Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fear for the Deer

My childhood was fantastic. Really. The more years that collect between then and now, the more I realize that I had an ideal environment for a child to grow up in. I think a child should spend more time in the worlds of their imagination than they do in reality during certain years. I know that I did. I know that many of you are thinking, "Well, that explains a lot..." which is the same response I get when I tell people I was home schooled. Sigh. Maybe it does explain a lot about me. But I like who I am, so that's okay.

One of the unique things about my childhood was that I played with my cousins far more than any other children. My cousins were my best friends. We played weird games. I don't even think I could really expound on them here without the permission of a couple of my cousins. Not strange, creepy or gross, just different. Awesome games. All the "little kids" were jealous. I tried to get my new "city" friends to play similar pretend games when I moved away from my cousins to Utah, and they thought I was a crazy one. But whatever.

We had our own little club. And we all had our place in it. Not officially, of course. All groups create a certain dynamic and people naturally fall into roles.

Brittany was the mature one, who made sure our games didn't get too "stupid." Brittany always came up with the cool names, painted the big picture for us so we knew just how "cool" our game was. Of course, it wasn't a game to us. It was more real than all the other every day stuff we had to do when we couldn't be together. When we weren't actually playing it, we were planning and creating so that we could play it even better the next time we got together. I think my cousins would agree that we all walked around as though we had some greater calling, a secret identity that was who we really were that we were simply forced to suppress most of the time. So,  Brittany, kept us grounded. Not in reality, but kept our fantasy a little bit closer to the ground.

 Aspen was the wild one who blasted any boundaries we thought we had to smithereens. Her defiance of "The Parents" was awe-inspiring at times. With a gleam in her eye, she would say, "Hey guys..." and out would come the most brilliant and terrifying idea ever. I never let on, but most of the time I was thinking, "Uh, no." This was either because it was too definitely against the rules and I was scared of the trouble we would be in, or because I thought it would get me too wet or filthy or  require me to spend too much time in the dark (which was my kryptonite in all make-believe adventures) or involved ingesting something that I knew I couldn't survive. I always gaped at her hoping my fear looked more like excitement and said, "Yeeeeaaahh!" And we would do it. Most of the time, they turned out to be the craziest and most memorable moments of my young life. And somehow, we never died.

Ely was the all-knowing, all-powerful one. I believed for way too many years that he knew everything. I never questioned anything he said. He spoke with such authority and confidence that I simply had no doubt that he knew exactly what he was talking about. He did know a lot. But mostly he had this incredibly creative and logical brain that would churn out theories that sounded entirely legitimate. I bet half the time he made up stuff, he was much closer to being right than most little kids. 

And here at last is the main story of this post. The deer. I can see this moment so clearly in my head. Ely and I were on the well-beaten dirt path to the creek on Grandma's property in Pocatello, ID. Trotting down the path brushing our fingers over the tops of the tall grasses in her field must have inspired a teaching moment in Ely. He stopped dead, whipped around and said, "Hey, Kathy check this out." Magic words coming from Ely. I knew something super cool was coming. Even if I didn't see the coolness factor initially, I knew it was only due to my ignorance and that Ely would educate me.

Ely snapped off one of the grass tops and gave me a significant look. I leaned closer.

He held the grass top up and squinted at it. "See this? See these little barbs? If you rub your fingers up it, it's smooth. If you rub it down though, its like sticky. See?" I  tested his information. Sure enough, my fingers got caught on the way down.

Ely put the grass on the arm of my shirt, "Now check this out." He slowly rubbed the grass with his fingertip and to my surprise, it crawled up my arm! Ely was so cool. My belief that he knew everything was cemented forever. I thought that this was the end of the lesson, so I happily applied my new knowledge and made the grass crawl up my sleeve again and again. But Ely wasn't finished.

"Did you know that's how it kills deer?" he said, grabbing a hunk of the innocent looking grass beside us in a fist as though it were a snake about to strike. He glared at it for effect while I gaped at him.

"Really?" I breathed.

"Yeah. Did you see how that climbed up your shirt? Well, it does the same thing to the deer." I pictured the grass crawling up the deer's legs, but I couldn't see how this could lead to fatality, so I waited for more.

Ely's eyes got wider and his voice dropped, "They eat it and the grass sticks in their gums. Then slowly, slowly it moves up through their gums until it gets to their brains. And then it starts to grow in there. Then one day, they drop down dead." He smacked his hands together for dramatic finish.

This was too much even for my faith. Skepticism crept in. "Nuh uh. . ."

"Yes, it happens, Kathy!" Then he offered the final blow. "I would tell your mom if I were you before your horses eat it." He knew that we planned to bring our horses on our next visit for a couple of days.

All doubt was blasted away by panic. I must have started to wring my hands and whine incoherently because I remember that Ely tried to herd me down the trail to the creek, perhaps hoping that our original reason for coming would help me forget my distress. The urgency, however, was unrelenting. I told my mother the moment I saw her about the dangers facing our horses when we brought them to Grandma's house. I think she laughed and said, "No honey, that grass can't kill horses."

"But Ely said. . .!"

Despite my warning, we pastured our horses at Grandma's house for a weekend. I knew that they would appear fine and healthy until the grass had time to fill their brains, so they would probably drop dead when we got them back home.

They never did, of course. Somehow though, I steadfastly believed Ely's every word for years to come. That's how convincing he was.

I still believe my cousin Ely knows almost everything. And he is still really, really cool.


  1. Lol, I was almost in tears reading this little sister! You have my permission to expound on our "adventures" if you feel like it.

  2. Um... I still thought that that grass did that to deers...

  3. Kathy, I'm totally serious when I say you should write book and call it Mountain Boys or something and get as famous as Ralph Moody with his Little Britches books. :) I was riveted to that story being an outsider and not a true Mountain Boy myself.

  4. Kathryn, Jenetta is right. You have a gift for expressing and sharing a story. Such a book would bless lives.