Saturday, June 27, 2009

Thieving Savages

The picture of two boys on the banner of this blog is a slice of this photograph featuring Roy (on the left) and me (on the right) doing our very best "Native American" impersonations. I don't have the original photo, but somewhere I found several badly degraded 50-year-old negatives from which this image was scanned.

This snapshot was probably taken by our oldest brother Joel with his brand new Boy Scout box camera, which he'd received as a Christmas present. The year can be established by the fact that I'm sitting there with my right arm in a cast. I broke that arm when I was in the first grade (1958-59) when I made a somewhat-less-than-fully-successful leap from halfway up a baseball backstop. The time of the year can be established by two things: first, 90% of all pictures taken with Joel's camera were taken within the first month of his ownership; and second, there's all the brush that's not so neatly stacked in the upper right of the photo. That brush is the remains of the Christmas trees from which our tepee's support poles were made. So clearly this image dates to January 1959, which would have been right around my seventh birthday and a few months before Roy's 9th.

By now you must be asking, "How many Christmas trees did you have that year, that you could make a tepee with the trunks and and still have a pile of left-overs?" To be honest I don't remember how many we had, but trust me, it was a buttload. Of course, we had only one tree in the house at Christmas, but within a week after Christmas we'd found a bunch more just lining the alley that ran behind our house. I don't remember who first decided that discarded Christmas trees were valuable collectibles, but within a short time we had a dozen or more.

One day Martin and Freddy (from down on the 3100 block) came by and were mightily impressed with our stash, especially with that massive twelve-footer we'd found up on Philmore Avenue, so they decided they'd start their own tree collection. Unfortunately for them, we had a big head start and by then the pickings along the alleys were getting sparse. But that didn't deter them, and within a week or so they'd managed to acquire a pretty sizable assemblage of defunct trees, which Martin invited Joel to come admire. Joel went down to Martin's prepared to laugh in his face at their puny efforts to catch up with us. But there leaning against the wall that separated their yard from the neighbor's was a very familiar-looking twelve foot tree. Sure enough, Joel checked our tree inventory and found it shy one twelve-footer. The count was off by several, so all three of us went down the block to demand our trees back, but Martin and Freddy denied everything. As they told it, they'd found that big one down on Copia Street -- could they help it if we kept losing our trees?

There and then we brothers three swore vengeance, and thus (to right the injustice that had been done to us) was hatched "Operation Midnight". That next morning we woke at 4:00 AM and under the cover of darkness stole every single tree that Martin and Freddy had. Somewhere around 8:00 Martin and Freddy came up the block to inspect our holdings. Accusations followed. Hey, we'd found these trees down on Copia. Could we help it if they kept losing their trees?

But our victory was short lived. Dad (noticing that our backyard had become a forest of desiccated ex-Xmas trees) inquired, "Boys, just what do you intended to do with all those trees?"

I believe we were unanimous in our reaction to this line of questioning: Do? Why did we have to do anything? The final disposition of our loot was way beyond any of our thought processes. But Roy (being the quick thinker among us) came up with a brilliant answer: "We're gonna strip off the branches and make poles for a tepee."

Dad thought that was an acceptable goal, but he noted that most tepees use something less than the forty or so support poles we had at our disposal. So he laid down the law, "You have until next Saturday to strip them and put the branches and any left-over trees out for the garbagemen. As you can see from the above photograph of our tepee (the fabric of which someone may recognize as the filthy carpet that once covered our living room floor) we did manage to hatchet the limbs off three tepee poles before our motivation flagged (or our attention wandered, more likely).

Here's a view of Joel (obviously taken by Roy) opening the flap of our tepee to let one sweaty little injun with a broken arm escape from its stifling heat.

Oh, one last thing. If you happen to be Martin or Freddy from the 3100 block of Van Buren Avenue and just happen to read this post, remember -- the statute of limitations on discarded-Christmas-tree larceny has long since expired.

