Oddly, check one of the things that kept me alive growing up in Norman, Oklahoma was the boy scouts. I ended up becoming an eagle scout and then went on and was in an explorer post. the things we did at that time would cause national scandals now, but it was the 70’s and things were different. regardless, it was great fun and i made lasting friends and learned some good stuff and can still recite the trustworthy helpful-friendly-courteous-kind… thing.
One of the “dads” who spent his spare time wrangling a bunch of insane kids was Dr. Hal Belknap. He was insane and a great guy. He was a great man who never forgot what it was like to be a boy. Dr. B. died this week and, you know, that happens, but I’ve been thinking about him a lot more than I thought I might.
When the streets in Norman snowed over, he would tie a big plastic bowl/sled thing to the back of one of their cadillacs with 15 or so feet of rope and drive. I played in a band with his son, Hal, and lived fairly close by so I was one of the lucky ones who got invited to go sledding. Dr. Belknap would drive like a crazy person (which he basically was) around the neighborhood with a kid on the sled, rounding corners until the person on the sled bit it violently into a tree or parked car or something. Then some other fool would jump out of the car, get on the sled and hang on until physics made it impossible to do so any longer.
Down jackets would be ruined, pants ripped, soaked with ice and snow. hands would be so cold you couldn’t close or open them. we would have cuts and bruises and scratches everywhere. you could even lose a shoe or a boot. it was violent insanity with Dr. B. at the wheel and that is exactly what was called for. He was able to provide that on more than one occasion.
For at least 2 years in a row, the explorer post would travel to South Padre Island, Texas, for the pre christmas fishing trip. The trip never materialized because the seas were always too rough, but Dr. Belknap would somehow enlist at least one other poor sucker idiot dad to drive another car full of 15 year old boys for a weekend camping on the deserted sand dunes.
The drive down was stupid insane and, again, would cause a national furor now. you had at least two cars full of kids throwing water baloons, trash, fruit, bags of urine, cups full of tobacco spit (we all “dipped” skoal at the time) at each other. the cars would get trashed.
then, we’d hit the texas/oklahoma border. they sold fireworks year round so we would buy gross upon gross upon gross of bottle rockets and roman candles; literally buying all of the bottle rockets & roman candles a stand had in stock. many of those would be shot at the cars and if you were in Dr. Belknap’s car, you were assured a “victory” as he didn’t mind laying back for a while and then making a 100 mph ambush on another car. Or, he’d exit the freeway and then floor it so he could get back on the freeway ahead of the other cars so we could throw shit at the other kids in the cars who had sane people driving them.
once we hit the dunes of south padre island, Dr. B. would find a spot to camp conveniently far, far, far, far away from us. Us would be 10-15 guys and a couple of the girls in our explorer post. (No, we didn’t do any sexy time with them.) They were cool girls who were in our post. We were insane, not assholes.
The rest of the night was a bottle rocket war. it was beautiful. thousands of bottle rockets being shot at your best buddies in the crisp december air of south padre island, texas. bundled up with layers of clothes, goggles, hats, gloves… the air was cool enough so it wasn’t too hot… the layers protecting us from the few bottle rockets that would hit. the hits were surprisingly few and the injuries were zero. not a one. and, you know, there might have been a 7-11 about a mile away that someone might have been able to buy a case of beer from.
i’m thinking how, in this ultra-safe padded world, if one were to read on the news about an explorer post who drank beer and shot bottle rockets at each other, there would be a national outrage. bill o’reilly’s plastic face would be stretched beyond the breaking point and all the hippies would be shaking their heads at how we were probably gaybashing hitler youth who didn’t have enough love. but dr. b knew that he was taking us to an enormous bounce house for 15 year old boys (and a couple of really cool girls) and knew that we were responsible enough not to do something truly stupid. plus that the dunes were soft and forgiving enough and we were strong enough to take on anything that another 15 year old who had downed two beers, wearing two down jackets, trying to stop laughing long enough to “aim” a bottle rocket over a windy sand dune could dish out.
i am waxing sooo nostalgic, but it was absolutely the perfect definition of ‘innocent fun’.
So yeah. So… dr. belknap is gone. long live dr. belknap. and, you know, he wasn’t just a crazy freak who knew how to drive like an idiot in the snow, he was also a genius doctor who did trailblazing stuff in his field.
the picture of him here should give you an idea about how he was. look at his face. those smile lines. happy. excited to be there. the kind of doctor who would take your temperature, look at the thermometer and say “yep… about a quart low…” the photographer was probably laughing and having a hard time holding the camera steady, right? dr. belknap just told him a joke; said something really funny. maybe not. maybe i’m romanticizing the past. i doubt it.
i was reading his obituary and he had started another boy scout troop. even after his son was long gone. he was just a guy who was part of norman. i’m sure the behavior became “appropriate”. that’s good. we were a rare breed. we knew how to deal with freedom.
back then, both sides had that unspoken agreement about pushing the envelope.
i will manage to not write “these kids today” but i wasn’t able to keep the tears in.
they broke the mold with him. he was a great guy. look at that smile. man.