It was nearing summer. We lived in Clear Lake, Florida. Our brick, one floor rental house was right next to a huge lake. Across the lake was a plantation with peacocks strutting all over the lawn. Dad could make a perfect peacock cry. He’d go outside at twilight, make the sound & peacocks would fly over the lake & land in our yard. The owner finally caught on & told Dad in no uncertain terms to “cease & desist.” Dad laughed over that at parties for years.
The neighbor kids were friendly. I climbed trees with the girl from next door.
There was a bomb shelter on our property! The landlord gave us a guided tour of it. “Only for real emergencies. If JFK does attack Cuba, the Russians will bomb Florida first.”
That was scary & exciting! Mom got us kids to help lug boxes full of canned goods to the shelter. She placed each tin neatly on the metal shelves.
“Can we sleep here?” Bob asked.
“No, you may not. This is for disasters only.”
“Dang!” I sighed, flopping onto one of the military-style bunk beds.
Kathi & I carried gallons of water to be stored in the shelter. It was ready for action! I’d lie in bed at night, rehearsing how to Run to open the heavy cement shelter door if an atom bomb hit. That was insomnia-inducing.
Kathi got into trouble at her school. The teacher was leading a “duck & cover” drill.
“Crouch under your desks & cover your heads with your hands.”
“How is That supposed to save us?” my second grade sister spoke aloud.
“Get to the principal’s office!”
Mom & Dad agreed with Kathi but told her to act more respectful to teachers from there on out.
Everyone was tense at the Bay of Pigs time. I knew Bay of Pigs meant Cuba but I pictured a herd of hogs swimming from Cuba to Florida. That made me laugh when I was supposed to be sleeping. My laughter often woke Kathi up.
“What now?” She’d ask. “Nothing, go back to sleep.”
But I’d be snickering under my breath & have to tell her. Then she’d start giggling.
The landlord’s guided tour of his bomb shelter got Bob thinking. He blasted into my bedroom one Saturday, talking full tilt.
“OK, girl but your book down! Here’s the deal!”
“What? I’m Reading.” I lay “To Kill a Mockingbird” on my bed & glared at him.
“We’ll be going up to visit Grandma & the cousins next week. Let’s do a safari but with witches!”
“There’s no such thing as a witch safari, goofy.”
“I know but I have a plan. I’ll be the safari leader. We’ll get all the cousins to follow me on the trail that goes through the palmetto forest to the old drive-in.”
“As we go, I’ll yell out stuff like ‘Look! A monkey!’ You’ll be last, way behind Kathi. You do monkey sounds. Or if I say ‘An Owl!’ you hoot through your hands like you can do.”
I put my hands together & blew, as a boy had taught me to do in the 5th grade. It did sound like an owl.
“Perfect! And as soon as we get to Grandma’s, I’ll go down to Collins’ drug store & buy some Kool Pops.”
“Kool Pops? What for?”
“To put up in that hollow tree. Pirate Treasure.”
“Pirates with Witches?” But I thought about the tree where Boo Radley hid notes. It might be a plan.
“Witches & Pirates are outlaws, they’d get together, girl.”
I pondered. It sounded fun. But: “How can we keep the popsicles from melting?”
“Get ice out of Grandma’s Frigidaire, fool. I’ll go first thing in the morning & set it all up. You make voodoo dolls to hang in the trees. And signs! With skulls. No writing, they’d recognize your writing.”
“How am I going to make voodoo dolls?”
“Out of Spanish moss–for the hair. I don’t know, figure it out. I came up with this whole danged idea. Can’t you do Anything? And don’t tell Kathi. She’d tattle to Mom.”
“Well, OK. I can probably get yarn from Mama & wrap it around to make dolls.”
“Deal?!” My brother was super excited. He slammed his arm onto his chest like a Roman soldier. I stood up & did the same. Fealty!
Dad put Bob’s & Kathi’s bikes into the truck of the Bonneville. I could never balance on a bicycle, so there was room in the trunk for presents & the big brown suitcase. When we got to Hinesville, Bob helped Dad unload the car.
I went inside to hug Miz Bonnie. She was crying over something on TV. “What’s wrong, Grandma?” She wailed.
“It’s just her stories.” Dad said. “Soap Operas.”
Bob immediately took off on his bike. Kathi & I went to the huge, saggy bed in the girls’ bedroom & lay down to read comic books Uncle Jack left in the house when he married Aunt Inez.
Inez was a gorgeous half Cherokee woman. Jack had been in love with her all his life but she married someone else. Every time a friend asked, “Jack, when are you going to settle down & get married?” he’d say “I’m waiting for Inez.” Her husband was tragically killed in a car wreck. So after a time of grieving, she married my fun uncle. She brought three children into the new marriage. Then they had a baby, Jay-Bird.
