With this installment I’ve delved a little into my dark side. Some my find it offensive, but it was my life. I never got into drugs, but there are other things that affected my life for years to come, just the same.
We had a neighborhood landmark know to anyone of the right age, as simply “The Big Tree.” The Big Tree offered to us a place of privacy, a place of moral and immoral education, a place for dare-deviling and suicidal risks. It was our world of make-believe vs. stark reality.
This place of wonder, truth, and lies stood along the north-south fence line of Higdon’s pasture. It stood towering above the other scrubby firs, alders, hazelnut and cascara trees. It was separated from the closest of our homes by several acres, which during grazing season we utilized as a ball field.
The Big Tree provided a sanctuary for a lot of “firsts.” It was here that a lot of us kids had our first smokes. My first was Menthol KOOL’s that we stole from Larry’s dad. Larry’s dad was one who seemed to me to wile his free time away in a haze of cigarette smoke and television. So when he was at work there was always cartons of them lying around to pilfer.
It was here too, that we came with our pockets bulging with cigarette butts that we collected along the road as we walked home from school. The butts you see, came in handy when one wanted to build a foot long cigar, and be really cool.
Here is the recipe we used, for the foolhardl brave among you. Take one clothes hanger tube, (the tight-rolled ones that look like a cardboard box that you get when you send your suit to the dry cleaners) and pull it off the wire hook.
Well wait a minute, you’ll probably only be able to find these at an antique store! Anyway, cut it in half, to share with a friend. Pull the filter tips off the butts and stuff the cigarette butts into the cardboard tubes. Climb 2/3 of the way up the tallest tree you can find. Park yourself astride a limb and lean back against the tree truck to light up.
To heighten the effect, tell tall tales, and try to keep your friends convinced that you really are not sickened by that big “cigar” that you’re puffing on
We thought Pinky was a master of tall tales, until we later learned that he really didn’t get sick as often as we did, because he wasn’t inhaling the smoke!
The Big Tree afforded us the opportunity for many an anatomy lesson as well. Many times we stripped to the “buff” and raced to the top of the tree.
Now, you have to understand that “the top” meant different things to different people. The TOP was directly relates to your age, sex and weight.
To Pinky, “the top” meant that portion of the tree trunk that extended up near the clouds, and was reduced to wrist size or smaller.
To Susy, “the top” meant that portion of the tree trunk where she could see her house, and she was afraid her mom could see her bare bottom if she went any higher.
To me, “the top” meant that portion of the tree trunk that was about as wide as my shoulders, with 3 limbs branching out at about the same place.
This odd configuration made an ideal seat. Usually it was not so high that we couldn’t lure one of the neighborhood girls up for a view. They viewed the countryside while we viewed their bottoms after pushing them into place.
Pinky invented the sport of limb diving. He would scramble up the tree 20 or 30 feet, and begin sliding out on the limb until it would bow under his weight lowering him gently down to the limb below. Then he would gently roll onto the lower limb. At this point he usually had to move out a little farther with each succeeding limb.
It all looked like great sport, and soon we all were joining in. Then it developed into a race for the ground. A few of us became covered with bruises as our coordination lagged and we came down faster than we wished! That skill was always good for a few shrieks from newcomers to our Big Tree.
The area directly under The Big Tree was well protected from our generous rains. It could very often be perfectly dry under there several hours after a rain. Our clothes, when rolled up tight and tossed against the trunk would stay quite dry.
Each year The Big Tree would grow a generous supply of cones that changed from heavy artillery to hand grenades, depending on the “enemy” and the game in progress. One soon learned to respect the throwing arm of Pinky and several of the other kids.
A number of real wars broke out as a result of these childhood games with the cones. The serious ones usually started as a result of somebody’s overpowered hurl. Or the cone would strike a particularly tender spot of our anatomy.
One such dispute that lasted several days, and had rather dire results was the day we started with a game of Nudie Birdie Ball. This was long before the whiffle ball was invented.
The cones we discovered, acted a lot like the modern whiffle ball, when hit with a bat.
Since very often there was not enough of us to make up two teams, we usually played cross-out softball where the ball was thrown between the runner and the base for which he was headed.
Our birdie-ball game as it evolved, was like a cross between this softball “work-up”, and strip-poker. Only the largest cones were used by the pitcher, who usually hurled them with all his might in the general direction of home plate.
I say “general direction” because it was very difficult to have much control over it as it went flopping and tumbling like a sick bird toward the batter. The batter crouched, bat in hand ready in an instant to either duck or get into a swinging position.
