Throughout much of my childhood, our family had no television. Although we apparently had been one of the first homes in the community to get a TV, a little disagreement between my brother and me over which of the two local channels we would watch resulted in one of us angrily turning the set off and on repeatedly until the tube blew. Daddy put the set into the attic and refused to get it fixed because of the animosity it had created between us boys. When I was nearly ready for college, he gave the set to my grandfather.
But during the short time we did have a TV, we watched a lot of “cowboys-and-Indians” programs. And, as kids are wont to do, after watching some of them, we ran outside and reenacted much of what we had seen, using our vivid imaginations in our play. Because our Uncle Dillon had given us cowboy outfits, complete with holsters and guns, that part of our costume department was pretty well stocked, but we were a bit lacking in the necessities for the Indian portion of our play. But that didn’t stop my brother from using available materials to create the proper attire and atmosphere to make our play realistic. As the younger, impressionable–and gullible–brother, I followed his lead.
One day, while playing Indians, my brother got a brilliant idea. He ran inside and soon returned with four of Daddy’s large work hankies.
“Take off your pants,” he ordered. I stood with my mouth open, but he was already stripping to his underwear. “And take off your shirt and underwear.”
In my innocence and trusting my all-wise older brother, I did as instructed.
“Now get your belt from your pants.” I did just as he was doing.
“Put your belt on.” He put his belt around his naked waist and cinched it tight. I imitated his every move. There we both stood, buck naked except for a thin belt around our waist.
“Now tuck these hankies into your belt–one in the front and the other in the back.” He demonstrated. I followed his example. And we were dressed like real Indians, complete with loin cloths. Near-naked savages.
“Something’s missing, though,” my brother lamented. He couldn’t stand for anything to be incomplete. For him, play was not real play unless you had everything just right. He didn’t want to leave anything to the imagination. That’s generally how it is when you’re buck naked–nothing left to the imagination.
“Indians wear war paint,” he mused aloud. “What can we use for paint?”
I didn’t like the sound of that, but I stood by dumbly, waiting for him to come up with an answer. He always did. I could pretend that we were covered with war paint and have a grand time playing, but not him. He had to have the real thing. He thought for a long time about our dilemma. He looked through the garage. (Looking back now, I’m surprised that he didn’t use Daddy’s house paint.) He looked through the chicken house. (I’m really glad he didn’t try to make war paint out of chicken manure!)
He went back outside and stood thinking. I waited patiently for the answer that he soon would arrive at and dug my bare toes into the sand where we played with our trucks and road graders and where we called doodlebugs from their under-sand burrows.
Suddenly, my brother’s eyes lit up. “I’ve got it!” he cried. “Come on!”
Like an innocent lamb, I meekly followed him to the nearby fence row. He reached up and pulled a handful of plump, dark polk berries from the stalk that rose through the barbed-wire strands. He took one berry between his thumb and index finger and squeezed it. Out came a deep, reddish-purple liquid.
“Here.” He handed me some of the berries he’d picked. “Now, squeeze them and put the juice on your chest. See? It’s just like war paint!”
We both applied copious amounts of the liquid all over our bodies. We painted designs on each other. On our chests, on our arms, on our backs, on our faces.
“Now we look like Indians!” my brother declared.
Or like something.
We played Indians for what seemed like hours and had a wonderful time. There we were in all of our natural glory, running and jumping and whooping like savages–for all the neighbors and passing strangers to see. Just the two of us, our nakedness covered–or not–by those loin hankies and polk berry war paint.
My memory is blank about what Mother did when she finally saw us. She was probably mortified. I’m sure, though, that whatever she did wasn’t pretty, and it surely must have hurt us more than it did her.
The Bible warns us against following a multitude in doing evil. I would have been better off learning not to be led astray by one bad example! I shudder to think what would have happened if he had encouraged me to eat those poisonous polkberries! Wait, maybe he did do something similar with grapes that our dad had just sprayed with insecticide, but that’s another story.