For the benefit of my baby sister (whose husband has honored this post with its first comment), here's a shot of her being held by our Aunt Mary (in the middle). Mom (the very tired-looking woman on the left) I think is holding Bonnie; and I'm pretty sure Gramma is holding Beth.

Oh yes, just one last thing -- notice that the screen door has been snapped off. Savages, I tell you!


Jerry said...

Your mother has triplets the previous October and you just have to go break your arm, eh?

I bet that she had her doubts as to whether any of you would survive to adulthood.

Bob said...

Joel's box camera also captured an image of our mom, Gramma Martin and Aunt Mary holding the triplets. (I'll post that as an update.)

LadyBugCrossing said...

You broke your arm, ripped off the screen door, and piled your yard with old Christmas trees -- You are so lucky that your mom was busy with triplets...

joyce said...

Your Mom (who would have been 89 on the 26th) and Jessica, your niece look so much alike!

Five boys, the triplets plus Bart in diapers---

And your Grandma looks so tickled!

Bag Blog said...

I found an old friend on Facebook the other day that brought back memories of neighborhood wars. Most of the time we just played with the kids down the block, but when we played war, it was them against us. I think we just ran around and hid and tried to capture each other with a lot of shouting and such if you got caught. I don't remember any serious hurting. I sure wish we had thought to collect Christmas trees for a teepee - you boys were smart.

Buck said...

I collected a lot of different things in my youth, but old Christmas trees weren't part of my inventory. I gotta admire your eclectic nature, Bob. Or collective nature. Whatevah.

gunderso said...

It's sad to see someone in the year 2009 still refer to American Indians as "savages" and "thieving savages" and "injuns". I thought our society had progressed beyond using such derogatory racial stereotypes and racial perjoratives. I was wrong.

Bob said...

I believe you've missed the point of the story. The "thieving savages" were the little blond kids. No native Americans were harmed in the making of this post. I promise you -- none of my loyal readers would ever dream of using the words "thieving savages". ... Trust me.

Yes, we were rather eclectic about what junk we collected -- wouldn't touch a flocked tree.

Bag Blog--
We used to play a game called "Murder in the Dark" -- sort of a tag/hide-n-seek mash-up, but in a totally dark garage filled with sharp implements and kids trying to startle each other. So do you still think we were "smart"?

Yeah, Jessica strongly resembles Mom. And a very pretty young lady she is, too -- though it never occurred to me as a kid that my mother was "pretty", I now realize she was a truly amazing woman with looks, talent and tenacity.

Oh yeah, Mom was very busy.

joyce said...

Is this gunder guy serious? you offended someone with the words injuns? savages? thieving savages? wow who knew?

I would certainly never use the words thieving savages. Saying thieving savages would be insulting and since I am a poor speller, do injuns mean the motor? trolls moles sarcasm.

Bob said...

Yes obviously, I was speaking as an injuneer and clearly I was referring to the internal combustion injun.

Gladys said...

Love the photos. Oh and as for you Mom how she stayed sane is beyond me.

Bob said...

Mom was an amazing woman, but I have to agree with you. It is a wonder she retained her sanity. She's been gone almost 35 years now, and I still choke up just thinking of how wonderful it would be to see her again. Soon enough...

Bag Blog said...

Bob, we played "murder in the dark" in our long hall with all the doors closed. At least there were no sharp implements.

Teresa said...

LOL - such a boy thing. I love it. Of course I would have been about 6 months old when that took place.

Growing up I did play with the boys rather than the girls (it was more fun they didn't play with dolls) - but we rode bikes, played tag, threw snowballs, and (although I know this will certainly make gunderso flip out) cowboys and indians. LOL. No Christmas tree stealing was attempted.

Mrs. JP said...

Those were the good ole days, when a kid could sneak out early and go steal his friends tree collection. Your parents were powerful patient with you boys - I can't even imagine my dad being that cool about it. Your poor mom looks tired doesn't she? No wonder you got away with murder - she was to busy to deal with what was happening in the yard.
Great story, you should write a book.