I saw a chinaberry tree the other day and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that big in my life. I got to thinkin’ after I saw that tree that I haven’t seen as many chinaberry trees as I used to.

I don’t know what kids do now-a-days, if they don’t have a chinaberry tree around close to their house. Chinaberries are real useful, you know. When they’re green, you can use them for ammunition in your slingshot, and when they’re ripe, you can walk on them and listen to them pop. You don’t want to walk on them barefooted though. They’re pretty gooshy.

Now as ammunition for a slingshot, they’re the best, especially if you are shootin’ at each other. Now, I know what you’re thinkin’, you shouldn’t shoot at each other with a slingshot.

Well, I know you shouldn’t, and we were told back when we were kids that we shouldn’t, but we did anyhow. We just made sure our moms didn’t see us doin’ it. If your dad saw you, you may have to endure a “talk” from him, but the “talk” usually was more on how to hold your slingshot as to get the best velocity out of it. Dads were kids once too, you know.

Anywho, all us boys had drawstring pouches made out of the lower leg of our blue jeans. Back then, if you got a hole in the knees of your blue jeans, your mom would iron on a knee patch. After you wore out a couple of knee patches she’d cut off the legs of the jeans to make shorts.

Then, if you could talk her into it, she’d make you a drawstring pouch out of the cut off legs. In this pouch was kept stuff boys needed, like string, chalk, dried toad frogs found on the road (we called them toad frog jerky), and stuff like that.

These pouches were also great for carrying chinaberries. Man, you could hold off a small army with the amount of chinaberries that one of those pouches would hold.

The slingshots, of course, were all homemade. I always preferred mine made out of cedar ‘cause they smelled good. I not goin’ to tell you how to make one, because I’m pretty sure you already know how, and if you don’t, well then you’re probably a girl. Although, the girls I knew back then knew how to make ‘em.

Now, my cousin Coy and I were pretty fair shots with a slingshot. We could bounce a chinaberry off your head at a distance that sometimes would even amaze us. If you’ve never been hit by a chinaberry movin’ at the speed of sound, then you haven’t lived.

I hear these kids now-a-days talkin’ about these here paint guns. The paint is so they know if they hit somebody or not. Well, with a chinaberry, you knew if you hit them. The hollerin’ the recipient did after they were hit would leave no doubt as to whether you connected or not.

And if that wasn’t enough, they’d leave a bruise that would last most of a week before they’d start turnin’ yellow. Moms never knew how we got those bruises, because if they found out, they’d take our slingshots away. Then we’d have to go to all the trouble of makin’ new ones behind their back. Myself, I always made a spare just in case.

One day Coy and I were practicin’ shootin’ at a big coffee can we had dug out from Mr. Odie Doziers trash pile, when Coy spotted a great big red wasp nest on the eave of Mr. Dozier’s house.

“Look at that wasp nest,” Coy said pointin’ in the direction of the house. I looked where he was pointin’.

“Wow!” I said. “Boy howdy, that’s a big’un. I bet a peck of peach seeds I can hit it from here.”

“Go for it,” he said. “I bet you won’t get close.”

I put a chinaberry in the pouch of my slingshot, pulled it back to my cheek, closed my eye and sighted down the rubber.

“Whack!” my slingshot said, as I released it. The chinaberry fell short of its mark a good ways.

“Hah,” said Coy.

“Think you can do any better?” I said.

“Not from here,” he replied. “Let’s get closer.”

“OK,” I said. “But be quiet. Mr. Dozier takes a nap about this time of day.”

We snuck (I know that’s not a real word, but “sneaked” sounds too sissified) up closer to the house and hid behind an ol’ brick barbecue pit behind Mr. Dozier’s house.

We were not hidin’ from Mr. Dozier. We were hidin’ from the wasp. If you’ve ever been stung by a red wasp, then you know why we were hidin’. It’s like gettin’ stuck with a red hot ice pick. Heck, I think I’d rather be shot than stung by a red wasp.

“OK,” Coy said. “Watch this,” and he let a chinaberry fly. It missed the wasp nest by about an inch, and hit the side of the house.

“Hah,” I hahhed. “You missed.”

“Yeah, but I got close,” he said. “Look at them wasp standin’ up.” They were a little agitated.

“Let’s both shoot,” I said.

“OK,” said Coy as he loaded up a chinaberry.

“Ready?” I asked. Coy nodded. “OK. On three. One ... two ... three!” The chinaberries were off.

Just as they left the slingshots, Mr. Dozier opened his back door. I guess he heard Coy’s first shot hit the house. I noticed that he was dressed in only his boxer shorts and an undershirt. He stepped out onto his back step, just as the chinaberry’s found their mark. Both were right on target.

Mr. Dozier heard them hit and looked up to see what had made the noise. The next thing I saw was a cloud of red wasp leaving their abode and makin’ their way toward poor ol’ Mr. Dozier.

You know, for a big man he moved pretty fast. As he made his way around the house for the third time, I noticed that he only had a half dozen or so wasp on his back, which I thought was pretty good. Finally, he took off down the road, which gave Coy and me the opportunity to get out of there.

By the time we made it to the woods, we were both out of breath and we stopped to rest.

“Do you think he saw us?” Coy asked between breaths.

“Naw,” I said. “I think he was too busy to notice.”

“Man, did you see them wasp go after him?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m sure glad he came out when he did, or they might have come after us.”

“Yeah,” said Coy. “I do feel kind of bad though.”

“I know what you mean,” I said. “Those chinaberries really tore up that nest. It sure would have looked good hangin’ in one of our rooms.”

“Yeah,” said Coy.

Years later, when Coy and I were grown, we thought about tellin’ Mr. Dozier what happened, but we came to our senses. He’d a killed us.

Rusty Mitchum lives in New Harmony, Texas, where he writes a regular column for The Lindale News and Times. He says the only reason he writes is to keep the voices away.