I sat in Mrs. Davis’ room, probably working on math problems, and noticed a classmate’s pencil moving in rapid, jerking motions. Ever curious and seeking any excuse to talk, I peeked over his shoulder to see what the brow furrowing was all about.
His right hand worked his trusty No. 2 pencil on a piece of looseleaf, ruled notebook paper. On the page was something I had never seen. The object on his paper had the wings of an airplane, but the body and rear thruster of a rocket. Rockets filled my first-grade coloring books about man’s first trip to the moon, and I had seen Star Wars just a few months before that (and several times in between). I was fascinated.
“Hey, what are you drawing?” I asked.
“A spaceship,” he said.
Soon Chris and I were drawing spaceships and land-boring vehicles replete with lights and weapons. We gave them uncharted planets to fly by and elaborate underground chasms as battlegrounds. The No. 2 pencil was the perfect implement for laying down the lines and shading that flowed from our imaginations, and readily eraseable when we decided something didn’t look quite right.
Soon, we discovered that we both lived about five miles outside of town, and only two miles apart, on the same mountain ridge. Our bicycles carried us easily between our houses, which no doubt thrilled our parents. In fact, I probably could count on one hand the number of times our parents had to make the drive.
Chris and his family told me that he was a distant cousin of Elvis Presley. I didn’t know much about Elvis at that age, except that he was very big in rock music, and then just plain very big. Still, I thought it neat that Chris was related to him.
Chris and I held sleepovers at each other’s homes, but we called it “spending the night.” We spent more time at his house, perhaps because he lived on a farm, which offered many adventures for kids our age. Indoors, we watched Star Trek reruns, which quickly turned me into a fervent follower of Kirk and his crew.
Building on that and my Star Wars fanaticism, Chris pulled me into the world of science fiction. In addition to action figures of Luke, Chewie, and the others, he had some of the ships of that universe. He had a set of Micronauts, which, as far as I can tell, still would be pretty cool toys for kids into sci-fi. No tie-in show, so a comeback doesn’t look good.
When we went outdoors, I was somewhat taken aback that Chris never wore shoes when playing in the fields, around the ponds, and in the barn. They had horses, cows, goats, and chickens. I did what any normal kid my age would do.
I took off my shoes.
It was rough going for my feet at first, but they toughened up quickly to allow me to run around like Tom Sawyer. I never quite got accustomed to running across their gravel driveway, and I almost went down when I happened to step on a gray rock sitting point up. Beyond the driveway and through the dry, crunchy weeds, my feet found respite in the muddy ponds. I’m just glad no hookworms found respite in my feet.
The ponds offered entertainment in various and, retrospectively, disgusting forms. In one pond was a dirt island with weeds growing all over it. Once when Chris came to school with scratches up one side of his face, he explained that when he tried to push a large dirt clod up the island hill, he had slipped and fallen backward, allowing the mass to roll over him. It was a real-life Wile E. Coyote moment.
That also was the pond where, when not catching catfish baited by chicken livers past their expiration date, we held mud wars. My brother and his friends got in on the action, too. Standing several feet from the shore, our feet sunk into the mucky bottom, we hid behind thin sheets of Styrofoam stacked flat to form flotilla. We leaned into the brown water to scoop up mud ammo. While direct hits were by far the most rewarding, a well-placed mud bomb landed on the top of the defense barrier and sent a scattershot of mud raining down on the opponent.
The only true escape was under water, but despite our slogging around in it, putting our heads under water was not common.
I could swim in a lake, but in a pond? No thanks. Under certain circumstances, however, I could be moved to get my head wet. That brings me to what we did in the other pond.
(to be continued)