Today on my walk, for some reason I started thinking about my early childhood wandering, and then, how different my wandering is today.
About the time I turned 7, in 1949, my mom and dad built their dream home. After World War II, they had bought an old fifty-acre farm three miles out of the small textile town where they had grown up together and married. The farm had not been worked for years so it was mostly woods.
My brother was 11 and a book worm. I, on the other hand, found school difficult. In fact, for a few years after moving to the country, school just got in the way of my exploring our woods and wandering the surrounding area. Fifty acres at that age was the World to me.
For the next several years I could not get home from school quick enough. My folks gave me an Irish setter, who was my best friend until I discovered girls. His name was Kelly. Kelly and I explored every inch of our new world. We single handedly kept the Japanese and Germans from our land. Remember this was just after WWII, and I had a great imagination.
There was a small creek where I would spend hours trying to build a dam. The creek, of course, always won. Kelly loved splashing around in the small pool I had created. I tried panning for gold with no more success than my dam building, although I was good at turning over rocks to find crawfish and salamanders. I even occasionally found an arrowhead.
When it was time to come home, my mom would blow the car horn three times. I don’t think she ever worried about me being gone all afternoon. She knew I could handle all the imaginary characters I dreamed up. There wasn’t much else that could harm you in those days.
One summer, the town started the construction of a dam to create a reservoir. The dam was to be built on a river about a mile from my home. I loved watching the construction. The problem was getting there. Between our land and the dam site was a small farm with an owner I was sure would shoot me on sight. My daily afternoon challenge was to get across that farm and into the woods on the other side and then onto the construction site.
The creek that started on our property continued across his farm to the river. It formed a ravine where the vegetation offered some cover. Kelly and I would get to the line between our properties and wait. Tucked in the bushes, I surveyed the farm carefully to be sure the farmer was not around. He seldom was. I don’t know how he farmed because he didn’t work much. Anyway, I would decide it was safe and off we would go. The same routine would happen on the return trip.
Other times were spent in such activities as climbing tall pine trees to see if I could capture a baby squirrel for a pet. This was scary because you never knew if the mother squirrel was at home in the nest or not. I never got one. On the other hand I was very successful in trapping rabbits. My dad taught me how to build a “rabbit gum”–a rabbit trap that had been designed to put meat on the table. I built several to set out in the winter. When it got cold I put them on rabbit trails along the edge of our woods.
Each morning when my mother woke me, the first thing I did was to throw on some warm clothes and race out the door on a run to check the gums. If the trap door was down, you knew you had something. If I had a rabbit, I would pull it out by its hind legs and cradle it like a baby in my arms to take it back to the house. By then breakfast was ready, so I would show it around and then turn it loose. Off it would go, and in for breakfast I would go–both the wiser.
Why am I inviting you into this snippet of my childhood? Because I had a wonderful childhood. No devices. We didn’t even have a TV, but that’s another story.
Back then the most high-tech device we did have was the phone that you spoke the number you wanted directly into an operator. My dad’s store was 580. Today I am walking with a “smart phone” in my pocket more powerful than the computers that sent the first man to the moon. I am listening to NPR streaming from Baltimore or almost anywhere else in the World and, with Bluetooth, it is playing in my hearing aids that are so small as to be hardly seen.
There are young people saying “so what.” I say “I still can’t believe it.” What will the next 70 years bring? Progress will continue to be made beyond my wildest dreams. I’m not sure I’m up to dealing with it all. Thankfully younger smarter people are coming along. I hope they can avoid the rabbit gums …
AND YOU ALL GO VOTE!
Bill Minus is a regular contributor to the Kent Pilot. He lives in Chestertown and can be seen wandering Kent County.