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,“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.
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
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.
my daughter would say in her early disinterested teens.
But, that's how it was.