I don’t recall all the stories I’ve written in the previous 447 posts. It’s challenging enough to write out the next one, let alone having some grasp on the previous 400,000 plus words and their various combinations. Bits and pieces of the past do connect, though, and I continue to entertain them or re-entertain, as the case may be.
I was thinking of the disparate things we found as kids in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. in the 1960’s, where our childhood fiefdom was defined by the convergence of S. Kings Highway and Telegraph Road and the steep hillside above Berkshire Drive. Maybe I was just obeying gravity’s pull, but 90 per cent of my childhood evolved there on the various sloping streets and yards, open play areas and random woods of Virginia Hills.
Early on we boys found birds or baby squirrels that had fallen out of their nests. Of course we’d bring these creatures home and beg our parents to allow us to adopt them. That never worked, as I recall. They objected on perfectly rational grounds that we could not understand… rabies, wild animals, diseases or parasites, or the basic unsustainability of it all. Then we became proficient in finding and capturing rusty lizards, skinks, and little ring necked snakes. Turtles and frogs were regular shopping items as well. At one time or another we had aquariums filled with fish and terrariums stuffed with other animals– hamsters and other little rodents were favorites for a while. I think my conservative Catholic parents hoped that we’d learn how animals reproduced by watching our captured animals and spare them the “birds and bees” lesson. Nope. Human sexuality is a bit more complicated than one cartoon filmstrip in junior high health class or the mating of animals behind glass.
It was a safe time, at least we thought it was safe, if you discount the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Kids would leave in the morning light of a summer day and not be seen till lunch or dinner, and from then not until dark. Nothing nefarious about the arrangement; it was a win-win for kids and parents, if not for creatures of the streams and woods. We’d wander deep into the woods or walk alongside Kings Highway collecting returnable soda bottles worth a whopping 2 cents each at the 7-11 store over a mile away. Most of the time two boys could easily collect 10 or more bottles on the way to the store, thus earning each boy 10 cents for a pack of gum or a candy bar. On hot days we’d drink from the creeks along the way, thus ensuring our intestines immunity from bacteria for life. Imagine that offer today: “Hey, kid, would you like to walk two miles on a hot summer day and drink polluted water for a pack of Juicy Fruit?” We all know the answer to that one. Today’s snowflake kids would simply dissolve in such scenarios.
In hindsight I realize that we picked up many invisible items as well as the dirty soda bottles. When we took our adventures and explored those few square miles of Fairfax County, Virginia, we gained a certain knowledge of and mastery over the environment. We knew where the lizards lived, sure, but we also knew where certain fragrant trees and vines like wisteria grew. I remember digging up dogwoods and pine seedlings to transplant back to my parents’ yard. Like the baby birds and rodents, they did not acclimate too well. The forest floor was dark and damp with lots of dead leaves to fertilize saplings. By contrast the barren red clay of our sun-baked yard was like a quarter acre concrete parking lot where vegetation withered up and died.
As very little, yardlocked kids we’d walk between cool damp sheets on our mothers’ clotheslines. That was my first taste of air conditioning. After digging in the clay with various silverware utensils, we might sprawl on the grass and watch an airplane drone overhead, far away, bringing focus to our cloud gazing eyes. Of course, honey suckle vines and rose of Sharon bushes called to us, as well as the ultra feminine mimosa blossoms that wafted on airy Asian branches, like something between butterflies and peacock eyelashes. Unfurling roses invited our noodling noses to visit. All things sweet and perfumey went immediately to memory…and bonded deeply; so deeply that 55 years later it remains fresh in my mind.I had no watch, really, no watch until I graduated college. (I lost that one, which was a gift from my parents, on the night before I got married, when Bruce and Sam took me out to get me drunk but only managed to get themselves totally stupefied. I last saw them on Broad Street extended or was it Izzat’s? The difference is merely academic. I went home relatively sober.) Time mattered very little in the endless days of childhood. Light and heat and wetness mattered more. Telling time is greater than reading the numerals on a clock, by the way. Following the path of the sun across your home terrain is a much greater skill than following a clock’s hand point to a number. Feeling the humid summer air shift to cool and dry meant it was time to sprint home ahead of a gully washing thunderstorm, for instance.
Smells do linger across decades, whether it’s the unforgettable odor of a decaying copperhead or the earthy smell of moist taupe clay that turns blue black against your new shovel’s blade. They stick and transfer to permanent memory as if a tattoo gun were exploding against your cerebral cortex… never forget me– sassafras root, leaf mould, snapping turtle mud, possum stink. I have not. I can not.
All these seemingly disconnected random inputs congeal into a psychic childhood casserole, gently drizzled with honey, dusted with ground cinnamon, and flaked with sliced almonds. It makes no sense until it explodes in one’s unconscious mind decades later pure and simple. Delicious.