Learning through Laughter

Bob Owen, Humorist

Memory lane has a nice ring to it.  But, if you’re not careful, it can be a scary place.  In high school, there were four of us guys who buddied around quite a bit. We swam and went hiking together.  We met friends together at Duncan’s Drug Store in the afternoon after school.  We went to Teen Town on Friday and Saturday nights together.  And, we always had Mr. Schweitzer’s Tastee burger at the Tastee Freeze.  We had other friends, but we relied on each other when we needed a “buddy.”

After high school, college came and went; but we kept in moderate contact. We didn’t always make it to each other’s weddings, but we sent gifts.  And then we all moved in different directions and raised our families.  We kept our memories, and we kept in touch.  We called each other when our children were born, and went through a divorce or two as well.

One day in late summer a few years back, the phone rang while Brenda and I were enjoying the evening on our screened porch.  One of the four, Jack, said his wife was taking the grandchildren on a special trip in a couple of weekends and wondered if I and the others would come back to Russellville for a guy weekend.

One at a time we agreed that would be wonderful and said, “yes.”  Which really meant that our wives gave us permission.  We arrived Friday afternoon in time for Jack to make us his version of the “original Tastee,” which we declared was perfect, exactly like Mr. Schweitzer’s.

The next day we spent walking around town, thankful we didn’t have full-length mirrors to remind us that we were not the youthful, sprite young kids we remembered.

At one point, we agreed to separate and follow our own personal memories.  I walked a couple of blocks from town and stood in front of the home in which I had grown up.  Standing there in August, I could see Dad’s amazing Christmas lights on the outside of our home and could remember the birthday parties in the back yard.  Soon, the owner of the house came out the front door.  A bit irritated, he asked me, “Can I help you?”  His small children stood behind him in the doorway.

Holding my hands up as a visual apology, I told him, “Sorry to startle you by staring at your house.  But, I grew up in your house.  My parents are both gone now, and I was just remembering.”

The young man quickly softened and invited me in to see the place.  I thanked him for his hospitality, but begged off saying I wanted to remember it the way I knew it.  He probably went in and told his family about the pitiful old man coming back home.  But, I didn’t feel pitiful at all.  Fulfilled actually.

From there, I passed the two-story white frame house the Hollingworths lived in and remembered the ghost stories in the back yard.  And past the library that once was a bank robbed by Jesse James, waiting for the “black ghost” to come out of the basement door that bordered sixth street.

Eventually, we all made it back to the center of town, to Duncan’s, and met Jack for the drive back out to his home in the country.

After dinner, we competed in “I remember when you” games, trying to remind the others of stupid things we had done in high school.  It didn’t take us long to get around to talking about our favorite summer pastime and ritual, Capture the Flag, a game that took on a life of its own.

Every summer for years, kids from all over town would meet at the crab apple tree in Jimmy O’Dell’s front yard when it got dark. That was the time when doors weren’t locked and children played outside until Mom or Dad hollered their names to come in and take baths.

The game was simple.  We would divide into two teams, and each would put up a white flag of some sort.  One flag would go in the crab apple tree in the front of Jimmy’s yard, which was on seventh street.  The second would be on the light pole at the back of his yard, on sixth.  Jimmy had the biggest house and the largest yard in our neighborhood, which made it perfect for the game. The purpose was to capture the opponent’s flag without getting caught.

As the four of us reviewed our many captures and losses and shared stories, it didn’t take long for us to hop in Jack’s car and drive to Jimmy’s front yard for a quick game.     As we gathered under the tree, the fact that we no longer knew any of the people who lived there didn’t bother us at all.  We were intent on capturing not only the flag, but also a minute portion of our youth.

Bill immediately spoke up, “Bob and I will be a team will take the crab apple tree.”  We hadn’t spoken our thoughts to each other, but we each had selfish reasons for wanting that particular home base.  Bill’s practice those many years ago was to hide up in the middle of the crab apple tree, making someone from the other team think the flag was unguarded.  As they approach the flag to take it, he would jump down and take them captive.

My goal was a bit more active.  Many people relive their high school game winning goal in a football game or the time they hit a 20-footer in basketball.  Not me.  I wanted to relive the magical night when I captured the flag by zigzagging through Mrs. Williams front yard, hiding out under the Riley’s cherry tree, cutting through the parking lot of Higgin’s Grocery, then circling back behind the Mayor’s house, which put me within 10 feet of the light pole and the opponent’s flag.

A lot had changed in 40 years.  Besides size, weight, and agility.  Mainly security alarms.  I barely got through Mrs. Williams yard and was approaching the Riley’s cherry tree when security lights and alarms started sounding.  It wasn’t long before the police were looking for an old bald headed man running through back yards.

I immediately backtracked and circled the block so I could be seen casually walking down seventh street from the opposite direction as all the action.  As I made my way back to “home base,” I saw a police cruiser parked on the street, shining a spot light about half way up in the crab apple tree – on Bill, who had climbed up as he had done oh so long ago.  However, this time he got stuck and couldn’t get down.

After realizing the situation, I rushed up to the policeman and said, “Thank goodness you found him.  We tried to give him his medication, but he ran out on us.  We’ll take him back home now.”  It was the least I could do.  After all, what are old friends for?

Date of Blog Story: 
October 24, 2007

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