When my daughter was young and would shoot a paper straw at me from across the table it instantly brought to mind the glorious pea-shooter fights and I would say, “I remember when I was young.......”. “Yea, yea, yea....”, she would say totally disinterested. She had heard it many times before....... And I would begin the story.....

......Usually I did not sleep well because there was always the anxiety of looking forward to the next pea-shooter war. The fights sometimes lasted hours and involved groups of boys picking sides and selecting the place of battle.

I think our pea-shooter wars in Tia Juana were as exciting and as today's “paint-ball” fights. They had all the excitement of the hunt and avoidance that today's paint-ball fights have. Personally, I think the pea-shooter fights we had were more visceral.

The best location for a good fight was under one of the old homes on stilts that had lots of lawn furniture and clutter and shrubs around the base which would provide protection from being hit and room for maneuver. Again, the McCormick’s house comes to mind because it had all those things and actually had more shrubs in the adjacent yard. You see, that house was one of the originals in Tia Juana and it was on the same street where our first home was located.

We selected a day when the parents were away -- naturally as the fights were boisterous affairs. Lots of hollering, i.e.: “I hit you -- you’re dead!!” “You missed a mile!!”. “Get him!!” and more like that. We would raise, shoot and duck to avoid being hit. Ganging-up on and charging a selected adversary was permitted and your victim would cringe and cover his head to avoid the blister marks which later among his friends marked him as a “loser” all the while hollering “I give up”. If you gave up you were out of that game, which continued. To run away was OK and probably a wise thing to do considering the alternative was dealing with the humility of losing under fire afterwards when we discussed how the battle went. Sometimes and battles would ebb and flow across the neighboring yards and under other homes. These were the best battles as they involved hunting for your adversary.

There were two basic types of pea-shooters: The hollow stem of a Papaya tree leaf or the chrome tile-hanger tubes taken from the construction sites of the new homes where the camp was expanding. The tube diameter was critical as there was one common form of ammunition and that was the small, perfectly round, premature dates (peas) from the four palm trees that only grew along the fence that separated the Shell camp from Campo Verde and near the flood control pumps by the dike.

The ammo

The ammo,“peas”, grew in clumps on a stem which hung from where the fronds connected to the tree. You could pull the clump of pea ammo off the tree and then hang it from your pant's belt where it was easily accessible. The Peas were perfectly round and about ½ inch in diameter. When you pulled them off the clump they came away with a small protrusion which you nipped off with your teeth before you inserted the pea in the shooter.

You could safely hold about two peas in your mouth during a fight so you could shoot two quick shots with some assurance of a hit on your target. One had to be extra careful not to swallow the extra pea during the excitement. I never swallowed one as I was fearful of choking to death.

The shooter

Well, here was where some judgment was required. If you got a Papaya leaf stem you needed to select one that wasn't too old because the stem would begin to dry and doing so would begin to dimple the length of the tube. So a green stem was best and then you had to be sure it was straight. There weren't many mature Papaya trees in Tia Juana at that time so the supply was limited and the demand high. The tree end of the stem was slightly larger than the uniform diameter of the rest and became the blow-tube end. If you used Papaya tubes you could make them last longer by wrapping them in black electrical tape and soaking them in water when not in use. They might last two weeks that way. A real disadvantage of using Papaya stem was the real chance of crushing the tube in all the excitement and therefore the adoption of the towel-rod tubes.

I wasn't excited about the towel rod tubes except you did not have to worry about any of the issues associated with the Papaya stems and you could carry them inserted in your pants belt which looked cool.

To shoot the pea took some dexterity and the ability to inject a large puff of air into the tube in one instant blast and you accomplished this by placing the tip of your tongue into the end of the tube while building as much air pressure as you could in your mouth and then pulling away your tongue emptying the air from your lungs at the same time. We could great distance and accuracy sufficient to knock small birds out of the trees and to reach the highest bees nests.

To this day, I am amazed that no one lost their eye-sight during the “wars” because if you were struck anywhere the skin was exposed, it left small red welts. This was at distances of 25 feet. You could be reasonably accurate out to 50 feet or so.

I think what stimulated these periodic wars was the presence at the Country Clubs (old and new) of traders who brought and sold items from the Montelone Indians: blowguns and accompanying darts; the long bows and the especially long arrows tipped with hard, jagged, multi-directional points made from the heart of the black-palm and then there were the “authentic shrunken heads” (not to be confused with shrunken goat heads that came after the ban of selling the real thing). As kids, we used to hang around the display and have visions of Indians and shooting the kids we did not like with those neat weapons.

Walking down a camp street barefooted, wearing shorts with a bunch of peas in your belt and your shooter in your fist was ultimate cool -- what more could you ask for.

Yea, sure....” my daughter would say in her early disinterested teens.

But, that's how it was.

 

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