Do Tell: The Early Years by Don B. Dale

Chapter II

The Early Years

A Patrol Guard

     My first year in school has been blocked from memory forever. I walked about a mile to Garfield Kindergarten when I was five, but I didn't want to go and only have one bad memory of how much I hated every minute. Jones Elementary was like a coming out party. I only had to walk or ride my bike a half dozen blocks and when you got close to school the patrol guards (5th graders) would be there with their flags to stop traffic.

     These were interesting times, with each year adding new experiences, but mostly I remember the trips out to the country to hunt and fish. We traveled north as far as Dry lake (aptly named) for ducks and south almost to the Oklahoma border to fish the Cimmaron River. I'll talk about some of these trips later but back to the patrol guards for a minute.

     There's a picture somewhere from the local newspaper (The Telegram) when, in an obvious quandary for news, a camera man and reporter came by and took my picture for the paper. Patrol guard of the month! Wow! Can you imagine a patrol guard for the month in San Diego? Parents today would sue the school district because their kid was being made a target for the crazies driving around in cars. The thing I remember was that the local Monkey Ward (Montgomery Ward) or Duckwalls used the event for advertising and I received a new sweater for my troubles.

     I recall that it was at age eight when I got my first gun. It was a Stevens single shot 20 gauge, which was inherited from Carl Myers, (Myers Creamery was an important place in those early years). The positive side of owning that gun was that you only had one shot, so accuracy was important. This was probably a factor later in the military when I qualified for a marksmanship ribbon. The negatives only came later when I was given the rare opportunity to fire my Dad's Winchester model 12 pump and realized life wouldn't be complete until I had a 12 gauge of my own that held more than one shell. Hunting was a chance to commune with nature, endless miles of walking, and practicing reflexes.

     Quail is one of the hardest birds of all to hit, not the least of reasons is their secretive nature and last second explosion from the brush. My first encounter with a covey of quail was on the farm we owned outside of Deerfield. I was so shook when the quail erupted from under my feet, scattering in all directions, that all my shot brought down was a piece of sky. Thus the expression "I got what the little boy aimed at". The unexpectedness of the quail covey's appearance and disappearance, my first such encounter, also startled me and created a sudden, almost instantaneous call to nature. The patrol guard of the month was at least having fun.

     At some point during this period, around the age of 6 and 7, my older brother and I decided to run away. I really don't remember why. It could have been a spat with the folks, but more likely we had just finished some adventure book and were ready to see the world on our own. The latter scenario is most probable because our Mother, I recall, even helped fix some food to tide us over until we got to our destination. Don't be too curious about where we were heading, I was very likely following my brother Jed's lead, and he never knew where he was going. The homestead, a two acre spread with a three story, double-brick, insulated home situated on one corner, was located on the west side of Garden City, Kansas along old Highway 50. At the time there was nothing but fields of corn and wheat on small farms stretching north all the way to the Nebraska border.

     We had our kit, including a trusty boy scout web belt with hatchet, knife, and canteen. After an hour or so walking, the house was out of sight, and the scout compass said we were pointed West by Northwest, about the right direction to reach Fort Collins, Colorado. Fort Collins, where we were born, may have been our destination, but about that time it became immaterial.

     It was dusk and off in the distance, in the direction we were heading, there was a man shouting. He was too far off to see or hear but it was obvious by looking down that we were in the middle of a freshly planted field. In taking a short cut across a farmer's field we were trampling down his crop. I distinctly remember your Uncle Jed saying "he's got a gun", he'll deny that, of course it didn't take much urging to turn us around and off we ran. It took over an hour to run all the way home; we were spent, thirsty, and never even noticed a sly smile on the faces of our parents. Our Dad had come looking for us and had beaten us home.

     With regard to the equipment carried on that trip, you should know that I used that trusty boy scout hatchet just the other day to put tomato stakes in the garden. The knife was a British command knife, which was purchased from a saved dollar through a magazine advertisement. The knife is still functional forty-five years later and serves as a letter opener on my desk. Guess what I'm saying is that if you take good care of something it'll last you a lifetime or two.

     It was during this period of "formulative" growth that I began to experiment a bit. Actually I was driven out of the house, because with two sisters who were nominally deranged and certifiably mean, there was no space in the house. They were on the third floor and we three boys had the basement, but it was possible to feel and hear them plotting against me all the time.

