The Five Finger Discount

I do not recall ever getting an allowance when I was a young’un. Most of the boys I grew up with in Amarillo, Texas in the early to mid-sixties shared the same fate. Our most profitable way for us to make money was scrounging empty glass Coke® bottles to take to the Piggly Wiggly®. We would get a dime a bottle. It took three bottles plus a nickel to get an RC Cola® and a Moon Pie®. Getting three bottles and a nickel was no easy task back then and it was even harder when most of us started smoking in our early teens. That took five bottles and a nickel! Needless to say,we were hard pressed to make ends meet back then.
When desperation took hold, we had to resort to what we called a “five finger discount.” That was when we would go the local store and shove whatever it was that we wanted into our pants and slip out the door without paying for it. Worked pretty well most of the time.
Mr. Thomas (not his real name – I do not want to risk him finding out even after all these years) owned a small store nearby and his store had been the usual target of our discount program. There was another store nearby that was owned by a fellow that had been in the Army. We left him alone. He was meaner than a striped snake. That’s another story for another time.
Now, there was this one day that is was super hot and the six of us (there was twelve of us in the neighborhood that grew up together but one or more of us was always absent cuz they were grounded or roped into doing chores or something). Anyway. We did not have enough money amongst us to get even one RC Cola. We were going to have to use the five-finger discount.
All of us went to Mr Thomas’ store together. It was busy that day and Mr. Thomas was not there. It would be an easy in and out job. So we thought.
We went about our business and wandered throughout the store as if we had nothing to do. I managed to stuff a Moon pie down my pants and slip out the door. It did not take long for all of us to get what we needed and get out of there while avoiding the cashier. As luck would have it, she was the sole worker in the store at that moment. It was the perfect crime. Uh huh.
We had a clubhouse of sorts in a bunch of Horse radish trees nearby and we met there. Among the six of us, we had four Moon Pies and three RC Colas.
We made do with what we had and went off to our respective homes for the night. Supper was on the table when I got home. As we were eating, Mr. Thomas’ store came up. I don’t know why. Dad observed that Mr. Thomas was a full blown official butcher and all and had a complete butcher shop set up in the back of the store. I knew that and said so. Out of nowhere, he made an observation that if Mr. Thomas ever caught anybody stealing from him, he could just as easy take the thief out back and make hamburger out of them.
We never used the five finger discount ever again.

Setting the trap?

Now that we had a plan, we needed to get things going to take “our land” back. The barbed wire fence that bordered the southern edge of our field ran nigh on to a mile or more. Least wise it seemed that way. The memory of its length is a little fuzzy forty years later. Anyway…We had to figure out how to get on the field, to the fence, and gather up the tumbleweeds we would need while avoiding detection from the “enemy” and (more important) the sorghum bull ( see my entry of March 29, 2016 for an explanation of the sorghum bull). We weren’t too worried about the enemy (they weren’t that smart anyway) but, knowing the sorghum bull was behind us was downright scary. Larry reminded us that the sorghum bull was always gone at dinner time and most weekends. Knowing this, we could plan our time to get started.

Luck was with us that Saturday morning. All ten of us made it to the field and to the fence super early. We were fortunate too that none of the “girls” of the neighborhood were up at that hour. (I’ll explain the neighborhood girls later). All that was great but, what made it greater still is there had been a windstorm over the night and the entire field of tumbleweeds had been caught and snared by the barb-wire fence. Instant fort! Yup, we were lucky!

At this hour of the morning, the sorghum bull would be out and about though we did not see him. Maybe we got even more lucky if he was gone to one of his “shows.” The fellow what owned him showed him off a lot. Maybe we were gonna be lucky again and he would be gone. We assumed he was and went about our business, especially after Larry reminded that he was always gone on the weekends. Life is good!

We entered the field from Stewi’s house which was about a quarter mile or so to the barbed wire fence. As I said earlier, it was now covered with tumbleweeds. You would not find a happier bunch of fellows anywhere on the Texas Panhandle than the ten of us. The day was clear, no ornery ole girls anywhere, and The Almighty Himself had built us a fort.

We got to about ten or twenty feet from the fence and stopped to admire our indestructible fortress. All of a sudden, a sky darkening sea of clods (and a few rocks) flew through the air in our direction. Those same ornery snakes from the other day had snuck into and taken over OUR fort!! How dare they!! We took a terrible “whuppin.”

Oh, we tried our best to fight back but, not only did they attack us from OUR fort, they somehow or other got behind so that we were getting bombarded from the front and rear. There was nothing for it but get back to Stew’s house.

Next week: Licking our wounds.


