Ancestors, Legends & Time

Being boys

Jeanne Newby

Dave Allen was a challenge to his folks, and each day he tried so hard to be good. But each attempt turned into a trial. Poor Dave!

“Being Boys” was not a hard task at all for Tom and me. It came naturally. So naturally in fact, that Poppa and Mom had to frequently curtail our enthusiasm and remind us of our scholastic responsibilities. One of our first curtailments was the upstairs sleeping porch.

Being at the highest point of “Look over Lodge”, it commanded the best “look-over” of Center Creek and the surrounding countryside. Being open and unscreened, it also commanded the best launching site from which to clamber out onto the upper boughs of the surrounding oak trees, some 75 feet above the edge of an equally high bluff.

Pretending we were Tarzan, we could perch on the surrounding banister, later railing, and our first step required a leap of faith and bravado. Toes tensed, muscles taunt, quivering on the edge, working up the courage to launch our pale bodies across the 4-foot chasm to the nearest limb. Arching in the air, we’d fly, landing somewhat ungracefully on the stout branch, belly first, knocking the air out of both of us with a very unTarzan-like “oomph” followed by a deep gasp for air and a groan. Legs and arms encircling the limb, we’d slither, lizard-like toward the trunk, repelling down its length with the aid of a large grapevine to the relative safety of the red clay below.

Thrilled with our acrobatic accomplishment, we attempted to retrace our path only to discover that going back up was much more work than coming down had been. Creeping cat-like to the edge of the lodge, we peered around the corner. Sure enough, Mom was still occupied, hanging out the wash. With the coast clear, we regained the landing and took the easy way up, via basement steps, across the veranda, into the living room, then back out onto the sleeping porch.

Now buoyed with confidence, we no longer quivered with anxiety; instead we trembled with anticipation, as we again took flight, briefly escaping the bounds of gravity. Our landings gradually became more graceful and our descents more agile.

Our washing machine was in the basement and the water emptied out the wall pipe onto our landing zone at the base of the oak tree. As we released the grapevine, we were slipping and sliding to get our footing on the edge of the bluff. With our flailing arms and legs helping us to get balance, we eventually gained an oozing toehold on the slippery red clay. The same red clay that now covered our entire bodies. As we neared the corner of the lodge to begin our journey through the basement to get back to the sleeping porch, we heard Mom coming to get another load of wash to hang out. Hiding quickly behind the woodpile, it seemed like an eternity before she emptied the washer, wrung the clothes and started another load and then left. Spurred by the excitement of being detected, we ran up the stairs, oblivious to the red clay trail we were leaving behind.

Once again, we soared into the blue, once again, we landed in the green, this time, though, and our red clay coatings diminished our secure holdings on the tree. Exhilarated, and forgetting how close our Mom was, I stood on the limb, thumping my chest with my fists and letting out my best Tarzan yell. In the process, I lost my balance and fell, with my legs straddling the limb that we thought was so stout. It protested with a loud crack as I scampered to the safety of the tree trunk and vine, while brother Tom clung for dear life. The limb began to drop dramatically, making groaning sounds to the accompaniment of Tom’s shouts for help and my yells of “Hang on!”

The screams reached the sensitive ears of Mom and leaping like a lioness going to protect her cubs; she abandoned the wash and ran into the house, following the red clay trail of foot and hand prints to the source of the shouts, which had become much stressed screams. As she reached the top of the stairs, she observed with horror our life-threatening predicament. Cautioning us, “Don’t you dare move an inch,” she ran off in search of Poppa, shouting at the top of her lungs, “Fred, Fred!”

Telling Tom to hang on, I ignored her warning and decided to help her find Poppa. I descended the grapevine, only to find the red clay even more slippery than before. When I first landed, I let go of the grapevine, which in turn recoiled upwards, causing its supporting limb to do some swaying which caused Tom’s limb to do a see-saw sway. I only had a fleeting glimpse of this as I began a feet first toboggan plummet of terror toward death, doom and utter destruction. I was sliding through brush, leaves, and rocks toward the river, bouncing off boulders and careening over ledges, with not much in clothing to cover my fair skin. My wild ride came to a halt at the edge of the bluff when I became entangled in a wild blackberry thicket.

Now, covered from head to toe with red clay, grapevine splinters, scrapes, scratches, twigs, leaves, mud and thorns, I ran down the path along the bank past the dock and up steps to the lodge. Tom still clung to his tottering perch but his cries now sounded more like the plaintive mewing of a stranded kitten. Mom and Poppa were nowhere in sight.

I shouted out words of encouragement to Tom as I ran off to find Poppa. Mom was frantically searching all the out buildings when I caught up with her. Between her shrieks for “Fred,” she took time to shake me by the shoulders and scold me for leaving Tom all alone to fend for himself.

About this time, Poppa emerged from the north woods where he had been chopping firewood. He had run all the way and was gasping for breath. He took off toward the lodge, stopping only long enough to get a ladder. At the sleeping porch, he stood on the banister, holding onto the roof with his left hand, using his right hand to slide the ladder out to where it rested in the crook of the dangling limb. He then proceeded to inch his way out while Mom cried, “Fred you’re gonna kill yourself and Tom too.” While I added, “No he won’t, Poppa can do it.”

The next few minutes must have seemed like hours to Mom as Poppa coaxed an unwilling Tom to release his death grip and crawl whimpering all the while into Poppa’s strong arms. Poppa put Tom on his back, and he crawled back to the safety of the sleeping porch where Tom was grabbed by a frantic mother who covered him in kisses and hugs.

All of this was too much for me. Why was he getting all of the attention? “He is a baby!” I exclaimed. “If he hadn’t frozen in fear, we’d have been all right.” To which Tom replied, “It’s your fault, you told me to jump.”

“But you wanted to,” I said. “You were havin’ just as much fun, Tom.” I’m the hero. It’s me that got hurt. It’s me that got help and it’s me that should be getting’ the attention.”

With that, Poppa grabbed me by the ear saying only five words, “I’ll give you some attention,” as he pulled me to the woodpile for my second visit that day. The results of which did not wash off like the clay and left a lasting impression on my behind as well as my mind…”Little brothers get you in trouble.!”

Poppa chose to remove temptation, by using a pole saw to cut off the limbs and vines within eight feet of the sleeping porch. He then completely screened in the porch. Which actually improved the view and the sleeping porch was much better without mosquitoes.

Poppa, while stern, was very patient, especially when you consider how I continually tried him. Often when frustrated at repeatedly failing at a task he had given me, I’d whine, “I’m trying Poppa, I’m trying.” To which Poppa would sigh and exclaim, “I’ll give you that Dave, you are very trying!”

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.

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