The Natchez Trace: A Bicyclist’s Paradise… The 10,000 Mile North American Bicycle Tour

The Natchez Trace between Natchez and Jackson Mississippi.

I don’t think there is a place along the Natchez Trace that isn’t beautiful. I traveled on it for 370 miles of its 450 mile length.

This is my fourth post introducing new followers to the type of tales they can find in my blog. Way back in 1989, I did a solo 10,000 mile bicycle tour of North America. While the journey predated blogging, Peggy and I retraced my route three years ago. Traveling out of California, we crossed the US following a southern route, went up the east coast into Canada, headed back west through Canada to Minnesota, and then finished our tour following a northern route back to California. This is a chance to visit much of North America and hear tales about my bike trek. Want more: Here’s a post from Canada. Scroll forward or backward for the rest of the story:  https://wandering-through-time-and-place.com/2016/09/28/

A large, yellow mutt came wagging his way into my camp. I’d unpacked my gear, set up my tent, and taken off my shoes and socks. My toes were celebrating their freedom.

“Well hello big fellow,” I said to the dog, glad for the company. He sat down beside me and worked his head under my hand, demanding that I scratch behind his ears. Then I was required to pet the rest of him. I had just worked my way down to his tail when he rolled over and insisted on equal treatment for his tummy.

I provided an initial scratch but my coffee water had started boiling. “Priorities,” I told him, “the petting zoo is closed.” Apparently this meant it was play time. He leapt up, grabbed one of my socks, and bounced off about 15 feet.  “Hey! Bring that back,” I urged. Fat chance. He put the sock down, backed off a couple of feet, and started barking.

I finished pouring the hot water into my coffee filter and got up, tiredly, to retrieve my sock. It had been an 80-mile day and I really didn’t want to play ‘chase the dog around the yard.’ I pretended that I didn’t care, that I wasn’t going for the sock, and that I was terribly interested in a large bullfrog that had taken up residence in the swimming pool. The pool hadn’t been cleaned since the previous summer. It made a great pond.

The dog didn’t buy it. He dashed in, grabbed the sock and ran off across the yard. “Okay, you win,” I declared while picking up a stick. “How about a game of chase the stick?” The dog cocked his head and increased his wags per second. I tossed the stick and off he dashed, leaving my sock behind. I quickly bare-footed it across the lawn and grabbed my sock.

“Ha, ha, Mr. Dog,” I called after him while waving the sock about enticingly. To compensate my new friend for his loss, I played tug-of-war with the stick. We growled at each other appropriately, all in good fun.

It was early to bed. I had completed my trip from Alexandria by biking through the city of Natchez and was now camped about a mile from the beginning of the Natchez Trace.  I was eager to get up the next morning and start my 370-mile journey up the fabled Parkway through Mississippi and Alabama into Tennessee. As I zipped up my tent, the big yellow mutt did three dog turns outside the door and plopped down, making me wonder where his home was. I was hardly in a position to adopt a pet. Besides, he was well fed and wearing a dog tag.

My last memory before going to sleep was of the bullfrog singing to his lady-love. “Chug-a-rum, chug-a-rum, chug-a-rum.”

Downtown Natchez, Mississippi.

Peggy and I drove through Natchez on a Sunday morning and pretty much had the historic section of the downtown to ourselves.

Historic building with balcony in Natchez, Mississippi.

This historic building in Natchez came with an attractive balcony.

Downtown Natchez, Mississippi on a quiet Sunday.

The colors captured my attention here.

Old lamp posts adorn the historic part of Natchez.

Old lamp posts adorn the historic part of Natchez.

The city is known for its antebellum mansions.

The city is known for its antebellum mansions.

St. Mary's Catholic Church in downtown Natchez, Mississippi.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was busy with its Sunday service so I didn’t go inside.

St. Mary's Catholic Church is located in downtown Natchez, Mississippi.

It was quite impressive from the outside, however.

Natchez has an interesting history. Once the site of a major Native American village, its initial contact with Europeans goes all the way back to Hernando de Soto in the mid 1500s. He wandered through the area searching for gold to steal, the primary occupation of Spanish Conquistadores. By the 1700s the French had entered the area followed by the British, the Spanish again, and finally, in 1795, the Americans. Native groups in the region included the Natchez, Chickasaw, Yazoo, Cherokee, and Creek, as well as the Choctaw further to the north.

As for the Natchez Trace, its beginning goes back 10,000 years and was probably tied to buffalo travelling along ridges doing buffalo things. Since these broad, heavy animals make good trails (think of them as early day bulldozers), Native Americans were soon using the routes for trade and travel between large communities.

The next stage in the Trace’s evolution was brought about by river trade in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Kaintucks, boatmen from the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys, loaded flatboats with merchandise and paddled downstream to Natchez or New Orleans where they made handsome profits for their goods. The challenge was that you don’t row a boat up the mighty Mississippi. The boatmen had to hike or ride horses home. They sold their boats as lumber and made their way back to Nashville via the Natchez Trace

It was an adventure. There is a reason why the Trace became known as The Devil’s Backbone. It was crawling with highway men eager to separate the Kaintucks from their newly earned wealth. And that assumes that they could even get their money out of Natchez where cheap whiskey cost a fortune, hot love was based on cold cash, and cut-throats came by the bushel.

The development of steamboats in the 1820s changed things dramatically. These boats with their large, steam-driven paddle wheels could travel upriver. Boatman no longer had to hike or ride horses back to Nashville while fighting off thieves.  Gradually, people stopped using the Trace and it faded from memory.  But not totally.

In 1903, the Mississippi chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution took on a project of placing markers along the original route. In 1918 the precursor to the Natchez Trace Association was created with the rallying cry of “Pave the Trace!” Work on the Parkway was started in 1937 and in 1938 it became a unit of the National Park system.

When I rode my bike out of Natchez in the spring of 1989, the Trace was mainly complete and had become something of a bicyclists’ paradise. (Today it is considered one of the top ten bike rides in America.)   To start with, there was no commercial traffic. No 18 wheelers would be whizzing by me. Nor were there any commercial properties or billboards, just lots of beautiful woods and small farms. Campgrounds and restrooms were located conveniently along the way.  Frequent rest stops featured local history. I was free to ride along and enjoy the scenery.

