“Caught in the Headlights of Fear.”
Watching the friends and family that I’ve made over the course of my career succumb to the relentless onslaught of this frenzied backpedaling and fear mongering from the people who said that we’d be ok. After trusting what they told us to do, we all lost our jobs and livelihoods. This made me think back to be a child in the hills of Tennessee. The first place in my life where there was something that only a few claims to have seen but caused me to freeze with fear. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would have that feeling again. Only this time, it wasn’t the Kentucky goblins and their trickster nature. Rather a virus mixed with confusion and spread by fear. If I had to pick one to be afraid of the rest of my life, I’d pick the Kentucky goblins, hands down. What is fear and what can it do to us if we let it take over? Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat. So many times, in our lives have we let fear take the wheel without question and drive us off a cliff to bring about our demise, mentally and emotionally if not physically. We think of it as a big, nasty beast, but reality fear is more of a state of mind. When you realize that it's the fear that holds you back, would you still take that step forward in getting rid of it?
On one summer evening, back in 1998, I did just for the first time in my life. I faced my fear after my first run-in with Kentucky goblins. My family had planned to go camping soon, as we often did in the late summer. In preparation, we set up our tents in the backyard, and as a treat my dad let me invite over a friend to camp out in the backyard while the tents were airing out. And as a kid growing up, this is the coolest feeling ever. It gives you that feeling of being a grown-up. The entire time we were setting up our camp behind our house, I made sure to insist that my parents go inside when it got dark. I was met with an annoyed smile and smirk each time. They got it, I just wanted to act cool in front of my friends. Not to mention, on the flip side of that, they got to have a night inside the house away from us kids. So, kind of a win for both sides, right? Well, as afternoon turned into evening, and evening into night, it became clear that wasn't their plan.
The day grew dark, and we could hear the sound of the crickets rolling in. That was my parents' cue to make some mischief. I had some scary stories to tell, not to mention my friend had brought over some of his dad’s Playboys. And at the ripe age of 11, I was overcome by excitement to see boobs above all else. We didn’t have the internet yet, so googling them on a phone wasn’t an option. So now we just had to get rid of my annoying little brother. My friend kept insisting all day that he knew exactly how to do just that. As soon as my parents left to go inside for the night, he moved to the chair right next to me and told me to play along.
“Did you hear that?” He said as he somehow caused the nightlife to become silent on cue. “I hear something.” Whispering after a few moments of silence. I looked immediately over to my brother to see his reaction. Really, I just wanted to see if he believed it or not. He often got scared over almost everything, so I felt like this wouldn't take long. Then soon, after he ran inside, my dad would come out and scorn us for scaring him, that’s when we would just show him the pictures of boobs. Which is why my buddy made sure to grab more than a couple of issues, so we could sacrifice one to my dad in the hopes that he would aid our prepubescent aspirations. I mean, who wouldn’t get it? After all, everyone loves boobs, right? (If all this sounds ridiculous, believe me when I tell you that to our 11-year-old brains it seemed like pure genius.)
So, our plan was in motion and the mood was set. My brother, after only a few minutes of our mind games, freaked out and ran inside. He didn’t last as long out there, and we thought he would. We for sure felt as though he would be out there for maybe an hour at the most. Nope. Fifteen minutes later, he ran as fast as he could into the house. I don’t think he even touched the ground between his chair around the bonfire and the house. We knew that he made it when we heard the old back porch door slam shut. With a brief creak and a swift thwack, you knew when someone was coming in and out of the back door. That specific wood on wood was pretty loud, especially at night. Cue my dad, right on time. He came out fuming. I’m pretty sure he was trying to have a nice romantic evening with my mom, and my brother flew into the house and told them that we had scared him. And it didn’t help that he was met with a couple of punk ass kids laughing their asses off. So, before he could start in with his lecture, we told him our plan. “Boobies, you say? “He said, turning his scowl into a half happy grin. So, I quickly ran to the tent and grabbed him the one I had planned on giving him all evening. And yes, I had in fact looked through all of them and found my date for the night. He got the one with the older girls in it. That seemed more than fitting to me at the time. So porno in hand, I thrust it into his chest, in the hopes that he would go away sooner rather than later. I had a busy night planned. I would soon discover that fate had other plans for me.
Taking one look at what was in my hand, he couldn’t believe that I had the audacity to hand him a nudie mag. My father scooped up the offending magazine, cleared his throat, then after casting me a little grin, made his way back up to the house without saying a word. This is where I expected the possibility of my mom coming screaming out of the house with us locked in her sights. So, we waited to see if my plan had worked. Or not. The way I saw it, if I were going to get in trouble, it would be within the first hour after my dad went inside. So, we waited patiently impatient. An hour went by and no screaming banshee, so we figured it had to have worked. Finally, we decided to let the fire die down before we went into our separate tents. And as we walked away from the dimly lit embers, we heard it. Only thing was, we did know what “it” was. I looked to my friend, and he looked at me with a “Did you hear that too?” look.
