Life with Buck

February 13th, 2017

Life with Buck


We did a lot of walking.  We walked to town, about three or four blocks away from our house.  We walked to the movies; we walked to the dentist’s office; we walked to the grocery store; wwe walked to school.

If we walked west, out Prairie Avenue, the street we lived on, we’d get to its end in about a mile, where it ran into Wolf Road, and across Wolf Road there was farmland, truck farms established in the 19th Century by German immigrants who found the  rich, black loamy soil perfect.  But we’d make a turn to the right.

There was some industry out  to the north on Wolf Road.  And where there was some industry, there were also empty fields, large overgrown tracts between the factory buildings.  It was there that Buck was in his heaven, where the land was teeming with insects, with snakes, pocked by small ponds that held any number of wondrous snails, tadpoles, squirmy swimmy things.

One place we should not have been was the fields surrounding a ceramics factory.  These were industrial ceramics with special chemical formulations to resist weather and corrosion.  There was a pool in the middle of one of the fields, with water blue as any water you’ve ever seen — even bluer, because the water was not reflecting the color of the sky, but rather was itself imbued with a rich royal blue, a solid color, opaque so you could not see anything within it; there may have been nothing living in it at all.  In short, it was a waste chemical dump.  The fence around the field should have kept us from getting anywhere near, but we knew how to outsmart any fence.  There were also piles of strange, round white stones; if you dropped one of these stones onto a pavement, they would bounce back, as if made of some especially hard rubber.  No doubt these were some residue from the making of ceramics, and also no doubt also toxic.

Away from the pond, though, Bucky was in his element: there were snakes, and caterpillars, and moths, and ground squirrels, and bugs galore.  I stood, scratching myself from bug bites, as Buck joyfully poked into every hole and burrow.

Buck was never loathe to muck about with living things.  He always had some insect in a jar, and also perhaps a snake around his neck or down the front of his shirt;  If you ever needed to have a fish hook baited, he was the happy to scale and gut your catch, and would want to bring any size prize home to be cooked and eaten.  One day that turned out to be horrible, in my opinion, the neighborhood boys got together and decided it would be fun to catch and kill one of the numerous garden rabbits in the neighborhood. Screaming and shouting, with bows and target arrows we focused on one victim, chasing it down from one backyard to another, until we finally cornered it where it lay in a state of exhaustion.  Terrified creature let out a horrific scream as we shot it again and again with our target arrows (have you ever heard a rabbit scream?  It sounds like a baby’s cry) until the poor thing it finally died.

The whole thing made me sick, physically and in spirit; but not Buck!  No, Buck had to eat it!  Proudly he took it home, and cajoled Mom into agreeing to cook it, if he would skin and clean it, which he did with abandon. She ended up frying it as she would a chicken.  Buck ate it.  He was the only one who could stomach the thought.

Buck thought it was great sport to force others — those smaller or weaker than he — to eat fried ants, grasshoppers  and guava worms (caterpillars), which could be purchased at the local  novelty shop.  He pretended they were a great treat; maybe they were, to him.

If you followed the railroad tracks, which ran just two blocks from our house, to the right, which was north, far enough, you’d be crossing a  railroad trestle that passed over a highway.  The highway dipped to go under that bridge, and at the bottom of the dip the two-lane road made a sharp turn to the left.  Suicide Bridge everyone called it.

The trestle itself, far above the highway, was an open latticework of railroad ties, through which you could peer down to the roadway below.  It was rather a long bridge, as three different rail lines crossed in the middle (Northwest, Sioux and Belt lines).

I was terrified, crossing that bridge; where Buck would calmly walk, or even run, across the railroad ties, I couldn’t help feeling the immediate pull of the ground below, sucking at me, trying to force me to fall to my death..  I would crawl painstakingly along, inch by inch.  A train could always have come along at any moment.  Buck teased me about my fear, and loved to taunt me with the threat of an approaching train (one never came, but…).   I have always had an inordinate fear of heights, still do, and that always made a ripe target.for an older and larger sibling.

I don’t want to give the impression that life with Buck was all agony torture.  Many bright spots shine out in my memories.  Times in the sunshine when I could enjoy the flowering weeds, the feel of the sun on my skin and the warm breeze on my neck, as Buck was mucking about with bugs.  Quiet times, when the sunlight was flashing from the water pouring over the low dam in the river, where Buck was trolling for crawfish and I let my feet dangle in the warm water.  Hours spent in the evening listening to The Lone Ranger, Mister District Attorney, and The Green Hornet on the floor-standing console radio in the sitting room, the doors to the rest of the house shut and the two of us together but alone, each in his own imagination.

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