Soaking in the crik last night, I got to thinkering about kids, and playing, and home made ice cream. My old man, a grizzly if ever there was one, had a bad temper, and it was on display almost all the time.
The one time it wasn’t was Sundays. At church he was an “elder”, so he got to strut around like he was hot stuff. After church we’d often go visiting his best friend, the Major. Since both families lived out in the country, we’d make a day of it. The men talking, the women doing “women stuff” (back then you could say that), and the kids doing kid stuff.
The Major had two daughters and a son. The daughters were about the age of my older brothers, and they’d work the old fashioned ice cream maker all afternoon so that we could have ice cream with supper. The son was a year older than me, but we got along famously because I would do whatever he wanted. I thought he was the smartest, most talented person in the universe. Later, when I read the Sherlock Holmes stories, I immediately understood why Watson allowed himself to be so completely overshadowed by Holmes, because I had the same sort of relationship with the Major’s minor.
Of course, there was a cost for Holmes — he had to put up with the apparent dimness of Watson whose vision, by comparison, wasn’t as sharp as the great detective’s. For my best friend, the payment was mostly physical. I was a clumsy cub, and my awkwardness wound up causing injury to innocent bystanders as often as to me.
I was about seven when both our families moved into town just four blocks apart. Hurray! Now we could get together every day. In retrospect, that might not have been the best thing for his health. I remember when we played one-on-one basketball on the outdoor half-court the Major built for his son, more often than not he’d wind up with a sprained finger or a basketball in the face. My “passing” wasn’t all that great, but his “catching” was worse. There were a lot of bloody noses when we played, and they were mostly his. His mother had a ‘nervous condition’, and I’m pretty sure I know who caused it.
I remember another time we were playing Tarzan in my yard. I’d snuck into the house and borrowed Mom’s butcher knife and used it to sharpen a five-foot stick that became my spear. My friend was the great white hunter by default because he wouldn’t climb a tree. Might tear his new jeans and his mother would get upset. I called out to him: “Be very still. Killer snake at your feet.” My friend froze and I threw the spear. Hit his shoe. (There was no snake, of course, it was part of the game.) He fell down bawling. I was certain that I’d gone completely through his foot. At first he wanted me to call his mother to come take him to the hospital, but I talked him into inspecting the damage. That took some doing. He didn’t want to see his mangled foot. Eventually, I got his shoe off and sure enough, there was the beginning of a light bruise on the outer edge of his foot. No blood, no gaping wound, just a bruise. He took one look at it and fainted. Later, I helped him limp home and got his promise not to tell his mother what I’d done. That promise lasted almost thirty seconds. She’d already called my mother before I made it home.
Jump forward a couple of years. We’re out in the woods making a fort out of some “found” lumber and old tin roofing. I’d taken some nails and a hammer from my father’s toolkit, but tin roofing is hard to punch through. It took several tries, and I kept dropping the nail. So I talked him into holding the nail so that I could get a really good swing at it. I think you can see where this is going. A couple more years later and we’re out “hunting” in the woods with our BB guns. He’s in front, naturally, to point out the big game we were going to harvest. My gun was brand new and I was really eager to get to shoot it at something. I kept my finger on the trigger so as to be “ready”. When the gun went off, it made almost no sound at all. Not so my friend when the BB hit him in the leg. Another bruise, another histrionic scene. He hobbled home and showed his mother who probably fainted — but not before calling my mother. I lost the use of the gun for a month, and it was two weeks before we were allowed to do anything together again. That was probably for the best. Wait for him to heal before adding any new bruises.
These are just examples, of course. It seems there was always something like that happening. I understand why Sherlock put up with Watson. Everybody needs an audience. But my best friend was very popular at school. I have no idea why he put up with me, but I do know that we both got something from the relationship. I got a friend to play with and he got a spectacular collection of bruises. Even though both faded with time, I still think I got the best of the deal. At least, I’m willing to bet that my memories of our times together are a lot more fun than his!