     So one day, as a form of escape, I borrowed Dad's 22 Winchester pump rifle and went out back of the house to practice. We had a waterpump shed in the northwest corner, and like the movie star of the period, Fess Parker as Daniel Boone, I fancied myself as a sharpshooter. From the top of that pumphouse I proceeded to shoot the tassels off the top of the corn stocks a few hundred yards away.

     Fact of the matter is, I thought I shot rather well, until that night when the old man stormed into the house. When he was mad everyone got real quiet. It turned out that the Greek farmer, who farmed the property behind the house, had a couple of "wet backs" working for him. That's what we used to call Mexicans who swam the Rio Grande and came north illegally to work as farm laborers. Today that would be a "politically incorrect" reference. They were sure someone was trying to kill them, had ducked down into a ditch, and crawled back to the farm. They were about to quit when the farmer (Papagordus I think was his name) called my Dad. I didn't touch that rifle again for a long time. I also lost whatever privileges I had, but don't remember what they were, as I was thankful for just being left alive.

     There was one other gun related experience that taught us the importance of respect for another person's property. As young kids we had BB guns. You couldn't shoot sparrows or target shoot without a Daisy BB pumpgun. One weekend we decided to sharpen up our sharp shooting skills.

     Behind a old barn on the property next door to the East, where a Dillions supermarket now stands, was a storage bin filled with fruit jars. There were several hundred of them, perhaps a thousand all told, because it took two whole days of shooting to break most of the jars. We'd stack them up two and three rows high behind the barn and practice away. One of Jed's friends came over and helped with the stacking and shooting of canning jars. The second day Jed took one of Dad's hammers along to try and break into the barn, just to see what was being hidden inside. He and his friend never broke in, I was to scared to help, so we went back to shooting the jars.

     When you're working it pays to keep an inventory, if for no other reason than to know when you finish, that you have the tools with which you started. You may have guessed it, Jed left the hammer at the barn. About a week later the owner showed up at our house and asked our Mother, "does this hammer belong to you?" She would have to recognize it. Well Dad had this big black leather belt and Mother was so mad she didn't wait for Dad to come home, but tanned our hides until they were a medium well. We were still bawling when Dad got home and finished the job to a nice well done.

     We remembered to respect other peoples' property after that episode. Of course we lost our BB gun privileges after the owner of the motel across the highway complained about the front window of his motel being shot and cratered by BBs. It was a good size window if I remember correctly, kind of hard to miss.

     We deserved the punishment and remorse aside probably deserved more. Yet today, you punish your kid for smoking dope you could get turned in for brutality. What happened to being right and wrong?

Animals and Simple Pleasures

     There weren't too many really bad moments during the single digit years. We all joined 4-H and raised chickens or some animal for a few years. The chickens at least provided eggs and entertainment at butchering time. When it came time to pluck, we'd pull their heads off and watch the crazy birds dance their last dance. We had a couple of pigs one year, think it was just before Dad came down with encephalitis and almost died, but they were noisy and smelly and I was glad when we were rid of them.

     There was generally a large garden. With seven mouths to feed there had to be plenty of food. Mom made pickles one year, canning them for the winter. We kids even sampled sugar beets from the field behind the house using our pocket knives, but I never cared much for the taste.

     A farmer to the north plowed up a fox den one day and with Dad being a Veterinarian, he gave a little red fox to Dad thinking he would know what to do with it. It was old enough to know man was the enemy and it took several months before I could calm it down enough to pet it. Reddy was quick to bite the hand that fed it, and only through patient handling was I able to scratch Reddy under the chin. He never did let me touch him on top of the head. When school ended the demand for kennel space increased so Reddy was placed in an outside kennel run. The next day he was gone. He'd burrowed under the fence during the night and left to find a home of his own.

     One day, while on the way home from the first grade I happen to pick up a half dozen or so baby garter snakes. I stuffed them in my pockets and took them home to keep. When I got into the house Mother had a conniption fit when she saw these snakes crawling out of my pockets onto the kitchen floor.

     My bothers and sisters thought Mother could handle anything, well, snakes were not in her repertoire and she made me turn my new pets loose outside. Regan was four when she came across her first rattlesnake, and had the sense to tell her mother, who it turned out, also didn't care to deal with snakes either.

     For some reason we started eating mutton, or at least more of it; that's sheep meat for you beef eaters. Maybe it was a 4-H project of your Aunts, Mary and Sarah, or Uncle Tom. I do know we had several sheep for awhile. They were great eaters and kept the weeds down. I was in favor of staking them out in the yard so I wouldn't have to mow a half acre of grass. A black lamb was born and became a pet. It was fed way too much it grew quite large. If memory serves it was a third larger than the other sheep. The younger kids rode around on it like a Shetland pony. One day it was gone and we didn't speak to Dad for a week or until we got hungry, whichever came first.

