Saturday, December 20, 2008

Childhood Freedom

When my brothers and sisters and I were children, we were pretty much given the run of the neighborhood and the nearby park. There was also a creek that we used in our play and probably did several things that would have made even our parents blanch and would give parents nowadays faint dead away.

Lest you think I'm joking, let me tell you a story.

Let's set this story sometime in the late 1960's to the mid 70's. I was one of the older of our particular group and enjoyed feeling like one of the "big kids". By the mid to late 70's already started what was to become a rather successful business as a baby sitter. But until then, I liked playing with all the other kids.

One of our neighbors, my best friend's house was by the creek. It wasn't a big creek most of the time, it took a really intense storm to raise it's water levels and it was known to go dry in spots when we'd not had rain in a while. It was pretty much the center point for the neighborhood kids.

We had several common meeting points, where we'd go and find out who we were going to be playing with that day. One was under the bridge. We kept some fishing line, hooks and some bobbers. No fishing pole, as those tended to walk away. besides, all we needed was a stick long enough to reach at least half way across the creek, or, as I preferred it, we could just fished with a hand line.

We usually caught small fish and threw them back. the real excitement would come if we had the misfortune to catch a big old soft shell turtle. Those things were often as big as a large dinner plate (about 12 to 14 inches in diameter), and they were MEAN. They also had a regrettable tendency to swallow your bait, hook and all. When we could get the hook out, we did. If we had to cut the hook off the line, well...hooks were cheap. If one of the bigger, older boys were around, they'd like as not just cut off the turtle's head. I didn't like to be there when they did that and would leave. Turtles were one of the reasons I preferred to fish with a hand line. I tended to fish closer to the shore and there were fewer turtles. Occasionally, we'd catch a fish worth keeping and we'd take it home to clean and cook. You could share if you wanted to, but otherwise, you got to eat your own fish.

Occasionally, we'd find that we weren't the only kids that stashed stuff under the bridge. One memorable discovery was made by my brother and his cohort of friends. They'd found a whole box full of Playboy and Penthouse magazines. As I think back, I believe that they'd claimed to have taken them off to just burn the whole box.

I believed them at the time

More often, the boys would catch or find dead fish and perform explosive experiments on them. There always seemed to be plenty of different kinds of firecrackers around. One or the other of the boys would bring a pocket full, with matches. We pretty much all carried a box of matches, a knife and anything else we could think we might need. I remember being very proud of the flint and steel fire making kit I'd gotten for Christmas, or perhaps my birthday. I showed off a lot that summer, showing how to lay and then set a fire with my little kit. I always put the fire out. We all did that. Not doing that was a sure fire (no pun intended) way to get our own butts burned up good.

The one and only kid in the neighborhood who'd not followed that rule had been caught and ever after that, one parent or another, any adult in the neighborhood would give that kid the evil eye. When I read the Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling I remember laughing, remembering that kid. He might not have had 'satiable curiosity, but it all the grown ups seemed to think he needed spanking...just on general principals.

We stayed outside, playing, for most of the days during the summer and on weekends when the weather was nice, or at least, not raining too hard. All our mother's requested was that we keep track of where each other was, to get home before dark, for supper, try not to get too dirty and mind our manners if we were allowed in someone else's home.

Lunch was something you made before you left home and carried with you. Occasionally, a mom would take pity on some of us walking appetites and feed us a snack or two. Other than that, we ate what we had, and supplemented it with things we bought from the 7-11 store with pooled moneys and with fruit we could pick from a few trees in the woods.

Dewberries were our favorite fruit. We could eat our fill of them, and bring them home. Our mom's always seemed to let us in when it was Dewberry season. I guess they liked the pies and cobbler and jam too.

After they were done, we had to settle for some pears, and some fairly productive Mulberry trees. The fruit we got off the Mulberries wasn't as sweet as the dewberries, and had the added hazard of being under the tree while a flock of birds was eating in the crown. Seemed like that fruit went right through those birds, without stopping. It made for a colorful carpet under the tree.

The pears were often as hard as rocks and doubled as ammunition. They were alright eating as long as you didn't have a loose tooth...though they were useful for that too if your money was running a little short that week.

All in all, it was a good childhood. More later.


  1. Cute story! I love childhood memories.

    I've moved to Word Press by the way.

  2. Kids can't have childhoods like that anymore. It's just so sad.

  3. Wonderful recollection! Do you know about Susan Alter's "Story Circle"? This could be a contribution.


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