Spinning around with my flashlight, I start frantically shining the beam every place that the sound could have come from. The more I moved the beam around in the woods near my home, the more I started to hear the sound. All around us, rustling, clicking, and chirping started to consume the sound of the crickets. So, I threw some wood on the fire, thinking that it would scare whatever animal away. That didn’t work fast enough, so I reached for some of the charcoal lighter fluid I had used to start the fire with. Swinging the nozzle of the bottle toward the wood on the fire, I just squeezed out as much as I could. WHOOSH, the flames were as tall as me and illuminated the night around us and our makeshift campground. And that’s what we could only describe as child-size dark green people with tall pointy ears, with beady little eyes that stared right into the soul. I froze. I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what to do. Sheer fear fell over me. Everything turned cold, and I couldn’t believe what I just saw. Suddenly, something grabbed my right arm and started pulling me from behind. I spun around to my friend pulling me towards the house.
“Let’s GO!” He shouted as we both started sprinting towards my back porch. At least if I could get to the back porch, I could lock the door, and get my dad. After what felt like the longest 50 feet ever, we dove inside the back-porch area and locked the door. I stumbled back to my feet and continued on inside to find an adult to help us. I soon busted into his bedroom and started shaking him and trying to find the right words to describe what just happened. He sat up and told me to calm down and breathe. After I told him what we saw, he started to laugh a little. After he got past his irritation at being woken up this way, he agreed to come outside and investigate. He told us to go back outside and wait for him. Yeah, that shit wasn’t going to happen. And so, he followed us out to the fire to see just what the hell we were talking about. Upon approaching the fire, I could tell that my dad seemed off. And as we began to explain to him what we saw, it actually started happening again. This event made my dad jolt fully awake, and without even having to think about it, he grabbed the branch that we had been using as a fire poker and went stomping into the darkness away from the campfire. At first, I thought that my dad was trying to fake us out. That is until our house dog came flying past my leg headed straight towards my dad. This almost knocked me down, Keesha was a pit-bull and wasn't small by any means. And she was usually very calm and good-natured. But there WAS something out there, and she knew it. I took a few huge steps forward. Just enough to look cool to my friend, but just enough to make me as far away from the woods to keep me out of whatever danger they were heading towards. “GET ‘EM GIRL!” My dad yelled between the dog growls and barking that echoed in the night.
Sometimes when 'secrets' come out, they're not nearly as enticing as we imagine them to be. Like damn, can someone do something unpredictable for once? I cook for a living, that doesn’t mean I’m an idiot. From now on, just assume I always know. Even if I don’t, I’ll catch up and fill in the rest. Everyone knew the moment that when they told us to practice social distancing, and wearing face masks, that our way of life was about to change dramatically. And then literally a week after that, the biggest fear imaginable for a cook or a chef, happened overnight without mercy. Our entire lives were stripped away from us. The kitchens and places that we made into homes over the years were all suddenly shut down without warning. I won’t lie to you, that struck the exact type of fear into me that I remember from that summer night back in ‘98: sheer panic. A panic that caused me to start sweating and fighting to breathe. I felt like I had just been dropped head-first into an ice bath. I couldn't catch my breath for at least a full minute. How could I? I didn’t have a reason to any longer. Something that I’ve trained for all my life just got ripped away from me. So how can I go back to my normal life again? Truth is, I can't. We can’t. I have no doubt in mind that we will survive this, but it won’t be the same as before. So, make sure to listen for their battle cries as they charge forward in this silent but deadly war. And we have to put aside our fear, while leading those who are lost, back home where we all belong. We won’t let make-believe aliens, or some invisible predator take our lifeblood. That alone is worth me facing my fears. This is where we charge in with our knives and fire and take charge of our lives. Lives that we have already bled for. For we many, and they are few. Stand tall y'all.
Rodney Lienhart is a Chef formerly of McKenzie, TN but is now working and residing in the Lansing, MI area. Starting at the young age of 7 years old. He worked his way through the ranks in his mom's kitchen in the hills of Tennessee. With a background in southern, Italian, French, and Nouvelle cuisines, he uses what he knows to learn more about what he doesn't. When he isn't putting a flame on a sauté pan, he can be found reading and researching about what makes people tick. A massive overindulgence in psychology has led him here to share what he has witnessed in his experiences. Make sure to keep a close eye one his videos coming out soon. In these videos, he will be closely working with Wayhot sauce and Krystilion CBD on future recipes and concepts. You can follow his story and insight into the world of cooking food and adding the health benefits of CBD to his dishes on Facebook also on Instagram @chef_rodney_117.