred pink flamingos, we planted one large American flag, and ninety-nine little ones in Mr. Brennan’s front yard. We all chipped in our own money to buy the flags.

Saturday morning I rang Old Man Brennan’s doorbell, and ran. When he opened the door, we were there waiting for him, lined up on the sidewalk, standing at attention in our Boy Scout uniforms. Robby yelled, “Order, Arms!” and we all saluted. Mr. Brennan seemed to lose his balance, because he grabbed onto a porch post and stared. At Robby’s command, we dropped the salute, turned on our heels, and marched away.

The following Monday, Memorial Day, Old Man Brennan died. The ambulance crew wheeled him out through his front yard, past one large American flag, and ninety-nine little ones. I still display those flags every Memorial Day.

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  1. Gail Armstrong October 3, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    Brian I believe this is the best story you have done. Just my opinion. I loved it.

  2. BJ Condike October 3, 2019 at 7:47 pm

    Thanks, Gail! Really appreciate it.

  3. Barbara Gilchrist October 19, 2019 at 11:01 pm

    Very touching. I liked it!

  4. Eileen wicklund February 3, 2020 at 3:15 pm


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