     My favorite pet was Bing, a German shorthair pointer. Bing was a faithful dog who'd be waiting for me every day when I walked home from grade school. He was also a good watch dog, he barked whenever anyone came to the door. Bing came down with cancer about the time I entered junior high. Dad operated several times but couldn't save him, the poison had gotten into his system. I remember burying him out by the currant bush in the side yard. We got another shorthair, Queenie was her name, but it wasn't the same. Queenie was born sick and only lived a couple of years.

     The most fun to watch were the two Siamese cats. I don't think they belonged to anyone, perhaps Mary and Sarah, but it was more like everything on the two acres belonged to them. There were two brick ledges on either side of the entry way into the pet clinic, and very often both cats would be ensconced, one on either side of the entry way. No one entering the clinic, regardless of pet in tow, seemed to bother these two independent creatures. They worked as a team and were only bothered by the King Birds, who would dive bomb the cats from time to time.

     One summer day I was trimming the hedge in front of the house and watching a particularly persistent King Bird conduct strafing runs on the cats. The Siamese, separated by six feet, were facing one another and as the bird executed a sweeping dive, the cats attacked. One went high and the other low, the bird was trapped between and as you might have guessed - attacked no more. The choreography displayed by those two feline emperors was magnificent. The planning, speed, and execution was perfection. The next time you see a bird miss your windshield while driving, you may appreciate a little more the timing it takes to capture such a bird in flight.

     Mary had a horse about the time I was getting out of high school. It gave birth to a foal one summer when the folks were in Colorado fishing. The four of us still left at home went out early that morning to see the new born foal. We helped it stand and then got out of the way of its mother. It was half Arabian and half Tennessee Walker.

     After it was grown I only mounted it once, and road it bareback across the back acre. The colt was named Elad (that's Dale backwards) and it threw me about six feet. A year later your Uncle Tom and I had to bury its mother, the mare had passed away in the night.

     I wonder what the developers thought 15 years later when they built a super market on the site of the old homestead. In California today they would stop development until the remains were determined not to belong to some Indian tribe. Just imagine the headlines, "The skeleton remains of Indian pony (in reality a $100 horse) hold up new $10,000,000 shopping center".

Summer Fun

     The summer months were always the happiest times. I was outside every day. We mowed and took care of the grandparent's (Dad's parents - Mae and Pop) yard for a few years until they moved to the big city (Wichita), and there was always work to do around the place. Generally we boarded 20 or so dogs and cats that had to be taken care of and fed morning and night.

     As I grew older Dad's small animal practice became larger and the large animal business shrank to ten percent or so of the business. I always liked going out on farm calls because it was different and a welcome change of pace. In the summer months, it might be helping pull a calf; and once we had to cut a dead calf out. Pulling a calf means using a crank machine, sort of like a car jack with a chain or rope on one end, and anchoring one end of the crank to a post with the other tied to the calf's legs inside the cow.

     I learned how to nose twitch a horse that needed cutting. I was there to twitch down Elad, Aunt Mary's stallion, when he became a gelding. One summer Dad put up a loading chute and pen, which we painted with creosote in 105 degree heat. It was located to the west of the clinic, where ranchers could bring in their young steers for dehorning and neutering.

     One by-product of these endeavors was a large supply of what we termed "rocky mountain oysters". These were served on New Year's Eve when my parents would have a large group over. One year the guests had a choice of opossum, which Dad had captured on some country road two months earlier and which we had fed and cared for those long two months, or fried oysters - rocky mountain style. A few guests would have gone hungry if mother hadn't thrown in a ham.

     One fourth of July, around 1950, we were tying fire crackers to grasshoppers and watching them explode in the air. Tom and I basically watched Jed. Big brother forgot to turn loose of a firecracker in time and we thought he had blown his hand off. The fingers swelled up, there was blood everywhere, and mother had to rush him to the hospital while your Uncle Tom and I resorted to putting firecrackers under tin cans.

     Big red ants were always a problem which could be dealt with by poison or, when no one was looking, a little gasoline. Tom had seen me perform a scorched earth policy against the ant colonies and one summer day decided to play the "dead ants" game himself.

