Catapults; Weapons of mass distraction

I came across this post in a old hard drive

Catapults; Weapons of mass distraction

Summerville Elementary, with its vaguely green faux stucco cement exterior and pea graveled asphalt playground/ball field, would have been considered quite inadequate, if not downright dangerous even by Phenix City’s standards of the day. If we had had any standards to apply.

Six classrooms, six grades, with the Principal doubling as the sixth grade teacher.
Worn wooden board floors were gray from years of industrial cleaners and buffed to a dull sheen by countless pairs of Ked’s forming lines down the three sided hallways leading to the assembly/rainy day gym/ lunchroom. The smell of soured milk, rutabagas and greens emanating from within competed with chalk, crayons and the sweaty little bodies lined up outside for preeminence in the heavy southern air .

A gurgling radiator system would freeze up in a heavy frost or, in our frequent warm spells in east central Alabama , drive the teachers to throw open the windows and turn on the floor fan.

We were tough and we learned. We had to.
Nobody in his right mind wanted to stay there anymore than they had to. Much less spend an extra year there.

The catapult was the product of a sixth grade reading assignment and, contrary to popular adult opinion of the day after, was not a weapon, just an aid to gathering pecans, catalpa worms and little brothers when they were out of reach in the top of trees. At least that’s our story and we mostly stuck to it- at least till the Statute of Limitations ran out. But since civil suits can go on virtually forever (disclaimer-all Tales are out right lies…)…….

The story that inspired our catapult involved some assault on some fortress by somebody, somewhere or other, some time in the past. We were kind of vague on the details but we knew the exciting part involved a fireball arcing through the air at the enemy manning the fortress ramparts.

At last, the ideal weapon to use against our enemies who lived on the other side of the gully that marked the boundary between our turf and the kids from Golden Acres. Not the fireball, the catapult. We didn’t learn the secret to homemade napalm till we were in our later teens, although we would become familiar with black powder weapons the following summer.

The Gully, running on the edge of Pumpkin Bottom Cemetery, was the site of legendary battles (that are still told around TV’s by grandfathers to their grand children as the ungrateful little wretches roll their eyes and work the controls to their video games, much as it has been for eons) with weapons ranging from green pinecones to bottle rockets and black cats with the occasional cherry bomb thrown in. Sometimes one of us preteen warriors was hurt to the point of a few stitches or some pretty good bruises, but you had to follow the CODE. And the Code said you didn’t snitch, especially not the recipient of the war wound. “The chain came off my bike” was standard. Wounds would be shown off frequently by the lucky one, only to be replaced by new exploits in the next skirmish with the Enemy. Usually about the time the scabs started falling off but before any stitches were removed.

We were, of course, familiar with slingshots, both the traditional forked stick variety and the kind made of a strip of inner tube. Both generally had a pocket made from the tongue of a worn out tennis shoe secured to the inner tube strip with one of the multi knotted laces. These were fine mobile launchers for marbles and firecrackers and did yeoman’s work as our pintsized concealed carry, but lacked MOAB (mother of all …) capability we needed to deal a final decisive blow to our enemy.

We extrapolated from the design of our hand held versions. Using an old door as the base so we could slide our weapon -er- pecan gatherer into position, we bolted some springs from several old chest expanders (You know, the springs with the handle on them that you did chest exercises and such with) which were stretched till the launcher was cocked and locked by a screen door hook. Too many springs and some rotten wood where the door latch was secured almost led Summerville Elementary to join the U.S. and the Soviets in the space race when Mikie was a hand slower than the rest of us in letting go. Instead he demonstrated a body slam worthy of professional wrestling when he stubbornly refused to let go.

The second thing we learned in testing our prototype was that the base had to be pinned in place. Otherwise, the results resembled a Roadrunner cartoon with the coyote’s giant Acme rattrap doing a one and a half gainer as it snapped shut on one of the artillery men creating a sound like a kid’s squeeze toy.

We loaded the catapult with a pumpkin filched from old man Newton’s patch. The old man was a great kidder and really didn’t mind the occasional watermelon and stuff we borrowed from one of his fields. We knew cause he took the shot out of his shotgun shells and put in rock salt. But still the sound of that 12ga. being pumped put us into overdrive hurdling fences and pea trellis’s like miniature Olympians after the starter’s shot. Only we didn’t wait on the shot. But still, that was the last time Mikie was last over the fence.

“Fire” squeaked Mikie, now from a safe spot some yards from the catapult . Mikie was selected as our leader on the basis of his recent battle scars acquired in the testing of our prototypes. As a matter of fact, Mikie attributes his squeaky voice and current bodily bulges to his “war” wounds, though I suspect it has more to do with kitchen tables and bar stools.

“Where did it go?”
“I don’t know. I shut my eyes.”
Five sets of slightly apprehensive eyes scanned the horizon, searching for an orange dot of the potential Jack O’ Lantern rapidly receding into the distance.
A direct hit.
After picking up Mikie and cleaning the pumpkin’s guts off of him, we decided that we had too much weight for the angle we were trying to achieve. We scaled down to cluster munitions to raise the odds of actually hitting what we were shooting at.
Preparing the second shot, we quickly loaded the bowl with two dozen sun ripened eggs from our biological weapons stash.


Timing is everything and none of us had a watch. It’s a dang shame my neighbor and one of Phenix City’s finest, Officer Grubby Jackson did.
He chose that unfortunate moment to come down the service road for his 2 pm check of Pumpkin Bottom Cemetery. At exactly 2 o’clock.
Now, Grubby was a 1964 policeman. Not like today where they ride buttoned up like an astronaut with just as much communications gear and as about as aloof and distant.
Nope, no air-conditioned cocoon for Grubby, just the windows rolled down on a late October day in 1964 Phenix City.

There was no hesitation.
Grubby’s cruiser rolled out from behind the screening row of cedars simultaneously with the command to fire. Only slightly behind that was the swoosh of air rushing in to fill the vacuum created when five bodies suddenly decided simultaneously that there was urgent business they needed to attend to, somewhere, anywhere but there. Swoosh was quickly replaced by Splaak as Mikie, looking back over his shoulder was five steps into his getaway stride when he glanced back to the front just in time to kiss a tree, full frontal.

Meanwhile, Grubby turned his face to the open window to expel a build up of chew when he saw us scattering up the hillside. He opened wide to spit out his chew so he could yell at us. Then the eggs arrived.

I stood frozen on the edge of the hillside leading away from the gulley, torn between going to help Mikie and almost certainly sealing my own fate or escaping, probably only temporarily, to save my own hide.

Most of us can remember memorial times with their distinctive sounds. The solid thunk of a well placed arrow. The sweet crack of a bat. The sound of ripe eggs hitting a solid target. What followed the eggs was a sound just as distinctive and just as memorable… in the realm of nightmares. And Grubby gave full vent to it. The look and rage was enough to scare me straight for almost two weeks. Till I knew he didn’t know.

That decided it for me. I melted into the underbrush and headed to the house and a alibi.
Mikie showed up at my house later sporting a pair of black eyes and walking like he was folded in half. Which he had been
“Yes Ma’am. My bike.”, I heard him say. “Well, land’s sake you need to be more careful.” replied my mother, blissfully ignorant that in only two years we would graduate to motorcycles, a Honda 90 and a Yamaha 100. Easy riders eat your hearts out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *