I do not believe that it would be right or historically accurate for me to share memories of my childhood without including some of the naughty, dastardly deeds that I either perpetrated individually or those I was a participant in. Like many of the youth in Newtown, I was a somewhat mischievous little rascal often found embroiled in many acts of defiance and rebellion. The following accounts are but a few of them.
The Raid on Mrs. Cora’s Strawberry Patch
My earliest memory of being involved in a misdeed happened when I was around five years of age. Mrs. Cora, our next-door neighbor, had a strawberry patch, and we longed for some of those juicy strawberries that her grandchildren would feast upon. I would see them eating them and imagine how they would taste in my mouth. Some of her grandchildren had a way of taunting us by the way they ate them. They would eat them and look at us with a grin that said, “I know you want some, but you can’t have any! Ha-ha!” I want to believe that Mrs. Cora, who as a Christian woman, probably gave us some, but I just don’t remember. However, I do remember the night that two of my brothers and I raided that patch. It was pitch dark, and we sneaked into the field where the patch was located. This was the first time I was involved in something like this, so I was extremely scared that we would get caught. If we were caught, we knew what that meant. Our father would skin us alive. But this time the prospect of getting some of those juicy strawberries outweighed the fear of getting caught. So like thieves in the night, we came upon this patch of forbidden fruit. There was not much light except the glow of the moon, the stars, and the hundreds of lightning bugs that blinked in the night like bulbs on a Christmas tree. There was no detection of our sneaky invasion, just some minor opposition and annoyance from hungry mosquitoes who feasted on our blood while we feasted on Mrs. Cora’s strawberries. The exchange was well worth it. I had not eaten many strawberries until that night. They were a delicacy and rarity in our house. The next day brought the discovery that someone had raided Mrs. Cora’s strawberry patch. As word got out and inquiries were made, we remained silent and acted ignorant and innocent. We were not about to admit guilt or own up to doing it. It was wrong, but the fear of being whipped kept us from confessing. Though I had escaped the penalty of the belt, my conscience would not elude the lashing of feeling guilty every time I would see or talk with Mrs. Cora. By the way, almost everybody laid the blame on Toot and Sam. They had a record of doing such devilish things. We, the Goings brothers, knew better. We knew who the real rascals were.
Legend has it that the term “Peeping Tom” was originally given to a citizen of the town of Coventry, England, named Tom, who peered through a peephole at Lady Godiva as she passed by naked upon horseback. One version of the story states that she had been sentenced by the authorities to this act of utter shame and humiliation for her role in aiding the peasantry. Nevertheless, they had agreed unanimously that no one would look or peep at her when she made her degrading ride. Out of curiosity and a lack of discipline and restraint, citizen Tom peeped at her, and they burned out his eyes as penalty for his betrayal. Thus, the term Peeping Tom was born and thereafter applied to anyone who dared to look at forbidden things. In New Town, there was a fellow (whose last name just happened to be Thomas) who was the epitome of a Peeping Tom. As a matter of fact, I caught him peeping through our window in my parents’ room. I discovered later that there was a hole in the curtain that he could look through. I caught him in the act on one Saturday night. Evidently he had grown accustomed to watching my Mama bathe. On this particular night I just happened to be outside and turned near that window (from the outside), and there he was, peeping and looking. When he saw me, he held his index finger to his mouth and motioned me to be quiet. I was young and very gullible. I did not fully perceive that he was violating my mama’s privacy and swearing me to secrecy. So I told no one of the night I caught this Peeping Tom red-handed, but the memory lingered. Eventually we would follow old, sneaky Snook into the intrusive and immoral practice of peeping. He came over to our house one afternoon and said, “Come on, y’all, and follow me. There’s something I want to show y’all.” We did not know what the mystery was or what was awaiting us as he led us to the other side of his grandmother’s house, where there were trees and bushes in which to hide. In his usual sneaky way Snook signaled us to be quiet as we tiptoed toward a bedroom window near the front of the house. The window was raised, and there were two old people, a man and a woman lying on the bed and making out. Snook took the first peep and allow us to follow as we eagerly waited for our turns. When my turn finally came, I got up on a bucket and got an eyeful. It would not be the last of my exploits and experiences as a Peeping Tom. I had now been initiated and trained by an expert and would delve deeper into this forbidden practice. I would go on to watch my oldest brother labor and sweat profusely while he was making out with Zule and, on another occasion, with our own cousin. I would be a part of the gang of Peeping Toms led by Snook, who would make many attempts to peep at certain neighborhood girls and especially a young woman named Mrs. Carrie. We would all eventually outgrow this despicable practice, but we persisted for some time. In our woeful ignorance we were totally illicit and illegal.
