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AFTERWORD I BY JAMES HOGGARD The Big Mystery IIremember as a kid being mystified when I heard other guys in the neighborhood saying, “Boy, if I smarted off like that, my old man would knock me clear across the room.” It wasn’t the violent content of the comment that surprised me, but the pride, the strange tone of joy in the notion. We were living in a modest section of Oak Cliff in Dallas. My father was the minister of a nearby Methodist church, and our little parsonage was next to a magical place called Herndon Park. We were allthe kids I’m talking aboutapproaching first grade or were a year or two beyond that point. I knew there were indications of difference between my father and theirs, but I didn’t dwell on them, other than to note that my father wore neckties a lot more regularly than the other fathers did, and my father never sat smoking and drinking beer on the front porch in a sleeveless undershirt the way Roy’s and Nancy’s father did. If I had had a garment like that have taken my own perch to see what the sensation was like. I was already intensely curious about people. Sometimes I’d even stand at the bus stop on the corner and try to push my soul up out of my body so I could slide it down into someone else’s body, to find what it felt like to be them instead of me. The point was not to escape my own situation. The point was to go to a place I’d never been before. What mystified me mainly, though, was that periodic remark about the other fathers’ comfort in regard to violence. It wasn’t that mayhem itself seemed a horror to me. I liked to fight, not because I wanted to hurt anyone or get hurt myself, and not because I was angry at anyone: I found fighting fun, and the kind of scuffling we engaged in was what later I’d learn was called “catch as catch can.” That meant that pretty much anything went: boxing or wrestling. Both were permitted, and as young as we werethough we didn’t know this theninjury was unlikely. The worst that might happen was momentary embarrassment at involuntarily tearing up or feeling that this time one had been whipped. Ordinarily what happened was neither. What usually occurred was a shift in what would later be called attention span. The fighting had been good, but now it was time to try to catch tarantulas, have persimmon fights \(this was best when they were to catch catfish and crawdads. Sometimes we’d find both in the metal pipes we had tossed into the slow-moving stream, especially in the deeper parts where we had to dunk our heads under water to grab the pipes. One of us would clamp a palm over one end, and the other would stop up the opposite opening. We’d then rise from the flow and wade to the gravelly-grassy bank and dump out our booty: catfish or crawdads or minnows, sometimes all three. We’d then divvy up our loot, and, if we gathered enough crayfish, a mother might boil us up a mess. It T,,,5-7 seemed amazing how the crea tures turned from dirty tan to a bright orangish pink in hot water. Then again, during a traveling conversation, someone would make a remark about smarting off, and again someone other than me would deliver the refrain about the father’s response. At a level of understanding that seemed to have nothing to do with speed or slowness certainly no blazing moment of sterling recognitionI began to register more precisely than I had before the ways in which my own parents were markedly different from the other kids: Theirs seemed bothered by insubordination. A MARCH 18, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29