Sound the Alarm
I'll do one more Noel escapade before I move on, if only to further illustrate that any thought JT might have had that somehow, Noel was an “innocent,” was hopelessly naïve. This incident is helpful from the standpoint of getting a picture of the layout of the back lot at Fellowship Street, and how we were able to navigate the sea of obstacles in the dark, in order to stay alive. If that sounds a little dramatic, then I can only say that you never met Jim White.
Neither had we, formally met him I mean. In 1963 Jim lived five houses up the street, and was old enough to drive a car. He had never been part of the neighborhood games, preferring instead to tinker endlessly on a series of jalopies which graced the front lawn (or dirt, as the case was) of the relatively new tract home. The only sounds that seemed to emerge from the premises, included the clink of wrenches, a steady, spirited stream of colorful, foul language, and the sound of laughter. He also smoked cigarettes, which wasn't impressive in and of itself, so much as it implied that he smoked with the knowledge and consent of his parents. That was a hard concept to get a handle on.
So, even though we had never met him, we knew who he was, and if he'd have stuck to driving the same car for more than a few months at a time, we would never have thrown that orange at the car he was driving. As it was, we did throw that orange, and it did precipitate an extraordinary series of events. Where did we get the oranges? They came off of a single orange tree in the side yard, which, along with a lemon tree, farther back, provided a regular supply of fresh citrus fruit for the household. We made good use of the lemons, because sugar and ice were cheap, and we could go through a half gallon of iced, cold lemonade, faster than Maury Wills could steal second base. The oranges were a different story, however, being thin-skinned, impossible to peel, and generally speaking, undesirable for consumption.
On the other hand, they were the ideal choice for a bit of night-time entertainment, which consisted of us breaking the skin of the oranges, sucking all the juice out, working the oranges about in our hands to soften them, and then heaving them at vehicles that passed our house, and waiting for a reaction. There were several rules that we followed which began with the premise that we were not interested in either damaging the vehicle, nor in distracting the driver into causing some sort of mishap. That's why we softened the oranges up, so as to produce a more muffled thump, rather than a sharp crack. Not distracting the driver meant that we avoided open windows, and kept our aim directed low on the side of the vehicle. We made sure that the vehicle was past us, so that if it stopped, we would have the advantage of a head start, though we never honestly thought that it would amount to anything more than someone standing there shouting something unprintable out to us.
Which is how it came about that Noel and I didn't recognize Jim's car, as we both heaved our respective oranges simultaneously, and were delighted to hear the immediate thump-thump as the two oranges made contact with the intended target. We were poised for flight, off to the side of the cement water tank, which was situated in the empty lot on the one side of our house, close to the street. Our only plan was to remain hidden, figuring that there was little anyone could do in the dark, to rattle our chains.
So when Jim slammed on the brakes, stopping the car in the middle of the street, and both front doors sprang open, we were momentarily frozen, the way a pair of rabbits might freeze, upon hearing the rattle of a diamondback. That approach did not last long because both Jim and his passenger came barreling out of the car hollering up a storm, and more pressing was the fact that they were blindly racing in our direction, screaming obscenities at us, mixed in with threats of bodily harm that were very specific, and very scary.
We did what came naturally, sprinting directly into the depths of the empty lot, straight to the back wall which we scaled after barely slowing down, vaulting over the wall to stand huddled in the back corner barely allowing ourselves to breathe, for fear of revealing our hiding place. This lasted all of about three seconds, as we were terrified to suddenly hear what could only be a large dog charging in our direction from the front of the property into which we had ventured. Not even bothering to waste energy barking, it was content to let out a continuous, menacing growl, as it charged directly at us. None of the players in this action/drama had flashlights, and there was no moon yet, so trying to move around, without running into one of the pecan or persimmon trees that lined the back of our lot, was a pressing concern.
Allow me to assure you, we were moving, fast. After springing back over the wall, making enough noise to instantly sound the alarm to Jim and his partner, we raced along the back of our lot, with our pursuers hot on our trail. There was no doubt that these boys were motivated, and they had much longer legs than we did. Fear was a better motivator, though, plus knowledge of the terrain made up for the difference in our rate of speed. We had to get through the berry gardens, and into the Tranbargers' back lot, if we were to have any chance of getting out of this in one piece.
Of course, there was a way to get through the berry gardens; there had to be so that every time the baseball ended up over there, we would be able to retrieve it. Or the football, or the rubber-band-propelled model airplanes, or the kites, or the home-made arrows, fired out of crude bows with little accuracy, or any of the other missiles which ended up in our patient neighbors' back yard.
Just now, had our two elderly neighbors happened to be watching out a window, they would have seen two boys catapulting over/through the berry gardens, not pausing one blink of an eye to worry about scratches, scrapes, cuts, bruises, or thorns. We had lots of time to deal with those rather minor considerations. Our thought process was one and the same: if we could make it to the back of Tranbagers' lot, which ran all the way out to Maplegrove Street, we could hide up in the top of the avocado trees that grew in a clump towards the back of the property. Though racing part way under the trees was going to kick up a ruckus in the form of the generations of crackling, dead leaves built up under the trees, we just figured that we were going to make the noise whether we ran through the trees to Maplegrove Street, or whether we each snagged a separate tree, and skinnied up as far as we dared.
Except for the pounding of my heart, the only thing I could hear was the scuffling of leaves down below, as Jim and his buddy scoured the area, under which we perched. They didn't know if we had run or hidden, but threats and the willingness to chase us had gotten them close to their goal, and they weren't ready to give up until they knew we were beyond reach. I think Jim was also thinking about his abandoned car out on Fellowship Street. His reputation would keep the car unmolested for a certain period of time, but even that time had a short shelf life.
Every minute or so, Jim would bellow out, “Hey you little punks, when I find you, I'm going to pound you.” He didn't even need to specify exactly what he would do, because we could figure that out on our own. Eventually they got tired of shuffling around in the dark, hollering out threats in the silent night, when they couldn't be sure that we hadn't simply continued on through Tranbargers' yard to Maplegrove Street, where we could have evaporated in any of several directions. As it was, as long as we didn't make a sound, we were golden. Actually, even if one of us sneezed, at that point, short of splitting up, and having one go back for a flashlight, there was no way they could pin down our location, and thereby carry out their threats.
I'd like to be able to say that we learned our lesson, and that we never played this game again, and we did curtail activities for a few days, but we soon got over our fear based mainly on the ingenuity with which we had eluded our pursuers. We also took to keeping track of what kind of car Jim was driving, so that we could never make that mistake again.