A Boy Chasing a Bird
A sportswriter once described a line drive, as, hit solidly, it was only about head high when it left the infield ... the right fielder came in for it ... turned when he saw it rise ... but he was a boy chasing a bird ... the ball was still climbing when it left the stadium.
The baseball is the reality, the object, but it isn't the story; only its route matters. It becomes actual, reified, by the umpire, then the scorekeeper, who mark down the official transit. The rest is for the legend to determine.
I learned from My Weekly Reader that the communists, by disallowing freedom, were "surely signing their own death warrant."
I learned that Madame Chiang Kai-Shek spoke English "without an accent." The first study question for that issue was, "Does Madame Chiang Kai-Shek speak English with an accent?"
"Uh-oh, Punky fell on his South Eastern Asian Treaty Organization."
That was when he tried the standing broad jump over a mud puddle and almost made it. We were even in elementary grades taught about our Asian alliances.
I learned all this in Bailey Inglish. It was a good decade for learning, the fifties.
The redheaded kid is running in the hall. We aren't supposed to do that, but he's a rowdy. From over in the rowdy section of town, you know. Just like 'em.
In first grade, Jack had a hit in recess against the upper class, and Dickie fanned. Punky could outrun me, and I could beat James. In high school, the positions held. Nobody advanced above anyone else. We were all just little bowling balls rumbling down the alley.
Better report the redheaded kid to Mrs Miller. Mary Ann stands up for that duty.
Punky comes up to me at recess, asks me to go with him on a mission. A teacher wanted him to bring something from downtown. It was the first time he had spoken to me personally, and I was honored. He was very popular and most voluble in class, which may have been the same feature. We became friends.
Mary Ann told Mrs Miller when she came back to the room, who quite properly reprimanded the redheaded kid. None of your rowdiness, redheaded kid! But Mrs Miller left the room again, and the redheaded kid became even more rowdy. Actually began throttling Mary Ann for ratting him out! What fun! Bill put him in a Full-Nelson like we learned from Sportatorium wrestling. Held him until Mrs Miller returned. That's when she paddled him. Serves him right. Take that, redheaded kid!
Punky had an idea. Said, let's fire a rocket way up above Bonham, have it shoot a photo, then parachute down to us. Simple. I mean, it's not rocket science.
Oh, wait ...
Okay, I said. So we compiled our coin and bought fireworks.
We attached something to test its load-carrying capacity. It failed the test. Never left the launching pad. Said his papa Willis, "This rocket is designed to carry only the stick upon which it's launched." Oh, we said. Rather than build a more powerful engine, we gave up the whole project and our town remained uncharted from ten thousand feet forever, for all I know.
A tacit understanding in our school was that we were all of the same fair-to-middling class, and nobody was better than anyone else and nobody better be acting like they were. Yet a hidden plebiscite was in how we considered such activities as running in the hall. If Jack or Punky do it, it's funny, a lark; if the redheaded kid from the poor side did it, he's reported and Mrs Miller swats him. It's fair if everybody knows the rules, but the redheaded kid, he's only middling, and he wouldn't play by the rules. Just like him.
Mrs Miller came out to Liberty Street to sell us a set of Compton's Encyclopedia. My fifth grade teacher wanted to insure a proper education for their son, so pony up the funds, parents! She can't do this alone. The tab, as I recall, was considerable for a fair-to-middling household. But who would deny the effort needed to provide for the children? Not my parents. Mrs Miller did us all a favor, for education and our future plus a healthy commission. Thanks, Mrs Miller!
In Compton's was an article about the Communist Menace. There were supplements of Compton's every year to keep us abreast of developments. A panel of dour dudes in suits posed behind a giant board with photos of unhappy men on it, some with exes drawn over their faces. Those were the ones who had been sent to prison, thank God. They were all members of the Communist Party, which was illegal. Belonging to a club was illegal? Never in all my school days was there an explanation of just what was the crime here. It must have been severe, because there was a war against communism being fought at that moment. The headline for the article in Compton's always read the same: Freedom in our country expanded again this year but steps must be continued for our own safety. Well, when you put it like that ...
Here's the redheaded kid, heading back to his desk, fuming. It's at the back of the room, of course. Finally he blurts, "This school ain't nuthin but a bunch of (obscenity ) little snitches and (obscenity ) teachers!"
Mrs Miller started for him then. She was determined, but she really didn't want to reach him, you could tell."Come here, boy," she muttered. She was glad when he bolted out the back door for the bike rack. Pushed other bikes over. Rode off into the sunset.