The Day I Almost Set the Woods on Fire and Blamed Some Fictitious White Boys
Like many children growing up, I was always fascinated by matches and fire. There was something about flame that intrigued me. I could sit and stare for long periods of time at logs burning on the fireplace we had in the back bedroom where we (the boys) slept. It would be this fascination with fire that would get me in trouble and lead to a near disaster. One day when I around the age of eight, I wandered away. Everyone else was busy playing marbles and a few other games. I was always a lousy marble player and never learned how to shoot with my thumb. I could only shoot the marble into the “pot,” as we called it, by pinching it with my thumb and index finger. There was a straw field right by the edge of the woods near our house, and it was there I had strayed. I had taken a box of stick matches with me and found a comfortable spot to hide and play. I settled down and resumed the ongoing epic saga of “the match men v. straw men” battle that I played out in my mind (as I will share in greater detail in a later chapter). I do not remember exactly what it was that motivated me to strike some of the matches, but I did. Things happened so fast that before I could stop or contain it, I had started a fire in the straw field! It was spreading swiftly, heading for the edge of the woods. The wind got in it, and I could not stop it. In desperation, I quickly ran to where my older brothers and the other boys were and told them a lie. “Some white boys set the straw field on fire!” I shouted in panic. “I saw them as they ran away!” I continued my fabrication, struggling to sound convincing. I was serious … and petrified! Everyone immediately stopped what they were doing and got some sacks and old clothes, wet them down, and ran to try to prevent the fire from reaching into the forest. Through frantic teamwork and much effort, we were finally able to get it under control. I learned my lesson from that nearly disastrous incident and never played with matches again in that way (though I would continue to employ them as fictitious people in the war that would continue to take place in my mind for some time to come). As for the fictitious white boys, since they never really existed, there was no harm on their part. And as for me, they had saved me from yet another horrible whipping.
The Torture and Drowning of a Poor Stray Dog
When I was growing up in Newtown on Lucius Road, it was very common for people to release unwanted dogs on our street or in our neighborhood. Though some of these dogs we would adopt as our pets, others we would run off as soon as we could. A stray dog took up at the Peppers’ house one day. They tried everything that they knew to do to drive it away, but it would not leave. They even tried taking him far down Lucius Road more than a mile away, but he came back. I do not know how I got involved in this ordeal. Mrs. Peppers had paid Greasy and her oldest son, Lacy, a little change to permanently remove the dog from her house. Yet they had failed time and time again. Once I got involved in the dog removal, I knew what had to be done. It was the only solution. “Let’s get a sack and tie him in it,” I suggested, and they all agreed. Once we had managed to capture him and put him in the sack, we took sticks and beat him hard and repeatedly. However, this old sooner would not die. So I came up with another idea. I was certain that it would work. “Let’s take him way down Lucius Road where there is a big canal and throw him in, sack and all,” I said. “That will solve our problem,” I asserted. They all agreed. So we took the poor dog, which was already bleeding and hurting from the beating we had inflicted upon him, down to the canal and threw him in. We watched for a while as he struggled to escape from the sack to no avail. This would be his final few minutes alive, and he would spend them in the most horrible predicament. None of us cheered or celebrated at the sight of this drowning dog. We had sentenced him to die in the most horrendous way. I knew that we had committed a terrible wrong, a sin that would torment my mind for many years to come. In the immediate days I would often pass by the canal and see the sack with the decaying carcass lying there as a reminder of some human boys who acted in a very inhuman way. We had brutally beaten and drowned a poor dog whose only crime was that he wanted to belong, to be loved, and to live.
