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Just another fond memory from the Red Clay Diary of an Alabama boy:
The Hornswoggler Swoggles Another Swashbuckler
I am sitting half-hidden in the tall grass of our back yard in 1952 Tuscaloosa, swatting at flies, clawing at red bugs on bare legs, tying tight a red bandanna to dam the rivulets of sweat pouring down my neck, day-dreaming about swashbucklers and hornswogglers.
I am quiet and vigilant, awaiting the appearance of brother Ronny.
I have a plan.
“Hey,” Ronny grins as he trots over to my nest, short pants, no shirt or shoes, perfectly attired for this hot summer day. Being a younger brother, Ronny is still willing to go along with just about anything his big brother comes up with.
“Okay,” I say. “Let’s play like we’re Scaramouche and we’ll sword-fight to the death!”
We’ve just seen the Stewart Granger movie and assume for the moment that we, too, can learn to conquer evil with trusty swords in hand, given the chance.
“You be the bad guy and I’ll be Scaramouche!” I love saying the name—Scaramouche!
Of course, Ronny is almost always relegated to being the bad guy or the sidekick, and for now he doesn’t complain. When we play Tarzan, he’s Boy. When we play Lone Ranger, he’s Tonto. If it’s Roy Rogers, he’s Gabby Hayes. If it’s Captain Marvel, he’s just Billy Batson.
Today, we can’t remember the name of the evil swordsman in Scaramouche, but that doesn’t much matter. Ronny knows he’ll have the honor of being defeated by Big Brother.
We find two semi-straight sticks of equal length and begin our idea of fierce swordsmanship. Knowing that our all-seeing all-knowing mother will know whether we’ve behaved, we are careful to knock sticks together without knocking heads or busting knuckles. We leap over the splintery hand-made saw horse, roll over a rusty oil drum, pole dance around the swing supports, wallow atop ant beds, all the while pretending to sword fight to the death.
After a while, the heat gets to us and we run to the kitchen for cold Pepsi and crumbly cookies.
Down all the years, I can’t help recalling all the wonderful fictitious sword fights I’ve witnessed on screen, in imagination most vivid. But the one sword fight to which all subsequent sword fights are compared is locked into memory.
Even back then, we kids of summer know that there is something special about the Scaramouche fight. It is long and fierce. Very long. Very fierce. And daring, too. Between them, the dueling Mel Ferrer and Stewart Granger destroy an entire stage set, slash props, mangle a piano, leap over balconies, swing from velvet ropes…and all this with no musical background. Decades later, I learn to appreciate how dramatically loud silence can be. This sword fight is so ferocious that accentuating music is not needed in the least.
Nowadays, I get to check out my childhood impressions by re-viewing that marvelous battle. And sure enough, it still holds me in thrall.
I love many movie sword fights, including the one between Danny Kaye and Basil Rathbone in The Court Jester and, of course, the great conflict between Inigo Montoya and Westley in The Princess Bride. In all of these battles, the viewer is simply lost in the passion of the moment. We really believe these people are fighting for their lives, or at least their honor!
But the best sword play in all memory is the one between Ronny and me. For at this one special moment, we really are Scaramouche and the Marquis de Maynes. We really are caught up in the most glorious of all battles—the one where imagination and hope win out over red bugs and itchy grass on a hot summer day in the long-ago, far-away land of pre-Buttercup Tuscaloosa
© Jim Reed 2018 A.D.