Going to war

We had always known about the dirt in the Panhandle and its use as a clod weapon. Up until this here day, though, we had never known just how painful they could be. We threw them at rabbits that we chased (though we never hit any) but never at people and this day was the first time we had been the target of a “Panhandle death clod.”  I’m here to tell you they hurt like the dickens.

Now that we knew and felt this awful truth, Stewie was quick to suggest its use, “We are going to have to re-take our ground one way or the other which means we have to be willing to use the clods and maybe even rocks.” That was a given, but, now the ground was occupied by, what, a thousand ornery kids?  The reality was there was two different groups of fifteen of them compared to the ten or so of us (depending on who was grounded on any one day). We had no clue how to retake our slice of the Panhandle. Among the many ideas, Larry had the best. “We need to go out to the far south end of the field (that’s where the sorghum bull lived) and gather up a bunch of clods and hide them along the fence line”, Larry said with supreme confidence. “We know the sorghum bull is in his barn at that hour having supper so he won’t be a problem.” We all figured it was a perfect plan.

“I ain’t going nowhere near that bull,” Max said while on the verge of tears. His little brother disappeared one day and Max had always figured that the sorghum bull had got him. The truth was he got too near to the haunted house behind Larry’s house and a ghost got him. That’s another story for another time. Larry stood up, puffed his chest out, looked Max right smack in the eyeballs, and said, “You need to avenge your brother’s death and now is that time.” None of us knew what avenge meant but we thought it sounded tough so we agreed with Larry. Max didn’t say a word but nodded his head. We figured that meant he would.

All this took place in early spring and we were still in school. We had to wait until Friday to make our move when we could stay out later. We had decided early on that our headquarters was to be at Stewie’s house as it was right across the street from the eastern border of our field. We knew the farm where the sorghum bull lived was bordered by a barbed wire fence. That fence caught a lot of tumble weeds and made a natural fort. So, long as the sorghum bull didn’t see us we would be ok.

Next week: setting the trap.

The first clod

As I told ya’ll before, nobody knows for sure when the clod war started. The best guess puts it about 1962 or thereabouts. It took place on the western edge of “our” field near our neighborhood. We had a fort next to the road that bordered the neighborhood. The fort was made out of tumbleweeds which was taken apart by the wind on a regular basis. Tumbleweeds are called tumbleweeds for a very good reason: they tumble.  Anyway…I digress.

The particular day I refer to was an early summer morning. We had just finished reconstructing our fort and were fixin’ to go chasing rabbits (which we never caught) when Tommy saw a group of boys entering the field some two or three blocks away.

Tommy pointed them out and we decided these “invaders” did not have permission to be on our territory. This was an act of war on their part and we had to run them off one or the other.  At this point, though, we hadn’t yet figured out that clods were good for throwing and stuff like that.

Walking side by side, our group of eight approached the outlaws (there was near on eight of nine of them to twelve us). When they spotted us, they stood still in a rag tag bunch and stared at us. It was pretty clear to us that they was squared stiff of us.

Our confidence was shattered in an instant when something hit Stewie in the back and dropped him to the ground with a terrifying howl. I looked behind me, and, just as I looked to see what had happened to Stewie, I was hit not once, but twice on the back of my head. That hurt something awful until I got hit again on my shoulder! I turned in the direction where I thought whatever hit me came from and, right there in front of God and everybody (and behind us) was another bunch of boys we had not seen! We was surrounded! We had seen just a few of the boys as the rest (I’d guess near on to ten or so more) had snuck around behind us. There was no choice but to beat feet for the fort which, to our dismay, had been swept away (again) by the wind. Larry’s house was the nearest house to our field and that’s where we ran to.

When we all managed to get to Larry’s garage, we counted the wounded. Every one of us had been hit at least once and some as many as three times (me), which explains why I am bald today. All of us looked around in sadness and embarrassment until Larry quoted a famous cartoon character, “Of course you realize, this means war.”

Next week: Discovering the clod.


The Clod Wars

I grew up on the south side of Amarillo, Texas. It lies right  in the center of the Texas Panhandle. It was there on a small patch of prairie on the west side of our neighborhood that the clod wars took place.

The dozen or so boys that grew up together (I being one of them) had taken the idea that this particular patch of  the Panhandle was our sovereign territory and would remain so in perpetuity. There were other neighborhoods nearby and some of the boys in those areas (none of which a shared a border with the field in question) had the mistaken idea that this was their territory. Thus was the genesis of the clod wars.

No one knows when the clod wars started. It was around the time that the boys in our area found out that a clod could be used in an effective defense against all comers, with exemptions being parents, the Texas Rangers, the little girls in our neighborhood, and the Vice Principal at school.