The Day I Brought
Mickey (Minnie Mouse) Mouse to School
I was in a hurry to get out of the house and on the road to school. Being late was in my DNA and had been passed down to me and nearly each of my siblings from our mother, who had a reputation for tardiness. I guess one of my father’s favorite sayings was true in our case. “The chips didn’t fall too far from the tree,” he would say. There were some old coats hanging on a rack that had been given to us by our uncle who lived in New Castle, Delaware. He would occasionally send us boxes of used clothes that he had acquired. These clothes would come in handy at just the right time. After I grabbed one of the coats and hastily put it on, I desperately lunged down the porch and headed for school. Sometime around the first period as I sat in class, I felt something begin to move in an inner pocket of this blazer that I had worn. At first, I was mystified as to what it was and even a little afraid of what it might be. Then to my complete amazement, I discovered that it was a mouse. Because we lived in a rodent- and roach-infested house, this little varmint had managed to maneuver itself into the coat that I was wearing. My first thought was that I had to keep this thing from getting out and keep anyone from finding out that I had a mouse in my coat pocket. If this critter were discovered on me, I would be made the laughing stock of the entire class. I would have been forever labeled by some peer jokester or name-caller (such as I was as well) as the “Mouse Man” or some worse epithet. Lifting up my hand, I motioned to the teacher that I had to use the bathroom. When she recognized my raised hand and gave me a nod of approval to do so, I quickly got up from my desk and hurried out of the class into the hall and on to the bathroom.
All the while I kept my right hand over the area of the coat where the rodent was in order to keep him captive. Once I entered the bathroom and hastily started to take the mouse from my inner coat pocket, in walked a cousin of mine, Cannon Huggins. He saw the fearfully wiggling mouse that I now held in my right hand.
“What are you going to do with that rat?” he asked with his usual devious smirk. Being the prankster that he was, he obviously had something crazy on his mind. “I’m going to flush it down the commode!” I replied.
“No, don’t do that!” he said emphatically. “Give it to me!” Without any thought about the matter, I handed the frightened little thing over to him. At least for now it had been spared a horrible death of drowning in the sewer system. I did not fully know what Cannon’s intentions were, but knowing him as I did, I knew he was up to no good. My classroom was right across the hall from his, and not long after I had returned to my desk, we heard a loud noise and screams coming from his class. There was a sudden outbreak of fear and panic as students, both girls and a few boys, jumped onto their desks, while others scrambled to reach the door. A mouse had suddenly appeared in the classroom and caused an uproar. Sitting calmly at my desk, I could not help but slyly laugh as news came to my class about what had happened. My crazy cousin had released the little mouse in his class without detection, and it had caused the disturbance. The mouse managed to escape all attempts to capture or kill it. It scurried away to find a new home. In the ensuing days when Cannon and I would run across one another at school, we would share a smile, a private giggle between ourselves about the day I brought “Mickey Mouse” to school. However, from then on I made it a practice to check the pockets of the coats and pants that I wore to school. I would occasionally find some evidence in the form of droppings that one of Mickey’s cousins had been there, yet I never gave one of these varmints a chance to hitchhike a ride to school ever again.
Despite investigation, administrators and faculty never found out how that mouse had suddenly appeared in the class and wreaked momentary havoc, sending frightened girls, boys, and the teacher herself fleeing.
There were only two people who knew the secret—my crazy cousin and me. And neither of us was about to spill the beans.