By Tommy Clarkson from the March 2011 Edition
had the motley old crow
but two more they were
than man’d ever grow.
As a kid, I used to dream that I could fly. For some reason or another, however, I had to climb a flagpole first and then commence to soar from there. As humans, we’re pretty smart and do a lot more things than birds. But, all things considered, without mechanical help, we still can’t fly.
When I was young, my buddies and I were scolded by crows while exploring “the rocks” playing army and throwing Yuka pod hand grenades at each other? My earliest childhood pal, Robert, with his bare hands, caught a carp someone had let loose in the water tower runoff stream that ran down through “the rocks” to the Creek. Over it, above the lazy, muddy flow of the Pawnee Creek (where it went around both sides of Peewee Island), while sprawled on an overhanging limb from a tree whose roots were all but washed away, we dropped firecrackers into the water for hours on end? And on that creek in which we fished and swam, we’d ride our tractor tire tube raft with the current to where it joined the Arkansas River? (That’s right; out where we grew up it was the Ar-Kansas, not Arkansaw, River.)
We caught crawdads with pieces of weenies tied to fishing line – or when we got fancy – seined them from a farm pasture pond, took them home and boiled them up for crunch munchy treats? We ran in and out of an old barn, playing for hours in a hay loft finding hidden nests of eggs, hens had thought, no one could ever find? We spent the entire day exploring a shelter belt made up of WPA planted cedars, Russian Olive, elm trees and hedge apples (some call them Osage Oranges – go figure!)
Fifty years ago there was so much more fun than video games, rap music, and inane animated cartoons. Kids were – believe it or not – kids! What a novel thought.
In the winter, for fun – if the temperature was over twenty-five degrees – we went outside. We made snow angels by lying on our backs in the snow and waving our arms up and down. We played “Fox and Hounds” in a tromped out patterns in the back yard Our snow forts – I’m sure – were as formidable as any fortifications found on the Siegfried Line! Or, little sexists that we were, we made snowmen with honest to goodness carrot noses and rock eyes.
But the ultimate fun was when the city closed down 5th Street for sledding. Over three blocks of great down hill slickness! Rip to the bottom. Then trudge to the top. again and again and again. It just didn’t seem like it could get any better than that.
However, having so said, through spring, summer and fall it was “Katy bar the door.” Ball games of “work up” every evening after school and “kick the can” when dusk neared. And when school was out, summer ball games and every imaginable type of program offered by the city in the municipal park, from archery to oral readings! Even Bible school, though short, wasn’t all that bad either – the cookies and Kool-Aid were great and the church had that cool, well, churchy smell!
But those summers! Fishing for crappie at the sandpit day after day. . . and cleaning and frying them ourselves. And on week-ends, water skiing with dad driving his outboard Johnson powered, aluminum, 11′ foot boat for hours on end. Getting sunburned, of course, but such was a part of summer.
And our tree houses that were always in one stage or another of development. I’m hard pressed to ever remember any of us actually finishing a tree house, but we certainly did have fun working toward that end! Just the act of climbing trees, in itself, was a rewarding experience.
Some days, with my WWII, aluminum canteen attached to the old web belt I got at the Army Surplus store with pennies saved from my paper route, my pal and I would head west along the creek to explore in search of adventure and treasure. These were “wilds” to us and we just knew danger lurked around every tree and bush.
Once, we actually even found treasure! While rooting in a crevice of a monstrous piece of sandstone that had broken down and away, we excitedly found scores of candy bars. Apparently looted from a nearby Boy Scout treat machine,they had been hidden there by the thieves. Armed with more sugar products than we’d ever imagined, we lumbered home our load to show this great find to our mothers. To our total chagrin and mortification, they made us throw it all away – a loss of major consequence to the two greatest explorers ever to come from Mann Street in Larned, Kansas!
Of course, there were the Ban Johnson baseball games in the evenings. The stadium was only a block and a half from my home – right below the water tower and next to where the County 4-H Fair was held each year. In all reality, as boys aged in the single digits, we went to those games for two primary purposes: the treasures at the snack bar and in hopes of catching a foul ball.
But the 4th of July was the pinnacle of summer. We’d all trek back to that stadium which was sort of dug out of the side of the hill. (Even today I have to admit it was a neat place and still is, though, sadly, seldom used. But then, it looked so much bigger!) With blankets spread out on the man made hill (another of our favorite places to sled during the winter) we’d lie back and do all the crowd “oooohs and ahhhhhs.” But then, we really meant it.
And then it was harvest time. (Did you ever make wheat gum by chewing kernels of wheat – without swallowing? I did . . . and still can!)
Harvest was a big deal. It was Uncle Dale’s livelihood and, until Grampa got his leg caught in a wheat auger and messed it up, his too.
The heat, sweat, dust of harvest in those days before air-conditioned trucks and combines, I remember well.
And when the combine was on the far side of the section, and all was quiet, we might hear from those large, noisy birds from above . . .
had the motley old crow
but two more they were
then man’d ever grow.
30 December, 2002
Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation - Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.