The Idle American

Leg-pulling long gone

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Back in the 20th century, kids--as well as adults who sometimes acted like them--seemed destined to “make their own fun.” Not too much in the way of “time-passing” was in play if it cost anything, thus fertile minds were often in “creative mode,” if only in the sharing of jokes and stories.

Many times conversations began with, “Did you hear the one about…?” Sadly, these words rarely are heard anymore.

My old daddy could tell stories with the best of ‘em, and he’d laugh as heartily as hearers at “punchline time.” Clearly, such banter lessened the cares of the day.

Much “fun-poking” came at the expense of youngsters. They took most everything seriously from adults who’d “been there, done that.”

Carpenters took advantage of apprentices, often asking them to retrieve make-believe items. Such requests seemed legitimate to the eager-to-please, wide-eyed youngsters. A carpenter, sawing away, exclaimed, “Dad blame it, I sawed this board an inch too short. Would you please run down to the lumber yard and borrow their board-stretcher?”

The youngster immediately headed downtown. He returned empty-handed, telling the carpenter that the man at the yard had “loaned out the board-stretcher, and it’s not due back until tomorrow.” (The guy was, of course, in on the joke, and played along.)

There was a whole ‘nother category for the military, what with a steady inflow of recruits to send hither and yon on aimless tasks.

Many wandered around military bases seeking keys to the parade grounds.

Not every installation had parade grounds, and those that did rarely had fences. And if they had fences, the gates were never locked.

Ask locals in resort areas if you’d like to be regaled by dumb questions they’ve fielded from tourists on first visits to distant locales. One “flat-lander,” amazed upon first seeing mountains, asked, “Reckon where they came from?”

When the local answered that the glaciers brought them, the visitor countered, “Where are the glaciers now?”

The local’s answer: “They’ve gone back for another load.”

Lonn Taylor, a recognized author/historian/columnist who traded in life in Washington, D. C. and Austin to reside in the Big Bend area of Texas, wrote recently about a Marfa hotel clerk who fields questions regularly about the mysterious Marfa lights.

Many ask him about the best time to see the lights. “We don’t turn them on until after dark,” he answers.

I’ve heard about these lights since Hector was a wee pup, and saw them in the 1960s. (Theories abound, including Taylor’s mention that some folks believe the lights can be traced to the glow of radio-active jackrabbits.)

Sometimes real life occurrences are funnier than made-up stories. Another from the Big Bend is an account of the late Hallie Stillwell, a crusty ranch woman, peace justice and columnist for the weekly Alpine Avalanche.

Pad in hand, she was among journalists and broadcasters invited to a Davis Mountain press conference for America’s first astronauts prior to their first moon mission.

Present were nationally-recognized figures from TV networks, wire services and major newspapers. Hallie asked just one question: “Now you fellows don’t really think you’re going to walk on the moon, do you?”

Much has been made lately of “fake news.” It has been around for quite a spell. As a lad, I wondered about blaring claims that seemed largely unsubstantiated.

For several years, an over-the-counter elixir called Hadacol was heralded as a cure-all for everything, as were “uranium-sitting” emporiums that attracted sitters from far and wide to claim the magical cures. Two centers where ailing folks sought magical sand in which to sit were in Marlin and Mineral Wells. (In the latter city, many “sitters” also soaked in the mineral water for which the community is known.)

I never knowingly swallowed Hadacol, or sat in sand beyond the boxes, but many friends did. Bottom line, there may not be much truly new under the sun.

Contact Don by email: newbury@speakerdoc.com or phone: 817-447-3872.

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