The word “boondocks” describes most Mississippi Delta locations, especially Dunleith, where I grew up. Its remoteness provided an ideal environment for a secret society known as the Dunleithians.
To attain membership in this exclusively male warrior cult, boys must complete several grueling requirements. First, they had to read The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn and pass an oral examination administered by the club’s elders, all fifteen to eighteen years of age.
Next, candidates must resort to fisticuffs if necessary in defense of a classmate who was being harassed by the school bully. The third requirement — kissing a girl — was considered the worst of all.
Once these three requirements had been met, the warrior wannabe still faced the most daunting hurdle of all: To prove beyond doubt that he possessed a fighter’s fearless fortitude, he must perform a life-threatening feat.
If the candidate survived this event, he was eligible for the final rite of passage, in which the fiercest, most battle-hardened Dunleithian, Chief Bloody Knife, would unsheathe his genuine obsidian dagger bought at the Five & Dime, slash his and the candidate’s arms, and press the wounds together. This solemn ritual granted blood acceptance into the warrior fraternity.
The Dunleithians mustered for war councils once or twice a month, depending on how often their parents allowed them to camp out. While roasting marshmallows, they discussed future raids on “sodbusters” who had settled in the Dunleithians’ dominion.
During one of these war councils, I appeared before Chief Bloody Knife, who knew that I had completed all but one requirement, including (ugh!) kissing a girl.
“Candidate Reed, are you ready to cast off your puerile trappings and ascend to warrior status?”
“Yes, O Mighty Chief,” I answered, although I had no idea what puerile trappings were.
“What life-threatening feat will prove your worthiness to join our ranks?”
“I will ride Tom Tripe.”
The elders gasped in disbelief. Tom was an enormous, bellicose Brahman bull that belonged to Beulah and Bernice Bailey, spinster sisters who owned nearby B & B Ranch.
I didn’t think my feat would be too dangerous. When Tom was resting, rising to his feet required slow, strenuous effort. I planned to sneak up on him, hop on his back, remain astraddle while he struggled to lift his bulky body, hop off, and flee unhurt.
In the wee hours of the fateful night, Tom was slumbering peacefully beneath an oak tree. With heart pounding, I tiptoed up to him and leaped on his back.
Oak wood is much harder than a boy’s head. When I regained consciousness back at the campsite, I was told that Tom didn’t take much time getting to his feet. In fact, the roaring, snorting monster was afoot in nanoseconds, and catapulted his rider into a thick oak limb.
Fortunately, I escaped with only minor wounds — two black eyes, a divot of missing hair, and a bulging Frankenstein forehead, injuries certifying that I was now a full-fledged member of the Delta’s most legendary band of warriors: the Dunleithians.
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