We grew up visiting Dad’s family at Easter & Christmas & during Dad’s summer breaks, whenever we lived close enough to get to Hinesville in less than 4 days. Dad & Mom went to visit with Jack & Inez. They’d bring the cousins over later.
We’d all set down to dinner at our Great Aunt’s & Uncle’s house: Miz Tempie & Uncle Edward. When Mom & Dad drove away, Bob & I dashed out to the trail. I hung 15 tiny voodoo dolls in trees. They were made of yarn twisted around twigs. Smaller twigs were arms & legs. The hair was Spanish Moss. I’d hidden them in the box my patent leather shoes came in. Mom would kill me if she found out I’d put those fancy shoes under my bed. Dust would get on them!
Bob unrolled signs I’d painted, wrapping the rubber bands around his wrist.
“Cool! Dixie, excellent!” My brother was born enthusiastic.
Leering skulls with worms crawling out of the eye sockets decorated 3 signs. I’d used Dad’s black & red permanent magic markers in case of rain. Bob nailed the signs up onto trees along the pathway. Then he put a bag of ice into the hole of the big old oak. On top, he set the box full of Kool Pops.
We dashed back to Grandma’s. Dad’s & Uncle Jacks cars were pulling up the gravel driveway! We ran over to greet our cousins.
“Hey, guys!” Bob enticed, “Wanna walk over to the old drive-in?”
“Oh, Lordie no. it’s So hot!” Debbie complained.
“Just a short walk. We were in the car all day long! We gotta get some exercise.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Then get supper at Miz Tempie’s. Iced tea & all!”
“OK, let’s go.” Rusty agreed with anything Bob said. They were close in age, like Debbie & me, Kim & Kathi. Jay-Bird was the wild card.
Bob announced at the start of the trail. “I am the Safari Leader. Beware that you might hear wild animals. But do not fear! I have a big stick.” He picked up a tree limb he’d laid there after we’d set up the Witch Trail.
“This is the Witch Trail,” my brother whispered.
“I never heard of that,” Debbie looked all around for witches.
“C’mon scairdy cat,” Rusty insisted. We all followed Bob.
I lagged behind as he’d commanded.
“Look! A Monkey!” I did my best monkey call, based on Tarzan movies & a monkey that lived in a gift shop in Clearmont, Florida where we’d lived a few years back.
“Where? I don’t see it.” The other kids looked all around but didn’t notice it was me making the sound effects.
“What’s This!” Bob grabbed a voodoo doll out of one tree & threw it over his head.
“AAA!” Screamed Kim & Debbie.
“Witch doll,” Bob whispered. Stay quiet. They must be nearby.” He crept along, hunched down & we all followed suit.
“What’s that?” Debbie pointed at one of my skull & crossbones signs.
I put my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing. My little sister turned & saw me. I zipped my mouth ‘quiet’ to get her in on it. She scowled. Wise to our trickiness. I bent over & whispered in her ear.
“Kathi, there’s going to be a prize so Please don’t tell.” She nodded, still frowning.
“Now we are in Owl Territory!” Bob announced.
I put my hands together & blew the soft hoot.
“Lordie! Owls claw!” Debbie shrieked.
“They ought not to be out in th’ day,” Rusty was suspicious. He knew Bob was a Trickster.
Bob hacked his way through a huge stand of palmettos with his big stick. He shoved a hand into the oak tree’s hole.
“Bobby! NO! It could be an owl up in there!” all the girl cousins hollered.
“What IS this?” my brother pulled out the box of Kool Pops. “Look you guys. Popsicles.”
We all ran toward our Safari Leader. “What color do you want?”
“Red!” “Orange!” “Purple!”
“The pirates left treasure for us. Now we must turn back for supper.” Bob marched down the trail to take the lead. We all followed. By the time we got back to Miz Bonnie’s, each of us was covered with popsicle coloring, face, hands, shirts soaked in the melted syrup. We crowded over the kitchen & bathroom sinks, trying to get clean before our parents saw us.
23 years later, Mom & Dad came back from a visit to Georgia. Dad called me & said “What the hell was that Witch Trail?”
“Oh, that was one of Bob’s big ideas.” I laughed.
“You people scared the living hell out of Debbie & them.”
“Dad, they knew it was us. It was goofy. We had popsicles in a tree.”
“Debbie said they believed there were witches down there. So they never went on that trail again. I don’t know what gets into you sometimes.”
Of course, it was all me. Bob was the Navy Hero. I was shocked. Bob & I loved telling stories but we surely did not want to scar anyone for life!