There were a couple of lilac trees that grew in front of the open space between our garage and the neighbor’s. That between space was like the portal to another dimension. Nothing grew in there except a few random weeds and some moss. Going from the lilac trees through the between space and exiting on the other side – you’d magically appear in the neighboring yards on the back of the block. This area was a great place for adventure.
Every year, those lilac trees would grow long tender suckers that needed to be trimmed or else the tree would dominate the driveway. I can’t remember if Dad ever did that but we certainly did. Harvesting those long fresh tender branches was key to our plans for neighborhood domination. You did not need a lot of fancy tools for this… maybe a pocket knife. Otherwise, you just snap them off. They make great poking devices. You should always have a decent poking device. Things need to be poked from time to time. Having a length of something between you and that thing being poked is always a good rule to follow. Once in a while those poked things bite or sting or spray or go inside to tell their mom.
Craftsmen that we were, we figured out how to make damn near lethal weapons out of those lilac sticks. Bows and arrows were both easy and awesome. All we really needed from the world of man was a handful of rubber bands. If you take your rubber bands and interlock them like this:
You can construct a string of rubber bands. Attach your ends to a springy section of fresh lilac branch and you, my friend, almost have a weapon of mass destruction. All you need now is some ammunition. Back to the lilac tree for arrows, if you please.
Once your weapon is constructed you should probably practice with it in your back yard. Empty paper cups on the picnic table shooting in a direction away from any other mammals is probably the best way to go. Unfortunately for us, we were not that clever. We were more clever.
Best thing to do with such a cool weapon is to actually get out there and use it. Hunt something. Since the buffalo had long since been almost eliminated, and since there were never any in Northwestern Illinois anyway, we’d have to find something else. We proceeded to stalk the neighborhood.
Mrs. Gribble died when she was 104 years old. Until the very last couple of years, she lived alone in her house which was down the street from me. She had a beautiful garden and tended it daily as well as her regular chore of hosing off and sweeping the sidewalks in front of and next to her house. I am not sure but I would guess that by the time we knew her, she was maybe just under 5 feet tall, kind of puny and of course, very old looking. At the time of the bows and arrows, she was probably in her late 80’s or early 90’s. She would do as a suitable replacement for the buffalo.
Her yard had a hedge that ran from front to back. Along the hedge was a pea gravel driveway. (this was the neighbor’s… the one where I wound up having a cat in my nose) There was maybe 10 or 12 feet between the hedge and a sidewalk that ran along her house. Between her house and the sidewalk, she had flowers. On this particular hunt, we came across the elusive Mrs. Gribble as she was on her knees tending her garden. She was facing away from us. She was wearing gloves and using a small shovel. Any reasonable and sporting hunter would probably allow his prey to know you were about to nail it. Give it a chance to flee instead of just giving it the sneak attack. Our hunting somehow suddenly turned into an Indian ambush. We drew back on the rubber band and let those lilac arrows fly. Since there was a distance to cover, we did have to compensate by shooting long and high. Away they went up into the air. It was like seeing it in slow motion. They went up, then the angle changed and they were on their way down. Direct hit on the first try. We had shot Mrs. Gribble square in the ass.
Now, when you startle a wild animal, there may be consequences. Often times, they will refuse to just lay down and die. In some cases, they begin to hunt YOU. Such was the case with Mrs. Gribble. Imagine our surprise when we discovered how fast a late 80’s or early 90’s little old lady can run when provoked. Down the block we ran. Surely we could outrun her. The view over our shoulder told us to keep moving and maybe try another tactic… like find a hideout. Luckily, one of the neighbors on the next block (yeah, we’re into the second block of the chase now) had a sunken driveway that went into their basement. This would be the place to hide. We lined up against the wall out of her view. She was still coming. She stopped along the sidewalk and we could hear her saying “I know who you are…”
Of course she did, she only lived four houses away.
She turned around and headed back up the block, still wearing gloves and holding the little shovel. I believe this was the last time we hunted Mrs. Gribble in such a way – but it would not be our last encounter.