     Mowing the side yard, I heard this scream from in front of the house. Running to the front yard there was Tom heading for the House as fast as he could run with his pants on fire and flames erupting out from under one pant leg. He'd gotten careless with the gas, but in any case I was able to intercept him about half way to the house, a distance of about 50 feet. It was one of my better tackles, and using my shirt the flames were smothered.

     A few minutes later Tom was heading for the doctor's with Mother and his second degree burns. These last few stories are just so you'll know I wasn't always the one in trouble and a lot of my time was spent taking care of my sisters and brothers. They'll never admit it, but they were lucky to have me around.

     I was 5 or 6 when Dad decided I needed to learn how to swim. Garden City has the world's largest concrete swimming pool, called affectionately "The Plunge". One summer day after work he grabbed me and said let's go. He never put his suit on or anything, just took me to the pool. About half way along the side of the pool where the water depth was 4 1/2 feet, we stopped, and I was given a friendly push. I was only four feet tall at the time and when I came up sputtering and splashing, Dad was standing there telling me to "swim".

     It was how he had learned as a boy. Eventually I made it to the side of the pool and didn't turn loose until there was firm footing underneath. I want to think my Mother blew her cork when she found out about my lesson, but by the following year I'd watched how everyone else swam and just followed suit.

The Importance of Fishing

     As kids we fished every small pond around for sunfish, catfish, and bullheads. You had to leave town to catch anything with some size. The pigeon population took a dip each summer because we'd shoot the pigeons to get their spleens for bait for the bullheads.

     Off East Fulton, over next to the Arkansas River, was a small pond on Bill Jamison's place, a client of Dad's. We had permission to fish his pond. I always felt like Huck Finn lying there half asleep with a rod across my stomach waiting for a fish to bite.

     As you grow older it's increasingly important to remember those simple pleasures in life that, as a kid, you took for granted. When life is kept simple, even the most difficult problems have a way of working themselves out. When the going gets tough, when everyone wants a piece of you, just take a break and I'll go fishing with you.

     By the age of 14 I was still young but large for my age and looked old enough to work for someone else. There was always a summer job of some sort, and the family went on summer vacations together until I got in junior high school.

     We visited Minnesota twice, the land of a thousand lakes. They all had colorful names like Star Lake, Round Lake, Big McDonald and Little McDonald, Juniper Lake, and Lake of the Woods. The best fishing of all was a little pond with one small boat where I caught my first northern pike, which weighed over eight pounds.

     That was also where someone, must have been Jed or Tom, hit my arm when I was casting and my rod and reel went flying, hitting the water with a loud splash. My heart felt like it stopped beating for two minutes. Dad, after his mad, hooked up a muskie rig, a large spinner with ruby eyes, and drug the bottom until he snagged my outfit. From then on we took turns going out in the boat.

     That spinner stayed with me until 1980. We were on the way back from Oregon where Lauren had caught her first trout in a stream just outside of Crater Lake and we stopped in mid-afternoon at the mouth of the Klamath River. I thought I'd throw out a few casts for salmon but only succeeded in losing that spinner.

     A few years later Regan caught her first trout on Crystal Creek just outside of Jackson Hole, Wyo. She was to young to go on the Red River Ranch horse rides, so we fished. It was another lure from my teenage years, a little Colorado spinner with a worm or salmon egg attached. Regan's first approach to fishing was a lot like Lauren's, when I said reel, they wouldn't quit until the nose of the fish was in the eyelet at the end of the rod.

     One day, I think it was at McDonald Lake in Minnesota, we tied into the bullheads; the folks even made up a Bullhead Bay song to the tune of Moonlight Bay. The bullheads were on a feeding jag and at the end of the afternoon there must have been 50 or more fish on the boat. It was a real drag skinning and cleaning all those bullheads. Some Indian smoked the fish and we had smoked bullhead for the whole next year. Other than smoked salmon, Indian style in Alaska, I don't remember any smoked fish as good tasting as those bullheads.

     One day Dad and I drove South to the Cimmaron River to fish on the Myers Ranch, that was Carl Myers' older sister, and their family owned Myers' Creamery. On the way home we saw three different tornados, one was drifting our way and Dad drove off into the ditch where we got out of the car and crawled under it for safety.

     The fishing stories would take a book by themselves to recount all the monsters of the deep that were caught as well as lost over the years. I caught a lot of fish but we also lost a few big ones from time to time.

     My sister Mary was the noisiest fishing person to ever sit in a boat. She'd stomp her feet, she'd sing, she'd make every weird noise imaginable, even to the point of throwing things in the water; and wouldn't you know it, the fish felt sorry for her and bit her hook more than anyone else's. I hated to go fishing with either of my sisters. Those girls couldn't do anything right.