But I did have two responsibilities. The first was to persuade the large, yellow mutt that he wasn’t going with me. It started with a discussion in camp that I thought he had understood. Where I was going was dangerous for doggies. It was dangerous enough for me. About a mile from camp I chanced to look back, there he was, about 50 yards back. I stopped and waited for him to catch up, all a waggle. “No!” I said forcefully. “You cannot go. Go Home!” The tail stopped wagging. Two sad brown eyes accused me of horrendous deeds. Ever so slowly, he turned around and started back, tail between his legs. I felt terrible.

The second chore was more pleasant— rescuing baby turtles. Bunches were migrating across the Trace outside of Natchez. Each time I came on a crowd, I would stop, climb off my bike, and give the little tykes a lift across the pavement. I knew that there would be more coming along behind but I must have transported at least a hundred,undoubtedly saving them from being run over.

Following are several photos of the Trace from Natchez to Jackson, Mississippi that I took during the route review Peggy and I did this past spring.  In my next blog we will make a slight detour to the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi where a good friend lives and then head up the Trace to Tupelo and visit with Elvis.

Views along the Trace were constantly changing from being forested to open.

Views along the Trace were constantly changing from being forested to open.

Pine trees became common around Jackson, Mississippi.

Pine trees became common around Jackson, Mississippi.

Rich farmlands border some of the Trace.

Rich farmlands border some of the Trace.

There are a number of barns.

There are a number of barns.

These trees had yet to leaf out.

These trees were just beginning to leaf out. I enjoyed the silhouettes they created.

Numerous exhibits featuring the history of the Trace provide interesting breaks along the way.

Numerous exhibits featuring the history of the Trace provide interesting breaks along the way.

A number of the stops, like this one, include original sections of the trail.

A number of the stops, like this one, include original sections of the trail.

The Park has also rebuilt traditional fences that the pioneers who lived along the Trace would have built.

The Park has also rebuilt traditional fences similar to ones that the pioneers who lived along the Trace would have built.

A final view of the Trace for today. Many more will be included in my next three blogs.

A final view of the Trace for today. Many more will be included in my next three blogs.

 

 

On Dates, Squished Skunks, and Flat Cats… The Misadventure Series

At this point, down where the speed limit sign is, I ran over a skunk in the summer of 1958, undoubtably impressing the young woman I was on a date with.

Do you remember your first dates in high school? Were they roaring successes or unmitigated disasters? I suspect probably somewhere in between. But I doubt you ran over a skunk. As you may recall, I had no dates my freshman year. In fact, girls scared the heck out of me. Things began to brighten up the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, however. Read on…

 

I actually had a couple of real dates the summer of my freshman-sophomore year thanks to Paula and mom. Her mother was obviously encouraging the process. Our first date was a joint activity that included Mom, Boyfriend, Paula and me going out to dinner in the small town of Sutter Creek, about twenty miles away from Diamond Springs over curvy Highway 49. After we filled up on Italian food, Mom and Boyfriend promptly climbed in the back and suggested I drive home.

Small foothill towns like Sutter Creek along California’s historic Highway 49 are fun to visit and often have great restaurants.

“Um,” I noted nervously, “I only have a learner’s permit.”

“That’s okay, it will be good practice,” Mom jumped in and stated before I could add that I had just obtained the permit the week before.

Paula, meanwhile, was waiting for me to open the door for her on the passenger side of the car. She gave me an encouraging smile and my options dropped to zero. Any further hesitation would appear wimpy. After doing the gentlemanly thing for Paula, I dutifully climbed into the driver’s seat and miraculously found the keyhole and lights. Minimal gear grinding got us out of town and I breathed an audible sigh of relief. We had made it just past Plymouth when I ran over the skunk. He reeked revenge by becoming a virtuoso of glandular activity.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Boyfriend said as the first powerful whiffs of eau de skunk came blasting through the air vents, “it happens all of the time.”

“Yeah, sure,” I mumbled to myself through tongue-biting teeth, “young men always run down skunks on first dates, especially first dates with Mom and Boyfriend along.”

Fortunately, I made it home without further incident. Before continuing my ‘Perils with Paula’ story, however, I am going to digress to a similar odoriferous event that took place in the same general area some 25 years later. While working for the American Lung Association of Sacramento, I had created what is known as the Trek Program, a series of multi-day outdoor adventures that people go on as fundraisers. At the time this particular event took place, I was living in Alaska and ALA Sacramento had hired George and Nancy Redpath out of Davis, California to run its Treks. They had a popular three-day bicycling event that incorporated a portion of the same route that I had traveled the night of the fateful skunk incident. To add another element of fun to their Trek, the Redpaths had incorporated a roadside scavenger hunt with a sail-cat as one of the items.

To the uninitiated, a sail-cat is a cat that has had a close encounter with a logging truck’s wheels, after which it resembles a furry pancake with legs. Given several days of curing in the Sierra foothill sun, the cat can actually be picked and sailed in much the same way you would a Frisbee, hence the name. Although tossing one has provided dogs with a new way to chase cats and play Frisbee at the same time, it is a sport without many adherents. Even dogs have serious reservations.

Not surprisingly, one Trekker managed to find a sail cat, load it on his bike, and dutifully turn it in at the end of the day. The person won the scavenger hunt, which he should have considering his extended association with an umpteen-day dead cat. But this is not the end of the story. Two other couples became involved in the dead cat saga. I’ll call them Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice to protect the innocent.

Bob and Carol finished the Trek, hopped in their car and naively drove home that evening unaware that they were carrying a fellow traveler. When they arrived back in Sacramento and opened their trunk, lo and behold, there was the dead cat. Bob and Carol had a good idea it was Ted and Alice who had stowed the unwanted passenger in their car. They vowed to get even. As it turned out, both couples had spouses who worked for the State of California. A devious plot was hatched. The next day Ted received one of those large, inner office forwarding envelopes in his in-basket. It was rather bulky so he opened it with interest. Out slid the sail cat, your tax dollars at work.

Unlike Aunt Tilley’s fruitcake, the cat apparently ended his strange after-life journey at that point.

Likewise, one might assume that running over the skunk would have ended my relationship with Paula. But there was one more date. It is a testimony to how much Paula’s mother was committed to the relationship that she loaned us her car, which I drove illegally on my learner’s permit. Paula and I went on an old-fashioned picnic to Buck’s Bar, a 49er-mining site on the Consumnes River. I actually had a young woman, out in the woods, alone. It was my fantasy date. As far as I can recall though, and I would recall otherwise, I behaved myself disgustingly well. So did Paula.

The Consumnes River. My kind of place to go on a date.

You won’t want to miss next Friday’s post where I wrap up my MisAdventure series for now. I actually survive high school and on graduation day am offered a choice (in front of the student body): Graduate or go to jail.

