"Back when I was a kid…………" are words that make everyone groan. Invariably the person saying them is an "old timer" who tells tales of heroism and hardship. They remember butchering hogs in the winter, boiling their clothes in a vat of lye soap and water over an open fire, studying by candlelight and walking to school uphill both ways - things us modern mortals could never imagine.
My dad used to tell me about some of the crazy things he and his brothers did when they were growing up in west Texas. Some of the stories were so outlandish that I used to doubt they ever happened. That is until, one day, after I was grown and married and running a business in a large city. I ran into an older man who had known my dad and those hellions he called brothers. He told me several of those same stories - almost verbatim.
My father was one of six children born to an itinerant Methodist preacher who traveled the state on horseback ministering to rural communities. He would be gone for several days at a time, and while he was gone, he left my naïve grandmother in charge of the children. She innocently believed they were all immune to youthful temptations.
During one of my granddad’s extended preaching stints, his boys went out scouring the countryside looking for mischief. It was only the power of their godly mother’s prayers that preserved their lives that day. They had gone out exploring near an abandoned mine and found a real treasure - a stick of dynamite. They spent the better part of the afternoon discussing the possibilities until they devised a cunning plan.
There was a large dead tree at the edge of town that stood near the middle of Main Street. (Of course, to say it was atown would be an exaggeration - it was more like a small community with a couple of stores and churches and a country school.) The boys found some kite string, cut a small opening in the top of the dynamite and sprinkled black powder onto the string that would serve as a fuse. They unrolled an ample length of string and then carefully wedged the stick of dynamite into a crevice of the tree. Then they started walking, while one of the boys carefully let out the string behind him as they went along the road.
They had to get far enough away from the tree so they would not be suspect when the detonation occurred. With one last nod to caution and commonsense, the boys hesitated. It was only a momentary pause; one of them struck a match and touched the end of the fuse. He dropped it casually as it sparked to life, and they all walked on, staring straight ahead, trying to appear normal. They dropped the hissing fuse as they sauntered nonchalantly towards the end of the town. They turned around and waited anxiously.
In a few moments the burning fuse reached the dead tree and the dynamite. It exploded with a thundering blast that blew out most of the town’s windows. The surprised boys saw tiny slivers of the old tree rocketing skyward in one instant and come raining down over the town and its shocked citizens in the next. Incredibly no one was hurt. It gave the townsfolk something to chat about for the next few days and wonder how and why the old tree exploded. It also gave those preacher’s boys something to do for an afternoon and something to brag about for years.
However, it wasn’t safe to brag about it to anyone else because my granddad might have found out when he returned. He had a barbaric way of punishing his sons for misbehaving - he would pick them up by the hair and kick them in the shins. I never understood how he did that since they towered over his 5-foot-2 frame by the time they were 13. I don’t know how effective that treatment was, either. Judging by the tales my dad told me, many of which were verified by that old man I met later, its effect must have been short lived.