     We went fishing with Sally Dale once (no relation), and she would cast by twirling the rod and reel around her head like a lasso before she let the lure fly. She taught my sisters to cast, did you ever hear of anything so stupid as a twirling, whirling, windup cast? At least I showed my daughters the correct way to fish, even if they'll never forgive me.

The Lost Years

     During that lost period known as junior high school I did get beaten once or twice, but they weren't fights. Wandering around that seventh grade year I was in a total daze. At the end of the year they had an awards assembly where everyone with an A average for three years got a gold pin. It wasn't until then that an inner voiced said "see, that's what can happen if you pay attention and work hard."

     No I never got a gold pin in junior high. When the English teacher would come into her room and find her blackboard all wet from squirt guns, I got my knuckles whacked with a wooden ruler, and just because I was one of the boys in the room. Well, that is the truth for some of the times I was whacked. It didn't take more than once or twice for me to learn the correct behavior.

     This transition period where a body (followed by a mind about three feet behind), struggles to become a real person, was a difficult one. I don't think my parents ever knew that I was sent to the office for disciplinary reasons 8 or 9 times that first year in Junior High.

     Basically I was a good kid, it was just those rowdies I hung out with - You believe that one and I'll tell you a few more. During assemblies, when they didn't take names, I became a championship pin-ball machine player at the corner store a block away from the Junior High School. Then we got caught because someone ratted on us. I don't remember what all the other office visits were about, only the last visit to the principal's office made a lasting impression.

     Five of us were walking by an English teacher's class, we'd rudely nicknamed 'happy-bottom' Darns, and decided to clown around making faces. Class was in session, I don't know why we were out in the hall, and our disruption was not appreciated. Someone came an took me out of class the next period to report to Mr. Hubert, the principal.

     I was ushered into his private office along with three of my colleagues in crime, Jerry Ogburn, Rod Rodgers, and a fourth was James Hubert who was with us but hadn't been turned in. We were alone and looked around for a few minutes. The principal had all these psychology books on his bookshelf and the thought crossed my mind that perhaps he had majored in psych in college. A few minutes later I was thinking, surely one of those books said something about the harm that comes from beating kids.

     It was really a choice of his calling our parents and having the world come to an end, or accepting his punishment for not only that day's transgression but a litany of others as well. Some one had been keeping track of each and every bad deed I had ever done.

     As Mr. Hubert got down this big old wooden paddle with holes drilled through it, he informed us that if his boy Jimmy had done anything like what we had done, he'd have gotten two swats for each one we got. If he hadn't been so serious we would have laughed. I was hoping to be last, just in case he got tired out from swacking my friends. No such luck, I was first in line and had to grab my ankles. After the first four of five swats I began to believe old Hubert had missed his calling and should have been a baseball player. We got ten good licks apiece and then, having our full and undivided attention - a lecture.

     To be honest I don't remember a word he said, but we were tearfully remorse, contrite as can be, and to the last person promised to behave the rest of the year - and did! The only exception was darling Jimmy, who had missed out on all the fun. I seem to recall that he was caught by the local constabulary stealing hubcaps off cars later that year. Grandmom Brack used to say "that what goes around comes around," and at least in Jimmy's case, he got his.

     I've often wondered whether or not a firmer hand by school administrators wouldn't alleviate a lot of the discipline problems in school today. I'm not suggesting that everyone needs to have proper conduct beaten into them, but our oldest has seen situations where teachers appeared afraid to take action against bussed-in ruffians who beat up on other kids.

     We tend to emphasize with our children those areas where we may have been less than perfect when growing up. I missed a gold pin in junior high because of lack of focus, or as Coach John Dickerson was fond of telling me in high school football, "you can't catch the ball if you take your eyes off it". There were two Dickerson's, John coached football and Wayne, the track team.

     Coach Wayne would drive us around to track meets and always detoured to show us some historical site. He was interested in history and his detours were more memorable than any track meet. It might have been the blue hills in Eastern Kansas; the limestone fossils left from the great inland sea near Bison, Kansas; the site of some long forgotten Indian battle; or the chain mail uniforms and tin helmets left by conquistadors in Kansas. The Spanish had come up from Central America all the way to Kansas during Pizzaro's era. They were looking for the fabled City of Gold, and their remnants left behind can be found in museums scattered in small Kansas towns.

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