TUESDAY’S POST: It’s time. My thousand my trek starts on June 17th! Am I ready?

Bleeding Like a Speared Mammoth… The Chemistry of MisAdventures

Miss Wilkerson, my high school chemistry teacher, whipping up a batch of something stinky. Oops, sorry, I mean performing a scientific experiment. I liked Miss Wilkerson, in fact, I might have had a slight crush, but I just couldn’t get excited about lab work.

 

Looking back, (hindsight, mind you), I am not too surprised about the paths I chose to follow in my life. But given that science is one of my favorite subjects from a lay perspective (Scientific American, for example, is the only magazine I read cover to cover), I find it a bit perturbing that I was so ready to drop science as a high school and college student.

 

I’ve never required much help in eliminating options from my life. Chemistry was like that. I would have made a good Greek Philosopher, working out problems in my head. Lab work and I don’t get along as a general rule. I quickly learned in high school that I am not particularly fond of long dead frogs pickled in formaldehyde or chemicals that smell worse than an old dog’s fart. But there is more to it than that; I am convinced that good lab technicians are mechanically inclined. They like to tinker.

I have lots of friends like that. They love to take things apart and put them back together. They can fix anything and go out of their way to find things that need repairing. I knew kids in high school that enjoyed tinkering with automobiles.  Ask them anything about carburetors, water pumps, generators, horsepower or timing and they have a ready answer. I admired them for it, but my interest in carburetors was zilch and my primary interest in automobiles was that they get me from point A to point B without breaking down. Still is.

My friend, Tom Lovering, is a dedicated fix-it-man. I can’t imagine him going anywhere without his tool chest. He breaks it out at there slightest provocation and begs to fix things. Here he is with a pickled frog that doesn’t need dissecting. We were in Mexico sampling tequila.

I feel pretty much the same way about other fix-it items. I am just not excited about getting into the bowels of a toilet and replacing its thing-a-ma-bob. Nor am I interested in replacing light switches to see how much voltage I can send coursing through my body. Yeah, yeah, I know; you turn off the electricity first.

I am not sure where this lack of enthusiasm for things mechanical came from but it was probably a combination of aptitude and attitude. My father wasn’t particularly fond of working on automobiles and some of that may have rubbed off. But he was very handy. In addition to being a skilled electrician he loved puttering around outside making things. I classify all such activities as chores to be avoided if at all possible. In fact, over the years I have developed a number of strategies for not having to fix things. Here are a few. You may find them valuable if you are a mechanically disinclined male.

 

  • Don’t own any tools. You might be tempted to use them, or even worse, someone such as a wife might suggest that you use them.
  • Don’t buy a house. Every scientific study ever done confirms that the single most important reason for having to fix things is owning your own home. I was 53 years old before I made that mistake, and then it was a condo with minimal fix-it responsibilities.*
  • If something doesn’t work, go buy a new one.
  • Plead ignorance. “What do you mean there is more than one kind of screw driver?” As a corollary, hide your repair manuals. Peggy has the irritating habit of looking up things that need fixing and then saying sweetly, “Oh, this looks easy to do, Curt.”  My manliness has been challenged. It doesn’t matter that this ‘easy’ chore requires that I make four trips to the hardware store, purchase $500 worth of new tools, work ten hours straight and injure myself at least once.  I have to do it.
  • Curse a lot. Your partner may figure that leaving something broken is easier than listening to you.
  • Stall. “I’ll do it right after I cook your dinner, honey.” Stalling is easier if you are doing something the other person finds desirable.
  • If all else fails, compromise. I have an agreement with Peggy that I will do one manly chore per month. That’s my quota. Some activities such as fixing toilets even earn two months of credit.

 

* Unfortunately, these rules no longer apply. Eight years ago, Peggy and I decided to buy a home on five-acres of property. Everything I feared about home ownership has come to fruition. I now have a shed full of tools and have to use them. Sigh. The good news here is that Peggy loves to repair things. Just a wee bit of procrastination…

Even my hobbies as a kid reflected my non-mechanical tendencies. Building model ships, airplanes, cars, trains, etc. had no interest. My concept of a great hobby was rock collecting. I would hike along the Southern Pacific railroad tracks and pick up interesting rocks until all four pockets were bulging and my pants were about to fall off. I would then go home and smash them apart with a hammer to figure out what I had found. Geology became a life-long interest.

I do understand the arguments for being able to fix things: saving money, being self-sufficient, and obtaining satisfaction from a job well done. These same arguments, however, apply to going out in the pasture, shooting Elsie the Cow, gutting her, bringing home the meat, grinding it up and throwing it on the grill. Just think of the satisfaction involved and dollars saved! Or, you can go to the local fast food joint and help employ a kid who might otherwise turn to a life of crime.

Now, back to chemistry, one day we had to shove little glass tubes through rubber stoppers. Apparently, this is an important skill for budding chemists. It’s not a difficult task if you ignore the fact that the holes in the stoppers are approximately half the diameter of the glass tubes and, more importantly, you have a gallon of Vaseline. I was half way through my first masterpiece when the damn tube broke and ended up jabbed into my hand. Bleeding like a speared mammoth, I was carted off to the emergency room of the local hospital and sewn up.

There was plenty of time while sitting in ER to contemplate my future as a scientist. My conclusion: there wasn’t one. I decided that the best way to avoid long-dead animals, smelly chemicals and miscellaneous dangerous objects (not to mention higher level math skills) would be to choose a career that depended on verbal agility. In other words, my future would be based solely on my ability to bullshit. I determined then and there I would either become a politician or a writer.

TUESDAY’S POST: Part 2 of the Rogue River Trail series.

FRIDAY’S POST: MisAdventures: I rediscover girls and run over a skunk on my first ‘date.’

How in the Heck Did I Get Here? Part 1… The MisAdventure Series

I’ve always enjoyed writing. Here, some of my fellow journalism students are conducting a practice interview with me at El Dorado Union High School where I wrote a column for the newspaper. I have often wondered what my life would have been like had I pursued a career in writing. It’s never too late, right.

Many things determine who we become in life. Sometimes it seems like destiny, but I am more convinced that it is predilection and happenstance. I am a great believer in Joseph Campbell’s ‘follow your bliss.’ Do what makes you happy. Do what you are good at. Genetics can play a big role here, and circumstances even more. It’s much easier to become a billionaire if your parents are. But mentors, the times you are born in, situations you experience, luck, and hard work all have a role to play. I’ve already explored some of the factors that led me down the path I have followed. In today’s and next week’s MisAdventure posts, I continue the exploration.

