Wild Childhood in the Woods
by N. Ray Maxie
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
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.
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
January 1, 2009 Column
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