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 Texas : Features : Columns : N. Ray Maxie :

A Wild Childhood in the Woods

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
Into the Wild”, this is not; which is a 2007 film about people from all walks of life leaving; leaving their family, home, friends and familiar surroundings to escape. They long to escape from a job, or certain other people. They may begin a new life, often changing identities in faraway places, without ever telling anyone.

Some desire more space and freedom in a less stressful life style. Some may never be heard from again, perhaps living happily ever after, or even dead. But many are found rather quickly and returned. Others, it may take many years, or never. Did they meet with foul play or just walk away?

But neither is this a story about the ABC night time soap, “Men in Trees”, with Emily Bergl and Sarah Strange. And incidentally, I have never seen either of those fine flicks.

But this is about me!... Me!.... I’ve never run away or eaten wild berries, roots, insects, birds, lizards or dirt to survive. Still, I grew up during the 1940’s in a quasi-isolated and wild environment; primitive, so to speak. A pretty unique upbringing very few NE Texas kids were privileged to live. Although there is little doubt others had it much harder than my family did, yet they managed to survive and produce some successful off-spring.

My home was very near the large rural black Rambo Community. I grew up with a number of black childhood friends and learned many things from them and their families. They too, had a familiar, simple, hard working life style. Most of them were community orientated, friendly people and easy to know and to get along with.

Life, so basic and factual, as it happened back during and right after this country’s highly infamous economic depression of the 1930’s, wasn’t easy. It became a matter of survival; survival without public assistance and without joining big city soup lines; survival without sponging off of neighbors, or borrowing from their good nature. It was a period of looking after one’s own and learning to be super frugal. When times got tough, the tough got going. By today’s standards, I had a very hard upbringing that molded solid moral character. A country boy can survive; therefore I offer no apologies here.

From age two to age twelve I lived with my family at the end of a long and dusty dirt road. It was far back in the “sticks”, the most remote residence I have ever known. My parents, two older sisters and I lived in the only camp house left on what remained of the Rambo Oil Lease. It was in the Rodessa Oil Field of SE Cass County bordering the NW Louisiana state line. There, the term “lap lands” is often used along the border.

My uncle from Houston would drive up with his family to see my mother and our family about once a year. Often times I have heard him describe finding our house as being “like swinging in on the grape vines.” And he was pretty near right with that citified observation.

My family lived three quarters of a mile from the mail route in one direction and about the same distance from the school bus route in the other direction. That is, until the school bus no longer came that near to our house. After that, on school days for several years, we kids walked about 1˝ miles each way twice a day, a 3 mile round trip along the dirt road, to and from State Highway FM-125. We walked rain or shine; wet, dry, or severely dusty. A car passing by as we walked along the dusty dirt road would cover us with a thick layer of dust. Avoiding the dust caused us to run for cover into nearby woods until the dust had settled. Then we resumed our walk down the road.

Or at times, if we did not want people passing by in cars to see us, we ran like a wild animal to hide in the woods. Rural folk living in the wild away from all civilization many times begin to act a little wild. Without frequent and close interpersonal contact with people in the outside world, a self sufficient and independent spirit may prevail. Call it shy self-reliance, anti-social or learning to avoid people. Whatever? It’s a fact!

My dad grew up in a hard working family of four boys and three girls. His parents were, as were many generations before them, still in a large farming mode, making a living off the land. The more hands (children) they had, the better to get more work done. So, dad grew up hard; working hard. That is all he knew his entire life; hard work. Often times he told me, “Son, get a better education so you won’t have to work as hard as I have.” Toward that end, he helped me into adulthood as much as he could.

Through all this activity of rural, backwoods life, I still managed to attend public school and graduate from high school. I was mostly a B-student and was mighty proud to get that high school diploma in 1957. Much later in life I obtained a college degree.

Growing up there in the isolated backwoods, I hunted quite a bit and fished some, most often alone. Squirrel, rabbits, raccoon, opossums, wild duck; anything I could bring home, dress and prepare for a family meal. Many times, after I had been in the woods for long hours, mother becoming concerned about me, would come looking for me. As I’m sitting quietly on a log looking for game to stir, I can hear her now, calling, “Son! Son! Come on home to supper. It’s getting late now.” Oh, the love of a mother!

When talking about her children, my mother was often heard saying, “I just feel sorry for them.” Then, when asked, “Why do you feel sorry for them?” Her reply was, “Because they are mine.” She was a kind, gentle, caring mother with the highest standards.

For a while, I tried my hand at trapping mink. For me, mink were mighty hard to catch. I caught very few. Back then their pelts were worth $25 to $30 on the fur market. So naturally I wanted to catch’em and skin’em. Just call me “the backwoods trapper.”

Raccoon and opossum were much easier to catch and we caught plenty of them, too. Their pelts would only bring $2 to $3 on the market; maybe $5 if they were in excellent condition. That brought in some much needed money for family necessities.

Along about age seven I was privileged to join a Cub Scout Pack in uptown McLeod. I was able to attend only one meeting where we were learning to tie knots. Oh, how badly I wanted to continue active in the pack, but had no one to drive me to the meetings.

One Saturday morning while in eighth grade, my coach had assembled 3 or 4 junior high school classmates in uptown McLeod. He wanted us to practice basketball and needed to get more players together. So coach and the uptown boys drove way out in the sticks to try and find me to join them. This was in the days before the advent of rural telephone service. Not to mention, smoke signals and carrier pigeons weren’t too reliable, either. Pony express, as we knew it in NE Texas, was on its way out, too.

Returning from a little squirrel hunt, I walked along the dirt road when I saw a strange car approaching. I later learned it was the coach’s car. Knowing I would be severely dusted by the passing car, I ran into the nearby woods. They never saw me and continued on to my house at the far end of the road. Soon, I heard the car returning and I ran into the woods again. Thus, they never saw me and returned to the McLeod School without me. Upon arriving home mother told me who it was and what they had came calling for. I really wasn’t interested. I was having fun in my own little world.

I learned early on from gasoline thieves in the oil field, a good place to hide from anyone was to climb a thickly foliated tree. People will naturally watch or look at ground level, hardly ever looking up. They never scan high enough to search the tree tops. But then later on, a Texas prison convict acknowledged he was confident that this technique never fooled blood hounds one bit. Their thing is the scent more than the sight.

Living on the rural oil lease, we were on a very large pastureland. From about age nine to twelve, my father had provided me with a small Paint pony. Never having a stall or catch pen to control him, I can remember having chased that pony all over the pasture, with bridle in hand, trying to hem him up and catch him. It sometimes seemed I chased that horse more than I rode him. I chased after him trying to coax him to me with a bucket of feed. Many times I was highly breathless from exhaustion; my legs hurt and my side pained severely. I kept hearing the words, “Quitters never win.”

Those were the times I had to ask myself, “Is it really worth it.?” You know, the answer was always “yes”, because never in my life have I been able to say a resounding, “I give up, or I quit.” Nor were those words ever found anywhere in my family’s vocabulary.

When I did successfully corral “Ole’ Paint”, getting that bridle on him made me mighty happy. I was ready to ride! And ride I did, soon making that horse wish he had never run from me. That probably only made him harder to catch the next time I wanted to ride.

If this all sounds like a wild and uncivilized upbringing, it very nearly was. I only began to experience some degree of modern civilization at about age 12 or 13 after my family moved up on the main road. There we had closer neighbors with children near my age.

You can find more about that in some of my other stories, right here at Texas Escapes.

© N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray"
January 1, 2009 Column
piddlinacres@consolidated.net
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