When I was a kid, the end of July was a time of the jitters. Summer was waning, and already I could hear the forlorn tolling of school bells.
I mentioned that fact to my friend Smooth Heine one morning as we smoked grape leaves in snakeweed pipes behind his father’s barn. “It won’t be long before school starts,” I said.
Smooth lowered his head and sighed. “That’s just like you, Huber. The light at the end of the tunnel is always a train.”
“Well, it’s true,” I said. “It’s already too late to build a submarine or a rocket ship to Mars. I tell you, old age is creeping up on us, and before you know it we might even enjoy going back to school. What do you think of that?”
“I try not to think,” Smooth said. “Anyway, what you’re experiencing is nothing more than a mild dose of Worrywart Syndrome, which is best expressed by the catchphrase, ‘In front of every silver lining there’s a cloud.’”
Smooth always talked that way, because he listened to H. V. Kaltenborn on the radio, a Washington commentator with an enthusiastic vocabulary and little to say. But a concerned expression swept across Smooth’s face, and he heaved a sigh. “I suppose I’ll have to think of something to do the rest of this summer before it’s too late,” he said.
I sat back relieved, but at the same time I was anxious. When Smooth set the wheels in his head spinning, there was no telling what might come out. Often it sucked weenies.
But I waited patiently, and finally he spoke. “It’s coming, it’s coming.” His eyes were bugged out, his fingers twitching. “Yes, yes, I see it now. It’s big, it’s deep, it’s a, it’s a….”
“What?” I cried.
“It’s a LION TRAP!” Smooth shouted. He grabbed my arm. “See, we’ll dig a big hole, bait it with a chicken, and catch us a lion. Then we’ll start a circus.”
“Aw Smooth, lions don’t live around here,” I said.
“We’ll settle for a cat,” he said.
The upshot was we gathered shovels and a mangy old red hen snatched from Mrs. Heine’s coop, and we headed into the woods behind the Heine farm. When we found a level spot we dug. And we dug. And dug. Building a lion trap wasn’t easy.
By noon we emerged from the woods steaming and hungry. Behind us was a six-foot hole with a chicken inside, covered over with branches from a nearby willow grove. We rushed to Mrs. Heine’s kitchen, and as she put a pile of toasted cheese sandwiches on her kitchen table she said, “What have you boys been up to?”
“We built a lion trap,” Smooth said.
“There aren’t any lions around here,” Mrs. Heine said.
“Yeah, yeah, we know,” Smooth said and filled his mouth with toasted cheese sandwich.
Later as we left, Mr. Heine came in from the field, and I heard him ask, “What have those boys been up to?”
“They built a lion trap,” Mrs. Heine said, twisting and clutching at her apron.
“There aren’t any lions around here,” Mr. Heine said.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Mrs. Heine said. “You’d better look into it.”
I glanced back in time to see an enormous twitch wrack Mr. Heine’s face. “Can I eat first?” he asked.
A little while later we were back in the shade of the barn when we heard yowling in the woods. “What’s that noise?” I asked.
Smooth’s face lit up. “I’ll bet we got a lion in the trap.”
I should pause here to explain that when a grown man falls into a six-foot hole occupied by an angry skunk who has just eaten a mangy old chicken and can’t find a way out, several things happen at once, not the least of which is a great deal of yowling and levitating on the man’s part.
Smooth and I crouched behind some trees and watched as Mr. Heine cleared the hole and fluttered away toward the farm, leaving a trail of drooping grass behind. Smooth said, “Huber, I think I’ll come over and spend the night at your place. Lion hunting really tuckers me out.”
Bob Huber is a retired journalist.