The resounding whisssh-splat told everyone in the field to look for a “goose” or a “buzzard.” The goose amounted to a line drive, while a buzzard more resembled a pop-fly that went up and sort of hovered there waiting for the wind to carry it away or drop it at the batters feet.
Three strikes and you’re out, and you had to leave one article of clothing at home plate. If you got crossed out, at one of the bases, one article had to be left at the last base you were occupying.
Well, this particular game had lasted several hours. We were hot and sweaty. Most of us were stripped down to our socks and shoes. I was on pitchers plate, with Pinky up to bat. Somehow he had only been put out or struck out twice since the game started, and most of us naked, burned players were getting pissed and tempers were short-fused.
Kicking through the collection of cones at my feet, I picked up the most compact green-looking one in the pile. Taking careful aim at his chest, I gave it my mightiest throw.
What happened next took place so fast that in the retelling it seems like slow motion. In fact it was so fast that nearly everyone in the game had a different account of the facts involved. So, if sometime you come across someone who was in that illustrious game and their story is different, you’ll understand that this my account!
The pitch left my hand like a torpedo set on its course. Like a perfect bullet-pass in football, it neither wobbled nor tumbled.
“What a hit! What a hit,” I thought as it sped for its mark. Then, right at the last second Pinky stepped back, and with measured stroke, connected with that cone! In an instant it had made its turn-around and was headed back for me!
Dumbfounded with disbelief, I was unable to move as I watched that murderous cone speeding back to me at strike-zone level. Well, strike it did, right on my sunburned penis. It bounced off me, and was quickly retrieved by Larry the short stop. In a valiant attempt to cross out Pinky he whumped Ina on her panty-covered buns.
She went screaming after Larry ready to scratch his eyes out. I bounced off the ground mad as a hornet, and grabbed the first thing I could get my hands on, which just happened to be the one foot square piece of 1/2 inch plywood that served as home plate. After chasing him around in a vain attempt to brain him with home plate, I threw it at him. As though the Devil himself were my helper, that board sailed as true as the cone. Pinky, hearing my scream of rage, turned to see what I was up to, but it was too late. Home plate hit him squarely on the forehead.
Of course the sight of blood running profusely down Pinky’s face changed the whole tenor of the game-gone-war. But before we could even think of getting help for Pinky we had to get dressed! Some of the smaller kids started hollering and crying.
Fearing all the commotion might bring some parents on the run only made getting dressed in a hurry all the more difficult. But dress and scatter we did as Pinky ran for home clutching a bloodied forehead.
The wounds and hurt pride eventually healed, but our enthusiasm for Nudie Birdie Ball waned and the puzzle of just what happened that day has never been resolved amongst us.
Larry’s family owned a brindle boxer dog who loved to kill cats. He had already killed one of Cliffy’s cats and one of ours.
Duke, I think his name was, was a loyal dude. He followed Larry everywhere and he managed to get into trouble about as often as Larry and I did.
Although Pinky’s place was “Cat Heaven” for any stray cat that wandered in or got dumped by a passing motorist, it was “Duke Heaven” anytime Larry and I went to his house.
We had tried everything we could think of to get Duke to stay home… including tying him to his home porch.
Of course it didn’t help much that I had a female boxer that delighted in teasing him with her lady-like behavior and coy ways.
“I read somewhere,” said Pinky, one day, “That if you soak a corncob in turpentine, and rub it on a dog’s butt, he will stay away from you.”
“Really?” asked Larry incredulously.
“Sure ‘nuff!” affirmed Pinky. “Magazines don’t lie.”
To myself I’m asking, “What kind of magazines does this guy read, anyway?”
Well, after arguing the pros and cons, we set out in search of the needed materials. But where could mischief makers find a corncob in the spring of the year?
“Guess we’ll have to find something else for an applicator,” says Pinky, “How ‘bout my t-shirt? We could wrap it around a willow branch.”
That problem solved, we still had to find some turpentine.
At my house we searched the garage from one side to the other. Tucked high on a shelf, behind some cans of paint I found it. There wasn’t much, but it would have to do.
While Larry held and petted Duke, Pinky did the dirty work. Dowsing the ragged t-shirt that he had wrapped around the stick, he set about the task.
Not having a tail, Duke was an easy target. As Pinky scrubbed his butt with the mixture, the poor dog began to squirm, then yelp.
When Larry could hold him no longer, he shouted, “Go home, Duke!”
At first Duke just ran in circles, then dropping his butt to the ground, he began dragging himself across our lawn by his front legs. We were all holding our side in laughter.
That was the last of anyone saw of him until late the next day.
All of our unsupervised games were fun. Some were weird. Some down right cruel.