 

In the fourth grade, I discovered that long division was nasty. I got beyond that but word problems gave me a real complex. Two trains are hurtling at each other on the same track with Train A going 90 miles an hour and Train B going 70. They are 252.5296 miles apart. How long will it be before the Train A conductor says, “Ooooh shit!”  Not nearly as soon as I did. My own expletive arrived on my lips .0000001 seconds after seeing the problem. There was no waving of hands and saying “me, me.” I concentrated intently on sending vibes at the teacher. “Curt is not here today. You do not see Curt. You will not call on Curt.”

Spelling was another personal bugaboo in early elementary school. I inherited my spelling genes from my father who fervently believed that words should be spelled exactly as they sounded. “The hors cant come in the hows becaws he is to big to fit in the dor.” It drove Mother, whose grandfather had been a newspaper publisher, crazy. I learned in the third grade that I could compensate for my handicap by writing the really tough words in the palm of my hand just before spelling tests. After I aced several quizzes, my success became a little too much for my main competition.

“Miss Jones, Miss Jones, Curtis is cheating!” my nemesis announced loudly to the teacher, class and world. Boy, I was beginning to dislike her. Miss Jones solemnly checked my hand before a fast tongue and pants wipe move could destroy the evidence. She was not happy with her Godchild. Apparently, Moses had come down off the mountain with an Eleventh Commandment: Thou shall not cheat on your spelling test.

“Curtis I am giving you an ‘F’ on this test and you are to stay in class during recess the rest of the week,” she announced to me while the competition smirked. It was more than embarrassing; it was devastating. And what valuable lesson did I learn: no amount of effort is too much for revenge.  I spent an exorbitant amount of time on my spelling assignments after that with the sole purpose of beating the obnoxious little fiend. Unfortunately, she was equally inspired. I don’t think either one of us missed a word the whole rest of the year.

There’s an old adage that we are supposed to work hard at those things we find difficult, that it gives us character. My belief is that I already have plenty of character. If I had any more, little men in white coats would be chasing me with nets. I prefer to spend my energies on things I enjoy, like reading a good book or hiking in the wilderness. I have little tolerance for doing things that I don’t do well or fail to interest me. In other words, the Protestant Ethic and I have serious compatibility problems. But I can be stubborn. Math is a good example. I continued plugging away up to my junior year in high school. I even managed to get As in Algebra 1 and Geometry. That’s when I ran head on into Miss Caste, or Nasty Casty as she was known. It was definitely a character building experience.

Miss Caste taught Algebra II and, according to those who were seriously into math, was very good at what she did. Students leaving her class were reputed to have a solid foundation in the basics and be well prepared to move on to the ethereal worlds of calculus and trigonometry. Basics, I quickly learned, meant that there was one way of coming up with answers and that way was chiseled in stone. One did not diverge from accepted formulas or leave out steps; right answers obtained the wrong way were wrong answers. Wrong, wrong, wrong! This created a problem. I had a talent for coming up with right answers the wrong way— and this brought me unwanted attention. I could have lived with the extra attention except for another problem, Miss Caste’s teaching technique. She oozed sarcasm. My response was to freeze up. I started dreading her classes and developed the proverbial ‘bad attitude.’ I received my first C in high school and vowed never to take another math course. Life is short and then you die.

Of course, it was my loss. It was one of those life-altering decisions that speak to the power of teachers to turn students on, or off, to various subjects. I wasn’t a total dunce at math; in fact, I scored in the 98th percentile on the Iowa Test in math the same year. But I certainly wasn’t a genius. I was not going to make a career out of mathematics or jobs that were primarily math based. Unfortunately, I eliminated a number of options, particularly in the fields of higher education, almost all of which required further math.

Next Tuesday’s Post: Hopefully, I will have glowing things to say about Peggy and my 40-mile-hike down the Rogue River: Things like ‘piece of cake,’ ‘no problemo,’ and ‘let me at the PCT!’

FRIDAY’S POST: Bleeding like a speared mammoth, I decide to skip chemistry in the future. The MisAdventure Series

A Terminal Case of Puberty Blues… The MisAdventure Series

As a freshman at El Dorado Union High School, I decided to take PE Dance Class so I could go to events like the 1957 Sock Hop and be more than a wall-flower. It wasn’t to be…

 

In my last MisAdventure’s post, I took you through my early ‘romantic’ adventures up to my competition with Eric over the exotic Judy in the fifth grade. I carry on today, where I became hormonally challenged. Read on!

A pair of twins took up my sixth and seventh grade passions. I started out with Gail but she dropped me. That was a shock. Fortunately, her twin, Lynn, was interested in me so my suffering was short-lived. Like about a day.

By the eighth grade, my previously semi-quiescent hormones begin to stir. They weren’t boiling yet, but they were bubbling. Girlfriends were becoming serious business and new emotions suggested slightly more adventuresome behavior on my part. Holding hands, an awkward kiss or two, and snuggling up on the dance floor were about as far as I got in the parlance of the day, however.

Ann was my serious eighth-grade flame. She had dark hair, dark eyes and a ready smile. She cried when she wasn’t assigned as my partner in our square-dancing club. I liked her a lot but I was going on to high school and high school boys don’t date elementary school girls. I dutifully, if reluctantly, ended the relationship. Payback time came at the eighth-grade graduation dance in Placerville, a big event attended by seventh and eighth graders from throughout the region. Ann showed up dressed in white and was radiant. A steady stream of boys lined up to dance with her. I hid out and sulked in a corner with a bad case of instant jealously. I did get the last dance, though; it was ‘Love Me Tender’ by the latest singing sensation, Elvis Presley. The year was 1957.

For some reason, I decided to go out for Cross Country my freshman year. I am second from the right in the top row.

Something happened between the eighth grade and high school. And it hit me right between the eyes with all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Here I was a happy, well-adjusted and relatively successful young man one day and a serious candidate for a strait jacket the next. Pimples popped out on my face overnight and my voice became dedicated to practicing random octave jumps. Teenage-hood, which had promised to be a mild adventure, arrived with a vengeance. I was being hormonally challenged; I had a terminal case of puberty blues. Things I had taken for granted became illusive, almost impossible to obtain. Take girlfriends, for instance.

