- Keene, Texas circa 1966
It started when I was 12. My friend Leslie Gilley, a male person despite the ambiguous first name, lived on 10 acres on the outskirts of town. You got there by crossing the public school grounds, ducking through a pasture inhabited by hostile cattle and climbing over a bob-wire fence.
Leslie had his own creek. his own pond and an assortment of plastic guns, cap guns and Army helmets. My brother and I had similar military accoutrements. We all used to get together in the dry creek bed and throw dirt clod hand grenades at one another for fun.
Part of the fun was the Tarzan vine he had strung across the creek at its deepest, most gorgelike point. The Tarzan vine was little more than a glorified string, badly frayed on the end you clung to. You really couldn't tell much about the condition of the rope at the top end because the tree was 30 some odd feet tall. Leslie's older brother had tied the rope up there somewhere back in the dim past.
We must have been pretty dim ourselves to rely on its integrity after all those years being exposed to the elements, but we were to enjoy several months of high test swinging on that Tarzan rope.
You had to climb out on a tree trunk that bent out across the creek bed. There was a spot over the middle of the creek where you could stand up on the limb, grab the rope and fling yourself into space. You would swing down the gravel creekbed lengthwise, up along a bank where the creek curved sharply and then back up the creek toward the tree like some demented pendulum. You'd cling to the rope till your swing slowed down enough at the bottom that you wouldn't lose toes when you set your bare feet down in the one sandy spot along your glide path.
One day, Les, feeling generous I suppose, made the unusual gesture of allowing me "first swing". I should have smelled a rat, what with him glancing nervously at the top of the tree and his solicitude in handing me the rope and reassuring me that it was my turn to go first.
I swung clear of the tree in perfect form, feet together, hands in the baseball bat grip we'd learned to use. As I descended, I swung my feet out in front of me. At the bottom of the arc I was doing a good 20 to 25 miles an hour when the rope parted high up in the tree and drove me butt first into the gravel creek bottom.
As a very light person, the damage to my bones was surprisingly minimal. My butt hurt for a week though. The damage to my brain which rattled around in my skull for some time after the impact, might have been more permanent. The 30 feeet of rope coiled down out of the tree on my head.
As my hearing returned, I became aware of Leslie screeching at me from the bank. "You broke my rope! You broke my rope!" he shrieked as he slid down into the creek in front of me.
I looked up at Les, standing there red-faced with his hands on his hips. "You broke my rope!" he said accusingly.
"I'm sorry," I said a little confused. "Did you want to break it?"
I've made it a policy to this day. I don't borrow other people's musical instruments, weed eaters or anything else with strings or string-like elements. I don't want to break anyone else's strings, ropes or vines for them. It's always painful when it happens and my friends always get mad at me no matter how nice they try to be about it.
Also, I change my strings, rope or vines once in a while. Helps keep my butt out of the gravel!
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