We Arrive

We have arrived at our destination! Unpacking the car went rapidly as by that time the only thing we had left was the camping gear itself. Us kids (mostly) had eaten huge inroads into our supplies of food and had started on bits of leather torn from our boots.

In order to get us out from underfoot, my parents sent us kids into the surrounding neighborhood to see what could be seen. Anyone who has ever been a kid knows that the first thing you do is check your surroundings for other kids. This particular neighborhood appeared to have several kids living in it, but they were nowhere to be found. We all wandered around the block but found not one other kid anywhere. We returned to our house and resigned ourselves to putting away our things in our new room.

As it turned out, all the kids were up at a community function that occurred once a month up at some local Brotherhood of This or That. We would be invited next month. I found, to my surprise, that there were several kids my age nearby. Across what was later dubbed by us kids as the “little woods” was a family with several boys that approximately matched my brother and me in age. To the rear of our property was another family that didn’t have kids, but the elderly lady did like to pump us full of cookies and candies. That was a sure stop when making the rounds most any day. Note: today she would have been investigated or arrested for child endangerment or something stupid like that.

I also found that right next door lived a girl who was, according to my mom and hers, “just the same age” (Danger! Danger!) When you are nine years old, that last thing you need is a ‘girl’ hanging around when you want to do ‘guy’ things. Efforts were made by both set of parents to keep pushing us together for some reason and so we eventually began hanging around with each other just to please them, of course. Her name was Kathleen, and she was actually cute.

She had light red hair and freckles across her nose. She and I were both what you could call ‘outdoor’ kids. We would join the other kids in community games like Kick the Can, Run Sheep Run, and, my personal favorite, speeding our bicycles down Dead Man’s Hill and seeing how much rubber we could lay when we slammed on our brakes.

This was back in the day of bicycles with fat tires, no gears, and coaster brakes. All one had to do was stop pedaling and stand hard on the back pedal as if you were trying to pedal in reverse. This set the brakes and, if you weren’t careful, the rear wheel would lock and slide out from under you causing a nasty crash.

This was the same hill that, in the winter, would serve as our ‘short hill’ for sledding. The term ‘short’ alluded to the actual length of the ride as the grade was approximately eighty-five degrees or so. All one had to do was sit down on the sled (or belly-flop) and – ZING – down the hill you went. The major problem was that coaster sleds did not have brakes. Add to that, they didn’t have any real means for steering. You pretty much went where the vagaries of the packed slippery snow wanted you to go. Several of us kids would go careering into a row of poplars at the side of the road every winter. It was a wonder, and a testament to the resiliency of any kid, that more injuries weren’t caused by this hill.

As an opposite, the “long hill” was a couple of blocks over and offered a ride that could last as long as several minutes (as opposed to the “short hill” ride of 15 terrifying seconds). Rushing downhill at a more sedate speed allowed you to dodge (mostly) the kids coming back up the hill for another ride. Many times a downhill rider managed to pick up an unwilling rider simply by crashing into this unwary person who didn’t move fast enough.

Summertime was filled with adventures. There was a large wooded area near our house that was called, naturally, the big woods. Many times we faded into the woods to build forts, play hiding games, and generally be kids. Some of the stronger (read: bigger) kids tended to dominate such activities. This made us younger kids wary of entering the woods without sending out scouts. We became adept at sneaking up to the bigger kids camps and spying.

One time, when I was twelve or so, several of us watched the bigger kids leave their fort and head back home. We debated for a while about continuing, but finally agreed to enter the enemy camp. No modern commando had ever approached their objective with more stealth than we did. Dodging between trees, hiding behind fallen logs, and ghosting across leaves, we closed in on the entrance. Giving hand signals to halt my troop’s movement, I approached the entrance by myself and peeked inside.

There was nothing there but some tin cans of food, two packs of cigarettes, and a pile of ragged magazines. I called to the guys and they filed in, making sure to leave one of us as a lookout. They didn’t find anything more than was apparent the first time. One of them opened a magazine and held it up to the rest of us guys. Why in the world would a girl want to walk around in her underwear with her boobies hanging out?

I thought that this may require some more study, so I put a smaller magazine in my back pocket for safekeeping.

T.O.M

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