Growing up in Wild Peach, Texas, gives one a certain perspective. True, that perspective will inevitably involve an appreciation for the taste of squirrel, a longing to drive a go-cart with no roll cage at high speeds through a field used for grass farming (the divots are bone rattling), and a deeply ingrained Southern accent that, even though you've overcome it, still crops up when you're tired. I live in a suburb now, and work in one of the largest cities in the world, and I make my living by tapping keys and making letters appear on a mystical screen I could only have dreamt of as a child. And still, Wild Peach is there, right at the root of it all.
Wild Peach boys are famous. Locally. They're the bunch that tends to get into "Dukes of Hazard" level trouble. They drive fast cars and date fast women. They drink late into the night at the end of barely paved roads that butt against and drop into the San Bernard River. They wouldn't know a shoe if it was stuck to the bottom of their foot.
Or, at least, that was the kind of reputation Wild Peach boys seemed to have when I was growing up. It may be tame today, which is too bad. Because if you're going to grow up in a place called "Wild Peach," you'd better have an edge to you. You'd better skew toward the "wild" and away from the "peach."
I was more peach than wild.
I never was much for drinking, especially late into the night at the brush-lined end of a gravel-and-tar road, with a dark and gator-filled river looming below. My car—a teal green '83 Ford LTD handed down to my me by my grandmother—wasn't particularly fast, either, even though it was a pretty decent V8. And I didn't date many fast women. To my youthful dismay.
Any wildness I showed came earlier, during that go-cart phase, when I would run barefoot through the woods, camp knife in my pocket, a coil of clothesline I thought of as my "bullwhip" hanging from a loop of my cut-offs. I climbed trees and onto the corrugated roofs of rusty old sheds, dancing from bare foot to bare foot on the sun-broiled aluminum. I built things from equal parts spare junk and vivid imagination, and never seemed to notice that they didn't work. I ran and climbed and jumped and crawled, covered in dirt and grime and and stink, an never noticing. I was OK with sweat, way back then.
My Summer days were well spent. I might find myself in a clearing in the woods, using the waterproof matches from a survival knife to start a small fire in a piece of rotted log. The smoke made me feel funny. I've never tried pot, but I imagine it's a similar feeling, light-headed and slightly dizzy, faintly hungry, maybe a little nauseated, and entertained by the ants that crawled over my legs like I was just part of the landscape.
Oh yeah, pot. That's another of those Wild Peach things that I never got around to. Somehow it was never offered to me, or I was too naive to know what all the subtle hinting was about. Probably the latter, because I know there was pot galore floating around.
I'd say a large portion of my writing career was seeded in those woods behind my house, in the backroads covered in loose gravel or gobs of scalding tar, in tree-lined fields and ditches, in the rivers and ponds and mud puddles of Wild Peach. A lot of what I did as a kid was about imagining a world outside and away and far-far, never realizing I'd spend a large part of my time as an adult trying to figure out a way to get the "Wild Peach experience" without actually living in the middle of nowhere.
I have a million stories about Wild Peach, and my childhood there. And all of them more or less start with me trying something. Usually something stupid. Sometimes with friends in tow. But more often, all by myself, in a clearing in the woods, with the wind kicking up and the leaves rustling around me in a constant white noise so that I eventually felt like I was in a very large room, safe and sound where no one could reach me.