Columns » Bob Lancaster

Summer lore

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You never felt like it had really been summer until one of you had been bit by a poisonous snake, and another one of you had cut the little X's over the fang marks and sucked out the venom, nearly killing both of you but providing everybody else with a good laugh. I've got so many of those little X-scars on my calves that they look like those barbed-wire tattoos. They form a kind of coded script that serves as my take-along summertime diary. You never felt like it had really been summer until one of you lost at least one digit shooting off Fourth of July firecrackers. It didn't count, either, if it was only one of those cases where the concussion broke every bone in every finger on that hand and blew all the meat of your palm out the back of the hand. That might've counted if you were a girl; otherwise, you just tied on a tourniquet and switched your firecracker business over to the other hand. You never felt like it had really been summer until one of you had dived off headfirst into shallow water and hit his head on a hidden rock or discarded engine block and broke his fool neck. Well, that's an exaggeration. Sometimes it was a broken neck, but it might only scrape off an ear or knock an eye out or flatten your skull like Herman Munster's, and that served the purpose almost as well, but for pure cool, for making you into the all-time hero of the rest of this Einstein crew, you just couldn't beat total permanent paralysis. (I'm not recommending any of this, understand. I'm just trying to be honest about how it was.) You never felt like it had really been summer until you found something novel out there to eat or drink, just to see if it'd kill you or not. You know there really are polka-dotted mushrooms? Some of those slime molds now being studied at UA are a lot tastier than others. Mystery berries may not agree with you but they're seldom fatal. Various ditchy clabbers are best avoided. Thunderbird dregs actually improve with the addition of some muddy roadside runoff and certain of insect larvae. You never felt like it had really been summer until one of you had hatched a foolproof get-rich-quick scheme, like the summer we were going to trap minks and force-feed them like they do these 200-pound watermelons so we'd get a full-length coat or at least a stole out of each and every hippopotamus-sized mink. Another summer it was collecting scrap iron, with the plan of getting the Navy and the Air Force into a bidding war over it. You never felt like it'd really been summer until you'd explored some underground passageway, even if you first had to dig it yourself and then tell everybody afterward that you'd stumbled upon it and it was very old and contained much secret ancient lore. I never was in one of these magical subterranean places that didn't have either undeniable signs that some Southern patriot family had hid their treasure there from marauding Yankees, only to have some latter-day moonshiner or farmer or tramp come along and glom on to it, or fresh evidence, usually scat, indicating that the place had been very recently occupied by those clumsy shiny-eyed slave-driving underground monsters that H.G. Wells called Molochs. You never felt like it had really been summer until you captured an exotic wriggly, lurchy critter of uncertain identification and brought it home in a sack only to be told, if edibility was out of the question, to take it back where you got it and turn it loose. Hard as some of those scoundrels were to get into a sack in the first place, that seemed a shame. And then the thing, once out of the bag, would blame you, and take out its resentment on you, chase you down and exact its revenge, especially if it was a water moccasin, a woodpecker, or rabid. You never felt like it had really been summer until you were involved in, or eyewitness to, a fight that was life-changing for at least one of the participants, having to do with going to prison, getting saved, having flashbacks, or carrying around subcutaneous fragments that permanently disqualified the victim from being a passenger on an airliner. You never felt like it'd really been summer until you'd teased a hornets' nest until they got fed up and chased you down and made you sorry, or much preferable, chased down one of the other idiots who's been pretty much an innocent bystander, and made him sorry. Either that or you'd taunted an old bull until he caught you out in the middle of a field, and chased you down and you had one of those unforgettable, life-altering brushes with death like in a Hemingway story or like real-life Wally Hall stomped into brain-damaged goo there in the annual Pamplona morons' stampede. With Little Billy Clinton, the encounter, told in his new book, was with a hateful old ram, and it might near killed him, leaving him permanently scarred and more than a little messed up in the head, but it sure impressed his first little girlfriend, so it was probably worth it to him. There are several (thousand) more of these confirmers of summertime, obviously. MTK if I get desperate.

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