The Day the Martians landed

Kudzu Vines, Chinaberry Trees, and the Day the Martians Landed

kudzu1Kudzu has taken over the swamp on West Palmetto Street. This is an annual ritual, of course. Warm sunny days, a little rain, and lots of kudzu vines.

The broad, delicate leaves drive some folks crazy, pulling, burning, cussing – but to a kid in the 1950’s, the kudzu forest in the center of our block was a wonderful thing.

A few trees stretched upwards between the bushes, and under that shady canopy were many caves, tunnels and other hideouts. Cowboys and Indians? Of course. Cops and robbers? Them too. And Martians!

Whenever I pass the kudzu-covered swamp, I want to park the car and dive right in, become a kid again, burrow beneath the leafy branches and find arrowheads, bottle caps, bits of pull chain and bolts, maybe even pennies or nickels! Oh, for the good old days of kudzu vines and chinaberry trees.

A chinaberry tree looks like a cross between a pecan tree and an oak tree. The branches are thick and start low to the ground, and there are lots of them. They arch, twist, and form handy angles for sitting or climbing for grade-school kids.

Communications were great from the branches of a chinaberry. A couple of empty bean cans threaded with tobacco twine pulled taut, and you were all set. Enemy spies? I spy an enemy spy! Notify HQ!

Green chinaberries may look like oversize garden peas but they are hard as acorns. They made convenient ammo fired from your standard caliber sling-shot. Our sling-shots were hand-made, of course, with a sturdy handle ending in the best fork you could fashion, a length of rubber inner-tube for the business end.

Getting hit with a chinaberry propelled by a sling-shot was no laughing matter, but we didn’t have any crack shots in our crew so there weren’t many direct hits, or mama would have used a different weapon on our tender bottoms.

Oh yes, about the day the Martians landed…

All the kids loved our kudzu forest. It only stood to reason, (these were the days of the movies “Invaders From Mars”, “The Red Planet” and “Rocketship X-M”) if Martians wanted a good place to hide while they studied the earth, they’d pick that kudzu field, right?

One day Harold and I were out there playing when we saw them. They were tall and scary! They wore gas masks with long tubes to breath whatever kind of air they needed, helmets with ear flaps and spacesuits of course, and they made terrible alien noises. They started after us but our little legs were too fast.

Then they fell back laughing hilariously, and it turned out they weren’t Martians at all, just older kids who lived on the other side of the block. I was sort of sorry they weren’t real Martians, though.

It would have been really something if we were the first to discover them – it would have put Florence on the map, and us, too!

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