I was probably twelve before I learned that sleeping on the floor and riding bucking calves was not part of the Christmas celebration. That was also the Christmas of the Shootout at the Sam Holley Corral.
You’re probably thinking, now what’s the idiot talking about?
You see, I was one of the fortunate youngsters who was surrounded by a large, and I mean large family. How large, you ask? When we got together, we took up two zip codes. And this family gathered every Christmas.
Mama and Papa Holley had eight children. Now you give each of those children a spouse and kids, and the numbers explode exponentially to the fifties and sixties.
During his seventy-odd years, Papa Holley had four farms. The two farms I remember most were near Littlefield, some thirty miles or so north of Lubbock where the country is flatter than a wet saddle blanket.
The one out near Hart Camp had two family homes, one a three-room, the other, two. The next farm, back south of Littlefield, had four rooms. When the clan gathered, people slept everywhere, and in the middle of the night, if someone unfortunately felt nature’s calling, they had to tiptoe and stumble over dozens of bodies to get outside.
Oh yeah, this was way back in the days of outdoor facilities.
It was a joyous time for me and my cousins. Gifts back then were spare, but a cap pistol, a couple boxes of caps and being with each other more than satisfied us.
And that’s what brought about the ‘Shootout at the Sam Holley Corral’ on the farm near Hart Camp.
Papa’s barn with its loft and stalls and surrounding corrals made an excellent playground for cowboys and Indians—or marines and Nazis or good guys and bad guys.
Riding our stick horses, Ed and I climbed and rode through every inch of the barn, planting bad men in the ground with our trusty cop pistols(not to mention spooking Papa’s cows).
Our older cousin, Dooley, was always picking on us, and as I remember one particular day, Ed and I had grown tired of shooting imaginary outlaws, so we holstered our sixguns and took up bronc busting. Of course, having no wild horses around, we had to settle for Papa’s calves.
Ed, having lived on the farm, could stay on the bucking calves longer than I. Of course, if you know anything about corrals, the animals that inhabit them leave behind copious evidence of their presence.
Now, one of the natural laws of Nature is that when you are thrown from a bucking calf, odds are astronomical against your missing any of the numerous deposits the animals have left behind. And believe me, we didn’t beat the odds at all. Never came close.
Once, when I was trying to scrape some of the deposit from my shirt, a marble-sized rock slammed into the dirt at our feet. We looked around and spotted Dooley on top of the pole shed attached to the barn. He was drawing back on his slingshot.
We broke in different directions while he laughed maniacally and continued shooting at us. Now, we were just kids, but we weren’t stupid. Cap pistols couldn’t compete with his slingshot.
Darting under the shed, I grabbed a broken plank about two feet long. At first I didn’t know what to do with it, and then my feeble little brain gave birth to a brilliant idea. I scooped up a load of manure with one end, raced back into the corral, and slung it at Dooley.
The plank was just like a catapult. We could hurl that stuff almost fifty feet. My first shot, I missed by a mile, but now, we had a means to fight back.
Dooley was good with the slingshot, but it’s hard to hit a nine-year-old boy darting about like a crazed banshee. He did connect a couple times, but so did we.
When Ed caught him in the side of the head and Dooley started gagging, we figured flight was the better part of valor and raced for the house and the protection of the grown-ups.
Mama Holley ran us all out of the house to clean up. That’s when Dooley caught up with us. You don’t want to know what happened then.
Looking back, I was one lucky kid. It’s a shame they don’t make Christmases like that any more.