OUR OLD TREE HORSE IS DEAD



Right outside my classroom window in an asbestos-shingled, World War II military barracks building converted to classrooms for our rural school, when I was a school kid in the second through fourth grades in Hargill, Texas, there stood an ancient mesquite tree. Our Mexican-American school mates who called us "Yanquis" and who we called "greasers," in our mutually thoughtless innocence, teased us with their claim that the Spanish etchings weathered and worn almost illegible along its diagonal rearing trunk were navigation aids Santa Anna had carved there when he went north to attack the Alamo--although the date inscribed still looks more like 1835 than 1836 to me.

At Hargill, the tropical delta ended and the great Southeast Texas desert plains began far south of San Antonio where Santa Anna beseiged the Texans fighting gloriously for independence and futilely for their lives in the Alamo. Imaginative Mexican school mates could have carved that plaque in ages since to rub the noses of us Texans in their claims that this was Mexico despite Texas' and America's war victories. We were too innocent and guileless to imagine that.

That old tree was shaped like a rearing horse. Its back legs were two strong roots on which a trunk was rearing like a horse pawing at the western sky, its tail a swishing cluster of root tendrils trailing toward the morning sun, dirt worn away by tiny feet climbing to its back for centuries. The trunk had been bowed over by some Gulf hurricane before the shores receded and the delta of the Rio Grande Valley had grown tropical with orchards cutting down the winds. Just beyond the two foot wide by three foot long and deep "back" of our rearing horse, a stubby branch rose from the trunk just like a saddle horn from a pummel loved by little girls; it was no end of pain and embarrassment for horny little boys looking down the halter tops of little girls who stood around, fond of being gazed upon by us little perverts. It was just another recess game of "you show me yours...." Then what must once have been two westward reaching limbs now arched down like legs to pawing hocks and hoofs above the sand, like limbs startled by some rattlesnake or hooves striking at a puma pouncing from the prickly-pear. From the "shoulders" the trunk began to rise before being bowed over again into an arching neck by countless seasons of strong winds. On the noble neck,they left a mane of bracken blown into a cloud of leaves and limbs and sweet mesquite beans--our steed's head lost within the chaparral.

Fall through Winter we chewed sweet mesquite beans as we "rode" in play, pretending the beans were our cowboy "chaws"--until one boy brought a wad of real "tabakky" to our fourth grade recess. For weeks we chewed that religiously in an adolescent ritual starting at recess and continuing in our class where we sat next to open windows, silently swinging screens out far enough surreptitiously to spit the juices at our old tree horse when Teacher's back was turned.

Then one day Teacher, who hated our "nasty little boy habits," closed and locked the class room windows where we were used to spitting at our tree horse's hoofs. That day Teacher would not even let us leave the room despite our single fingers pointing urgently to heaven. That was a silly symbol for what we called "number one." Such single fingers often would be replaced by an index digit genuflected at the goddess of piss at moments of great stress as we danced an anti-rain dance with one hand grasping our "crouches" to turn off our spigots--as Teacher oft enjoyed her little joke of ignoring waving hands. Normally, she stalled as long as we could take it because she hated our "nasty little boy things."

But that day she had another goal, to keep us chewing our tabakky 'til we were sick as dogs. We could have spit the "baky" in a waste basket under her nose. But we felt we were too big "men" to suffer her humiliation and punishment by admitting what we were doing, although she clearly already knew and was punishing us quite thoroughly. Sometimes pride is the fall. I guess we wanted to prove we were men enough to put up with any woman's punishment. So she slyly watched us slowly swallow chaws, the wads we were chewing at recess-until we all turned green (even dark brown wet-back boys).

When we could no longer take the nausea, we gushed barfing from the room. I plunged into outreaching and engulfing arms of a laughing Mr. Doyle, our Principal. Teacher had sent a little girl out to call him to take us to his office for a lickin'. As I landed in his grasp, he laughed, holding me by the arms facing him, tickled by my grimaced face fighting back the barf--until I erupted all over his fancy brown and white eyelet Florsheim shoes dancing like Gene Kelly's feet beneath my swooning eyes!

But in better days, more innocent, we could see our tree horse gallop into chaparral, disappearing in the thickets and the trees right before our eyes as we chased the bad guys off our range. Each recess we would race and scramble to be first of three or four seated on the old tree horse. There we played Roy Rogers on our Trigger, the Lone Ranger on our Silver, Gene Autry (who I met years later when I was working as a livestock showman at the Texas State Fair in Dallas, where he was the star attraction of the rodeo, and my hero who was that early morning fallen down drunk next to Champ in his stable stall), or Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix (who my stepfather claimed he really knew), and a whole pantheon of other cowboy stars sprinkled on our silver screens on Saturday afternoons. We young Texans, 'though not our Mexican school mates, imagined taking Santa Anna's steed before he could go to the Alamo, saving Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie from their sad heroic stands.

Such heros lived on unhappily ever after in the wavering worlds of my make believe. I imagined them, if they had not died heroes, condemned to ride the plateaus of a range without the peaks from which they had really risen to the heavens in my mind. I saw them after their salvation stuck at home taking out the garbage and the trash, washing dishes, doing chores and cleaning others' dirt. Here I learned our sense of karma: if one doesn't risk life on great quests, he is condemned to slow domestic death. Here I learned my ethics: how one must play fair and work as one on teams to overcome the bad guys of our dreams, how real men must pass up "girlish" comforts of home for victories in our quests.

I felt trauma and chagrin when I returned to my childhood school one afternoon over forty years later and saw a school employee's caterpillar tractor plowing over that old tree horse, hauling off excised chunks of its beloved trunk in big dump trucks, and plowing under all evidence of our heroic days. He planted a smooth but grassy knoll to assassinate our dreams with signs that said, "Keep off the grass [this is not a place to play]!" I grabbed the old shield of Santa Ana carved into a slab of bark-less tree half buried in the earth to keep for my future. I still caressed it with my tears as I sat to write the following lines six years ago. (One thing we learned in those byogone days was that heros cry over real loses--but only in our privacy.)

OUR OLD TREE HORSE



Our old tree horse is felled.

Our old tree horse is dead.

Tractor Cats pawed earth around

And laid our world bare.



Our old tree horse is gone.

Boy's laughter fades as well.

Boy's dreams recede

Into a gaping void of earth laid bare.



Glorious quests we conquered;

Evil schemes destroyed.

We rode into our childhood's sunsets

On that tree horse of dreams.



We charged upon our Silvers, Triggers--

Six guns flashing in the sun,

School boy cowboys playing Sheriff,

Drawing fast and watching villains run.



We fought for truth and justice

Against all odds and foes:

We fought for Davy Crockett and the Alamo;

All evils we opposed.



We fought for all the fairness

We fought for in our games.

We fought for truth and justice

And our American Dreams.



Big Cats have now uprooted

All our childish glee.

Tonka trucks, grown heavy with new reality,

Have dumped on our all our dreams.



We're left with worlds to play in

Laid bare of certainty.

We're left to fight the good fight

Against new two-faced foes.



I'm left to fight the good fight

Against new two-faced foes

Who order trees up-ended

And Cats to paw the earth,

Who order dreams uprooted

our dreams disposed.



Our old tree horse is dead.

Our old tree horse is gone.

But all the dreams that linger,

I'm sure we'll carry on.



We're left to fight for fairness

For all in all their games.

We'll fight for truth and justice

And our American Dreams.



--Edromar [forever]

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