Once a week mom would give me and my sister twenty-five cents for an allowance. We’d walk down to a candy stand near the park where we played. It was run by an old man, but it was a child’s
paradise. There were several bins with one cent candies. I’d buy fifteen of these and two wax coke bottle juices. The small bottles made of wax were shaped like Coke bottles and had colored sugar water inside. There were purple, green, and red ones. Each cost a nickel. I’d leave with fifteen hard candies and two juice bottles. After a while, the stand closed and we were heart broken.
At least we still had the park. It was walking distance from our house. It had a seesaw, monkey bars, swings, and a forty foot steel slide. At least it looked forty feet to us. In hindsight, I suspect it was more like 6 – 10 feet. My best friend’s little brother slipped and fell off the slide once. He hit his chin and then plummeted to the ground. He was bleeding, but it wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, his mom didn’t agree with our medical advice and we had to leave so she could take him to get stitches.
The park’s seesaw was fun, but it always created a logistical problem when it was time to disembark. Someone had to get off first, but that also meant someone was getting off the hard way. Did I mention that I was a skinny kid? A very skinny kid. My weight always insured that I was at the top when the ride was over. Unless some sacrificial soul trust upward and then leaped off at the peak, I was never going to have an easy landing. And we know that kids aren’t sacrificial. Selfish is the closest word that comes to mind.
I would hear something like, “I’m tired of seesawing,” just before plummeting to the ground. After a hard impact, I’d count my vertebra, inventory my limbs, and limp to the swings.
Beside our house were apple trees. They were tall. At least forty feet. Maybe even a hundred feet. They were almost as tall as the mountain my uncle’s house was built on. The mountain we risked life and limb to roll down. Many years later we drove by his house and were shocked to see that someone had cut down the mountain. The house was still there, but the mountain was now a small hill. A very small hill. Both me and my sister cried, “They cut down the mountain.” We were not swayed by Mom’s explanation that we were bigger and it just looked smaller. We knew they had cut down the mountain, and that was that.
I’m sure something similar happened to those forty-foot apple trees. Me and my friend would climb the trees and eat green apples. Silly adults would say things like, “You’re going to get a tummy ache,” but we knew better. Actually, for once we were correct. Not once did I get a stomach ache. But I was extremely regular in my potty schedule.
Stinkbugs were nasty. Sometimes I’d press on one while climbing, and they’d release their odor. Soap wouldn’t wash away their smell. While climbing I saw one of these nasty creatures. I wanted to dispatch him, but couldn’t think of a way to do it without getting that smell on my hands. Then I got a wonderful idea. I climbed down, rushed to the house and found what I was looking for. A ballpeen hammer. I returned to the tree, climbed up, and the stinkbug was right where I left him. He was guarding the tree to prevent my Ascension. I held the trunk with one hand and reared back with the other.
* SMASH *
When the hammer hit the bug, his remains sprayed outward and right into my face. The odor almost knocked me out of the tree. I rushed to the house, gagging as I ran. I scrubbed my face a dozen times, but as was the case with stinkbug hands, the odor also wouldn’t wash off my face. It had to run its stinky course.
Here’s a piece of advice for you. Smashing stinkbugs with ballpeen hammers is never a good idea.
The street behind Oxford lane had some apartments. A man who lived at the apartment where I cut through to get to my friend’s street loved to talk about his gunshot wound. When I’d meet my friend, sometimes this man would be cooking out behind the apartment. “Come here, boys. I want to show you something.”
He was a bit overweight, but it didn’t keep him from sitting in a lawn chair shirtless. He stood up and pointed to a scar on his belly.
“This is where the bullet went in,” he pointed to a round scar. “And this is where they cut me open to get it.” There was a long scar from sternum to naval. “What do you think of that?”
I didn’t know what to say. What could you say? “That’s nice?” He somehow weaved a tale of warning that we should heed, but I never understood the point he was making. Don’t get shot was about the extent of it. I didn’t have plans to get shot, so the lesson wasn’t something I could weave into my own life’s philosophy.
My friend’s name was Greg. I’ve known a lot of Gregs in my life and you’ll see a few of them as we go along. Greg and I liked to play a fun game. We’d play, ‘see how many bees you can catch in a single jar’. We got stung a lot that year. The odd thing is that after so many stings, it would stop hurting. At the beginning of Spring, I remember laying on the sofa, moaning from my throbbing thumb where a honeybee stung me. By the end of Summer, I’d pull the stingers out and kept going.
The yard behind the duplexes next to our house was perfect for bee catching. Wild clover grew in abundance, and bees were everywhere. Our game evolved into bee baseball. He had a plastic bat and we’d take turns swatting bees and collecting them. When I got my own plastic bat, we were in heaven. Ironically, I got stung more times killing bees than catching them. Hitting a bee didn’t count unless it was a confirmed kill. This meant sorting through the grass to locate the bee. A wounded bee is more than willing to sting. Heck, I’d say they were down right eager to sting.
I had the record for the longest bee drive. A wasp was flying overhead and I hit him in mid-air with my bat. He flew like a dart. That wasp went across the yard, over the street, and landed in the middle of the yard across the road. The critter kept going and going. I was sure he was flying, but when I caught up to him, the wasp had no signs of life at all.
Can you tell we were bug lovers?
This was the same yard with the tiger lily plants. Somehow I discovered that fireflies hid in the lilies during the day. This was a great discovery, for it meant my lightning bug catching was not limited to dusk. I’m not sure if they hide in lilies around the world, but they were in these lilies and were abundant.
I also loved snails. I thought slugs were snails that lost their shells. I spent several hours turning over rocks and boards to harvest a few dozen snails and slugs. I then had a race. I put them on the wall of our carport and let them race down. It was a slow race. Wanting my favorites to win, when the wrong slug took the lead, I’d poke his eyes to make him retract. Each time he took the lead, I’d do it again until the favored snail won. Slugs were faster than snails, so I had to even the odds.
Eddie Snipes 2012
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