Wednesday, December 23, 2015
THE GREAT HORSEAPPLE WARS OF THE LATE 1950S
Towncraft t-shirts for little boys were three for ninety-nine cents at J C Penney. Ranchcraft blue jeans were under six bucks. These two items comprised the apparel du jour for all the neighborhood seven- to- ten-year olds engaged in the Saturday afternoon Horseapple Wars of about 1958 or 59.
Next door to where I grew up, the neighbor had about an acre-and-a-half. Their property had been carved out of a seven-acre almond [pronounced am-min] orchard and we owned the larger chunk. In point of fact, their house had been the parcel’s farmhouse and what became our place, used to be the barn. In back of their house, a weathered and worn pecky-cedar fence corralled a dozen or so aging almond trees and a retired circus pony named Tiny. Historically, the neighbor kids’ dad actually used to own a little one-ring circus and their property was strewn with an amazing and magical collection of circus performance goods and props: sections of the wooden ring, a three and a half foot tall wooden ball, various bolts and folds of once-gaily decorated tent canvas, cages previously inhabited by monkeys – all stored in a derelict 40-foot trailer with faded paint reading “Robinson Bros. Shows.” And then there was Tiny.
Tiny was a curious attraction. He never was allowed to venture outside the confines of the cedar plank fence. Tall, for a pony, he was palomino in color and skittish as all hell. No one could ride him. Inside the fenced area, I watched – more than once – as one of the neighbor’s twin boys charged up to Tiny, grabbed his mane and flipped himself onto the pony’s back to be summarily dumped on the other side of the beast with nary a nicker. The kid always popped to his feet appearing unscathed, but I knew it hurt every time I witnessed it and I knew I was never going to try to ride Tiny.
“What good is a horse you can’t ride?” I asked out loud. Then something hit me just behind and below my left ear. And the wars were on.
Horse manure can be used for many things. In Rancho Days, the early Californios would mix clay, manure and water and place the concoction into rectangular molds to dry, forming adobe bricks. The partially digested hay or straw in the horse droppings helped bind the mud bricks together adding strength to the brick and stability to the missions and ranch houses of our state’s earliest European settlements. In more recent times, manure has been bagged and sold at garden shops and home improvement outlets as an inexpensive mulching material: two drawbacks being the smell and the occasional sprouting of a healthy crop of alfalfa or wheat straw among the family’s pumpkins, watermelons, row crops or dichondra.
But back in the fifties, and in our little neighborhood, a favored use of Tiny’s prodigious product was as a projectile. A missle. An orb perfect for chucking at the nearest kid’s noggin. A little smaller than an official size and weight little league hard ball, a horseapple possessed a density light enough that no one struck was ever really hurt.
I slapped the portion of my neck where I’d been hit. A bit of sweetly pungent goo and a few alfalfa fibers stuck to my fingertips. My assailant had slipped across my range of vision. At my feet rested an amalgamation of horseapples piled curiously like a picture of cannon balls I’d seen in my old Davy Crockett book. Remembering the Alamo, I grabbed a fat one from the top of the pile and flung wildly. It splattered on the black trunk of an almond tree. I reached for a reload as one whizzed over my head. Rising, I was hit square between the shoulders of my white Towncraft Tee. I spun, threw and missed again. Another one hit me on the shoulder accompanied by a shrill laugh. Reaching for another, I rose to be clocked once, twice, three more times: volleys were incoming from every direction, as were the gales of laughter.
I’m certain that I grazed one or two of the neighborhood boys, as did whoever was on my side in this clash. But the battle was soon lost to wriggling children, each falling to the orchard floor, succumbing to the involuntary responses uncontrollable guffaws portend.
About the time the mirth died down, another round landed near somebody. A second skirmish ensued. Then a third. Then a fourth.
Finally in the dying afternoon light, someone’s mother called, using that classic musical minor third indicating dinner was ready, and it was time to head home.
Horseapple residue does not readily wash out of white cotton Towncraft Tees nor Ranchcraft blue jeans. Or so Mom predicted. And she was right. She more than admonished us that Tiny’s droppings were best left on the ground, adding, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to have you ruin a perfectly good 33-cent shirt every Saturday afternoon.”
But we didn’t listen. Our neighborhood consisted of nine or ten youth, more than one of whom was willing to engage in battle as long as Tiny was willing to produce munitions, regardless of what his or any other kid’s mother had to say about things. Each initial, singular volley led to a donnybrook of flying dung and laughter even though the consequences ramped up with every new occurrence.
The finality of the wars came about like this: quoting my frustrated mother: “One day all you’ll have is those… those… befouled, stinking T shirts to wear to school, and then what will the others think?”
“That we had some fun playing war with Tiny’s…” I chose not to say the word.
There was an audible gasp. Mom picked up the phone and dialed. The conversation was short. She hung up and dialed again. Then again. Like a latter-day Paul Revere, Mom had seen that all the mothers in the neighborhood were of common mind. Collectively, we boys were sternly warned – no, threatened: something regarding the end of life as we then knew it – outfitted with new Towncraft Tees, and sent on our way. The great Horseapple Wars of 1958 or 59 had come to an end. We would need to find something else, something less filthy to do.
Four or five doors down lived one of the Great War participants. His name was Craig. His house was newer and cleaner and a bit better kept than ours or that of the family who owned the original farmhouse next door. Craig’s house had a pristine clover lawn bordered in trim blueberry bushes – blueberry bushes whose fruit came to ripeness – and over-ripeness about mid-October.
An over-ripe blueberry is much smaller than a regulation horseapple. It is much squishier and much more difficult to grip. It doesn’t sail as far when flicked or thrown, therefore, Craig’s smaller, suburban front yard was an adequate venue for what was to come.
And so these are the lessons: Seven- to- ten-year-old boys don’t generalize things particularly well. And blueberry stains are much more difficult to get out of cotton T-shirts than those of Tiny’s horse poop.
Our poor mothers…
© 2015Church of the Open Road Press