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Column: Growing up on Prairie Street

By Rick “Harv” Giese

Growing up in Stevens Point, we lived on Prairie Street. I still do. On the property line of my grandparent’s double lot was a crab apple tree that produced an abundance of very, very small, very yellow, and very sour apples.

As they fell to the ground in the summertime, they became our weapons of choice when snowballs were rendered invisible.

One day, while I was peacefully playing with an army of plastic soldiers, I was not alerted to the fact that a real life adversary, Jimmy Warner, a kid who lived across the street, was stealthily arming himself with a fistful of crab apples, mostly sized between a large marble and a used ping pong ball.

Jimmy was about to launch a surprise attack, carefully aiming a wild fruit missile in my direction. Startled to witness an apple just barely graze my head, I went AWOL from my plastic troops and looked to arm myself in self defense.

The next shot from Jimmy hit me flush on the cheek.

Game on.

Cut off from the apple arsenal I looked around to spy a large tomato at the edge of my grandma’s garden. I was going to go nuclear! Overly ripe, the tomato had developed a cancerous spot of mold on its skin. It struggled to contain the rotting flesh on its inside, and therefore had been remanded to a spot at the garden’s edge.

Under a barrage of incoming apple fire, I carefully loaded the tomato into my right hand and proceeded to charge Jimmy’s position, a tactic he apparently had not anticipated. Confident he held the high ground with an almost limitless source of ammunition at his disposal, he now froze in terror as I rapidly closed the distance between us armed with my single red, rotten, nuclear tomato.

Regaining his senses, Jimmy began a rapid retreat for the relative safety of his front yard and the mantle of his mother’s protection, as I closed the gap between us. My superior speed, fueled by adrenaline, quickly maneuvered me to a strategic position within eight feet of him, when I carefully, deliberately released my Sunday best fastball. Splat. It hit the target squarely in the back of his head.

There was an instant explosion of red, as if he had been hit by a water balloon filled with ketchup. I stood in awe at the spectacle of my revenge, my adversary, in full retreat, looking as if he had just emerged from a vat of stewed tomatoes.

My grandma’s prized tomato patch was also the source of another incident. She took great pride in her tomato plants and nursed them daily. There was hell to pay if anyone carelessly entered the garden, say to retrieve an errantly-thrown baseball, and knocked over one of the plants or broke off a stem.

One day, just a bit before the clock was about to strike noon and the factory whistle at Vetter Manufacturing a block away, was about to blow, my grandma approached my brothers and me from her garden with a coffee can in hand.

“What the heck do you think this is?” She asked, as she passed us the can.

Inside the coffee can was a single tomato stem; attached to it was a huge, green-skinned caterpillar munching on the foliage.

“This is what has been destroying my tomato plants,” she declared with stern conviction. “You can show your dad when he comes home for lunch.”

Now, dad worked just a block away in the office at Vetter. Waiting for him to arrive, we huddled on the sidewalk in amazement at what we all agreed was the largest “worm” we had ever seen. Suddenly a neighbor kid, on his tricycle, drove into our conclave, knocking the coffee can housing the caterpillar to the sidewalk.

The enormous fat green caterpillar rolled lazily onto the concrete sidewalk and into the path of the kid’s trike. Unaware of its presence he ran over the worm.

There was almost an audible pop as the eviscerated caterpillar spilled its intestines: an oozing mass of yellow and green slime that stood in stark relief on the grey sidewalk. Instantly a shade of green, that rivaled the hue of the macerated worm, came over my brother’s face. He threw up on the spot.

The now expired worm had gotten the last laugh.