August 30, 2021
At the end of my 9th summer, Dad promised to take my brother John hunting. When the rest of us got wind of the wooded adventure we began to rag Dad that we deserved to tag along. Mom and Dad discussed it and decided to turn the whole family into great white hunters. Dad, Mom, John, Me, Phil and Dave all donned our camo gear and headed for the woods! I am just kidding about the camouflage; we didn’t have any of course. We took one rifle and a picnic basket, quite an expedition.
The tribe marched in single file. John was first with the gun. He carried a 22 single shot rifle that I had earned selling all occasion cards from an ad I found in the back of a comic book. Dad was working hard teaching him safety, so he walked right behind John guiding his every step. Even with dad smothering him in precautions John still walked proud and excited to be leading this band of unseasoned hunters!
I was behind Dad, Phil behind me and Mom walked last holding Dave with one hand and the vittles in the other. We marched through the back yard, past the chicken house over the brush covered pasture. Then down Chicken House Hill. This was steep and we struggled to stay in single file. Dave kept struggling to get loose from Mom’s grip so he could run ahead of her.
Dave may have been the youngest, but he hated being last and would do anything to keep up. He turned to shake Mom’s grasp but did not see that he was directly behind Phil. He shook her loose, sprang forward and ran right into Phil, both of them flying forward. Phil crashes into me and we are all three rolling like tumble weeds heading straight for Dad and John. Mom yells “watch out!” Dad turns, sees the roll and quickly reached over grabbing the gun from John. He then stepped to the side as the 3 of us toppled into our big brother. Now all four of us are rolling down the hill in a ball of arms and legs. Mom is yelling and Dad is standing there heehawing at the comical landslide.
The slide ended toot sweet after hitting John, he always was a killjoy. The boy pile looked like a can of worms with our arms and legs twisted together and wiggling to separate. Mom and Dad, both laughing walked up and begin the unravel. We were a sight all covered with grass and leaves. Phil and I got up and started laughing, Dave yells “its not my fault!” and John is hollering “get off me.” Soon untoppled Mom and Dad start brushing the debris from Phil and Dave while John and I groom ourselves.
At this point we are on level ground next to the creek. There was a spring feeding the creek on the other bank. A small grassy glen invited the family over the brook, so Dad herded his doggies into the small river of soon return. Still holding the gun, he and John crossed stepping on rocks. The rest of us followed the path that Dad used hoping to keep our feet dry. Well, not all of us. Dave immediately jumped in the water past his ankles. Mom yelled and grabbed him up with one arm. He was kicking and winding like hula hoop trying to get loose to play in the water. Mom just held on tighter and bore him across like a sack of potatoes. As I think back on it I am impressed by Mom’s balance. She was only 5 foot one and Dave was a little over half her size. She had him and the picnic basket and still got across without a bath.
Armed only with a squirrel gun and considering the commotion we had made. Our only hope for meat on the table was to trip over a deaf rabbit or blind squirrel. Dad realizes the foil of the hunt and told mom “lets just have a picnic.” That was fine for the rest of us as we didn’t get to hold the gun anyway, but John did look disappointed as his hopes for big game faced extinction.
The little valley on the other side of the creek was the perfect place for our outdoor feast. The blanket was spread and as mom uncovered lunch even John brightened up as our fair lady pulled out fried chicken, corn on the cob and homemade rolls with honey.
A small spring poured water from the side of the bank into a modest pool before it fled over the rocks to join the stream. It was cold, crystal clear and great fun to stoop over and swallow natures refreshing provision.
The small game of our 40 acres was spared that day when the hunt turned into play. After eating mom let us take off our shoes and roll up our jeans. We played in the creek and rested on the little tree studded valley. We chased frogs and grabbed at elusive minnows in knee high cold water. Spraying and kicking till we were more wet than dry. The air was warm and the sun strong so the splash was refreshing to all. Even Mom and Dad hung their legs over the bank and cooled their tootsies in the clear water. Holding hands, they smiled and laughed at our play.
After about an hour in the creek Mom and Dad laid down on the blanket as we boys explored the little valley and hillside. It was then that we discovered the most famous tree of our childhood. The swinging tree. About 50 yards up the side of the hill we found a large walnut. This tree was tall, but it had one large low hanging branch that spread out horizontal for about 15 feet before it climbed up again searching for the sun.
Rather than just being straight that long limb had a dip in it that went down and came up and out again like a half moon. These were the days of Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey and Hop-a-Long Cassidy. Our little posse took one look at that dip and decided it was a saddle we should ride. John being the oldest shimmied out on the limb which hung over the hill. It was a long limb and the dip was just before it turned to go up for light. This made leverage and when john got out there his weight and movement made the limb swing down but it was strong enough to bounce back up again. He made several bounces before the branch settled still.
We had just gone from hunters to cowboys! We had a bucking bronco! John yelled “pull the limb down!” Phil and I grabbed the limb (Dave jumped at it but couldn’t reach it) and the combined weight of the three of us sagged our steed even lower. When Phil and I let go of the branch John popped up with spunk and speed. He hung on laughing as he bounced up and down. Phil and I were standing on each side pushing the branch up and down giving John a ride that would challenge any accomplished rider. As brothers do it became our mission to unseat our older sidekick. In just a few rotations our pushing and John’s weight had the branch going higher up and further down with each effort. John started yelling “Whoa, whoa, whoa” and the bark covered bronco threw him off the side. He hit the ground and rolled half the way down the hill.
Phil and I stood there watching. Wondering if we had just murdered our brother. To our delight, John jumped up laughing and started running back up the hill. For many seasons this old walnut had deposited a thick bed of leaves that provided a soft landing.
Now we all wanted to join the rodeo! “I’m next” I called, and my sibling cowpokes swung me for a ride till I was rolling down the hill. Phil was followed and was doing pretty good till he got cocky and loosed one hand to slap his thigh like it was the flank of a pony. He lost balance and off he went. Dave was too short to get on the limb by himself, so John and I hiked him up. He shimmied to our slot and hollered “Giddy-Up!” Dave was light and part monkey. John, Phil and I pushed and jerked on that limb with all we had in us but could not shake that boy off his horse!
We took turns challenging that tree for the rest of the afternoon. Dad and Mom watched us from the bottom and cheered us like we were champions on every ride. We never honestly shook Dave loose but he would let himself fall off just for the fun of the soft roll down the hill. Finally, the folks called us down and we made the hike home. It had been a glorious day for we four hunters and horsemen. From then on, that walnut became the “Swinging Tree” and it was as famous to we four as old “Diablo” at the Oklahoma State Fair.
We didn’t take home any trophies on that summer safari, and there were no silver belt buckles handed out for the walnut rodeo, but the memory of that family afternoon will decorate the walls of my heart till I ride into the sunset myself.