Note: This is Part 4 in the series, Growing Up Kansas.
The best part of growing up Kansas are the creeks, ponds, and swimming holes, all of which posed serious threats to our mortality. We didn’t need violent video games; we defied death in real life.
In addition to sharing Hobson’s Pond with the cows, we also had our version of the Amazon River: Bird Creek. The main difference between Hobson’s Pond and Bird Creek was water quality. The cows turned Hobson’s Pond toxic with their poor hygiene. They also justified ownership through eminent domain and argued that possession was 9/10ths of the law. Long before cows started drawing signs for Chik-fil-A, the cows of Hobson’s Pond placed crude signs about the pasture that read:
- Boyz r stoopid
- Pond iz 4 cowz only
- We don’t pee in your bathtub, don’t pee in ours
- We can outrunn u
- Boyz pee when cows chase them
- Eat more boyz
However, Bird Creek was spring fed and scissored through pastureland so the water was unusually clear for Kansas. Most cricks, er creeks, and rivers in Kansas are usually the color of a YourBucks latte and cause fish to glow in the dark and walk upright.
We frequented Bird Creek to fill 55-gallon barrels with water for our livestock. The well at our house was so pitiable it could only fill the bathtub with three inches of water. Saturday night baths were high-time-on-the-farm for everyone else but me. I was the youngest so I bathed last in shared bathwater. I might as well have bathed in Hobson’s Pond.
Dad loaded two 55-gallon barrels in the bed of the pickup and we all jumped in the back without the slightest thought of seatbelts; they weren’t even a law yet. Once we arrived at Bird Creek, Dad backed the pickup down so the tailgate was even with the water, then we’d get grab buckets to fill up the barrels and dump water on each other. We were boys; it was in our DNA.
To my recollection, we never skinny-dipped in Bird Creek. Although we did every other pond and stream for miles around, we never did Bird Creek for two reasons:
- The water wasn’t very deep
- Crawdads are carnivores and attracted to worm-like things that wriggle in the water
There must be something primeval within a boy’s DNA that each time they near an open body of water, they go skinny-dipping. If you ever stumble upon a bunch of boys in a pond or a good swimming hole in a creek, assume they are naked. When one swims naked, they are far less likely to have a tiny bullhead catfish swim up their shorts and poke their poisonous barbs into one’s manhood (or boyhood as it were-there’s a story about that, too).
Girls, on the other hand, didn’t seem to possess this biological urge to swim in their birthday suits. Try as we might, we could never convince the girls to join us. Oh, sure, they’d sneak up and steal our clothes or go home and rat us out, but they never joined in our reindeer games. Never.
Back to the crawdad: we loved crawdaddin’. Our favorite tactic was to string a ten foot seine between us, trail a five-gallon bucket behind, and head up the creek. We’d walk several yards, swing the seine to the creek bank and haul out a catch of crawdads, perch, and the occasional water snake. In our honey-holes, there might be a hundred crawdads in each haul of the net. Some were so tiny and cute that we would let them dangle from our fingers pinching as hard as they could. But the big old ‘dads had Yosemite Sam-like tempers and were ready to hurt someone. As soon as they came out of the water they started shooting off their mouths and taunting us.
If cows are the gossipy little old ladies of the animal kingdom, crawdads are the surly teenage boy bullies with zits and B.O. They have beady little Joe Biden eyes, disproportionately large pincers with which they strut around, and tattoos that signify gang membership. Get near a fish in the water and they swim away; get near a crawdad and they provoke a fight. Their usual tactics were to call us girly names, pinch us unmercifully in the softest tissue they could find, and say bad tings about our mammas.
One area of the creek had too many big rocks so a seine didn’t work, but there were huge crawdads so we’d tie a piece of bacon to a string, lower it gently by a big rock, and let the crawdads pinch the bacon. We’d slowly ease it to the surface, reach our hand behind the crawdad’s head, then quickly grab it with our index finger and thumb. However, if you open your index finger and thumb, it exposes that tender spot in-betweenand that’s where they’d grab us. My father called our reaction bellowing-like-a-bull-moose.
The cows were right; boys are stoopid. They have a masochistic desire to prove virility by testing limits of pain with self-inflicted contrivances. We were too young yet to say, Hey, hold my beer and watch this! while we launched into some death-defying dare, but we prepped for our teen years by tempting fate in other moronic ways.
Girls apparently don’t have a desire to test their limits of pain like boys. I doubt we’ll ever see a Janeass movie starring women because, well, they are a whole lot smarter than boys. Their form of self-flagellation was to read Seventeen.
On the list of let’s-see-how-much-this-hurts activities such as sticking our tongues to frozen aluminum ice cube trays or shooting each other at point-blank range with rubber band guns, we decided to add one more brainless activity: how long can you let a granddaddy crawdad hang from your nipple by his pincer.
Suffice it to say I lost the contest. Even though I thought I was dying, I let him live out of respect as a worthy adversary. Actually, I was too busy howling and looking for a bandaid.
My sons and I are now teaching my grandsons how to crawdad. They’re toddlers unscathed by testosterone and a bit freaked out with all those swarming creatures in net. I walk through Bird Creek and wonder if that old crawdad is still alive. I’ll bet he is and he’s regaled his grandkids around the campfire with stories about the time he made a little boy cry. The big jerk.
I’ll bet he’s given them advice about picking fights, calling names, and has already instructed them: “If one of those little McNary boys ever catch you, just look him in the eye and whisper, ‘Your granddad only lasted five seconds; think you can last ten?’”
I’ll try to warn my grandsons. Doubt they’ll listen once the testosterone kicks in.
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PHOTO: The Dinosaur Tree – an original of mine
North of Cassoday, Kansas, along the Kansas Turnpike- Took me years to get the timing right for this image!