Indian Turnips

Life is full of odd things, full of extremes, and full of older brothers who enjoy antagonizing younger brothers. My older brother Roy and his companions of folly, frivolity, and fumbles spent many hours in the woods. At times they would spend an entire day in the woods, sometimes shooting a rabbit and roasting it over an open fire.

My twin brother Ivan and I wondered what they did in the woods all day and wanted to go along, if nothing more than simply being accepted by the older boys. The answer to the question of whether we could go along was always a resounding “no!” The question of “why not?” was considered so preposterous that any kind of lengthy explanation would be unworthy of consideration. ‘Cause was their answer, and that was that, like it or not—‘cause!

Of course Ivan and I were persistent and clamored for our rights. Just because we were a little smaller than them, why couldn’t we? ‘Cause! We would grow up soon enough, so why could we not go along? ‘Cause! We can keep up, we know we can! No! Why? ‘Cause! The clamor was met with more clamors of perfectly good reasons why little people were unworthy to be considered. Little people, bah! Why, I could almost touch the red gas lantern that hung from the kitchen ceiling.

One day the three companions made plans to go to the woods and do things that boys do in the woods. This time our clamor to go along brought our mother into the fray. This time the companions’ arguments fell on futile ears and mother made the big boys take us “little boys” along.

Ivan and I were a jolly pair as we kept pace with the three bigger boys walking through the tall, prickly grass of the un-mowed meadow. The boys were a boisterous bunch as they led us into the woods, boasting what they would do if they were Indians, cowboys, Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, or anyone else other than who they were. Ivan and I had fun as we ran, slid, and stumbled along pretending that we could do what they could and that we knew what they knew.

Suddenly one of the older boys stopped, got out his hunting knife, and stooped to dig up a root that he insisted was the best eating you could find in the woods. “Indian Turnip,” he called it. He cleaned up the root and offered it to me and Ivan. We were skeptical and refused it. But after convincing us that they had eaten it before and it was very good, we took it, if nothing more than to prove that if they could eat it then we could eat it, regardless of taste or fear of death.

After taking a bite and gingerly crunching it, my taste buds brought the reality of scheming older boys into sharp focus. The root was strong as fresh horseradish mixed with old onions but more pungent and cruel than both could muster at their best. We spit, coughed, and spit some more. I finally took out my handkerchief and tried to wipe the inside of my mouth with no results. Our eyes watered as we spit and suffered. Gloating in their revenge for our persistence, clamoring, and interference with their big boy activities, our companions laughed with glee at our misery.

We continued miserably along, not enjoying ourselves as much as before, scheming what would be the best way to get revenge in the woods. Though the boys got a big thrill at seeing us suffer, little did they know that they were not yet out of the woods. As we walked along, our misery gradually subsided and we began to enjoy ourselves again.

The boys were looking for a special grapevine they could swing from. It was not long as we frolicked along before Eli saw the right one. “I found one!” he shouted gleefully as he ran for it.

It was a long vine that had attached itself to the top of a tall tree and then had detached itself at the bottom. The tree stood tall at the edge of a steep gully. The vine was at the exact right place for boys to optimize their pleasure and boasting rights of having found the perfect vine at the perfect spot, and no one else knew where it was, so there!

Normally when you found a vine you tugged at it, pulled on it, and proved it, but only if you were not Eli. If you were Eli, you just grabbed it and went over the edge. Eli grabbed that vine and ran with it with all his might, knowing that this was the thrill that would fill.

When he got to the edge of the gully, it swung him far over the edge much to his youthful delight. When he swung back for a landing, hanging on for dear life, the vine, way up in the solid tree, let go. Eli, vine, future rides, boasting rights, and pride all came crashing down into the gully.

Since Ivan and I were too young to know that Eli could have killed himself, we shouted for joy to see our antagonist come to such a painful end. Eli got up stiffly off the ground as we laughed with glee. Though neither Ivan nor I had anything to do with his situation, we gloated and laughed for a long time. Every so often during that day one of us would shout, “I found one!”

We came home that evening feeling good that we had made it through the day and that misery had begat misery. We wanted to do it again, this time without the Indian radish but definitely with the vine!

We should not have gloated over Eli’s misfortune, but we were young and ignorant. The Golden Rule was not clear to us yet. The lesson to be learned is that what goes around comes around. That goes for the antagonist and the antagonized.