Stink Base and the End of an Era
Tue, 05/24/2022 - 4:00pm admin
In the spring of 1958, the Montier School bell rang for the last time, when the school that had existed for decades was absorbed into the Birch Tree system. By that year, the school only served six grades. Seventh- and eighth-grade classes had merged the previous year. My brother’s class was the last eighth-grade class to graduate from Montier in 1957.
In sense, it was the end of a family history. My grandfather had attended an earlier edition of the school in the early 1900s. My great aunt, Opal Casey, taught there in the 1920s, and according family lore, placed a loaded revolver on her desk to discourage the bad behavior of some ruffian boys. She could have called for backed-up since her father was the Shannon County deputy sheriff.
Other traditions and lessons also faded away with the demise of Montier and other country schools: multiple grades in one room; water drawn from a cistern so students could wash their hands with orange Lifebuoy soap before lunch (we called it dinner); calculating board feet in arithmetic; cyphering matches; smoking grapevines (I didn’t); and stink base.
Stink base, an old-fashioned schoolyard game is unknown to my urban friends. A variation of the children’s game of tag, it is known by other names such as dare base or prisoner’s base. Forms of the game have been referenced in literature, perhaps, even in the works of Shakespeare. According to a biography of author Rex Stout, the manuscript of the Nero Wolf mystery, Prisoner’s Base, was titled Dare Base, based on the children’s game, but was changed by the editor. I only knew it as stink base.
In retrospect, it was easier to play than to explain the rules. I asked my older, smarter brother, and he replied, “It had rules?” Essentially, teams were chosen and formed lines facing each other about 30 feet apart. At the end of each line, a marker such as a rock or piece of firewood represented the “stink base,” where players captured from the opposing side were “imprisoned.”
Players from either side would run across an imaginary center line daring an opposing player to tag them before the challenger could return to their home line. Mild-mannered taunting and double-dog dares often accompanied the challenge: “Fraidy cat, can’t catch me.”
Once the dare was accepted and the chaser crossed the centerline, any player from the challenger’s team could tag the chaser, sending the boy or girl to the stink base where they would remain until a teammate could free them by racing over, without getting caught themselves, and tagging the prisoner’s outstretched hand. At the end of recess, the team with the most prisoners “on stink” won.
Only one prisoner at a time could be released. But if a teammate could run all the way around the entire opposing team’s line and back to the home line without being tagged, then all the captives on the stink base could be released. My brother managed this daunting feat during one game but also managed to split the seat of his pants in the process. He spent the rest of the day wearing a jacket tied around his waist to cover his backside.
The last day of school at Montier was a celebration, and I wore a new pair of Tuf-Nut blue jeans purchased at Edgar Curtis’s Mountain View store. Classwork ceased after a couple hours in the morning, followed by playground activities and “dinner on the grounds,” a glorious potluck—ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans, Kool-Aid, cakes, and pies—supplied by parents and other community members.
To top off the day, classmates Larry Stover, Glenn “Chick” Renshaw, Don Cafourek, and I had planned a fishing trip to Woodard’s Pond, a few miles from the schoolhouse.
With rods, reels, and coffee cans of worms, we hopped on our bikes and peddled eastward past Beacie Davis’s farm located on a deserted road that ran parallel to the railroad tracks out of old Montier. Shannon County folks will remember Miss. Davis as the longtime English teacher at Birch Tree High School.
Woodard’s pond, a moss-covered half-acre pool, sat 50 yards behind a vacant, deteriorating farmhouse. We parked the bikes and bounded toward the pond. Larry and I led the way through waist-high weeds and bramble. I felt a blackberry briar stab me on my right leg. I looked down and saw a brown-colored snake fall off my leg. In disbelief, I thought to myself, I think that snake bit me.
I pulled up my pantleg, and saw two puncture marks surrounded by discoloration. I knew what that meant. The year before, Mrs. Shockley had given a lesson on first aid for snakebites that included using a belt as a tourniquet, incising the fang marks, and sucking out the venom (but not if we had dental cavities). On the blackboard, she distinguished the bitemarks of snakes by drawing two dots for fang marks of a viper and horseshoe-shaped dots representing teeth marks of a non-venomous snake.
We remembered Mrs. Shockey’s lesson, and sterilized the blade of my Barlow pocket knife with a match and made crossed incisions over each fang mark. Larry volunteered to suck out the poison. Chick and Don took off on their bikes to get help. In route, Don hit a chuckhole and flew over the handlebars and sustained some significant scrapes and bruises. Nevertheless, they found Chick’s sister who arrived in less than an hour to drive me to Dr. Walton’s office in Mountain View.
When I couldn’t for certain identify the kind of snake, Dr. Walton said, “Well, something bit you.” He removed the belt from my leg, replaced it with a rubber constriction tube, and said the only thing we did wrong was applying the torniquet a few inches too high.
I spent the night in the St. Frances Hospital and received several hypodermic injections. I don’t remember feeling too sick, but my grandmother said I turned bright red all over, and for the next several weeks, different parts my face would swell.
The stay in the hospital cost $40.00. How do I remember that? I simply recall standing next to my stepfather when he paid the bill in cash from his always over-stuffed billfold. My brother and I used to joke that George kept enough green in his wallet to burn a wet elephant.
The snakebite story didn’t end in 1958. Some fifty years later, as a federal attorney, I had occasion to call the bank in Birch Tree. When I identified myself, a woman on the other end of the line, asked, “Are you the Lonnie Whitaker that got bitten by a snake?” It was Don Cafourek’s sister Henrietta, who was a schoolmate a few years ahead of me at Montier.