Where the wild things are not

Published 11:00 pm Friday, June 21, 2013

The best things in life are free.

That’s what Mama said.

And, in my young life, I had no reason to doubt her.

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After all, the only money that I ever needed was 25 cents for the Saturday picture show. Twenty-five cents would get me the feature picture show, which was usually a cowboy one, the serial, a cartoon, a bag of popcorn and a “co-cola” in a paper cup.

And for that same quarter, we would get the “notion” for what we would play all week long – cowboys and Indians, Superman, Batman and Robin, Tarzan, Jane and Boy, outer space, cavalry …just whatever. We played out the picture show.

Two dimes and a nickel was the need. Everything else was free.

When the final school bell rang in May, we were free to play all summer long.

And, nobody organized a thing for us. We played on our own. We invented things, created things, discovered things, got “into” things. We knew the real meaning of “Play On” and we did, from sunup until sundown and on into the night while the grownups sat on the porch and talked.

Some of the best free things of life were found in the pasture behind our house. In early summer, the wild plum trees, along the fencerow, were filled with the reddest, juiciest plums in the world.

We climbed the fence to reach the plums on the highest branches. We picked high and we picked low and filled our buckets to the brim.

On the way to the plum trees, we had to pass the lonely grave of an ol’ Indian.

Daddy had told me about him one day when we were walking through the pasture to see a newborn calf.

“What’s that?” I asked pointing to the long concrete slab.

“An ol’ Injun,” Daddy said.

My blood ran cold.

I knew it! I knew it! A grave … an Injun grave. A real live, dead Injun!

But with all the arrowheads that we had found in the pasture, I should have guessed it. My imagination went on a wild goose chase. Oh, the ways that Injun could have died. Rustlers could have done it or the cavalry when it rode through or maybe the Apaches cause they were mean Injuns. Or maybe a bear.

I imagined him to be a good Injun because he had a gravestone so I’d put clover and honeysuckle on his grave.

It was some years later that I realized I had misunderstood Daddy. What he had actually said was “an ol’ engine.”

But in my cowboy-frame of mind I heard “Injun.” And, so it was.

Well, I strayed from what I was talking about … the plum trees.

Back when I was growing up, there would be a summer cloud bust about mid-afternoon almost every day. And, when the plums were ripe, there was no more welcome sound than the rumble of thunder and no prettier sight than lightning dancing across the sky.

I’d go in the house, sit in front of the oscillating fan and eat wild plums and read funny books until my heart’s content.

The reason that I was thinking about the best things in life being free and plum trees being among them was that “there just ain’t no more of ’em.”

Spraying along the highway has killed everything except the kudzu. The blackberries are gone, too. The good, free things are “plum” gone.

But there’s no harm in keeping a lookout for ’em… or wishing for ’em. No harm at all.