Tom, Huck, and Me
Growing up in a small, farming community in southeastern Kansas (LeRoy, pop. 500) during the 1940s -50s provided the foundation for some vivid imaginations; ones that probably helped develop my writing style and wit. LeRoy's main street was basically one block long with a flashing yellow, caution light slowing traffic on the state highway running through the center of the town. Curling around the western and southern city limits was the Neosho River, where sandbars and swimming holes provided family gatherings to picnic and beat the hot and humid summers.
My dad worked as a laborer on the Missouri Pacific Railroad that ran through town, and mom was the stereotypical image of a post-WWII housewife. There was no TV, video games, or computers, so kids found clever and unique ways to amuse themselves...and to get into mischief. And I was the epitome of being a mischievous kid. I was likely the real version of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Twenty years ago, I wrote some memories about my childhood and bound together a copy for each of my children. It was titled, "Why All The Elm Trees Died." The title's inspiration came from all the magnificent, old elm trees that shaded every street and home. The purpose of writing these memoirs for my kids was that I wanted them to understand why "Ol' Dad" was the way he was when it came to methods of discipline, importance of education, and patriotic love for country. It was also to let them know that dad was a typical kid at one time, too.
To emphasize how I usually ended up in trouble (probably on a daily basis) is to share one of the stories. It tells how my younger brother, Rick, and I pulled a stunt on the lady who lived next door.
Rick and I spent a lot of our time fishing for catfish. We learned at an early age how to clean fish using a pair of pliers and our pocket knives. We'd use the water faucet in the back yard to clean the fish we caught, then mom would fry them for dinner.
As curious young boys, we were little "biologists," always looking in the blood and guts that made the girls scream and run away. We'd look to see if the fish was a female and had eggs. Catfish are scavengers, so cutting open the stomach was always like opening a surprise gift, because we never knew what we'd find. We could see part of our bait that we used; worms, or chicken blood, or whatever. But often we would find a baby bird or squirrel that had fallen out of their tree nest overhanging the river. I know, this is kind of gross and sad, but fish have to eat too, and catfish usually don't turn up their nose at anything that they find in the water.
This one time we were cleaning fish, we saw our neighbor working in her yard on the other side of our backyard garden. Being the oldest, I said to Rick, "Let's play a trick on Mrs. Mitchell." I told him my plan and he snickered as he agreed. Using my pocket knife, I cut out one of the eyes from a catfish head. I told Rick to hold it. Then I used some of the blood and entrails, smearing a little on Rick's cheek and telling him to use his free hand to cover his eye. (I guess you see where this is going, huh?)
We ran across the garden, yelling for help, and approached Mrs. Mitchell. When we got to her, I screamed that Rick lost his eye. He opened his hand holding the fish eyeball. Well, poor Mrs. Mitchell practically fainted, as we rolled in the grass laughing so hard. Of course, mom heard about the incident, which brings me back to "why the elm trees died."
My mom and dad believed in spanking, and to this day I can honestly say that I'm glad they did, because being spanked for misbehaving made me a better person. Switches from the elm trees in our yard became the source for my punishment. And although all the elm trees in LeRoy did die from a disease years later after I became an adult, I want my kids and grandchildren to think they probably died because all the branches and limbs had been stripped from the mischievous childhood of little Ronnie Corbin. In fact, as I grew, my height was not measured the typical way with pencil marks on the door frame. No, the town's people could tell how tall Ronnie Corbin was getting by the height of the elm tree switches that had been pruned in our yard.
There are many more stories of my childhood, some sad, but many humorous like this one. Come to think of it, I would probably have been a bad influence on Tom and Huck.
PSWA Award Winning Author for BEYOND RECOGNITION