Saturday, February 10, 2007

Smoke Gets In Your Nose ... ??

What did two garden hoses, some old Christmas trees and a vacant field have to do with a sneaky stunt that transpired in 1943? I’ll start at the beginning.

My family moved from Nederland to Beaumont in 1940. We moved into a new FHA house located at 1375 Pipkin Street in South Park. The Robert Birch family moved into the house next door. Keep this information in mind because Ms. Birch and my mother play an important role in the forthcoming episode.

There was a vacant field extending from behind the Birch’s house all the way down to Avenue A. One day my mother saw a young boy about my age walking around in that field. She encouraged me to go out and meet him so I went out and introduced myself. His name was David Mathews. David was catching grasshoppers and he showed me how to catch them. Thus a new friendship was formed. Soon another boy moved into the neighborhood. His name was Terry Garrison. Now we had a threesome of 8-year old boys that loved to play in that vacant field.

We enjoyed making trails through the grass. Eventually the grass grew so tall that when we crawled through the trails on our hands and knees, no one could see us. It was great to have all that space to pretend we were wild animals in the jungle, play hide-and-go-seek or whatever. But then one day some men came and mowed the field. When they finished there was just an expanse of cut grass. Our jungle was no more. After a few days the grass dried out and turned brown.

Then it occurred to us that we could build a clubhouse in the field using the dead grass. Also, there were some old dried out Christmas trees that had been discarded nearby. We used the Christmas trees as a foundation, built grass walls and made a thatched roof with branches from our back yard hedge. We ended up with a fairly decent clubhouse. There wasn’t room to stand but we could crawl in and there was plenty of space to sit and hold our meetings. However a problem arose in that we had nothing to meet about so our meetings soon grew boring.

One afternoon we crawled into our clubhouse for a meeting. Terry had in his possession a package of Lucky Strike cigarettes, which he had brought from his house. We each placed a cigarette in our mouths. We had no matches so we just sat there talking with those cigarettes dangling from our lips. We felt pretty sophisticated.

Finally we voted and it was decided that I should go home and get some matches so I did. Now we were in the clubhouse with cigarettes and matches. We lit up. There was a lot of hacking and spitting as our young bodies rebelled against the newly introduced poison. Someone dropped a burning cigarette onto a dried out Christmas tree. A fire ensued. In fact, the fire grew pretty fast. We scrambled out of the clubhouse. I ran home and told my mother that somehow the vacant lot had caught on fire. She and Ms. Birch turned on water hoses to extinguish the blazing grass.

My dad warmed up my backside when he got home later that day. I learned that David and Terry also received their just rewards.

But at least now you know what a couple of garden hoses, a few old Christmas trees and a vacant field had to do with a sneaky stunt that went awry in 1943. And now you know the story of how our clubhouse went up in smoke.

Winston Hamby --
The Beaumont Enterprise
February 10, 2007


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