I expected to lose a little ground in the field of romance when I became a freshman in high school. Sophomore, junior and even senior boys cruised the hallways in a mad scramble to check out the new crop of freshmen girls. And the older girls weren’t about to date a freshman boy, that lowest of low creatures. But I didn’t expect to bomb the way I did. I became intensely, almost painfully shy. I would walk down the hallways staring at my feet in fear that some young woman would look me in the eye. If a girl tried to talk to me, I would mutter inanities and make a run for it. The strangest statements came out of my mouth. As for asking a girl out, the odds were a little less than being struck by lightning and the latter seemed like a less painful alternative.

It wasn’t that I didn’t notice girls. My body was one huge hormone. I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything about it. I pined for a young woman who sat in front of me in Mr. Crump’s Geography class. She was gorgeous and came with a full complement of accoutrements: smile, brains, hips and breasts. I was in deep lust. My knee and her butt were mere inches apart and her butt was like a magnet. I had the most intense fantasies of moving my knee forward until it made contact. In my fantasy she would of course turn around, smile at me and suggest we get together after school. In reality, she would have turned around and bashed me with her geography book (rightfully so), or worse, told Mr. Crump. I would have died. I kept my knee where it belonged. It is a strong testament to my love for geography that I didn’t flunk the class under the circumstances.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and I was a desperate man. I signed up for dance classes in P.E. I would learn to dance and become a combination of Arthur Murray and Elvis Presley. Step, step, slide and swivel your hips. Girls would flock to me. It wasn’t until the day of the class that I learned the magnitude of my mistake. I would have to dance with girls to learn how to dance and there they were, lined up on the opposite side of the gymnasium floor, staring at me.

“God, why did I do this to myself,” I thought as I stared across the distance at twenty females who I knew were thinking, “anybody but Curtis.”

“Okay, boys,” the female P.E. teacher announced in a stern voice, “I want you to walk across the room now and politely ask a girl to dance with you.” Wow, that sounded like fun.

Reluctantly, I began that long walk across the gymnasium floor. I was a condemned man and the gallows were looming. I walked slower. Maybe an earthquake would strike. Maybe the Russians would shoot off an IBM missile. Maybe one of the surly seniors would throw a match in a wastebasket and the fire alarm would go off.

Maybe nothing.

I approached the line and looked for a sign. One of the girls would smile at me and crook her finger. But the girls looked exceedingly grim. A few looked desperate, like deer caught in the headlights of the proverbial 18-wheeler rushing toward them at 90 miles per hour. I picked out the one who looked most frightened on the theory that she would be the least likely to reject me.

“Uh, would you care to dance,” I managed to blurt out.

“Uh, okay,” she responded with about the same level of enthusiasm she would have if I had offered her a large plate of raw liver. It was P.E. Dance Ground Zero after all, and she wasn’t allowed to say no. We were destined to be a great couple.

“You will put your left hand in the middle of the back five inches above the waist line.” The teacher, who was now sounding more and more like a drill sergeant, carefully described what we would do with our hands. It was quite clear that there would be minimal contact and no contact with behinds. “With your right hand and arm, you will hold the girl away from you.” There would be no accidental brushing of breasts either. I assumed the correct position with marine-like precision. I was going to get this right. I studied the chart the teacher had put up to show me what I was supposed to do with my two left feet. I listened carefully to the lecture on rhythm and down beats. I watched with intensity as she demonstrated: step, step, slide, step-step.

And all too soon it was our turn. A scratchy record blasted out a long-since-dead composer’s waltz. I didn’t know who it was but it wasn’t Elvis or even Benny Goodman. With one sweaty palm in the middle of the girl’s back and the other sweaty hand holding her a proper distance away, I moved out on the floor. Step, step, slide, step-step. One, two, and three, four-five the coach barked out. My feet more or less followed the prescribed pattern as I avoided stepping on the girl’s toes. I tried a turn and managed to avoid running into another couple. Ever so slightly I relaxed. Maybe things would be okay. Maybe I would have fun. Maybe Hell would freeze over.

“Stop, class!” the teacher yelled as she blew her whistle and yanked the needle across the record, adding another scratch. We dutifully came to a halt. What now?

“I want everyone to watch Curtis and his partner,” she announced.

“Hey, this is more like it,” I thought to myself. Not only was I surviving my first day of dance class, I was being singled out to demonstrate. I smiled, waited for the music to start, and boldly moved out on the floor where many had trod before. Step, step, slide, step-step. We made it through all of three progressions when the teacher abruptly blew her whistle again.

“And that, Class,” she proclaimed triumphantly, “is not how you do it. Curtis is moving like he is late for an important date with the bathroom.”

The class roared— and I shrank. I don’t know how my partner felt, but I wanted a hole to climb in, preferably a deep hole with a steel door that I could slam shut. And I was more than embarrassed, I was mad. My normal sense of humor had galloped off into the sunset.

“You don’t teach someone to dance by embarrassing him,” I mumbled. An angry look crossed the teacher’s face and she started to reply. I turned my back and walked for the door.

“Where do you think you are going, Curtis? Get back here!” she demanded in a raised voice.

“I am leaving,” I replied without turning, calm now the decision made. The class was deadly quiet. This was much more interesting than P.E. Other kids might challenge teachers, might walk out of a class, and might not even care. But not Curt. This was a guy who always did his homework, participated in class discussions, was respectful toward teachers and aced tests.

I reached the door and put my hand on the handle.

“If you walk out that door, you may as well walk home,” the teacher barked. “I will personally see to it that you are suspended from school.”

I opened the door, walked out, and went straight to the office of the chairman of the P.E. Department, Steve O’Meara. Steve worked with my Dad in the summer as an assistant electrician, but I knew him primarily as my science teacher.  He was a big man, gruff, and strong as a bull elephant, a jock’s jock. He demonstrated his strength by participating in the annual wheelbarrow race at the El Dorado County Fair. The race commemorated the fact that John Studebaker of automobile fame had obtained his start in Placerville manufacturing wheelbarrows for 49ers.

Steve O’Meara.

The County’s strongest men would line up with their wheelbarrows at the starting line and then rush to fill a gunny sack with sand at the starter’s gun. They would then push their wheelbarrows and loads at breakneck speed around an obstacle course that included mud holes, a rock-strewn path, fence barriers and other such challenges. In addition to making it across the finish line first, the winner had to have fifty plus pounds of sand in his gunny sack. Underweight and he was disqualified. Steve was always our favorite to win and rarely disappointed us. He had a very loud voice.

“What’s up, Curt,” he roared when I entered his office. I knew Steve didn’t eat kids for lunch but you always wondered a little.

“I think you are supposed to expel me,” I replied. He started to laugh until he saw my expression. Mortification and anger on the face of a 14-year-old are never a pretty sight.

