Mother didn’t want us to play high school football. She was afraid we’d get hurt. Leon was a pretty good player and the coach came out to the house one afternoon to “recruit” the two younger Colbert boys. To the embarrassment of everyone present Mom politely but firmly expressed her opinion of the dangers of the game. She let him know right quick that she didn’t cotton to the idea of us getting hurt playing football.
I don’t reckon she ever glanced out the back window when David Mark and me were sword fighting with those sharpened cane poles. We were practicing for roles in “Pirates of the Caribbean” that we never got. Danged if he wouldn’t forget that we were pretending! He’d whap me upside the head and then jab that pointed end in my belly. I’d get mad and use my stick like a baseball bat! We’d sit down for supper wiping blood off our stomachs, ears, lips and noses.
She apparently wasn’t there when we crawled into the goat corral out at the Tri-County Stockyards. Mr. William McCaleb told us we could have any goat we could catch. I was probably nine or ten, David was twenty months younger. I got kicked in the chest just as I entered the ring; then run over from behind. One of them bit me on the leg. I got knocked down half a dozen times by the same big, ornery beast. The dust, sweat, hay and nays were flying. Listen here, we learned right quick that a covey of penned up Billy goats don’t want to be caught! David dove and grabbed one by the hind leg. I jumped on his head. We proudly drug him over to the gate. Of course, we’d ruined two shirts, David Mark had a black eye, I had hoof marks front and back…… We could have sure used some shoulder pads.
Mother must have been stirring those brown beans when we dropped that knife off our elbow aimed at the nearest foot huddled up in pretty tight circle. I tried to get close but if I hit someone it was an accident. Not so with Leon! He’d fling that knife right at your big toe. The winner was the one that could get the knife stuck in the ground closest to a foot without breaking any skin. You were disqualified if the knife failed to stick upright or you hit flesh. We called it Mumbley-Peg. Although sitting here today I could easily think of some more fitting names. Boy howdy, a pair of those Wilson high top football cleats would have come in mighty handy.
Mom never went down to the big ditch and watched us swing across on grapevines. Sometimes you’d have to get a running start and leap out off one edge to “catch” the vine to swing it over to the side. If you missed, the fall was about fifteen feet. It wouldn’t kill you but if you landed wrong it would stove you up a mite. If your hold slipped and you slid down the vine a little you would catch the other bank broadside. It would take all day to “get your breath back”. Ricky Gene didn’t “let go” once when nearing the far bank. He swung back to the middle and was left dangling in mid air. We couldn’t reach him and he couldn’t swing to the side. Mom yelled for us to come to supper. I don’t know to this day how he got down.
The crab apples—sometimes we called’em horse apples—might have been the worst. Those things were hard as brick bats and just right for throwing. This was an easy game. There were no rules. No battle lines. And no teams. You just grabbed as many as you could carry and hid behind a tree, the side of the barn or laid low in a ditch. The first guy that came by, you let fly with both barrels. We’d “chunk and duck” till somebody got knocked unconscious. A busted tooth or whelped up arm wasn’t nothing. A football helmet would have been a God send to the crabapple game!
Mom must have missed us playing pick-up football out in the front yard. We had no pads. Our uniforms were jeans and tee shirts. We banged into each other as hard as we could; we pushed, shoved, slugged, tackled, fought and kicked. We shed more than a little blood, nursed bowling ball size bruises and survived the near ’bout obligatory busted finger or broken arm from time to time.
We played “Stalag 17” in the side yard after dark. It wasn’t too dangerous, except for the guy who climbed upon the roof with the flashlight. Or, if you got excited when you were running to avoid the spotlight and you lost track of where the clothes line poles or the guide wires were. We’d pull over a mid sized tree, put David in the top branches and see how far he could fly when we let go. We’d roller skate holding on to the back of the milk truck.
We had no seat belts in those days. You could run around inside those big Buicks! We loved to hang on the running board and try to catch low hanging limbs. Ten of us would pile in the back of a pick-up and ride to town. Part of the fun was hanging some one off the back until they cried “uncle”. We’d grab a shotgun apiece, climb on the front fenders of Clifford’s old Ford and go pre dawn rabbit hunting. The miracle wasn’t that we would actually hit a racing hare on occasion, the real trick was to avoid shooting the truck……or each other!
I signed up for the high school football team just as soon as I was eligible. I figured my body needed the rest.