The good fortune of growing up in a gang of little rascals

George Brown
By George Brown

This is the story I set out to write last week before getting sidetracked and writing a nonsensical yarn about a British Duke named Georgie Porgie. I promise I’ll stay on topic this week.

You remember the Little Rascals – Spanky, Buckwheat, Darla, Alfalfa, and the rest of the gang. I had the good fortune of growing up as a member of a gang of little rascals. Our gang included my older brother Tommy, my sister Kathy, and our three cousins Huey, Louie, and Dewey. Nah, I’m just kidding. Their names were Louie, Clovie, and Timmy, and when we were young they spent as much time at our house during the summer as they did their own. My earliest memories of our adventures date all the way back to the summer of 1949 when there were only five members of our gang because Timmy wasn’t born until Christmas Day that year.

Most of our antics were innocent enough, like playing tent with a huge blanket draped over the clothes line, or walking down the road a quarter mile to Alex Lepley’s house, a very nice old man who would give us apples and raisins every time we came to see him. It was safe for five little kids to walk that far without an adult because in 1949 you rarely saw a vehicle on Tobacco Road, the backcountry gravel road we lived on.

Speaking of tobacco, one of the mischievous acts that warranted the title little rascals was sneaking one of Mom’s Chesterfield cigarettes or a pinch of Dad’s Mail Pouch chewing tobacco to smoke and chew out behind the barn. Spitting was the most fun and always included a game of “who can spit highest on the side of the barn.”

We boys also played a game called “who can pee highest on the side of the barn,” which was usually played soon after having a big drink of water from the tin cup that hung on the pump in the backyard. Understandably, despite being a tomboy through and through, Kathy was not able to participate in this game, which she greatly resented.

Mom had strictly prohibited playing in the barn and for good reason. It was half falling down and groundhogs, raccoons, rats, and other critters had taken up residents where cows, hogs, and horses had once lived. For a long time we obeyed this prohibition, but one day after a chewing and spitting contest one of us, I don’t remember who, said, “Let’s look inside.”

This immediately fostered a discussion (as much of a discussion as five little kids can seriously have) about how much trouble we would get in if we got caught. In the end adventure of exploring inside outweighed the fear of getting caught, so in we went through a little square door on the back of the barn that must have once been the entrance for sheep or hogs.

We soon found ourselves standing in front of a wooden ladder that led to the haymow. Cautiously we climbed the latter with the youngest going first so the older rascals could catch them if they fell. Luckily no one fell. A large pile of hay had survived in the empty barn, and we had a great time jumping in and throwing it at each other. In doing so Louie discovered the haymow trapdoor. We all stopped and watched as he raised the door and took turns peering over the edge of the opening. A beam of sunlight from an open window lit the stall enough to see a large pile of hay right below the trapdoor.

Someone suggested it would be fun to jump, or drop, through the trapdoor into the pile of hay instead of climbing back down the ladder. I liked the idea and volunteered to be first, if Tommy and Louie would lower me as far as they could through the trapdoor, then drop me to land in the hay. They each got a good grip on my wrists and slowly lowered me through the opening until I was dangling above the hay. Just as they were about to let go I looked down and right there in the middle of the pile of hay was a huge blacksnake soaking up the sun shining through the open window.

“There’s a snake,” I shouted. But it was too late because at that same instant they let go of my wrists and down I went landing smack dab on top of the snake. I rolled off the pile of hay then looked back at where I had fallen. The snake, which was black, long, and fat, hadn’t moved. Apparently one of my feet had landed squarely on his head. Maybe he was dead.

Now I know this may seem hard to believe, being that I was such a little fellow at the time, but as the others members of the gang knelt in a circle around the trapdoor and peered down at the scene unfolding before them, I looked around for something to hit the snake with. There wasn’t a single thing to use, but I spotted an old burlap sack in one corner of the stall so I grabbed it, crawled over to the snake, then grabbed him by the head and shoved him into the burlap sack.

The snake was safely in the sack, but now I could feel him wiggling around so I twisted the top of the sack and hung on tight. Meanwhile the other kids had climbed down the ladder to have a look. We remembered that Dad had told us, “Never kill a blacksnake,” and since this one was black we decided the right thing to do would be to take it back in the woods and turn it loose. The sack was so heavy I could barely lift it so Tommy and Louie took turns carrying it until we were way back in the woods. They laid the sack down and we all stepped back and watched as the snake slithered out of the bag and under a nearby log.

We didn’t tell Mom about the snake because that would have required telling her we had been in the barn, but it really didn’t matter because after that we didn’t have any interest in the barn except to use the back wall for our peeing and spitting contests.

George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.