Friday, July 4, 2008

Down that long sandy road,


to a future too bright to see. This is the Fourth of July, the most American Holiday. It's special to little boys particularly, for the fireworks, the water melon, and a break from the boredom of endless summer.

When I was growing up in the fifties and sixties, every summer was endless. When school was let out, no thought of fall and next years school ever came to mind. It was too far away to think about and overshadowed by all the wonderful empty days, that we would find a way to fill with adventure.

That might be fishing in the creek, or hitching to the pool, or wandering down a creek, or over a mountain. I was fortunate enough to be raised, or in some cases jerked up by the hair of my head, in the country or in a small town. In those places and times my extended family was every adult I met. Each and every one of them knew so much better than us how bright the future could be, and were determined to see to it that we lived long enough to enjoy it. There were some truly bad people, violent, drunken; irresponsible was the nicest thing that could be said for some of them. However, none of that ever extended to children. We were who they wanted to be, carefree and full of the possibilities of childhood.

Not to mention that if anything unfortunate were to befall us, the responsible party would have one of "those" discussions with the Uncles.

This was a fate to be avoided.

It didn't matter what you did, or where you did it, someone would tell your momma or daddy, that was only to put a little limit on your foolishness. Limits of that nature were good, we had a great reserve of foolishness.

It wasn't all sunshine and wading the creek, I can remember when my Grandpa died. My Daddy was home and some men came and talked to him. When my mother asked him who they were and what they wanted, he told her to shut her mouth and go inside.

That was a first.

He left for a while and when he came back, he had Grandpas wallet for Grannie. That's the first time I saw my Daddy cry. I can still see it, I was four.

Grannie moved to the country near her brothers and sisters. It wasn't a homecoming, she was destitute, although with enough pride to make her want to take care of herself.

That was the beginning of many summers in the sun, working or playing to fill the days.

I spent a lot of summers with my Grannie Amos after my Grandpa died. I didn't know until I was in my thirty's, that she was paid to watch me.

She watched me all right, most of the time she watched me leave her place at about daylight and go down the road to my uncles house to work until dark, when I would come back and take a bath and sleep until morning and then do it again. From the age of six or so to eleven I worked on the farm, from can see, to cain't see, for all the milk and fresh vegetables I could eat. I had never heard of dehydration or heat stroke, probably the only reason I didn't die from one or the other.

I have memories that are in a glare of sunlight, chopping the weeds out of tobacco, look ahead and look behind, can't see the end of the row or edge of the field, look back at the ground and keep on choppin'. The night will come and we have another field tomorrow. The last two years I worked, I was paid ten dollars a summer. That was after I didn't come back, and I was missed for the work I had done.

Then there were my cousins from the mountains.

I was eleven and very small for my age, they weren't.

I have scars, and blurred memories of horrible impacts.

I should be dead.

It was great.

When I stayed with them it was, all Hell's out for lunch and the Devil gets the hindmost.

We would cut a vine and swing like pirates, sleep in the barn like runaways, run through the mountains like Indians on the war path. We played all those things, and more. We slept in abandoned houses like Huck Finn, fished every day, hunted with a pack of yard dogs every night. We hunted Ginseng, and Yellow Root for money, we sold drink bottles for change for the pool tickets. I could at any time of day or night borrow a shotgun and no one found that worrisome or unusual. We knew what it was for and what it could do. We could fight all day and still be best friends at night. We were family and blood was thicker than water, trust me, I saw enough of it to know.

I remember hiding in giant hollow logs left over from the Chestnut blight, watching the rain come up the hollow. I remember the old moonshine still we found. I remember "walkin' the TV line" to the top of the mountain to clear the limbs that were grounding the signal. Our heroes were on TV every Saturday morning, they wore white hats and rode the smartest horses. I can still see the paths in the woods, the ferns on the creek, the groundhogs and 'coons. We picked cherries out of an old orchard way up on the mountain, and ate until we were all sick. I remember sitting on the top of the mountain after midnight, looking at the top of the fog like a silver lake, with the moon full behind me.

For us, summer would never end.

I remember so much that is gone now.

We were the lost boys.

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