|Me and my six guns. With the salute, I guess I'm a cross between a western cowboy and a WWII soldier.|
As a child of the sixties and early seventies, my TV entertainment choices contained a healthy diet of Westerns; Cowboys and Indians, before that phrase was considered politically incorrect. I could only dream of galloping through the sagebrush on a huge horse while shooting at outlaws and evading the flying arrows of renegade Native Americans. The closest I could come to that was running around my back yard, shooting arrows with rubber tips at trees, while being chased by my savage dog, Sugar who would lick my scalp off if she were to catch me.
I don’t remember the first bow and arrow set I had. I just remember that the arrows were narrow wooden rods, and they had little rubber suction cups on the ends so that they would stick to smooth surfaces when shot. Eventually, the tips were lost and the arrows became just a tad bit more dangerous. I never shot anyone’s eye out, but it’s a wonder it never happened.
I had more toy guns than toy arrows. My favorite and the one I kept the longest was a “popgun;” a small metal rifle with a cocking lever that made it look like a Winchester Repeater. It got its name from the noise it made when you pulled the trigger. However, as you can see from the picture above, I also had my share of pistols. Being a would-be gunslinger, I preferred a two-holster set up. That said, I had no intention of being a gun-for-hire. No sir. I was going to be the next Marshall Dillon of south Hackley Street.
Later on, the Cowboys and Indians battles changed over to games of Army. There were also a great number of TV shows based on World War II in those days, and it inspired my friends and me to shoot at each other for hours in and around the houses in my neighborhood.
“Halt! Gestapo!” “Bang bang bang!” “Pow pow pow!” “I got you!” “No, you didn’t! I was behind that rock!” “You’re dead!” “No, you’re dead!”
Hours of fun.
Usually, we used my yard and my neighbor’s yard directly behind my parent’s house. (Cecil and Irene had a huge yard, at least it seemed that way when I was ten. Now, I go back and I wonder how we ever did the things we did in that yard. But, it was like an amusement park at the time.) However, one year, I think it was middle school or early high school; we outgrew those two yards and overran two entire oversized city blocks with our army battles that raged every evening. We hid behind every conceivable obstacle, climbed trees, and even crawled up on a few roofs. I think at the height of that year’s wars, we probably had close to twenty kids playing, and we were driving more than a few grown-ups crazy.
I kind of miss those days. The only thing I had to worry about was not getting shot by Tim’s imaginary machine gun, or not waking up my dad who worked third shift at the Chevy plant.
One thing I didn’t mention about my old arrow set was a use I put it to that I’m sure its makers did not intend. In the fall, the birds would begin to head south, and great flocks of them would fly over the house. They weren’t geese. They were just huge groupings of some species that I don’t think I ever really recognized. Perhaps they were Starlings. I really don’t know. Anyway, having a bit of hunter built into my male nature, it seemed only natural that I should try to shoot the birds with my arrows. I would stand at the ready with an arrow notched on the string, and when a flock would appear I would shoot straight up in the air and into the flying squadron of birds. Of course, the problem with shooting straight up in the air is that the arrows come straight back down. It wasn’t a good idea to take your eyes off of your arrow while it was still in flight.
No one ever got hit by a falling arrow. Thankfully. Also, I never shot down a bird, although I did “wing” one once. I felt so bad about hitting it that I never did it again.
Later, into my early teen years, some of us graduated to more powerful and more dangerous archery sets. These bows were fiberglass and had a strong tension. The arrows were larger and had pointed metal tips. I believe they were considered target arrows. Thinking back on it, it was pretty stupid to let these things get into our hands. Only trouble could ensue.
You see, we didn’t have targets. There were no bales of hay sitting around on 21st Street. There were no bulls-eyes set up to shoot at. We couldn’t intentionally shoot at houses, or maybe we just knew better. We were remarkably smart enough to recognize that we shouldn’t shoot these arrows at one another.
So, what did that leave?
The sky, of course.
There were a few of us who had these sets, but I’ll focus on two of us: me and Ernie. Ernie was a kid who was about three years younger than me, and he lived sort of diagonally across 21st street from me in a little house that sat on the alley that ran behind our house.
|Cecil & Irene's back field. Back in the day, the trees were smaller, and there weren't so many fences. Still, it sure seems small today.|
Right in the middle of Cecil’s hood was a nice little cone-shaped dent. We didn’t find the arrow for days. I think it popped back up in the tree next to the driveway and didn’t fall into the grass right away. Of course, all of us who had the sets were suspects, but I don’t think anyone took the fall for the deed. I suppose the statute of limitations for dumb stuff is up, so there’s no harm in the truth coming out now.
As for me,….well,….I had a sheath of arrows, probably five or six in all, and while I was stupid enough to shoot them in the air, I was smart enough to keep them away from the neighbor’s car. I always went back to the field to shoot. Now, you need to understand that Cecil’s yard was three lots wide, so there was decent distance. Plus, we generally could stray into a few of the other neighbor’s unfenced yards without issue. We’d play football and baseball back there. Really, just about every game we played in the neighborhood somehow involved their back field. Anyway, one day no one else was around and I was a bit bored, so I gathered up my arrows and went over to shoot. I shot them all east. I picked them up and shot them back west. I probably went back and forth a few times. Finally, I shot my bunch of arrows back east one more time, but this time I came up one arrow short. I searched. I hunted. I covered all of the normal landing area multiple times, and even widened my search circle. No arrow. Ultimately, I grew weary of the effort and went home without my missing miniature missile.
Fast forward a few days.
I’m sitting in my backyard enjoying a nice evening when I see Jerry, a friend of mine from 22nd Street walking down the alley carrying an arrow.
“Hey Jerry, where’d you get that arrow?”
“A guy found it. I’m thinking it’s Ernie’s,” he said.
“Actually, I think it’s mine,” I said. “I lost it the other day. Where’d he find it?”
(Here I’m going to make up a name because I don’t remember who this person was.)
Jerry replied: “Well, Bobby was looking out his kitchen window at his dog when this arrow came down and stuck in the ground about two feet away from it.”
Again, something I never did again.