As I have written about before, my cousins, brother and I were somewhat unsupervised in rural Texas in the early 1980s. Our parents worked several miles away, and we were watched, in the early years, by teen babysitters who were, shall we say, less than motivated to execute their assigned observational duties in the strictest sense of the term. We frequently wandered the country side to entertain ourselves, with whatever came to hand.
One thing that was ‘at hand’ was our little brothers. These kids were only guilty of wishing to tag along, to join us in our tree house, and bask in the ultimate levels of cool pre-teen older brothers exude in the eyes of younger siblings. And as we became good at giving them the slip, they annoyed the babysitter enough to bring down parental edicts to ‘play with the little kids.’ This is how it came to be that one of our babysitters was labeled with the nick name ‘sandwich.’
Sandra was a typical teen girl, likely 17 or 18 at that time (‘old’ from the viewpoint of 10 and 11 year olds) who stayed with us during the day on summer vacation. My aunt’s house sported a window unit AC in the living room, which usually could drown out a reasonably sized thunderstorm, and thus let us make all the noise we wished. One favorite activity was the awesome tree swing at Jerry’s house, with a rope that went up 20 or 30 feet. Of course, another parental edict was to share a tree swing with the siblings, so we took turns pushing each other on the 20 foot high rope swing. The goal, of course, was to see how high you could go.
One sweltering Texas day in July, Jerry’s little brother Bo refused to give up the swing. After tiring of attempting to reason with someone of obviously diminished mental capacity, Jerry and I thought up a cool twist on the game: we took a one by eight and ‘paddled’ him on each pass of the swing. See, he was standing up in the swing to keep it going (against yet another parental edict; but to be fair, he was not the first to do so) and so presented a great ‘target of opportunity’ on each pass. If he leaned his nether regions out to gain momentum, we got in a swat, never mind that our contact was limited by the fact that our swing had to catch up to him as he went by: he presented no target on the return arc. This was brilliant on our part (so we thought): we got to paddle him unless Bo stopped swinging.
Meanwhile, Bo was caterwauling at the top of his lungs for quasi adult intervention. Did I mention that it was a hot day? That the window unit was blowing like a jet engine, drowning everything from the yard into the house in white noise? That we took that into account in our nefarious plan? So Bo was yelling “Sandraaaaa!” and “OW!” every pass, we were laughing so hard we really could not land a solid blow, and Sandra continued watching ‘The Young and the Restless.’ At one point Jerry got a particularly good hit and Bo yelled for “SANDWICH!!!” which pretty much broke up the party, as none of us could stand up, being helpless on the ground gasping for air.
Anyway, a few years later we were no longer supervised at all (!) and had heard of the concept of Paint Ball. As you can imagine, this captured the imagination of 13 and 14 year old boys: running around the woods, setting ambushes for the enemy, and shooting each other. The problems were a) paintball guns and ammo were very expensive, b) it required safety equipment we did not have, and c) we were broke.
Not to worry: we had baseball catcher’s equipment and BB guns. However, we soon discovered how hot running through the woods in catchers equipment was, so settled on just the BB guns. What could go wrong?
Another problem was lack of arms. Jerry had his pump up BB/Pellet rifle, and I had a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. Note that I quickly learned to keep my distance from Jerry, as his gun hurt on the rare times he hit. This advantage was negated by the fact that my Red Ryder could shoot much faster (if less powerfully and accurately: it still stung), which precluded a rush attack from Jerry. For all of the ammo we expended, we never did hit each other much.
One exception was at the old cattle tank. A cattle tank, for you urban readers, is what you might call a pond, if a muddy hole in the ground infested with turtles, frogs, snakes, various bugs and random thirsty bovines meets that definition. This particular tank was ‘seeded’ with fish which were hand fed by Jerry’s father, in the futile hope of catching fish one day. Why futile, you ask? You see, one of the wonders of BB guns and glass bottles (everything was in glass bottles those days: mayo to shampoo to ketchup) is that bottles float, and you can sink them with said BB guns. Aluminum cans were harder targets requiring Jerry’s rifle, but they too offered sport. Sometimes almost empty cans or jugs of household chemicals fished out of the trash substituted when glass or soda cans were scarce, having already been sent to a watery grave. My uncle never could figure out why that fishing bit never seemed to take off…
Jerry got peeved at me one day when I did not go along with whatever plan he had just dreamed up (by age 13 I was learning about Jerry’s plans, and the consequences I paid that he somehow escaped) so he took a shot at me with his rifle. He missed and I quickly was on the other side of the tank, which he would not cross (we knew what was on the bottom of that tank, and it was chest deep). So he shot at me across the tank. And the BB went plop into the water by my side of the tank.