He became serious. “Sit down and tell me what’s happening,” he suggested in an almost gentle voice.

Ten minutes later I walked out of his office with a reprieve. I didn’t have to go back to the dance class and could finish out the quarter playing volleyball.  Steve would have a discussion with the dance instructor. I imagine she ended up about as unhappy as I was. At least I hoped so. I entertained a small thought that she would hesitate the next time before traumatizing some gawky kid whose only goal in attending her class was to become a little less gawky. It would be a long time before I would step onto a dance floor again.

TUESDAY’S POST: The world of Ultra-light Backpacking Gear— Preparation for the Thousand Mile Trek!

The Mekemson Kids Did It… It’s a Wrap, Or Is that a Rap-Sheet?

By the time I was in the fourth grade, new friends, a love of wandering in the woods, and a knack for learning had changed my perspective on life.

 

The comments on my series, “The Mekemson Kids Did It,” have been fun. Obviously, I struck a chord. Many of you reached back into the far recesses of your own memory banks to recall incidents from your own childhood. Thanks so much for sharing.

 

Amazingly, like most kids, we survived growing up. Part of it was sheer luck. I never broke a bone or suffered from a bad fall.  Nor did I come close to being drowned, shot, electrocuted, or run over. And all of these were possible. Most of my more ‘serious’ mishaps related to my big feet. Summertime meant bare feet and I specialized in stubbed toes; they hurt. Skin doesn’t appreciate being flayed from the body in big chunks, which is why the activity was highly recommended in Inquisition torture manuals. One toe and I would have confessed to anything.

As it was, I took it like the little man I happened to be and bawled. A dose of parental sympathy, a dash of iodine and a Band-Aid normally made things better. A rusty nail through the foot required more drastic action like a trip to the doctor and a mega-dose of sympathy. As did my encounter with Coaly the Cocker, who sunk her teeth into my foot. As I mentioned earlier, however, the sympathy was lacking that time.

Marshall’s injuries tended to be more serious. That’s because he asked interesting questions like what happens when you put a bullet on a rock and smash another rock down on top of it. He got away with that one, unlike the time he lit a dynamite cap with a match. We were vacationing at Caldor’s lumber camp in the Sierra’s at that time. Earlier in the day, Marshall and I had gone out for a hike and discovered the caps at an old mine. That evening, while Mother was wrapping up dinner, he had slipped outside to experiment. A loud bang was followed by a louder scream. Marshall was lucky. His glasses had protected his sight. The rest of the front side of his body was a bloody mess.  And then there was the time he fell out of a Heavenly tree and shoved a stick into his stomach.

Pop always started running when he heard Marshall scream. With me, he walked. But these were exceptions. Normally we brought home nothing more than the usual bumps, bruises and scratches of youth.

There came a time in his life when Marshall found other things more important than amusing or torturing his little brother. Girls were high on his list, along with cars, cigarettes and being a James Dean type rebel. (He wore his cigarette pack wrapped up in the sleeve of his T-shirt.) I spent a great deal of time by myself except for the ever-present dog and wandered farther and farther afield. The wilder the terrain, the happier I was.

While other kids were busy learning the drama of organized sports, I was figuring what to do with the rear end of a skunk pointed at me. It’s a sure sign the skunk is irritated when she does a handstand and waves her tail in your direction. It’s her way of saying, “My gun is cocked and my finger is on the trigger. It’s your move, stranger.” The secret is not to move. If you are very, very lucky, the skunk will slowly return to all fours and amble off.

But I also begin to develop my own set of friends and an enjoyment of learning, which still exists today. And then— drum roll please— there were girls! Be sure to check out next Friday’s post where the subject is Raw Sex and the Nuclear Holocaust.

“Your Mother Chases Fire Trucks” … The Mekemson Kids Did It

While the Diamond Spring’s Firehouse has been rebuilt from when we were children, it still stands in the same location. It was a block away from where we lived. The siren was loud. My dad would be off and running as a volunteer fireman, while my mother… Read on.

 

Pop (my father) was a volunteer fireman for Diamond Springs. As an electrician, it was his job to show up at burning houses and shut off the electricity. When the siren wailed, he was off and running, as were all the other volunteer firemen in town. It was serious business.

For Mother, and for us, it was a break in small-town routine and, I hate to use this word, entertainment. We also took off at the sound of the siren, jumped in whatever old car we had, and sped along behind the fire truck. The time of day and activity of the moment didn’t matter. If it were three in the morning, we would jump out of bed and throw on our clothes; if we were eating, the meal would be abandoned; if we were playing, the toys would be dropped. Nothing could compete with a fire. Our devotion to disaster was right up there in the same league as it is with today’s television crews.

The star performer was someone’s house. There was excitement, danger and pathos. Firemen blasted away with their hoses in a desperate attempt to save the home while the unfortunate family looked on in dismay. But the climax, the Fourth of July finale, was when the roof and walls would crash down and shoot sparks and fire high into the sky. I did keep my oohs and aahs to myself. Somewhere in the back of my mind a small voice whispered that our family outing was not totally appropriate.

“Your mother chases fire trucks,” one of my little buddies jeered at me in an argument.

My response at the time had been, “So…” But later in life I would ponder what the towns-people thought about Mother, two or three kids, and a dog always showing up when the flames were high. Pop must have been embarrassed. I remember him telling Mother once to stay far behind the fire engine and far away from the fire. He did it under the guise of being concerned for our safety and our need to stay out of the way. I now suspect he hoped we wouldn’t be recognized. But he never did have much success in telling Mother what to do. The siren’s call was not to be denied.

 

Bob Bray Shoots Out a Window

I grew out of my mischief causing phase but I was able to pull off one final coup and live up to Bertha Bray’s expectations. Remember, she wouldn’t let her son play with me because she was afraid I would corrupt him.

For some unfathomable reason, Bob’s parents bought him a Wham-O Slingshot. I mean, how in the world can you expect a kid to be good when he starts playing with his Wham-O? The fact that I owned a Wham-O as well, almost guaranteed trouble.

Bob and I agreed to meet for a clandestine hunting expedition. It had to be clandestine because I was still on Bertha Bray’s ‘do not invite’ list. Our only rule for the adventure was that anything that moved or didn’t move was a valid target. Things were going great until we came upon the old abandoned bum’s shack that was just off the Southern Pacific railroad track about a quarter of a mile away from Bob’s home. Typical of such structures, it had been created out of anything that was available for free: old aluminum roofing, miscellaneous boards, an occasional nail, a thrown away mattress, etc. It had one crowning glory, a window. Bob and I looked at each other and had a simultaneous thought. Out came the ammo for the Wham-Os, a shiny new marble for Bob and several BBs for me. We took careful aim, counted down, and let fly.

