It was a hot, hot day in a small North
Texas town not far north of Dallas in 1951. Pavement melting hot. My cousin
Bubba (every family in North Texas had at least one boy nicknamed Bubba)
and I were in our 13th summer. Now Bubba's father, my "uncle by marriage"
as we said to make sure everyone knew he was no blood kin, owned a small
town lumberyard. In order to supplement his income that summer he had gone
down to Hempstead when the watermelons got ripe and bought a trailer truck
load. Now this was before watermelons were being imported from Chile, Mexico,
The Sudan or wherever they get those gourd-green things you find in the
supermarkets today. And Hempstead melons were world-renowned. At least
in Texas they were.
Anyway, Bubba and I were tasked to load
the 2 1/2-ton flatbed with watermelons and find some folks to buy them.
And we didn't ask how much we were going to get paid. We knew we would
be fed and clothed and that was about all we expected. Also we didn't want
to get yelled at and "whupped" for disobeying. The trailer was under the
lumber shed so Bubba backed the flat bed up to it so we could weigh the
melons, mark the price on them with a lumber crayon and load them on the
flatbed. I was just a bit jealous of him. His father was letting him drive
a big ol' truck and my father wouldn't even let me drive his '39 Ford.
Right here you may be saying, "a thirteen year old driving a big truck?
I find that hard to believe. Surely the cops would stop him and make his
father come get him." Well, as some of you may know, in a small town in
that era, it seemed as if half the police force had gone to school with
our fathers or had been cops when they were our age. If we weren't tearing
things up or killing somebody, we usually got away with quite a bit that
would probably get a kid sent to reform school or wherever they send them
today and his parents charged with mis-parenting. The teachers were like
that as well. The part about growing up or knowing our fathers. We didn't
get away with a lot in school but that's another story.
After loading the truck, we set off
on our appointed rounds. We would drive down the streets real slow and
yell out the window, "Watermelons for sale. Waaaaateeeeermeloooons. Git
yer waaaaaaateeeeermelons." After we had sold several that way, we decided
to find a big shade tree to park under and try to sell them to passers-by.
We were sitting under a big oak tree
next to the chicken factory, and what a wonderful aroma, drinking a "sodie
pop" and just having a general good time. Sold a few there too. We were
both sitting on the back of the truck, swinging our feet back and forth,
with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of our mouth the way we had
seen Bogie do it in the movies when my mother drives by on the way to our
grandmother's house. She didn't stop, just yelled out the window on the
way by, "I caught you two" and wagged her finger at us. We decided we better
move on and stall what we knew was coming as long as we could.
We went by our friend Froggie's house.
We all decided we had sold enough watermelons for the day so we set out
for the city dump. Not to get rid of the melons. We knew Bubba's father
could count. We just needed some adventure. Adventure at the city dump?
Oh yeah. For one thing you could hunt rats with a 22 rifle or a 410 shotgun.
Which we proceeded to do. After we had scared all the rats into hiding,
we decided to look around for stuff. You could find all manner of treasure
at a small town city dump. They didn't cover everything up with dirt as
soon as it was dumped then. As a matter of fact, I think they only covered
it up about once a week or so.
Well, treasure we found. A tricycle.
A pretty big one. It still had the wheels on it. The tires were missing
and the wheels were a bit bent and it didn't have a seat but it was still
a good one. We soon tired of trying to ride it out on the gravel road in
front of the dump. And we were trying to figure out how to kill some more
time to avoid my mother when Bubba said, "Froggie, I dare you to let me
pull you on that tricycle behind the truck". Now Froggie was kind of small
for his age. The runt of the litter you might say and the tricycle was
only a little bit too small for him. Small, maybe but the boy would take
a dare. We found some line and we tied the tricycle behind the truck about
10 or 15 feet. Froggie got on and tried to look like he wasn't scared while
Bubba and I got in the truck.
Bubba started off nice and slow and
easy like and we were all 3 laughing and caring on. But that got old real
quick. Next thing you know, Bubba had that truck up to about 20 or 30 miles
per hour and Froggie was hanging on and yelling at the top of his lungs.
Bubba and I could hardly see we were laughing so hard. Then Froggie hit
a chuck hole. But he had seen enough movies, he knew how to land and not
break his head. The boy wadded up in a knot in mid air. He bounced like
an over-inflated basketball on a new court -- the first time. The second
time he just kind of flattened out like the coyote falling off the cliff
with a faulty Ajax rocket strapped to his back.
He was moving when we got there. And
the boy could cuss. He was scrapped up from the gravel on the road but
nothing was broken or bleeding real bad. Just a bunch of little oozing
scrapes and scratches. The kind that sting a lot when you get sweat in
them while they're fresh. And his jeans looked pretty worn out. And he
was mad. We finally got him into the truck and headed for his house. Not
without several threats to our lives. Like I said, the boy was mad. Anyway,
about 20 minutes later we pulled up in front of his house and as he was
getting out of the truck Bubba asked, "see you tomorrow?" Froggie turned
around, grinned and said, "yeah, I guess so".