Time to digress. Texas boys in those days learned many useful things from their fathers: how to skin a deer, squirrel or dove; not to urinate into the wind; not to talk back to their mother; the finer points of college football; and how to skip a flat stone across a body of somewhat still water. You take a relatively flat rock (think deck of cards or thinner) between the size of a fifty cent piece and the palm of your hand, grip it like you would a hand gun (trigger finger around the curve of the rock) and sidearm throw it at a low trajectory angle to the water. If the angle and power of the throw combined with the spin imparted to the stone just so, the stone would bounce off of the surface of the water, more than once if you were particularly skilled. We had contests to see how many skips a single throw would produce (no smart phones in those days).
So when Jerry’s shot fell short, I realized my lower powered gun would never reach him. Unless I could skip the BB! Surprisingly, this worked better than I could have dreamed. Physics dictated that all my shots were between his ankle and the middle of his calf, but they were bona fide hits. Jerry also had to reload (22 shots to my 600 plus) giving me time to pour it to him. He left the field of battle that day a bit the worse for wear, having worn deck shoes, shorts and no socks on our outing.
My aunt never did figure out where he got all of the tiny bruises, and nowhere but on his lower legs. Much to my delight, she made him go to his room to strip for a health inspection while I almost vibrated off of the couch with suppressed laughter.
Nor did she understand why he wore a long sleeve shirt in the late summer after another such encounter. On an unsupervised weekend (!) Bo insisted on joining the action, and prevailed in his petition with the threat of parental disclosure of the (supposedly unsanctioned, who was gonna ask?) BB gun combat. His terms specified staying in the yard (Bo had learned not to get alone in the woods with Jerry without some means of defense) and equal time to shoot. I observed that Bo did not have a BB gun, which seemed to nullify his argument until Jerry threw me under the bus. Since my Red Ryder shot faster, Bo and I could be on the same team.
NOW I had motivation to shoot Jerry, and a highly motivated ally with which to do so. So we began the stalk. Bo and I had to stay together, which at first limited cover possibilities until we started baiting traps for Jerry. This involved presenting Jerry a target to induce him to revealing his position to the armed comrade. Bo got popped a few times before we abandoned that strategy (you did not think I was gonna be bait, did you?).
Then Bo got a great idea: we could climb up the TV antenna to the roof of the house, and shoot down on Jerry anywhere on the yard, as long as we used the peak of the rook for cover. This violated yet another parental edict, but if you are already doing what you suspect any sane adult would frown on, you might as well chuck all the rules. This worked until Jerry holed up on top of a long unused dog house against the trunk of a large oak tree, where he could punch through the leaves while our lower powered gun could not. We countered with hiding behind the chimney, which gave us an unimpeded shot. We were now well within the ‘ouch’ range of Jerry’s gun (his shots nicked brick dust and shrapnel onto us) until I realized that he had a delay between shots, to pump up his rifle.
At his next shot, I jumped out and nailed him there on the dog house, causing him to take refuge behind the tree trunk. At short range I was a crack shot with my Daisy, and could fire several times in succession. So we traded shots for a while, Bo and I waiting for his shot and him ducking back behind the tree to power up.
Then I made a discovery: the tree was too small to cover his arm while pumping the rifle. Between his shots his arm was briefly visible from the other end of the chimney! So I timed my next shot to his pumping and got him on the elbow from my new vantage point. In the heat of battle Jerry did not think, just adjusted his position so he was covered… and exposed his arm to Bo who had remained in our original position. Bo quickly got the Daisy from me and plinked Jerry from that angle, again around the elbow. This went on for quite some time, as Jerry was convinced he had us pinned while we gleefully nailed his arm once or twice between his shots.
Thus it was that the next day, Jerry insisted on wearing a long sleeve shirt to church (to cover the bruises), telling my aunt he was cold (in 80 degree weather.)
And Jerry got back at me years later by telling my future wife of our exploits as kids, during those unsupervised summers. My kids rarely get to do anything good outdoors.