To this day, Bob claims he saw his marble harmlessly strike the windowsill while my BBs were smashing the glass to smithereens. I of course saw Bob’s marble hit the window dead on while my BBs formed a neat pattern around the edges. The current occupant of the not abandoned home, who was washing dishes behind a willow bush in a small stream, saw something entirely different: two little boys smashing his pride and joy. He let out a bellow and came charging up the trail. As he should have. Once again the Mekemson Gang, along with its newest recruit, was on the run. The good news is that we escaped. The bad news was that the bum/hobo/homeless person who lost his window, recognized Bob. He went straight to his house. Mrs. Bray’s worst fears had been realized.

Monday’s Post: We are getting close to the end of our trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. I even get to row a bit and take on a couple of death-defying rapids. (True… except for the death-defying.)

Wednesday’s Post: Big brown bears!

Friday’s Post: I wrap up the Mekemson Kids Did It.

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Beautiful Havasu Creek and the Infamous Lava Rapids… The Grand Canyon Series: Part 10

Havasu Creek with its travertine colored water.

I had been on Havasu Creek before. Our son, Tony, who was on a break between flying helicopters for the Marines and flying helicopters for the Coast Guard, was flying helicopters for a private company that offered tours over the Grand Canyon and into the small Indian village of Supai. The town, which is located inside the Canyon, sits next to Havasu Creek.

Tony had flown his wife Cammie, Peggy and me into Supai as a treat. He was playing the theme from Star Wars full blast as we dropped over the steep edge of the Canyon and begin our rapid descent! We were greeted by the beautiful blue-green water of Havasu Creek and its interesting travertine structures when we landed  A high concentration of calcium-carbonate is responsible for both the water’s color and the formations. The process of coating objects with lime is fast. Today’s downed limb in the creek may become next month’s travertine sculpture. Peggy and I were eager to see if the creek maintained its unusual color and interesting formations at its mouth where it flowed into the Colorado. As the following photos suggest, we were not disappointed.

The mouth of Havasu Creek is a common stop for rafters in the Grand Canyon. Our rafts look small beside the large commercial tour boat.

We hiked over this from the mouth of the creek.

And were treated to views like these.

 

Don caught this lovely view. (Photo by Don Green.)

And Peggy took this one.

One of the things rafters do for entertainment on Havasu Creek is to damn it up using their rears…

And then, people scramble out of the way, creating a mini-flood! Beth was having a bit of trouble with the scramble part. She was holding onto Bone and didn’t have her hands free.

A pictograph, left behind by ancient Americans, caught the group’s attention. Maybe they used to grow people taller. (grin)

Lava Falls is labeled a 10 in the Grand Canyon’s system of scary, the highest rating given to any rapids along the Colorado. The river drops 37 feet over a few hundred yards and guarantees a quick, gut wrenching ride that seems to last forever and might very well throw you out of the raft. We had been worrying about it even before the trip. It is considered one of the top ten challenging rapids in the world by river runners. Our boatmen parked their rafts above the rapids and carefully scouted a route. We could see a huge, raft-sucking hole in the middle. It seemed that slipping by on the right  seemed the wisest choice. But what did we know. The river was going to do what the river was going to do. Steve agreed to carry us and away we went on our bucking raft… Ride ’em cowboy!

Back on the Colorado River, we headed for our appointment with Lava Falls. Eggin would be attempting the rapids in her kayak.

It was hard to imagine that Lava Falls was just around the bend. But we could hear its roar.

Everyone wanted a good view of the rapids.

They promised a quick but rough ride! Would that hole suck us in and tip over our raft?

With Steve at the oars, Peggy and I enter the infamous Lava Falls on the Colorado River, a perfect ten… that’s 10 as in rapids don’t get any more serious. Shortly after this we disappeared under the water! (Photo by Don Green)

Peggy and I are between the camera and the oars! Luckily we came out with our messy side up. (Photo by Don Green.)

Everybody made it through with the exception of Eggin, who managed to run the rapids upside down in her kayak. One of the boatman shot out to collect her and the kayak. Other than being a bit wet, she was fine. Meanwhile, her uncle, David Stalheim, had pulled over at Tequila Beach and was demonstrating why it was so named. If you manage to survive the rapids, you are expected to celebrate with a shot of tequila. Dave apparently wanted the whole bottle! The party continued after we reached camp…

Don demonstrates how he was feeling after running Lava. It’s possible that the lid was on, but just  maybe. 

Peggy and I just looked happy. We needed a T-shirt that said we survived Lava Falls.

Jonas had decided to celebrate with a little quiet reading in the river…

Bone declared that the trip had scared the pee out of him…

While Beth and Susan decided it was time to Party.

While Tom was just, um, Tom.

I will note that the party continued into the night and the natives were apparently having a heck of a good time!

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: Flying over Kodiak Island. It was green enough to be Ireland before the glaciers started.

FRIDAY’S Blog a Book POST: Another in the MisAdventure series. Bob Bray and I are chased by a hobo and my mother chases fire trucks.

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The Mekemson Kids Did It— Railroaded: Part 3… The MisAdventure Series

A logging truck dumps logs into Caldor’s pond. Marshall considered hiking out on these logs as high adventure. My opinion was that they were an accident waiting to happen

We weren’t really bad kids, just adventuresome with our adventures occasionally bordering on juvenile delinquency. Caldor Lumber Company was a favorite target of ours since it provided a myriad of opportunities for weekend and after-school exploration. Twenty-foot high stacks of drying lumber were made for climbing and the truly bold might leap from one to another. The appropriately named Big Shed was filled with these stacks but I was much more fascinated by the number of owls that lived there and provided scat for my natural history collection. The millpond featured floating logs which Marshall ventured out on lumberjack like but I avoided. Not even a triple dare, or worse, older brother scorn, could temp me into a possible dunking in the pond’s dark, murky waters.

I am petting a friendly donkey here. My real reason for including this fading photo, however, is it shows the stacks of lumber at Caldor that we would climb up onto and leap between if they were close enough.

All of these activities paled in comparison to joy riding on rail pushcarts. Caldor had narrow gauge rail lines snaking through its drying yards and used pushcarts for transporting heavy items. We quickly discovered that three or four of us could get a cart rolling. We would then jump on for a free ride. Small down hills added a thrill factor. Fortunately, hand brakes on the carts enabled us to stop the carts before running into the stacked railroad ties that marked the end of the line. Except once.

