When I was a kid growing up in Blanket, the last day of school in May was reason to celebrate. My buddies and I immediately took off our shoes, tied the laces together, hung them around our necks and picked our way on tender feet to Blanket Creek.
There, we took our first chilly dip in what we called the “deep hole.” This was our annual rite of spring. We practically lived on that creek until school started again in the fall. My folks, having moved off the farm into town gave me more freedom to run and play. I had no teats to pull, no hay to pitch, no corn to gather and no cotton to pick. Maybe it wasn’t heaven but it was close.
We became the Tom Sawyers and the Huckleberry Finns of Blanket and roamed that creek from the Deep Hole to Bradley’s Bluff, about 6 miles south. The creek was our “Wide Mississippi” and we fished for catfish and perch and fried them in one of Mama’s old iron skillets and often spent the night rolled up in an old quilt on the ground.
We requisitioned old crossties from the nearby Frisco railroad and built a raft which we paddled up and down the creek. We caught crawfish on a string baited with pieces of bacon and fried them on the spot. We learned from Scott Lanford, our scoutmaster, how to boil eggs in a paper sack over a campfire but we saw no good reason for doing it.
We never ran out of anything to do. If we tired of the creek, we headed for the railroad yard where a long string of boxcars was always parked. We chased each other up and down the tops of the boxcars, jumping the spaces in between. Maybe it was a dangerous thing to do but we were convinced that only old people died and sometimes they took a long time doing it.
We climbed the stairs to the Masonic Lodge over the Levisay and McCulley grocery and tried to see through window to find out what went on in there. John Strickland, a clerk in the store and also a member of the lodge, told us confidentially that they rode goats up there on meeting nights.
We would sneak up the stairs on meeting nights in an effort to confirm it. We never saw hair or hide of a goat but we all swore we could hear the clatter of goats’ hooves on the old wood floor. We all knew John wouldn’t lie.
As we grew older, our interest shifted to John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies which we saw every Saturday at the Gem or Queen theaters in Brownwood. Both Gene and Roy got into some pretty good fights with outlaws but never hit anybody too hard or they might break a finger which would seriously affect their guitar playing. Neither, we noticed, ever got their hats knocked off or lost the crease in their pants.
In later years, we all spent our time in the military service and even though we knew that our hero, John Wayne had never fired a shot at an enemy in any war, we didn’t care. He inspired us while we did.
Old Roy’s movies always ended with him and Dale riding off into the sunset singing “Happy Trails.” They had no way of knowing it, but we had probably been down more happy trails than they ever thought about.
Harry Marlin’s column is featured every Tuesday on the Brownwood Bulletin’s Viewpoint page. E-mail him at pilgrimB17@verizon.net.