DOODLEBUGS



by Randy Reynolds



Although I spent much of my boyhood on horseback, I sometimes dismounted, tied my real horse to the fence and slipped under the house lugging a paper sack filled with plastic horses and men. I crawled like a sniper beneath our house--the one we moved into shortly after the parsonage burned--under my bedroom, past my dog's favorite cooling-off spot, over the wet place caused by a leak in the bathroom sink, through spider webs and among broken jars, stray bricks and rusted plow parts until I found the perfect kind of dirt in which my cowboys could make a stand.  It was soft and grayish, the consistency and color of the CC snuff that my grandparents used and was dotted with doodlebug holes--great cover for dismounted cowboys shooting at attacking Indians.

Unaware of the passage of time, I lay prone for hours, making the sounds of guns firing, arrows thumping into flesh, men yelping and horses neighing.  Finally, when everyone except the main cowboy was lying dead in the soft gray doodlebug dirt and the last riderless horse had galloped away, I--exhausted from battle-- stretched out and rested in the musty darkness, absently writing a girl's name in the dirt with my finger, then erasing it; sometimes sticking a straw into a doodlebug hole while mumbling,  "Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire. Better come out and get your buttermilk."

(I don't know if I was born with knowledge of this doodlebug-catching technique or if someone taught me, but I don't remember ever passing up a doodlebug hole without stopping to try my luck. Doodlebugs were useful: when allowed to walk on my bare arm or belly, they tickled; crushed between thumb and forefinger, they gave off an immensely satisfying crunch; deposited down the front of a girl's dress they caused highly gratifying conniption fits.)


If that old parsonage on blocks is still there on Kenzie Fitzgerald Road near Barker's Corner, Louisiana, a kid of a certain size could crawl under it today, way past where the dog used to sleep, and the wet spot, past the stray bricks, broken bottles and rusted plow parts, back to the soft, gray dirt of the doodlebug colony and find a hero still sitting a white horse where--on the last day of my childhood--I left him surrounded by attackers.