Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tommy and the Bow and Arrow Incident

My Uncle John Joe and Aunt Marian, my mother’s younger sister, married and raised a large and diverse family of seven children on Capitol Avenue just west of Wayside Drive in Houston, Texas.

Their oldest child is Tommy, and there are quite a few “interesting” stories about him, many of them outright lies fabricated by Tommy himself and fondly remembered by me, including but not limited to his claims of witnessing a UFO landing and seeing “little green men,” and his outrageous claims of paranormal abilities, including the gift of communication with ghosts, usually accomplished by having them answer his questions by moving a table which happened to have his foot under one leg of it.

He was also known for his handsome good looks. My sister Carolyn told me that many of her friends in high school were merely “...using her to meet Tommy.” Tommy could, and still does, go months on end refusing to discuss anything seriously. Everything he says can either be tongue-in-cheek or satirically humorous, and then he will suddenly display a surprising knowledge of Scripture and mystical literature such as the works of Immanuel Swedenborg.

This is a story about a legendary moment in the childhood of Tommy as told to me by his younger brother, David. David is quite a character himself, and the most affable and mature of all my cousins. He told me this story years ago, and I never forgot it. With some details provided by David, I will retell the story exactly as I remember it. Squeamish readers who are easily upset by the behavior of boys need to stop reading immediately.

The Bow and Arrow Incident took place in the Year of Our Lord, 1953. These are the words of David Barrett, as best as I can remember.

“You have to know that Tommy was the oldest in the family and that I and all the other boys in the neighborhood considered Tommy to be the leader, the one we looked up to, the one we held in very high regard. You have to understand that to know what an impact this incident had on us because we all thought that Tommy was the king of the neighborhood.

One year it seemed like every kid in the neighborhood got a bow and arrow for Christmas. Most of the boys like Victor and Johnny who lived across the street had weak Bakelite bows that soon broke, and they had to resort to handmade bows and arrows made out of sticks and string. Tommy and I got great quality lemon wood, double recurved bows with a thirty-five pound pull. I could hardly pull mine back and I am left-handed so nobody could show me how to shoot it. Also, the bow string had a lot of strength and it hurt my wrists when it slammed quickly back across my wrist. Tommy practiced and was very skillful, so when we went hunting all the other kids were on safari and Tommy was Bwana.

Our neighborhood had a Catholic Church and its parochial school nearby. During the school year the nuns lived on campus, and out of the goodness of their hearts would feed the neighborhood strays. Not wanting to dwell on such things, they neglected to have the cats neutered or spayed. Summer would come, the nuns would leave, and the cats would overrun the neighborhood.

On one of our hunting expeditions someone spotted a cat with its head down drinking water from the goldfish pond in front of Jean Robinson’s house. The pond was a full block away, too far away for me, Victor, Johnny, or any other kid in the neighborhood to get off a good shot. Tommy sprung into action. He pulled back on his bow, aimed the arrow towards the sky, and with the simple words, “Watch this,” he let it fly. It was a beautiful thing to see. The arrow followed a long graceful climb with nothing but sky as a backdrop. Then slowly, growing smaller and smaller, it began to make a beautiful arc and began its descent. With mystifying skill and accuracy, the arrow entered the cat in the midsection. The cat hollered loud enough for us to hear it, jumped up and turned around in midair with the arrow sticking out both sides, frantically climbed a chain link fence, and then disappeared under a house behind my cousin Timmy’s home.

We were all amazed at Tommy’s incredible feat. This was an event we knew was special. That was no ordinary shot, no ordinary arrow. We had seen it soar through the sky to its spectacular and intended purpose. Tommy’s only reaction however was to quietly say, “Aw. My arrow.” We were afraid of the lady in that house so we ran. None of us were able to forget the sight of that arrow’s flight. Tommy’s incredibly accuracy lifted him to a new status. No longer was Tommy a mere Bwana or King.

The story didn’t end there. The lady that lived behind Timmy began to complain about a bad smell. She paid Timmy a quarter to crawl under her house to see if he could find something that was giving off the foul aroma. Timmy, being the wise and good cousin that he was, gladly took her money which was no small amount in those days, for him a full week’s allowance, and crawled under her house. While he was under there, he removed the arrow from the dead cat and drug the carcass out from under the house. The lady was grateful to Timmy for eliminating the source of her disgust, but not nearly as grateful as Tommy. Timmy, being the good cousin he has always been, returned the arrow to Tommy. No money or reward was exchanged, as was the custom.

Tommy’s reputation rose immediately to the status of a god. Tommy was a god to us, and I’ll never forget that shot.”

As told to yours truly by my cousin David.

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