Kids talked back then. We’d sit under the street light, sometimes on someone’s stoop when their old man wasn’t drinking a bottle of Shlitz, and sometimes in our tree fort. Back then we built our own. 2×4’s were few, straight nails were scavenged from bent ones, and pillows were made out of sacs filled with leaves.
Dads were going to drive in some spikes to make our fort secure but they were just too busy. So, we’d climb up broken pieces of wood split by nailing and re-nailing wood to the side of the biggest tree we could find to make a ladder. Then we’d drop a rope down from above, tie on a bucket and pull up crackers, a snack pie, and a comic book.
We schemed, we planned, we mapped out our future. One guy was gonna’ live in Florida, another in California. Me, I was going west, anywhere I could ride the open range. One kid was going to make it in the big leagues and one was going to be a cop. All of us were going to be big, free, and happy. And of course, we were all going to be friends forever—just bigger.
I never knew what girls talked about, we didn’t think about it, but we must have talked about it. A time when girls filled the neighborhood, filled my house, and filled school desks, but somehow, I didn’t know a thing about them. Or maybe I knew more then and somehow forgot.
I mean we talked about deep stuff. Like parents, getting in trouble, and families. And what was best, PF Flyers or Keds? It was the middle of summer so we didn’t talk about school, not much, anyway. Someone might know about the fifth grade, how they had some man teachers and how the big six graders got to change rooms for classes. One kid told us we’d use letters to do math but we just laughed at him. “You’re right, he said, “letters? What’s N minus M—L? that’s so stupid.”
Sometimes we talked about the war. It was on TV every night. “My dad says it’s not a war, it’s a conflict.” But we made fun of him too. “If it’s not a war, the how come Jimmy Dunn didn’t come home?” “My dad cried,” someone said. “No one talked at dinner,” another said. “My dad didn’t say a thing.” None of us knew—not really.
And soon the street lights came on. We’d hear Mr. Keeney whistle, we’d hear some little sister yell from the bottom of the tree, and one by one we’d climb down the boards or get off the concrete steps, or lift ourselves from the jagged curbs lining the street.
I never really knew what happened to my friends after they went home, but sometimes I’d get invited over. I’d find out who knew how to eat spaghetti, who got dessert, and who had to finish their plate. Their dad would make fun of me, their mom would say, “Oh stop it Jim,” and I’d get red. It was just part of growing up, knowing how to get along, and feeling like we had a place in this world.
Wanting more was a way of life. More whatever, more food, more stuff, more. More attention. That’s the blessing of having just enough. We all wanted more. We all wanted to grow up. And we worked to get it. Some had moved here from Phila. Some grandparents from the Old Country. Everyone had a past, and everyone had a future.
The thing is, the further I’ve gone into my future, the more I look back to my past. When I caught tad poles and brought home turtles from the Old Mill. When we’d get some fire crackers from some kid who’d been to South of the Border. When bottle rockets were fired from real bottles, and the worst thing we knew about was model glue. And when we’d walk to the park to see the same fireworks that always ended with two cannons made from lights shooting fireworks at each other.
Somehow everything that was important isn’t and everything that wasn’t important now is. The smell of Jasmine brings back my Nana, a horse reminds me of the Lone Ranger, and changing to go running reminds me of school clothes and P.F Flyers.
It’s sad to lose a friend, tragic to lose a son, but devastating to lose a childhood. I recently heard from one of my son’s childhood friends. I well with tears in the small victory knowing he had both—a childhood and a friend. And I know that he got everything important.
I recently had my book, “When Sunday Smiled.” Go to Amazon or AndyMdavidson.com to read how God mended my heart on the Appalachian Trail after Aaron died in a motorcycle accident