Friday, August 18, 2006

Childhood Fun

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Eucs and Oranges
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My brother climbed fifty feet into the eucalyptus tree. Long strips of the thin bark lay under him beside the heavy rope dangling from his waist.

He was grinning. Mike loved doing this kind of stuff.

I wasn’t smiling. This kind of stuff always ended up with my getting hurt.

The nearby orange grove was half gone. Many of the trees were piled up waiting for trucks to haul them away, their not quite ripe fruit was rotting on the branches.

There were circles drawn in the dirt from the game we three boys had been playing the day before. Three circles drawn in the dirt, equidistant from each other by thirty feet or so. Each of us had gathered 15 oranges and placed them in the circles. They were well-chosen oranges which fell into two groups. Hard green, and mushy-rotten. They each had their advantages in this game we frequently played.

This was when orange groves were being cleared so developers could raise lucrative crops of houses. My father rode that transition into a position of some standing by buying one old tractor and clearing those trees.

But for we three it was simply all a part of childhood.

The rules were simple. You had to stay in the circle.

There wasn’t any real points or anything. We just enjoyed raising a red welt on each other in any method we all deemed fair, and an occasional gooey mess upside a brother’s head was a bonus.

Mike was good at it. He was able to dodged and catch the fruity projectiles, and had an uncanny ability to fling one when his recipient was distracted by the other brother.

I’ve written about the games we played before and this was just another sport we created to keep ourselves amused.

But at this moment Mike was the equivalent of five stories up in swaying branches, tying off the long heavy rope left behind by the orchard farmer as he moved on to Palm Springs or Florida or Huntington Beach or wherever it was he felt would make a suitable place to live after selling his real estate.

Mike had chosen the perfect branch to tie off the rope. Fifty feet of rope hung down to just five feet short of the ground.

We tied another, thinner rope to it, and nailed boards to neighboring euc fifty feet away. We found enough nails and boards to create a ladder that took us level to where the rope was tied off and we scrambled up. Mike was first (it was suggested that I go first, but this time I flat refused).

Mike flexed his muscles, wiped the sweat from his palms, and stepped off into the air. He flew down, skimmed the ground, and arced up and away, hollering and laughing. After a few swings of “Pendulum Mike,” he dropped to his feet, grabbed the smaller rope and brought it up to us.

I still refused. So David went.

He flew. He soared. He yelled. He brought the rope back up.

Now I had no choice.

Feeling a weakness in my knees I dared not confess, I looked down at the ground, about the same distance as the flight of Icarus, the same distance as the height of the Empire State Building, the same distance that places my trip rightfully into the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration... fifty feet.

My brothers knew just how much to goad me. They joked about it just enough to make me hurry it up, but not enough to make me mad.

I took a deep breath, reached up as high as I could to shorten the distance of the swing by 16 inches (to ensure my feet did not drag on the ground) and stepped off to my doom.

It seemed I fell straight down for quite a ways, but rationally I know that half way down I would have been pulled laterally as much as I was hurtling toward the center of the Earth. Still, it felt like I dropped far enough for a parachute to have fully deployed.

The rope started pulling hard at my hands, and I started flying sideways to the world. At this point I was really only thinking about one thing:

“If I don’t hold on no matter what, I will die.”

That’s a rather rational thought really.

And I did hold on. It only seemed that the flesh was going to tear from my hands. I held on, the rope pulled me away from certain death, and I raced over the dusty landscape just under the sound barrier.

I then smoothly arced upward, enjoying the bliss of the wonderful sensation of slowing down. I remember the view slowly spinning around so I could see my brothers in the tree, and the still unharmed orange grove to one side. I gracefully paused in midair, surveying the pile of torn up trees and my dad’s dirty yellow tractor shut down for the day while he and his buddies mixed screwdrivers on the tailgate of his pickup.

The only thing that broke that blissfully serene moment was the terrifying thought that I was about to do it all over again.

But this time I knew I could do it. It would be slightly less intense, not quite so far. Earth was grasping at my body, robbing it of its kinetic energy with each swing.

The following swings were almost anti-climatic. I swung back and forth, slowing each time, until I could stretch out enough to drag my feet through the dirt and finally tumble through the powdery soil to a dusty moment of repose where I could consider the clouds floating through the sky and be grateful that I had managed to hold the contents of my bladder.


Usually my posts on this blog are of a spiritual nature.

This one is no different.

All I’m saying is that I’m sure my Lord has always been keeping me safe.

Audio credits:
"Life's Railway To Heaven" by Joe Maphis:
50 Years of Bluegrass Hits
"Indian War Whoop" by John Hartford:
O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack
"Lonesome Valley" by The Fairfield Four:
O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack


annie said...

Sounds terrifying and exhilarating, all at the same time and spiritually speaking, very familiar.

Mark D said...

That's a great analogy!!

Judas Hate said...

Finally! I managed to lower the three different security programs that guard this machine far enough so it would allow me to play the castpost.

Your friendly voice matches your pleasant appearance and is quite as I would have imagined it to sound.

I enjoyed being able to listen this time with eyes closed. This better allowed my tired synapses to fire a little easier and create a wonderful image of your young face full of excitement, exhillaration and terror as you swung high into the air.

Great post (as always).


Kathleen Marie said...

Wonderful and enjoyable. A great lesson as well.

Fox's Mom said...

I remember the groves, the strawberry fields too, that went to make room for housing.

I remember climbing up on the roof of a friend's home to see if we could still see Disneyland in spite of all the new building (we'd moved up from Laguna and were in GG); they dared me to dive into the pool from the roof.

I did.

I lived-God wasn't done with me yet either. After that day I chose to pay more attention to His grace.

Nice, and timely reminder:) Again, thank-you.


curious servant said...

Folks have trouble believing that the Orange County I remember was rural.

There were quaint little towns that have long since vanished... Sleepy Hollow (now western Orange), Olive (now a part of Anaheim Hills)... I moved away as a teen, and moved back a couple of times, but I just can't handle the traffic and busyness of the place anymore.

My dad raised popcorn where the 57 freeway is now. My cousins lived in Garden Grove and we too could see the spires of the castle, and the fireworks each night.

I still have family there.

But in my memory the Orange County I see is the one pictured above.

Lynn Donovan said...

Amen to this! God has always had his hand upon you. Your writing is wonderful. Keeps me right there experiencing everything along with you. Be blessed, Lynn :)

Me said...

Great post of childhood memories. I use to climb as high as the branches could hold my wieght. It's amazing how we make it through childhood! I grew up in southern California in the 1970's and really miss those orange trees!

Lucy Stern said...

I wonder if I would have been brave enough to jump?

David said...

Hello my friend. I enjoyed this post. I use to have good times with my brother and now he will not even speak. I have no clue as to why. But I really enjoyed reading about your good memories.

Jada's Gigi said...

Amen brother! Its a wonder kids live to be grown! :) Thank the Lord He covered us!