In Brief—The author relates some of the memorable and mischievous adventures of his childhood and youth. Memorable to him, at least.
The Artist as a Youth—
The lovely cream-colored house next door won an architectural award and was the pride and joy of its owners. It doubtless raised the value of all the houses in the neighborhood, but the little boy next door thought something was lacking. The possible solution was that the back wall of that beautiful house was perfect for testing what would happen if those crab apples growing on the tree in the front yard were thrown against that smooth cream-colored wall. He decided to see.
Splat! The results of the first crab apple looked promising. More followed until the little boy’s esthetic sense was satisfied that a polka-dotted green and cream wall was ideal. The crab apples were the perfect paint brush. The little artist was me.
No doubt the owners were stunned and angry. I don’t even recall the punishment I undoubtedly received. It’s probable that my parents had to pay for repainting the house. By today’s standards, I would have at least been labeled a delinquent, but back then it was “Boys will be boys.”
High and Dry in New Mexico—
To cure my asthma, I was sent to a boarding school in the high, dry climate of Santa Fe. Each year, my grandmother spent the summer in the same room in Santa Fe’s La Fonda Hotel. She was a valued resident. I discovered that the hotel had stationary that when folded just right was perfect for holding water. Up I went to the top floor from which I had launched many paper airplanes. After several misses, my accuracy improved and found a passing target. Satisfied, I beat a hasty retreat to the safety of my grandmother’s room. I suffered no repercussions, but there’s little doubt that my grandmother managed to calm the manager’s ruffled feathers.
For boyish adventures you can’t beat stepping between jagged pieces of broken glass lining the top of the high wall behind the boarding school. The thought of slipping never crossed our minds. Tiring of that, we turned over old gravestones in the cemetery beyond the high wall. Snakes awaited to be stuffed into our shirts. We never considered that a rattler might be hiding there. Unfortunately, a squeamish Catholic brother killed the poor, helpless snake that was snuggled against the warmth of my stomach. He didn’t understand a little boy’s choice of pets.
Late 4th of July—
If you’ve ever lived where rural fields rub shoulders with the suburbs, you recall the mailboxes: metal tubes with a hinged door on the front. Well, the neighbors responsible for the absence of my beloved dog had to pay the price.
Cannon crackers were the powerful firecrackers that we always saved after a noisy July 4. On that particular evening, the neighbor’s mailbox suddenly looked like a misshapen metal tube with a puckered door hanging by one hinge. I could see the screaming homeowner’s legs dancing around the fringes of the low bush beneath which I hid, but he finally gave up. The little boy had scored again.
Fast forward to my teens. Since I wasn’t an athlete, I found myself the instigator of a cruel joke played on the much-disliked tennis coach. We enclosed my crudely carved pen in a beautifully wrapped box and presented it to him as thanks for his efforts. Flattered, he unwrapped the “gift” to find the ugly contents. To our amusement before he stalked off in a rage, he stuttered that the tennis captain belonged in an institution for delinquent boys. Not me, but the presenter.
I’ll never forget the game of “Dong” where I unintentionally knocked out all the street lights up the middle of Albuquerque’s Central Avenue. The stroke of my bat on the metal standard had such a lovely bell-like tone. Or the gooey mess a water-soaked loaf of moldy French bread made when it splattered a parked car. Wow, that must have been a big bird!
Hoist the Flag—
When I graduated from high school in 1952, I was given a trip to Europe by a wealthy great-aunt who believed travel was an essential part of education. As chance would have it, the tour leader told her charges how she prized a small Olympic flag she had purchased on an earlier trip. An idea was born.
A forest of alternating Olympic and Finnish flags was arrayed outside the Olympic stadium in Helsinki. The night before our departure was dark and drizzly, so I decided one of those flags would make a wonderful souvenir. My little pocket knife brought one of those flags down. Fearing the screech of its descent would attract the attention of people nearby, I gathered the flag up and hid behind a hedge. Then I realized how big the flag was. It was huge!
I won’t bore you with the details, but I was afraid the Customs search of departing luggage would result in my arrest. I held my breath as the agent flipped right past the flag and I was home free…not without a little braggadocio for my traveling companions, however. The irony is that a number of years later I met the son of the man who owned the factory that made that flag. He thought the story was funny. I still have that flag.
These are just a few of the adventures of my childhood and youth. There are more, of course, but this is getting too long.
Tune in next week for another piece on stuff that grabs me.