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James R. Stout

The Battle of Toledo Bend

            Experts say that our brains are not fully developed when we are in our teens. They say that this is especially true for the rational part of our brain. The brain doesn’t become fully developed until about the age of 25. All of this is pretty much supported simply by observing the behavior of a teenager. And, if we are honest with ourselves, then we can look back on our own teenage years and see ample evidence that we were not thinking rationally. Such was the case in what I call “The Battle of Toledo Bend”.

            It was in July of 1970 and the battle was fought at the Toledo Bend Reservoir in East Texas. It was a horribly lopsided war. On one side there were roughly 2 million blood thirsty demented and homicidal combatants. On the other side there were two 14-year-old boys. Fine upstanding American boys they were. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. These two boys were me and my cousin Phil. As it is in any war, there are things leading up to the conflict.

            A weekend of camping was to be enjoyed by the “men” of our two families. There was my father and my Uncle Victor. They were great fishermen and Uncle Victor had the bass boat to prove it. Next came my cousin David who was 2 years older than Philip and me. David was never really a teenager. He was an anomaly of the strangest kind. In what way, you ask? He was a jock and a scholar. These two characteristics borne in the same person still confuse scientist today. David had no problem whatsoever in getting out and playing football until all the salt tablets were consumed. He could sweat like all jocks sweat and his weightlifting abilities were prodigious. However, David was spoiled to air conditioning and he would not remotely consider sleeping outdoors when there was air conditioning available. Which brings us to the camper. It was a camper that fit in the bed of Uncle Victor’s truck. It was one of those kind that when you stopped for a night of camping it would raise up allowing a grown adult to easily stand up inside. There were only three beds though. Might I remind you that there were five of us. So, we also carried along a tent. It was this massive tent that the corps of engineers might be required to assemble, but lacking their aid, we somehow or other got it set-up. It had screen windows and a screen door. Well, there were no real doors, just flaps that would unzip allowing a breeze to come through the screens. This tent was to be mine and Phil’s “Hotel Crapiness”.

            Besides the bass boat, we also brought along a 10’ aluminum boat with a 3-horsepower outboard motor. A speed demon it was – not. After we got everything all set up, we all went for a ride in the bass boat. A boat with two chairs and a bench for two in the middle. Do the math. Someone was going to have to either sit on the floor or on the front of the boat. Guess who was elected for the front of the boat? There were no hand holds because nobody in their right mind was ever supposed to ride sitting up there on the front of the boat. Yet there I was holding onto two thingamabobs for tying ropes to a pier as we zipped along the lake. Each time the front of the boat slapped down on the water I thought I was a toast. In a way, I’m wondering now if my father and uncle’s brains were fully developed considering they encouraged the seating chart.

            Later that day Phil and I put the aluminum boat in the water and ventured out on the lake. Remember that 3 horsepower engines? It had a little glitch. I’m not a mechanically minded guy, but as it was explained to me there are these things called “cotter pins”. This sweet little engine kept breaking a cotter pin that was essential for the propeller blade to turn. So, we had a box of these little pins on board. We never knew when a cotter pin was going to break, but when one did break, we were forced to replace the cotter pin in order to continue our journey. The worst part of it was the engine wouldn’t lift far enough out of the water to change the pin. Philip being the expert mechanic, was elected to jump in the water and hold his breath long enough to change out the pin.

            Now you have a good idea of the scene that would lead up to the battle to come. We cooked hot dogs outside that evening and at some point, either Phil or I left the door flap of the tent wide open. This would prove to be a mistake of immense proportions. After flirting with the two girls whose family was camping next to where we were, it was about time to try to get some sleep. My father, Uncle Victor, and David retreated to their nice air-conditioned camper for a cool night’s sleep. Phil and I entered our tent and soon found out that we had been invaded by a great horde of mosquitos. We tried to get to sleep, but between the mosquitos and the humidity and the 90-degree temperature it was virtually impossible. The worst of the mosquitos were the dive bombers. There in the dark you would suddenly hear them buzzing and diving at any uncovered patch of skin. All we had to fight them with were our hands. There was a whole lot of slapping going on. After it became apparent that we needed to call in some heavy artillery, we set into motion our plan of attack. There was just one major problem. We had forgotten to bring any mosquito repellent with us. Here’s where the rational part of a 14-year-old brain turns left when the sign clearly says, “Keep to the Right”.

            We had enough money to buy some “Off”, but there was a supply line problem. The problem was the “Off” supplies were at the marina. The marina was on the other side of the lake. There was only one thing to do - Get in the that little boat that hated cotter pins with no life jackets, and only one small flashlight, and cross that stump infested, snake infested, and for all I know alligator infested lake. And so, Captain Phil and First Lieutenant Randy set out on their midnight ride.

            About 2 hours later we arrived back at the campsite. We had survived two cotter pin replacements, untold snakes, and the last half of the return trip with a flashlight that needed new batteries. Exhausted as we were, we sprayed ourselves down with “Off” and fairly well glistened in the moonlight. We entered the tent and soon the mosquitos realized that they had lost the war. Sometime in the next hour we fell asleep. Captain Phil was ready to go fishing with my father and Uncle Victor early that morning. David was going for a hike to study rocks. Me? Well, First Lieutenant Randy flirted with the girls next door. I cringe now to think of how I must have looked after the night that I had just experienced.

            There were many things that I did as a teenager that I would never dream of doing today. Some really stupid things. While some of them were ultimately harmless and merely goofy, there were others such as taking out across that lake without telling anyone, without life preservers, without proper lighting in the dark, and a very real possibility of a tragedy in the making. If there’s anything that I’ve learned by reaching my age it’s that I need to monitor my grandchildren closely when they come to visit me here in the country. This will continue for many years. I want them to learn to do many things outdoors, but I want them to do it safely and to understand that if there is any question about doing something, then come ask me. I’ll always be there for them. Thinking back on that night nearly 50 years ago I remember that our reasoning for doing what we did was because we were afraid to wake-up our fathers and disturb them. I am absolutely sure that had we gone to them with the problem they would have gladly provided a safer way to get that “Off”. In fact, there was probably a can or two inside the camper. But we didn’t think rationally about the situation. Sure, it turned out to be an adventure, but it could have turned into a tragedy. I know teenagers think that they hate rules and restrictions, but the truth is most of them want the boundaries. They want to know that their parents will be thinking rationally and that their parents just might have the answers to a problem. Oh, they’ll not admit to this is easily, but when a friend of theirs suffers a horrible injury, dies from a risky behavior, or makes a mistake that alters their life forever, they are glad for the rules that keep them safe.

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