Saturday, June 25, 2011

Living on Twenty-Sixth Street/ Cowboys and Indians/ The First Picture Show


            Sometime around my fifth birthday we moved from North 5th Street to the last street on the other side of town where my parents bought the house at 1419 26th Street.  It was the last street in town and, although the lots were city lots, the property on our side of the street included several acres stretching down almost to Holiday Creek.  The area around Holiday Creek was occupied by Dittoe's Dairy.  The open area behind our houses, combined with the open pasture for the dairy cows and the trees along Holiday Creek, provided a fantastic playground for kids, and there were a lot of us in the neighborhood.

            Mrs. Cherry, a widow who became my mother's best friend, lived directly across the street.  She had two sons, one about my brother’s age and the other, Don Cherry, was my age.  (Don subsequently became a national celebrity as a singer, golfer, and the husband of a former Miss America).  Next door to the Cherrys lived the Moores; Mr. Moore worked at the dairy and could whistle louder than a locomotive.  They had two daughters, one named Thelma, and a son, J.W. Moore, who was a friend of mine all the way through the Boy Scouts. 

Directly across the street from the Moores, and next door to our house, lived my sister Ruby, her husband A.E.[Bud] Stiles, and two of my nephews, Audie Emmitt Stiles Jr. and his younger brother, Jimmy. Junior, that's all anyone called Audie for years, was six weeks younger than I and much more like a brother than a nephew. There were at least a couple of dozen other kids about my age in the immediate neighborhood.

Cowboys and Indians     
One of our major preoccupations was playing "Cowboys and Indians" with rubber guns and donkeys.  The donkeys cost about $1.00 each at the weekly livestock auction.  The rubber guns were made of wood and were called Rubber Guns because of the ammunition used.  One discarded inner tube provided many rubber bands that were loaded onto a four or five foot repeating rifle.
The rifles were ingeniously designed.  There were a number of notches cut into the back end of the "barrel" over a carved out breach housing a hinged trigger.  The first rubber band was placed on the end of the barrel and stretched to the first notch, the second rubber band placed over the end on top of the first and stretched to the second notch, and so on until all notches were loaded.  The trigger released the last band first by pushing it out of the rearmost notch and the remaining ones in reverse order of their loading.  They all smarted when you were hit by one of them, but the first shot, being stretched the most, would raise a welt on bare skin that would last for days.

            True to tradition, the donkeys were stubborn.  Being a quarter Cherokee, I was always an Indian.  Invariably, when a band of cowboys were bearing down on me, my donkey would balk. The only sure way to get your donkey to obey was to bite his ear. We got new donkeys when the old ones ears became frayed from the frequent chewing.  Television had not even been invented then, so we had to devise our own entertainment, but I'm glad I got to play Cowboy and Indians with donkeys and rubber guns on Saturday mornings instead of looking at cartoons on TV.

The First Picture Show
The Sign of the Cross was the first movie I ever saw.  We got in somewhere around the middle, watched through to the end, saw the cartoon, then the first half of the feature.  When we got home, I, filled with self-importance at the wondrous event, immediately assembled all the neighborhood kids to tell them about it.  I duly recounted what happened during the second half of the feature, described the cartoon, then the first half exactly as I had seen it.  A sophisticated Smart Alec son of Sunday visitor of one of the neighbors, who had seen The Sign of the Cross from the beginning attempted to set me straight. "No Way!" I knew what I had seen.  What finally convinced me was the cartoon; even when I saw it I had trouble figuring out where Mickey Mouse  fitted into the story of Jesus.  When I realized how dumb I had been, I was furious at the stranger who had exposed my ignorance and subjected me to ridicule.  I wanted to fight, but he was too clever for that.  That was my first, but unfortunately not the last, acute embarrassment.  I refused to go out to play for days because I knew the neighborhood kids would make fun of me.

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