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Chasing the Horned Toads of MemoryPosted Saturday, January 12, 2013, at 8:16 AM
I don't remember where this photo was taken. It could have been in the house on Elm Street in Dexter or my grandma's house on Booneville St. in Springfield, Mo. (more likely, since she's in the picture.) Either way, there's the old wallpaper characteristic of the 40's...My cousins Steve (left) and Mike (right) are being silly with me (middle). All but four people in the picture are dead now.
Yesterday, I learned that my cousin Mike died. It's a terrible thing to contemplate from my particular vantage point on an 80-degree day in southern Florida, but there it is. My old childhood chum is gone.
Growing up, I was an undeniable tomboy, and my cousins Mike and Steve, only slightly younger than I, were my favorite "buds." No dolls or sissy tea parties for us! We were immersed in the rootin' tootin' life of the American West! When they came to visit, we took our dimes and walked down the alley to the movie theater on Saturday mornings to watch Whip Wilson and Lash LaRue beat up the bad guys in the black hats.
During those early years, we had no television--much less video games or iphones. We were dependent upon our own imaginations to come up with games. I can't imagine how we ever survived.
The first question we would ask each other was--"Do you want to play 'Big' or 'Little?'" "Big" meant that we romped around in make-shift costumes--or played with toy guns. Playing "little" meant that we sat on the floor with little action figures.
We spent most of our time outside, roaming around our yards and neighborhoods to occupy our time.
When my cousins came to Abilene, Texas on the train with their mom, they stayed with us at our house on Orange Street, where our sandy, sticker-filled back yard provided my cousins, my brothers and I with hours and hours of fun.
The desert climate of central Texas is an ideal environment for the scampering little lizards known as "horned toads." These miniature dinosaurs lurked in and around the big rock wall surrounding the back yard of our home. We kids spent countless hours, catching "horny toads" and staging races.
When the time came for Mike and Steve to board the train to return to Missouri, Mike held, under his arm, a treasured shoe box full of horned toads. I couldn't believe that my serious-minded Aunt Nell agreed to this outlandish arrangement!
My brothers and I waved a sad farewell to our cousins and a large population of our prickly backyard friends, knowing that our lives would be greatly diminished until the next time we saw our Missouri relatives. Life always seemed to return to black and white without Mike and Steve.
I think back to those magic years and mourn the disappearance of such bosom buddies. We lost contact over the years, meeting at funerals and rare family reunions. The last time I saw Mike was at my mother's funeral in 2006. Mike's mother died of leukemia when he was only 12, so much of his life was cloaked in sadness. (She is the dark-haired woman at the top left in the above photo.) I'm sure Mike looked back on those carefree days of our youth with unmatched nostalgia.
The last time I talked with him, he asked me to renew his subscription to the North Stoddard Countian. He so enjoyed the columns I wrote.
Today, I called the newspaper office in Dexter to cancel his subscription. It was a sad, sad task.
I'll try to remember my cousin as he was in those happy years, when his mother was still alive, and we were all together, chasing lizards in the hot, sandy back yard of our house in Abilene.
I hope Heaven has horned toads.
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.