Not long ago I fell into a conversation with a fellow employee born about a decade before I was. We grew up under similar circumstances, and we marveled at all the freedom we had enjoyed to amuse ourselves as boys.
Necessity mothered a great deal of invention for my siblings and me. We didn’t come from noble birth, and gifts of toys and sports equipment were bestowed only at Christmas, rarely on birthdays and never during the remaining months. We worked hard, but it was unpaid labor to help with the farm.
For young boys living in the country, though, not every day was a work day. Each season had its own demands, little or great, and the care of cattle was different from that for hogs, chickens and the various crops and grains. The milk cow did require attention in morning and evening, but many other chores could be done in our own schedule, so long as they got done.
Even on days when we weren’t needed, we were up at daybreak (when is the last time your kids did that this summer?), eating a big breakfast of ham, eggs, biscuits and gravy – all produced on the farm – and dashing out the door, the slam of the screen door the last our parents would hear of us all day.
And so we were often
left to our own devices. Today, a child who is not seen for five minutes is assumed to be a hostage or a runaway. In my childhood, however, out from underfoot was out of mind. If we weren’t needed for free labor, we weren’t to get in the way of busy adults.
Four compass directions beckoned us, toward fields, pastures, mountains, woods, creeks, paths, ponds. The open sky gave us space to shoot homemade arrows or fling green persimmons using sharpened limbs from the tree. We dug red Georgia clay out of the bank beside our dirt road as our medium to mold rustic artwork. We pried angular chunks of quartz in the ground, hard and translucent, and gleaned pebbles with enough iron in them to be attracted by the magnet we normally kept in our cigar box of possessions.
Creeks held minnows, tadpoles and crawfish that we scooped up in tin cans. We cut saplings and limbs with our pocketknives to turn into bows, augmented by twine, just right for shooting straight milkweed arrows at our targets.
Those same weeds, with twine, a sheet of newspaper and rags for a tail, were fashioned into a kite. We built treehouses in the woods, swung from vines like Tarzan, smoked rabbit tobacco, and snacked on walnuts, hickory nuts, blackberries, huckleberries and black cherries.
In freshly plowed cornfields, we picked up enough arrowheads to bring Custer down. We pulled up green peanuts, made off with watermelons and sassafras roots, and toyed with dandelions, honeysuckle and maypops.
Yes, my wonder years were as big as all outdoors – and absolutely free. What about you?
Reach Glynn Moore at email@example.com.