Tarzan and the Elephants

by Jack Foster Mancilla

It was the summer of my last year in McAllister Oklahoma. I was between my third grade and the fourth grade years in school. My father had his orders, and we were to move to California in October.

N.A.D. McAllister was an interesting place to spend three years of my formative life, compliments of my father’s military career. NAD McAllister was a Navy base in the middle of a plains state, actually we called it “The Navy Bomb Dump.” There was a small contingent of Marines to guard the base. There was also a Marine Corps mess hall. That was my dad’s job. He was in charge of the mess hall, a mess sergeant. I only knew my father was in charge of some marines, And sometimes he had to drive a truck around the base in the middle of the night. I went with him on patrol once, and we saw a really big deer. The deer was in rut, and he came charging at the truck and smashed a big dent in the passenger side of the truck. He scared me. I was just a kid, you know.

I met some great childhood friends there. Rodney E.R. Reid Jr. was my best friend. Rodney was born and is still deaf. Rodney was so cool, he could speak with his hands and very few people understood him. Rodney and I developed our own shorthand for communication. We pantomimed many things and understood each other pretty well. I remember one winter day, after a good snow, that his parents would not let him come out and play in the snow. The were afraid it would hurt his ears. Anyway, I went over to his house that day and built the biggest snow man I could build in front of his window. We were pantomiming through the glass. The snowman was exactly the way Rodney wanted it. He smiled and told me how much he liked it with his hands and his face.

There were also Charlotte and Lonny Mittag who lived at the other end of the long apartment building, there were three long apartment buildings that all the families lived in with ten apartments in each building. The Mittag’s had a big rabbit hutch and raised rabbits for eating. There was Linda McKay, my first kiss, with our heads under a towel as we walked home from the swimming pool. And Dynamite Dugan Deal. Dynamite! Yes, I had a real crush on Dynamite. She was the best two “Two-Square” player in the school. I keep thinking that it was more equal than that and that I used beat her half the time, but that might be a dream.

I could tell you of the hot summer evenings filled with so many lightning bugs that you would think it an impossible dream. Or running around behind the truck that was spraying DDT to kill the mosquitos, dancing in and out of the cloud, eyes watering as we breathed in the white mist. Or, I could tell you about the refrigerator box that we used as a tank, by crawling inside the box we tanked out into the middle of the largest blackberry patch I have ever seen. The box slowly moving through the berry patch with three happy friends inside steadily eating blueberries all afternoon.

This is just another of those days when we were small. It was one of those warm summer days with very little to do. Lonny and I were sitting on the porch trying to figure out an agendum for the rest of the afternoon. We talked about going down to the creek to catch some crawdads with a string and a piece of bacon. We talked about the last winter when his sister, Charlotte, fell into the little-frozen pond after Lonny and I had pushed a big rock onto the ice several times when the ice finally gave in. We also talked about how cool it would be to be Tarzan.

That was because Lonny and I had seen the new Tarzan film at the base theater the night before. Fifteen cents for the movie and a dime for the candy. Fifteen cents to take us out of Oklahoma and into the Jungle on safari. We even had our own supplies, “Three Musketeers” candy bars were the candy of choice because it was the biggest candy bar you could get for a dime. The ads said that, “It was so big it could serve three friends.” Maybe it could serve three friends, but we each had our own.

Lonny and I had begun walking through the fields when we started talking about the movie. We would run and then walk, each leading the other to new adventures. We were lifting pieces of wood looking for snakes. We were looking for Horny Toads in the clear areas between the tall grass. … Wait a minute. Clear areas? Tall grass? Kind’a African like. … “What if we cleared this area a little more, it would be like an African village. It sounded so like a good idea that is just what we did.

We started ripping some of the dry grass out of the edges of the clearing to make the clearing larger. We used some of the greener pieces of grass to bind the other grass into the shapes of little African thatched huts and scare crow people. We probably built 13 or so huts around the center of the clearing and 30 little grass natives. Around the huts, they even had door openings, we used broken sticks shoved into the ground to build a wall around the village. The wall was for the natives to keep out the lions, but it also looked good. Next, we gathered some rocks and built a smaller ring in the very center of the Village. We broke up some of the little sticks and put them in the center ring of rocks for the village fire.

We were very imaginative. We could even see the natives working and living their normal lives, when a hunting party came in through the gate in the wall with the bad white man that had stolen the pretty white girl. The natives were getting ready to throw the white people in the fire and burn them at the stake. The chief said angry words to the white people, and the medicine man set fire to the fire ring. … Did I forget to mention, we were kids, but we had matches. … Yipes!

We. … er, the medicine man set the matches to the wood in the central fire ring. The white people were almost thrown into the ring when, out of nowhere came the call. … “Ahhh ahhh aaaaah Eyahh!” And there he came to rescue the maiden. Tarzan, riding on top of the largest of the elephants, charging into the village, chasing the natives every which way. The elephants were so smart, they were chasing the villains around the village and avoiding doing damage to the good people.

Of course, we were the elephants. Our big third grade feet were shuffling into the village making goo of the natives between our toes as we brought justice to the ignorant and saved the good white girl. And elephants being what elephants are, were big and clumsy but good meaning. We continued on. The elephants stomped into the fire. They kicked the fire to the houses, which burned and fell onto the wooden lion ring which was close enough to the actual field to start the field on fire.

Tarzan and the elephants had saved the pretty white girl, but Lonny Mittag and little Jackie Mancilla had set fire to the McAllister Bomb Dump. … That little adventure bought me two weeks in my room and a great memory.

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