New Friends & A Dummy
Roby, TX (population 913)`1961
What is there to do in a town of less than a thousand. There is no movie. No swimming pool. Any kind of entertainment is 20 to 50 miles away. Cruising the drag is a great pastime but gas is $ .25 a gallon and cars of that era didn’t get the greatest mileage, especially with a kid driving them.
What to do?
We had moved into a house across the street from Jay Donham. Now he and his buddy Ted Green were a couple of years older than me and I barely knew them. But on this cool moonlit night they called me over from Jay’s front yard to show me something.
What they had (I would kill to have a photo of it) was a life size dummy. Made from sewing socks to pants to a shirt and a hat. Stuffed with straw it would pass in the dark for a small person. I am pretty sure Jay told me it’s name but I don’t remember now. I asked what the plans were for (name here). He said they were going to have some fun with it and asked if I wanted to come along. I told my mom we were going for cokes and got into the car with these two upperclassmen.
A Plan Develops
So “here’s the deal”. Heading north out of town a right turn will put you on a dirt road that had a name I’m sure, but no street sign. If you head east past the highway barns and go far enough you come to a low water crossing of Cottonwood Creek. We are talking two 12″ runners braced by lumber that actually laid on the ground forming a 10′ long bridge…but not really a bridge. To use this crossing you would have to slow to almost stopped or risk tearing the whole undercarriage of your car apart.
Now the crossing made a perfect place for this particular prank. Jay drove us there and Ted and I, along with the dummy, got out. Jay went back to town to find people on the drag and tell them of the strange and mystical sighting on the Cottonwood. Then bring them back to show them. The plan was for Ted and I to climb this enormous Cottonwood tree that hung out over the road and throw the dummy down on the windshield of cars slowly crossing the bridge. Good plan huh?
A Plan Starts to Unravel
Well Jay had more problems finding our targets than we had expected, resulting in Ted and I being in the tree for what seemed a long time. A couple of things happened while we were there that sort of killed our prank.
First…. If you have never been in a tree…at night…out in the country. You find out you are not quite as brave as you are when you are in town. And Ted and I talked in a quiet voice for reasons I still don’t understand. But while we were waiting we heard these voices…far off at first but getting closer and louder. But not just voices there was an occasional shout…most of the time profanity. Then in the moon light we saw three figures walking and about to cross the bridge.
I was about to wet myself. As they got under the tree Ted yelled “Hey”. I thought “Ted are you nuts?” It seemed that it scared the trio as badly as they scared me and they started cursing in Spanish. It seems they were three migrant workers who Ted knew from the pool hall. It further seems that one had a condition I would later learn was Turrets Syndrome causing him to yell. We climbed down and talked for a while and my heart rate slowly edged below 100. Even standing on the ground talking to them when the one would have an outburst it would startle me. After a while we told them we had to get back in the tree because we were sure Jay was on the way. They left and we could hear them slowly walking and talking until we could hear them no more.
Second….. By now it had been over 30 minutes since Jay left. So when we saw the car lights we were sure it was him. We got ready and Ted said he would throw the dummy on the hood just as they crossed the bridge. They would be at their slowest and the hood would allow everyone in the car to see the “person” jump from the tree. The car slowed and Ted executed the plan exactly…almost. When he threw the dummy he missed the center of the hood and instead impaled the dummy on the antenna. That was mistake number one. Number two was….IT WAS NOT JAY. In all our planning it never occurred to us that others used this road.
Ted said it was Mr Arp who owned the hardware store. Whoever it was left the scene of the prank at a high rate of speed with the dummy still stuck and flailing in the wind. From our perch we were above the plume of dust made when a 4,000 lb car accelerates on a dirt road…and we watched it go until the tail lights and the dummy were out of sight.
A Success – Sort Of
Once the chaos of the moment subsided, we started to laugh. Almost falling we climbed down from the tree and stood…hands on our knees, trying to catch our breath. Over and over we would quiet down and then start the retelling only to laugh till our stomachs hurt. And then, along comes a car…Jay. Having given up on finding our “marks” he came back to pick us up. He learned that he missed out on the payoff of the prank and lost his dummy.
Returning home mom asked if I had a good time. Yeah I said, it was fun. As I look back on that night I am reminded of how innocent we were in our meanness. How our pranks were never meant to harm anyone. Almost all of the town knew that….although, on that night, I don’t think Mr Arp would have agreed.