IT HASN’T BEEN that long since the vast majority of folks who raised me dried their wash on a line, clothes that absorbed the sunshine and wind to come in smelling sweet and clean. I wonder if all that pollen that came inside when the ladies took in the wash was beneficial in building up our resistance to allergens.
Maybe that’s why we have so much trouble these days, because we don’t wear the outdoors in our clothes anymore.
My grandmother dried her sheets on the clothesline stretched across the north side of the yard. Windy days, we could hear them flapping through the screens. The arms on shirts hanging upside down waved as if someone’s arms were in them. They always reminded me of the kids at school hanging from the monkey bars by their knees.
Adults these days would shriek in horror to see how we tested the limits of our questionable abilities on those bars sometimes fifteen feet above the hard packed ground.
One such windy day well over fifty years ago offered Cousin and myself the opportunity to participate in a little target practice. Armed with two Daisy BB guns and possessing an abnormally large amount of ammo, we emerged into the bright spring sunshine to find something to shoot.
Cousin pointed. “Let’s get some cans out of the burn barrel. We can take them down to the old road.”
I cocked the Daisy and threw a BB at a passing bird. It continued, unmolested. “I don’t feel like going down there.”
The dirt road was part of Granddad’s land, and though it hadn’t been used since WWII, it was still recognizable. The high northern bank was full of slugs from years of target practice. It was within sight of the farmhouse, but at the moment the walk through the gate, up the hill through the pasture, and around behind the corncrib seemed insurmountable.
Cousin took a shot at an overhead power line. The BB struck it with a metallic zing. “I hit it!”
He did it again. In response, I shot the glass insulator on the cross arm.
Bored with such simple targets, we drifted around behind the smokehouse, shooting fence posts, the peach tree, and tall milkweeds growing in the pasture. White sap oozed from the thick stalks, adding some interest to the activity.
A gust of wind rustled the leaves of the peach tree and hackberries growing along the fencerow. The rustling bodarks sounded different, thicker maybe, or due to the tougher leaves. The breeze also flapped the clean clothes on the line.
That’s when we got in trouble. An upside down plaid shirt waved at me. Calculating the distance, I figured the BB wouldn’t do any damage.
I hit it right in the pocket with a soft thock.
Cousin’s sudden inhalation of shock nearly sucked up the next breeze. “You’re gonna get in trouble.”
Terror washed over me. What if the BB went through the material? We hurried to the clothesline to check the damage.
You couldn’t tell where the BB impacted.
From there it was no longer our fault. With a line full potential targets, we backed off and cocked the air rifles. I drew a line in the grass. “You can’t get any closer than this?”
“Because I said, and we need to make this a little hard. I’m gonna aim at the button on that shirt.”
The air was full of BBs for the next several minutes. We moved from the shirt, to socks, a much more challenging target.
From the socks, we aimed at washrags; towels, our jeans patched at the knees, ladies unmentionables, and finally came to the easiest target of them all.
There wasn’t much challenge in shooing white flat sheets, not until a large fly-lit right in the middle of the nearest one. I hate flies. No, I despise flies, and back then I hated them with even more passion and energy than I possess today.
Drawing a fine bead, I pulled the trigger and the fly vaporized. Another arrived, drawn by the warm white sheet. It also disappeared. For the next five minutes, we killed flies left and right, proud that we were reducing their numbers and possibly preventing them from getting into the kitchen.
But then clarity arrived, and I realized you couldn’t kill flies like that without suffering the consequences. The words “fly spotted” came to mind.
“Look what you did.” Cousin pointed. “And look, there are holes in these socks, and that sheet, and…”
The Old Man rounded the corner and stopped. “Boys, what are you up to?” Speechless, we stood rooted to the ground as he took in the scene. “Well, looks like we have a problem here.”
“Yessir.” It was my only recourse.
“We need to get y’all gone. I’ll take care of the rest.”
I couldn’t believe our good luck. “Gone where?”
“I’d say down on the old road a piece.”
“But the sheets. The socks, and that busted button.”
“Washers sometimes have a way of eating socks, and buttons crack after a while.”
Cousin pointed. “But the sheets. We didn’t think shooting flies would…”
He studied the stains. “I ‘magine your Grandma’ll have to wash them again, but she knows boys. She raised me. This is your One, now, y’all get gone.”
We got, and I remember that lesson to this day, especially after the next day when he made us clean up two miles of highway litter.
Email Reavis Wortham at [email protected]