We were not taught problems, only solutions, rendered in broad general abstractions like Freedom and Democracy.
There were no arguments, no questions, just foreigners making trouble we had to prepare for. In junior high, our reading list included a thrilling page-turner by J Edgar Hoover called Masters of Deceit. (He did much better work on his vacuum cleaner.) And a report was entitled Federal Aid to Education, and the answer to that was, no, because federal aid meant federal control of our schools. Unmentioned was integration, which did not exist in our town all the years I was in school. Nor did communism, near as I could tell, probably due to the diligence of our junior high civics teacher, who would stand in a near panic in the classroom, flapping her hands, wailing, "They're winning! THEY'RE WINNING!"
Some who never even visited the Texas plains marveled that the state was once Democratic. Whatever happened to change it?
Think of cattle grazing in a pasture as you drive by quite early one morning. The sign on the barbed wire keeping the cows off the road reads King Ranch. Now you are heading back home in late afternoon. The cattle are the same and the pasture is, too, but the sign on the fence now says British Bovine Ltd.
The southern fair-to-middling working class suffered from two strokes while grazing: the civil rights plank in the 1948 Democratic platform and their party's flirtation with the counter-culture twenty years later. The brahmas never changed in any way; the only difference was in the brand. They were now under new ownership.
It was decency, humanity, or it was votes; so the Democrats chose one and the Republicans were glad for all the low-lying fruit. (They are reaping the whirlwind today.)
Our education was similar to the design of the old Offenhauser Indy racers of the day: heavily loaded to turn right only, and trouble lay in store when any obstruction was on the track. And so some of the more aware graduates of Bonhi came back home with some puzzling questions, which naturally occur when you encounter other voices, other rooms.
"What's a conservative? A liberal?"
And so they began to work it out.
"The game is musical chairs, with all the players circling the seats while the music plays. There is one less chair than there are players, and the one not finding a seat when the music stops is out. That's the liberal game. Now imagine one chair only and a player sitting and all others standing. And no music. That's the conservative game."
I've been in touch with my old classmates in more recent times. The red headed kid says he does not remember the incident of the throttling of Mary Ann, nor does she. Others in the room at the time do not recall the event at all, or incorrectly, which means not as I do. That entire epoch varied by every witness, and you wonder why all the trouble was taken to structure our days. All we needed was an umpire and scorekeeper.
Punky had an abiding curiosity about death. "I want to know what it's like a minute before, and a minute after."
He was a very popular guy, Punky, and a fine athlete. When he walked by the girls would turn and smile, "Hi, Punky!" He had a very serious, even sombre wave, not smiling, just acknowledging, his right hand low and forward.
Had a bad complexion, which speaks volumes for his personality. I played football with him for four years, junior high and junior varsity. We had an offensive scheme which was seriously flawed, and we won when we did because Punky was the best runner on the field. The coaches seemed to resent that. Always critiquing. Coach Anderson told him to wait until he was in the secondary to begin his "fancy-dan stuff." Coach Nelson didn't like his running motion, said too much of it was kicking up his heels. Even I knew you cannot adjust a kid's running style. Besides, Punky was the fastest guy on the team. Just too fancy for the grim grinder guys.
During their first year at UT, his roommate James came home to discover Punky hanging in their trailer.
He left a lot of notes, apparently, including instructions for his wake and funeral and the assigned roles of his friends within the ceremonies. "You have to be pretty wrapped up in yourself to do something like that," wrote Hemingway, who should be credited on the subject.
Croesus was angry that his great wealth did not win for him the title of Happiest Man on Earth, but Solon of Athens was of the opinion that no story can be judged until after the last chapter. If you're still playing, it's game-on. I myself think of the Google executive who had it all - wealth, toys, wife, children - until his corpse was found aboard his yacht in the harbor last year and the security video revealed a hooker administering a lethal dose of heroin.
All of the premises and promises of the wars and the rages during the Not 4th Streetera availed us nothing but great loss of life and treasure and every common experience of our school days is lost in time and Punky was accorded the second grandest funeral after Mr Sam, and it's all just blowing in the wind.
And that long drive, head-high when it left the infield, climbing still as it left the stadium? Jesus, that was some shot. Just foul.
NOTICE: That section of Highway 82 which passes through town east and west is no longer 4th Street. It's now Sam Rayburn Drive, repeat, NOT 4TH STREET.
For some time after this notice appeared in the Daily Favorite, locals referred to the particular roadway as Not 4th Street.
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