The Trees, Chinee & Me
The early 1960‟s were a little more sophisticated than the 50’s; a little less naive, a bit more idealistic, but still full of morality, conventionality, and hardworking ethics. It was a time of hope and determinate objectivity, when almost everyone felt a sense of possibility.
No where was this felt more keenly than in the hallowed halls of Wiergate High School. That citadel of education, that stronghold of mores. The defenders of that hope were the selfless members of staff at this, The Home of the Panthers, dutifully led by Principal, Mr. Artie Brailsford, and Mr. David Snell, Coach, Ag teacher and occasional Bus Driver, if needed. These two virtuous men aimed primarily to keep the flame of hope lit. And “lit” you would be were you ever caught outside the bounds of what they deemed fitting of young people under their tutelage.
It was during these times when someone, somewhere decided that our idle hands and minds would culminate in Satan serving us up as dessert on his lunch tray. Therefore, it was decreed that young men be kept engaged, not only during the hours in the custodial care of the school’s staff but afterwards as well and it appeared that the “someone” had the full blessing of not only Messieurs Brailsford and Snell but the parents, it would seem, as well.
Although we attended school in the township of Wiergate, we actually lived within the community of Shankleville.
(Google that name to find the love story of all love stories).
This community offered a world of rich history, three churches, C.M.E. (Christian Methodist Episcopal, Church of God and Baptist), two cemeteries, about thirty families and absolutely nothing else. Everyone knew everyone and if the person standing next to you was not related to you then the person standing next to him was a cousin to you both.
There was little to give flight to a young man‟s fancy there in Shankleville. Many an evening was spent by these young men mimicking the nocturnal call of the forlorn sounding Whippoorwill. Lazy afternoons might find them challenging each other to a fast swim across a pond guarded enthusiastically by water moccasins and rattlers or less exciting to be sure, filching pears and plums from neighboring farms. So, it was armed with this knowledge of the possible summertime redundancy for these young men, when the guardians of unguarded minds bent to keep idleness at bay by forcing or I should say, forcibly encouraging Mr. Snell to instruct every young man under his guidance, to plant five thousand pine trees each. That was five thousand trees EACH. I didn‟t understand it as a curious but silent six year old nor do I now all these many decades later, (never mind how many decades), why would anyone with even a modicum of foresight, insist on planting more than fifty thousand trees in a small area within the Piney Woods of East Texas, where one would find it extremely difficult if not impossible, to fall forward and not scrape pine bark off the nearest tree as one fell. As a matter of fact it was more likely that you would fall and never hit the ground, so thick were the trees. But planting it would be or lose a semester grade. Some of the young men thoughts leaned more toward accepting the loss of a grade rather than toil in the vapid, dense humidity of a Gulf Coast summer. Chinee chose to plant and after what seemed like hours and hours of pleading to be allowed to help, he finally acquiesced. Isn‟t it funny how older siblings are so adept at getting you to plead with them to allow you to do something of which they wanted you to do all along and then be gracious enough as to allow you to thank them for going through the trouble? (I had to wait years to try this handy little tool on unsuspecting nieces and nephews. I was never as good at using it as Chinee had been). And so, the planting began, hour after hour, day after day and week after week. On our knees and all fours, using our index and middle fingers to bore into the soft red earth, we gently planted one sapling at a time and replaced the soil by mounding it ever so slightly for support. It took four full weeks from start to finish. Mother even threatened to bill the school for the knee patches she would need to mend the holes in our britches. Five thousand trees in four weeks, but what a wonderful month it was, just the Trees, Chinee and me! He told me so much about his outlook on life and he taught me things of which I would have never learned otherwise; things like what a line of scrimmage was. (Of course we talked football, it was Texas after all). I learned the meaning of 1ST and 10, off sides, quarterback sneak, pass interference, blitz, screen pass, safeties, formation, and a kick return, man in motion, fumble, illegal formation, offense and defense. He drilled me on positions like quarterback, pass defender, tight-end, wide receiver, special team, fullback, halfback, defensive back, corner back and hurry back! Chinee taught me every possible pass play and running play in that little book he carried everywhere, along with defensive and offensive moves. I learned every player and position on the field. There was just one thing that I did not learn while we served as the Prince and Princess of our tiny Kingdom of Pines and that was…
…HOW TO PLAY FOOTBALL!