I was in my early teens before I realized that children in other parts of the country could run barefoot through tall grass without fear. Any child who attempted to do so in Central Texas—or in most parts of the state, for that matter—was either very brave or just plain foolish. For Texas fields and lawns had little in common with the velvety expanses of, say, Massachusetts or Northern California. Here, defenseless children had to contend with grass that concealed chiggers, mesquite thorns, hackberry branches, and, grizzliest of all, a small brown barb known to connoisseurs as the sticker bur, land mine of the backyard. No instep, no matter how proudly toughened on sizzling pavement, could endure it.
The sticker bur served notice to suburban children that the Texas landscape, however well fenced, watered, graveled, or gardened, remained untamed and inhospitable. As part of a roving band of neighborhood kids, I learned to survey yards like a point man heading into dangerous territory. A dry, patchy lawn was best avoided, though a healthy-looking turf of Bermuda grass held no promise of safety either. Sticker grass was usually paler and spinier than Bermuda, but that difference was discernible only at very close range.
Our gang may not have known where stickers came from (I believed they were prickly pear burs, blown in from the desert), but we knew full well what they could do. When little Stan Shaw, one of our bravest members, would show off by racing up the street through the grass, the rest of us would wait to hear his strangled yelp—akin to that of a betrayed cocker spaniel.