Nature Boy… Counting Skunks Is More Fun than Being Conked by a Baseball

Another fuzzy photo from the 1950s. My brother Marshall poses proudly in his Little League uniform. Even Tickle had to get into the act.

It isn’t surprising that I became known as Nature Boy by my classmates, given all the time I spent in the woods. I considered it a compliment. I did, however, realize that there was more to life. For example, I took an early interest in girls. And then there were sports.

I am not a jock when it comes to traditional sports. It isn’t so much physical as mental. You have to care to be good at sports and I find other things more interesting. Part of this evolved from a lack of enthusiasm on the home front. There was little vicarious parental pressure to see us excel on the playing field. Being as blind as a bat didn’t help, either. Like many young people, I was not excited about wearing glasses. When Mrs. Wells, the school nurse, came to class with her eye charts, I would memorize the lines and then breeze through the test. As for class work, I would sit close to the black board and squint a lot. While I got away with this in the classroom, it became a serious hazard on the Little League field.

I remember going out for the team. All of my friends played and social pressure suggested it was the thing to do. I showed up on opening day and faced the usual chaos of parents signing up their stars, balls flying everywhere, coaches yelling, and kids running in a dozen different directions.

“Okay, Curtis,” the Coach instructed, “let’s see how you handle this fly.”

Crack! I heard him hit the ball. Fine— but where was it? The ball had disappeared. Conk. It magically reappeared out of nowhere, bounced off my glove, and hit me on the head.

“What’s the matter? Can’t you see?” the Coach yelled helpfully. “Let’s try it again.” My Little League career was short lived. I went back to carrying out my inventory of the skunks that lived in the Woods. This came with its own hazards, however. Have you ever had a skunk stand up on its front legs, wave its tail at you, and prepare to let you have it with both barrels. If you are lucky, don’t move, and are very quiet, the skunk will return to all fours and waddle off. I’ve been in the situation twice and lucked out both times.

In the seventh grade, I finally obtained glasses and discovered the miracle of vision: trees had leaves, billboards were pushing drugs, and the kid waving at me across the street was flipping me off. I could even see baseballs. It was time to become a sports hero. That’s a story for another time but I’ll leave it with saying my sports career peaked in the eighth grade where I pitched for the softball team, was quarterback of the football team, and center for the basketball team. It was all downhill after that.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I spent a substantial amount of time getting into mischief as a kid. Admittedly, I had a lot of help from my brother, but I was hardly innocent. The primary difference between Marshal and me was that l lacked his creativity. For example, it never would have crossed my mind to put a bullet down on a rock and then smash it with another rock to see what would happen. In my post next Monday, I’ll explore a Diamond Springs mantra of the time— The Mekemson kids did it.

WEDNESDAY’S BLOG-A-BOOK POST from my Peace Corps Memoir: UC Berkeley came to a grinding halt in the wake of the arrests at Sproul Hall and I joined a picket line. Thousands of students gathered in Sproul Plaza while an army of police hovered nearby…

15 thoughts on “Nature Boy… Counting Skunks Is More Fun than Being Conked by a Baseball

  1. Ha Ha – it took until 5th grade until a teacher realized my husband was blind as a bat. There must have been some sort of special sense that kept you guys safe until somebody noticed!
    (I can’t get near a baseball diamond – baseball magnet – they always hunt me down and clobber me…don’t laugh…people laughed until they saw it’s true…..hmmm a long story for another time HaH)

  2. I resisted wearing glasses until I was about 45. When I played golf I was always asking my son where the ball had gone. One day he said “Dad, you have only hit it 50 yards, you need glasses”. He was absolutely right.

  3. No one noticed I needed glasses until well into the fourth grade. Like you, the miracle of vision was “eye opening”: buildings had windows and signs above the first floor, and trees had leaves. But I never did develop any hand-eye coordination, and by that time I had stumbled over so many things, knots on the corners of my forehead after stumbling were a regular feature, possibly the reason I realized later I also had no sense of smell.

    • I was in the seventh grade, Ray. Why I didn’t figure out that I would be better off being able to see is a real question! I’ve never though of myself being particularly bothered by image. Ha.
      Fortunately, I’ve always had good hand-eye coordination. And still do. I wonder what the correlation was between coordination and sense of small?

  4. It was third grade for me, and that experience of realizing the leaves on the ground were related to the trees surrounding me was the first revelation. Unfortunately, my mother was determined that the pink plaid frames would be perfect. The best analogue I can think of is Ralphie in that bunny sleeper in A Christmas Story. As soon as I could, I persuaded my dad that a change was needed!

    • That’s funny, Linda. And the comparison to Ralphie makes it even funnier. What was you mom thinking! Good thing that your dad was there to offer another perspective. –Curt

  5. Well, maybe it was short-lived, your time as an athlete, but you accomplished much by eighth grade! And as for seeing a skunk face-to-face, well, I’d be outta there quicker than an ump could throw me!

    • Laughing, and probably sprayed, Rusha. 🙂 The secret is not to move or make a noise. Otherwise you scare the skunk. Do you remember when a skunk was under our house 3 or so years ago and the sound of a flushing toilet set him off. We almost had to vacate the house. –Curt

  6. Wow! Out-foxed a skunk twice! You are lucky. As for glasses, Don was the same. I never needed them until my late 40’s and it’s the only thing about getting older that annoys me (so far, lol).

    • Skunks just like to be allowed to go about their business, Alison. 🙂 Laughing about the ‘so far.’ You and Don are a lot like Peggy and me, doing what we can to live life to its fullest, regardless of age. –Curt

  7. We were counting skunks about this time last year when a family got raised (I won’t say reared) under the backyard shed. No sign of them this year. I played a fair bit of neighborhood kid baseball/softball, but was never coordinated enough for high school sports. And I don’t think I can blame it on my so-so vision.

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