Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Tree of Justice

Summers.  I have deep green memories of spreading elms, irrigation ditches you could sit in when it just got too hot,  watermelons and hot dogs, and eleven little kids, the cousins.  We spent every summer together, so we grew up more as siblings rather than relatives. 

This was child-rearing for our parents in the 1950s and 1960s:  Send the kids outside to play approximately five minutes after breakfast.  Tell them not to come back inside the house until supper. 

It's a wonder we survived it. 

We were busy out there. We were jumping off of twenty-foot haystacks, chasing down chickens or calves, digging the radishes and the potatoes out of the  dirt and eating them raw, climbing all over combines and tractors, walking miles of fence (on top of the 2-inch wooden poles that made up the barnyard fences, three feet high), were chased by pigs and cows, practicing our gymnastics on flooded lawns and irrigation ditches,  climbing trees, and engaging in mud fights with each other. Our folks  hosed us down before we could come in for a bath.

You'd think that kids who played that hard together would get along. You'd be wrong.  We regularly locked each other in or out of sheds, barns, or basements. We pushed each other off of ditch banks into irrigation canals.  Every day one child or another was singled out and picked on.  You learned how to hold your own out there.

So, late one afternoon, my brother was up a tree, and the other boys were throwing mud at him.  He saw it as a game, dodging the mud as it flew through the air.  It was in my uncles back-yard, and a little irrigation ditch ran through it—lots of opportunity for big clumps of mud.  It was fairly easy to throw, but you couldn't aim it. It went where it wanted to go. So, my cousin, Mike, a handsome blond lad, had a whole handful of the stuff, reared back and let it fly. It hit a limb, and  immediately it pitched right back at Mike.  It hit him smack between the eye-brows.  A big, black blob of mud.

Twelve little kids were on the ground in the fits and starts of snorting laughter.  Never had justice been rendered so swiftly or so righteously before.  And never since.

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