A word about clods. The dirt in the panhandle has a degree of clay in it which allowed one to grab it and, quick as can be, form a ball just the right size to fit in the palm of one’s hand. It could be thrown with devastating effect and there was an endless supply. The clod was the universal weapon of choice for all combatants. There were a few times that rocks were used but that happened on rare occasions  and never by us………..

Now, the territory was, if memory serves, somewhere around five acres. Our neighborhood was on the east side, James Butler Bonham Junior High School on the north, a farm on the south side (readers will remember the Legend of the sorghum bull – this farm was where it started), and Soncy Road on the west. The plains of the Panhandle are prairie so it consists of grass, tumbleweeds, and no hills. There were, I must add, a large resident population of snakes, toads (land and horned), rabbits, and other assorted creatures who made their home on the Great Plains. Looking at it, one sees just the grass and sheer empty space but, it is, in reality, a teeming metropolis.

Who were the neighborhood boys? So glad you asked. Let me see. There was me of course. Then there was Gary, Randy, Carl, Mark, Larry, Bobby, Ricky, and four or five more whose names I can no longer recall.

Next week: the first clod.

The fire ants

I had forgotten about the fire ants until the other day. The wife and I happened to meet a man from Texas and, as I grew up in the Texas Panhandle, we made a connection. In the course of our visit, he mentioned a recent encounter with fire ants on his last trip to the Lone Star state. My memory went to work (it does that once in a while) and conjured up a memory of a day that I am surprised I had forgotten about. Maybe it was because of the terror of it all.

Now, for those who have not seen or encountered a fire ant colony (they are always in a colony), it is a sight to behold. I think I was about ten or eleven when I saw my first one. Fire ants are LARGE. You know everything is bigger in Texas but fire ants are bigger than that. I swear, some of them carry guns. They are large and they travel in the millions. They do! The colony I saw on that fateful day had a hill that was maybe six or eight inches tall. Do bear in mind that there are no hills in the Texas Panhandle so this particular ant hill was equal to a mountain. Anyway,

Gary and I were out in the field just west of my house on Hall Road on a sunny Saturday morning when we spotted the aforementioned colony. Neither of us had seen an ant colony before and nobody ever warned us against the violence that these malevolent creatures were capable of. So…in a blinding moment of dumb, Gary and I jumped right into the middle of the ant colony.

Eighty-eight million (that’s 88,000,000) madder than all get out red ants spewed forth from the damaged ant hill and all of them jumped on me and Gary. They all had new sharpened fangs that sank into every inch of skin on both of us. I ran away in screaming panic, slapped myself silly, rolled in the dirt, and did everything except set myself on fire to get these things off me. The pain was like stinging fire! I swear they were bound and determined to drag both of us into their ant hill and feed us to the Queen ant (we were later informed by somebody’s big brother that the queen ant was so big it could have swallowed us both in one gulp).

We were lucky that day. A couple of construction workers made us out to be little kids in that mass of feeding fire ants. They grabbed us and took us to the nearest house and hosed us down. They saved our lives and I am forever grateful. Course, Gary and I were so red from the 88,000,000 ant bites we looked like bruised apples. Never did hear the end of it in school.

And that’s the truth.

First Crush

(Been on a little hiatus – I think I’m back). This story is dedicated to every guy who has ever had a grade school crush.

When I was in the fourth grade at Western Plateau Elementary School in Amarillo, Texas, my teacher was Miss Brown. She was a new teacher and, as far as I knew, the year I was in her class was her very first year in the classroom.

She was as pretty a gal as my nine-year old self  had ever seen!  Folks, the first time I saw her and she smiled at me I came near on to wetting my pants for embarrassment. I did! I couldn’t hardly talk around her. About all I could do was just sit and stare at those big brown eyes surrounded by those rosy cheeks and chestnut hair. When she did speak to me, I was sure I’d died and gone to heaven.

I would dream about Miss Brown at night and stare at her all day. She could’ve asked me to fight a bear and I’d a done it. You know, I think a couple of nights I may have even studied my homework. (Don’t tell anybody)!

One day right after Christmas, she was gone. We had a substitute teacher. Nobody said where she got off to except that she would be gone a couple of weeks. It was the longest two weeks of my life. I was as miserable as a body could be waiting on my dear Miss Brown to come back.

When she did come back, she had a different name. She’d done gotten herself hitched. I was crushed beyond words. Even now, some fifty years later, I twitch at the pain of that memory. In a split second, my hopes and dreams were crushed. It would be twelve-plus years before I met another woman that would have that kind of affect on me and I had the good sense to marry her before somebody else did.