My memory isn't clear on why the piles of dirt were under the big oak tree in the field behind Buddy's house. Probably our cave digging residue. But they did not go to waste.
This imposing oak tree created a magnetic field that attracted the boys in the neighborhood. Shade from the heat of summer. Wonderful, massive branches that God had spaced perfectly for climbing, supporting tree houses, and suspending swings. To prove yourself worthy of ascending this shrine, however, you had to attain the first gnarly limb. This was accomplished in several ways: climbing on top of a rickety wooden crate and leaping; or someone making a hand stirrup and catapulting you in the air; or standing on someone's shoulder.
The other challenge was getting back to earth. You could jump to the hard ground, but this could create stone bruises that could last through the summer. You could hang from the lowest limb then drop to the ground, but this was the "sissy" way and would be accompanied by one of Buddy's wise-ass remarks that questioned your masculinity.
I'm not sure who thought of it, but I believe it was Ernie who first jumped from the limb into one the piles of soft, Florida sand. This was great. Jump from the limb, not hurt your feet, and not suffer humiliation. Occasionally, the sand pile had to be restructured and fluffed.
Charlie, who had one of the most devious minds in all boykind, took this a step further. How high in the tree could one be and jump into a pile of sand, and not be seriously injured?
Charlie climbed to the next highest limb in the big oak, centered his body over the mound of sand below, and yelled "Geronimo" as he jumped. Nothing to it. The sand had readily cushioned his landing. Ernie was next. After properly positioning himself and with just a slight pause, Ernie jumped. He sank into the soft sand up to his knees. Naturally, he sang out "Geronimo" as he jumped. Now it was Buddy's turn. He was ready, then hesitated. Ernie offered words of encouragement: "What are you waiting for, a bus?" Then Charlie's words of wisdom: "It won't hurt much if you miss." Knox snickered.
Buddy jumped. Then Knox. Then Derrold. Then David. Then Dale. Then Tommy.
We moved to the next higher limb to jump. Then the next higher limb. A lot of "Geronimos" rang out that day. As we continued to move our jump-off point higher and higher, the more difficult it became to avoid obstacles. One or more limbs had to be held back while someone jumped. In some instances, the pile of dirt had to be moved
It seemed that the mountain of sand dwindled geometrically the higher we were in that old tree. It was becoming a mere few grains, an anthill. Also, the higher we went the fewer the jumpers. Amazingly, usually forgetful boys suddenly remembered an important errand or chore. Or thought they heard mother calling.
Even with the soft, fluffy sand, feet were beginning to hurt. Scrapes, cuts and bruises were beginning to appear as a result of collisions with small branches during decent. We hardcore jumpers persevered.
Eventually, we ran out of tree. There were no higher limbs.
As they summer days went by, we worked on variations such as: swinging from a limb and letting go at the precise moment so that our trajectory would result in a safe landing in the soft sand; or jumping in pairs with our arms locked together. We were good. The news of our accomplishments began to spread.
The pull of the oak tree was stronger for boys than for girls. Girls were only occasionally attracted. An infrequent visitor was Mary Ellen. Infrequent because her father was overprotective - or maybe he didn't trust us. She had apparently heard of our manly exploits and, in spite of her father's wishes, arrived one day to witness our heroics. We were taught to be obliging to the weaker sex. We competed to see who could be the most obliging. The more Mary Ellen "oohed" and "aahed" at our efforts, the more obliging we became. We demonstrated all our jumps and variations thereof.
Inevitably, Mary Ellen requested, in her girlish, coy way, that she be allowed to jump into the soft, yielding sand. Of course we obliged. We carefully boosted Mary Ellen to the lowest point in the tree. Buddy appeared to let his hand linger longer on her rear than necessary as he helped push Mary Ellen onto the limb. (Some of us knew that Mary Ellen had a nice derriere. The back of Mary Ellen's house faced the back of Ernie's House. On summer nights we would sometimes sit in Ernie's backyard, engaged in philosophical discussions, and notice that Mary Ellen had "forgotten" to close the blinds to her bedroom window. This provided us with brief glimpses of her anatomy. Sex education at its best.)
In typical feminine fashion, Mary Ellen started to change her mind. She complained about the height, worried that the sand pile was not soft enough, and generally feared that she might blemish her delicate body. After numerous assurances that she could not possibly get hurt jumping from the lowest limb, she jumped. She landed dead center in the sand pile, sinking gently. She lost her balance when pulling her feet from the sand and rolled over on her side. When she arose, she complained that her arm hurt.
We were experts on minor injuries so we examined the arm closely. We pinched it, pulled it, flexed it, raised it, and lowered it. Diagnosis: nothing serious.
The following morning we jumped on our bikes and headed for the store on 63rd Street next to the railroad tracks to return pop bottles for deposit and buy packages of Kool Aid. This took us by Mary Ellen's house.
There was Mary Ellen. She was sitting on her front steps. A cast on her arm.
Mary Ellen never again visited the big oak tree.