Our nemesis at Caldor was an old fellow who had been in some type of mill related accident and left with a limp. Caldor made him the night and weekend watchman so he could continue to make a living. We provided him with something to do in an otherwise uneventful job. Sneaking up on us seemed to be a true passion of his so we kept a wary eye out. It was inevitable that he would catch us on a pushcart ride and he caught us at the most exciting point, just as it was gaining speed going downhill.

“Hey you kids, get off of that pushcart!” he yelled as he hurried after us at a slow limp.

What were we to do? We jumped off of the pushcart and high tailed it for the Woods, which were right next door. The pushcart, meanwhile, continued to gather speed, slammed into the ties and did a spectacular flip before sliding off down a small hill. We were duly impressed and so, apparently, was the watchman who let out a string of obscenities peppered with the F-word as we disappeared into the pines. Pop mentioned the next day that the watchman had reported to him that he thought we were  involved. We carefully explained that some kids from Placerville had been in town and were undoubtedly responsible.

A more serious threat of railroad justice arrived on our doorstep in the form of a Southern Pacific Railroad detective who claimed Marshall had been pulling spikes out of the railroad trestle over Webber Creek and throwing them into the stream. Marshall put on his ‘I’m outraged act.’  Yes, he had been throwing rocks off of the trestle into the creek below. What kid wouldn’t?  But he would never dream of doing anything that would cause physical harm to anyone. Had the detective bothered to check to see if any spikes were missing from the trestle? No. Had he contemplated the possibility of a skinny 90-pound 12-year-old kid being able to physically pull out the spikes? No. The case was closed.

While Marshall’s innocence was sustained for once, the experience had the unfortunate consequence of eliminating the trestle as a place to play. Walking across and staring down between the railroad ties at the 100-foot drop to Weber Creek was a sure cure for summer boredom, as was contemplating the arrival of a train when we were in the middle of the trestle. If that wasn’t exciting enough, we could always walk across on the narrow plank that ran under the tracks. There were no railings or safety net.

MONDAY’S POST: Our journey down the Colorado River takes us to the magical Havasu Creek and then on to the dangerous Lava Falls.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: It’s off to the Alaska island of Kodiak where our son works as a Coast Guard helicopter pilot. We cross the island for a day of hanging out with large brown bears as they fish and feed their cubs.

The Mekemson Kids Did It: Who Shot Pavy’s Pig?… The MisAdventure Series

Who Shot the Pig?

Like the gunslingers of the Old West, our reputations far exceeded the reality of our actions. Take Tony Pavy’s pig for example. Tony had a large pond with bullfrogs, a hundred or so acres of scrubland, and a wooded hillside that housed a number of gray squirrels. He also had an attitude similar to Jimmy Pagonni’s: children were not to be heard or seen, particularly on his property. As with Pagonni, we didn’t allow Pavy to keep us from our appointed rounds. We would slip in at night to harvest his bullfrogs and during the day to bring down a squirrel. Tony had a very effective way of getting rid of us. In a very loud voice he would yell, “Mama, get my gun!” and we would streak out of there.

A couple of friends and I were hunting for the squirrels on his hillside when the unfortunate incident with the pig took place. But before I tell the story, I need to digress and provide some background information.

Growing up in Diamond in the 50s meant having a gun and shooting things. At least it did if you were a boy. We graduated from BB guns and 22s to deer rifles and shotguns. Obtaining your first rifle was an experience similar in importance to obtaining your driver’s license, except you could get one a lot earlier. Before we were allowed to hunt, however, certain rules were pounded into our heads. First, it was important to know exactly what you were shooting.

This might seem obvious but flatlanders out of Sacramento often had trouble making the distinction between a cow and a deer. Of a much more serious nature, at least to me, Allen shot my dog. Tickle had been clearing out an old abandoned mine shack of pack rats and Allen shot through the wall thinking he was a rat. Tickle survived; Allen almost didn’t. There were other things we weren’t supposed to shoot as well. Robins were high on the list. They ate their weight daily in bugs. It was okay to shoot ‘vermin’ such as ground squirrels, jackrabbits and coyotes.

My usual preference was for watching wildlife, not killing it. I made an exception for gray squirrels. The thrill of the hunt combined with my appetite for a delicious squirrel and dumpling stew my mother whipped up overcame any reservations I had. All of which brings me back to the pig. Gray squirrels have about the same appreciation for being shot that you or I might. To avoid this unhappy circumstance, they take off leaping through the trees. The one we had marked for dinner was jumping from limb to limb in a live oak tree on the hill above Pavy’s with all three of us shooting at it when we heard a bellow from the barnyard.

“Mama, get my gun! They shot my pig! They shot my pig! Hurry Mama!”

 

I don’t know how fast Mama moved but we flew. By the time Ernie Carlson, the County Sheriff, caught up with us we were far away from Pavy’s and about as innocent as newborn piglets.

“Excuse me boys,” the Sheriff remarked when he pulled over in his car and rolled down his window, “I don’t suppose you know anything about Tony Pavy’s pig being shot.”

“No, sir,” we replied respectfully in unison. We had rehearsed.  Besides, we were technically correct. We hadn’t shot Pavy’s pig; we hadn’t even shot the squirrel. It was a ricocheting bullet that did in the pig.

Ernie looked at us dubiously.

“Pavy described three kids that fit your description,” the Sheriff said as he continued to build pressure, hoping that one of us would break. The fact that there were no other kids in town that looked like us was a rather significant clue.

“We’ve been out in back of Ot Jones pond,” I argued indignantly. And we had been; so what if we had arrived there out of breath.

“Well, you kids behave yourselves,” the Sheriff said with an ominous I know you’re lying tone. We breathed a joint sigh of relief as he rolled up his window and drove off. Once more we had avoided a fate we probably deserved. I suspect now that Ernie was not one hundred percent dedicated to finding the alleged pig murderers. Tony was not universally loved in the community for several reasons, of which regularly threatening to shoot little kids was only one.

For example, my father did some electrical work for him once for free. As he was leaving, Tony asked, “Would you like one of my geese for dinner?”

“Sure,” Pop had replied assuming Pavy was offering it as thanks for his four hours of work.

“Good,” Tony had replied, “that will be five dollars.” Pop was more than a little irritated. He had a hearty laugh years later when I told him about our adventure with the pig. I wisely avoided telling him at the time, however. His perspective on our miscreant behavior softened substantially with distance and age.

The end. It was a twisted tale.