Friday, October 23, 2009


Many, many years ago, my brother Jack and I would visit my mother's sister and her family. Jack and I loved going to visit our cousins. I can still hear us joyfully saying, "We're going to Henry and Matthew's!"

While there we would go to the railroad tracks and line up rocks on the rail near the ditch. Then we'd play "Chicken" to see who was the last one to jump away from the oncoming train and duck into the ditch to watch the rocks burst into pieces as the engine ran over the rocks. It took us awhile to learn that there were no rocks large enough to derail the train, dern it, but a certain type of metamorphic rock would send out "zingers," pieces of rock that would whiz by your head as you watched in fascination as the rocks were "smashed to smithereens."

We would go to the movie theater and make fun of the movie. The old Harrisburg Theatre is long gone by now, but I remember us making loud, public comments during the films. I would never have done that at my neighborhood theater, the Santa Rosa Theater, for fear of excommunication, but Henry and Matthew had tested the Harrisburg Theatre and found it to be devoid of management or complaining adults, so we would spout off all sorts of dumb, sarcastic comments during the film.

We would play King of the Mountain, a game now outlawed on playgrounds and in parks all over this great, lawyerfied country of ours. Sometimes one of us would get hurt and cry, but no one tattled. If you tattled, you'd be told not to play King of the Mountain again, and we didn't want to add any more disobediences to the already growing list.

We would make fun of the Catholic Church, a la George Carlin. Even I knew that if you skipped church on Sunday, you would not be killed by an act of God. I think the story that made us laugh the most was the one about the boy who skipped church, climbed a tree, and died by hanging when his head became stuck in the fork of two branches. A gruesome death, and a true story, according to Sister Chocolata.

One time we "got our hands on a BB gun." We quickly became tired of shooting at birds and trains, so we took turns hiding behind a huge overturned oak tree, then popping our heads up like little ducks at a midway carnival shooting gallery. Matthew was wearing his official U.S. Army helmet and that made him the obvious target. I am quite certain that I am the one who hit Matthew in the forehead with a BB. He cried out and we all stopped and examined the indent in his forehead, which had some redness to it which made it stick out for any adult to see. Matthew wore his official U.S. Army helmet way down to his eyebrows so no one would notice. We got away with what I will simply refer to as an incredibly stupid act of stupid stupidity. "You'll shoot your eye out!" is still an hilarious comment to me, warped as I am by my childhood.

I remember seeing how high we could jump off of things. Henry and Matthew's garage was a little high for me until I turned nine, and then "bailing off" of it quickly became boring. We searched for greater heights, and I still wonder if that isn't why I have short thigh bones.

I remember going very far up into drainage pipes. If you went far enough, you'd come to large rooms with lots of entry pipes at the top and one larger exit pipe at the bottom. Branches of trees, small furniture, and lots of unusual objects were to be found in these rooms. We didn't go often if it was rainy, and that's why I'm still here today.

We walked across pipes that ran over Sims Bayou, Braes Bayou, and Buffalo Bayou. If you were seven or eight years old it was a scary thing to do, but by the time you were nine, it was no big deal. If the pipe was concreted, you could ride your bike across. Nowadays the adults have chain-link-fenced over the pipes so no little kids can learn how to do it.

We played with matches, gasoline, and firecrackers. We "enlarged" mailboxes with cherry bombs. We burned hundreds of ants with magnifying glasses. We froze all assortment of bugs and then thawed them to see if they could be "reanimated." We set fire to anything experimentable, and my recommendation at this time is still a golf ball. Just be patient and get to the rubber bands. Then sit back and enjoy (upwind, of course)!

We could laugh for hours at nothing. We would get filthy dirty and very sweaty, and if you threw your underwear, t-shirt, and socks into a pile, which we would do, the next morning they would reek of moldy, mildew stench, and then we would sniff the pile, of course, and grimace or laugh. We walked down Harrisburg Blvd. and acted sick, or crazy, or blind, or whatever idea would come into our heads.

We made fun of people, told gruesome stories, crashed bikes, peeked in windows, whispered, rolled our eyes, imitated anyone for a laugh, told dirty jokes, did not go home to use the bathroom (if you know what I mean), explored garbage cans and trash piles hoping to find discarded light bulbs to be busted, threw rocks, tried to pry open manhole covers, played with our food, knew why dead batteries were not supposed to be busted open and why live batteries were even more "deadly," snuck cigarettes out of our grandmother's purse, smoked them, smoked any plant stem that was hollow (Don't suck in when the match is on the end!), and we entered vacant buildings without approval or permission, and the thought of not going in was as ridiculous as asking for approval. "Duh! Yeah! That's right! Let's go ask permission! Ha!"

I grew up to be a job wanderer, and became an elementary school teacher as a seventeenth career. I am married with no children and am living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Henry became a derelict and died riding the rails, run over by a freight train while sneaking a ride.

Jack is an M.I.T. graduate, married and has a son and two twin girls, and is living in Weston, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.

Matthew is married and has a son, and is a substitute teacher in Houston, Texas.

Monday, October 12, 2009


My older brother William once "got to use crutches." Now I know that it's an unfortunate incident that causes such damage to the human body and normally we should feel pity for someone who injures themselves to that extent, but as I recall, William seized the opportunity they provided. I don't remember how he was injured, but that's beside the point. His crutches were enough to get people's attention. William hobbled around getting more sympathy from family and friends than I got in a lifetime. He was about fifteen or sixteen, and I was ten or eleven.

During the time he was using his crutches we visited our cousins because Mary Ann and Sissy were having a party. Elizabeth, who everyone called Sissy, which I couldn't understand because she was certainly no sissy and Elizabeth is such a beautiful name so why change it or allow anyone to call you by the name Sissy is beyond me. Elizabeth had invited a bunch of her teenage girl friends over, and though they were all too old for me, it didn't prevent me from dreaming. I was dreaming away when who shows up? William.

William comes hobbling into the room and all the girls' eyes turned to him. Seconds later they were all over him, asking if he needed anything, did it hurt, was he in pain, how did it happen, how long had he been suffering, and generally making a big fuss over him. I was really impressed with this obvious display of the power of sympathy.

Then someone started playing Elvis or Ricky Nelson or Pat Boone. A few brave teenagers started dancing, and William was slowly coaxed into gingerly stepping onto the dance floor. He managed to shed his emcumbrances and slow dance a little. Then a fast song started up, and William began to move a little. Suddenly, William could sense all eyes on him, and he sprang into action and started boogying and shimmying. The girls oohed and ahhed and giggled and William could feel all female eyes on him. That wasn't enough, though. He grabbed one girl and set to tearin' up the dance floor. There wasn't room for anyone else, just him and that girl. They both got to rockin' 'n rollin' and covering the whole dance floor together. It was about that time I saw through William's little charade.

It was also about that time that my Aunt Marian came into the room. Now I was thinking what she was thinking long before she did, because I was thinking it before she came into the room, but I have to hand it to her for saying it so quickly and decisively, without hesitation. It just came barreling out of her mouth.

"William, I think it's time you got rid of those crutches. It's pretty obvious all they're good for is a little sympathy. They sure aren't slowing you down any!"

As I recall, William didn't get rid of those crutches too quickly. He carted them around under his arms quite awhile longer, and I wonder sometimes, if he still misses those suckers.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


What a difference a reversal of the vowels can make in a sentence!

One of my fourth grade students was writing a story in which they owned a zoo. They wrote, "We feed my loins at eleven o'clock."