For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Readers: What did you do?

While visiting Free Range Kids today, I found out about this virtual funeral for the swing set.  It seems a young boy jumped off a swing and broke his arm.  His parents sued, and the county responded by getting rid of swing sets in playgrounds (though that's apparently changed back).

I well remember jumping off swing sets when I was a kid.  Heck, I'd still do it if my knees weren't shot. *L* My kids have jumped off many a swing, too, and had a blast doing it.

It got me to thinking of the many things I and others did when we were young that were potentially dangerous, but we did them anyway.  Sometimes we got hurt.  Most of the time, we didn't.  Once in an extremely rare while, someone got killed, but no one I've ever known.

In telling my kids stories of the things I did as a kid, I've often found myself wondering how we survived!  But survive we did, and had a blast at the same time.  When my own kids would do something that got my Mommy fears going, I would remind myself of the things I'd done that were far more dangerous and made myself back off.  I'm glad I did.

Being on the farm opened up all sorts of opportunities for potential disaster.  Here are just a few things I remember doing.

Our barn was a typical 2 level building with the upper level being the hay loft.  My dad had built a single level lean-to on one side that was slightly shorter than the eaves of the barn roof.  My youngest brother and I would climb onto the lower roof of the lean-to, then climb up the roof of the barn to its peak.  I always envied that my brother could just run straight up the side.  I had to climb up using the cable from the lightning rods.

There were 4 lightning rods on our barn roof.  One of the things we discovered, as we balanced our way back and forth on the peak of the roof, was that the tips came off.  These tips also fit onto our fingers.  We took turns putting them onto our fingers and pretending they were long fingernails or dangerous claws.  Then we put them back, clambered back down the roof of the lean to, and went on our merry way.

In the winter, when clearing the snow away from the entrances to the barn and lean-to, my dad built up a pile of snow a few feet away from the barn - far enough away that we could open the doors wide and the cows could mill about somewhat.  My brothers, some of the boys from neighbours farms and I would climb onto the roof of the lean-to and jump into the snow, trying to get as much distance out as possible to avoid the cleared space under us.  It wasn't soft snow, by any means, but a rather hard packed pile.  It was soft enough, I guess, as we never got hurt.

Another childhood favorite goes back to before we got a hay baler.  We had the old fashion haystacks, which my father would pay a neighbour with a house moving trailer to move from our fields to the hay yard beside the barn.  They were placed next to each other in two groups, with a narrow path in between, leading to a side entrance to the barn.  Though the stacks were placed next to each other, there was usually enough space that we could squeeze between them, as if they were tunnels.  I remember winter nights when my brothers, the neighbourhood boys and I would play hide and seek around the haystacks, climbing on top of them, jumping from stack to stack, jumping from stacks to the lean-to roof and back again, and generally having a blast. Other nights, on my own, I would climb to the top of one of the stacks and lie on my back, watching the northern lights or finding patterns in the stars while listening to the sounds of owls, coyotes and other creatures I never identified. 

Of course, there were always trees to climb.  As usual, it was my youngest brother and I that climbed them together.  I could never make it as high as he could, though!  We even had our favorite trees with branches splayed out in just the right way to lean back and get comfortable.  I spent many happy hours in trees.  Years later, when my kids would come home from climbing nearby spruce trees and I'd find their clothes ruined by resin and tears, I found myself trying to remember if I'd ever caused my mother the same dismay over destroyed clothing. I couldn't remember, but I must have at some point.

Another adventure involved a large tarp and bale twine.  My brothers and I tied lengths of twine to the grommet holes around the edges.  Two of us would then hold it up to the wind, while a third would be holding the lengths of twine, in hopes a strong enough gust would give us a parachute ride.  It never quite worked well, but we did get some air time once in a while.  The tarp was just too big and heavy to work well.  It was fun to try, though!

Someone got an idea, though.  The bale twine came out again (there was always lots of it around) and we tied together enough to reach from one end of the barn to the other.  The ends were tied to the first and last of the bottom cords, but not before a large pulley with a hook on it was placed on the twine for a makeshift zip line.  Loose hay was piled up in the middle of the hayloft, and we all took turns climbing onto the door frame, grabbing the hook and taking a ride down the line until we dropped into the pile of hay.

I was on my second turn when the rope broke.  I landed on my butt in the hay, and the hook on the pulley hit me on the head.  I remember sitting in the hay, gleefully rubbing the spot on my head and saying "that hurt!"  Then I looked at my hand and saw the blood.

Lots of blood.

Well, I started screaming and crying and flipping out.  My youngest brother spirited me away to the house and got me cleaned up while begging me not to tell our parents.  I seem to remember a lot of that.  Both the cleaning up of blood and injuries, and the keeping it from my parents!

Years later, I shaved my head and discovered I still have a scar from this incident.

There were a great many things like this that we did as kids.  As I got older and got to know more kids that lived in town, I got to really appreciate just how good we had it on the farm.  The townies didn't have haystacks to play hide and seek in, ponds to slog around in, bushes to explore and puffballs to stomp on.  Sure, they had fancy things we didn't, but I had no envy for any of it.  As time went on, I especially came to appreciate the time I had as a child to just wander around in the bush by myself (well, the dogs where with me), lost in my own thoughts and imagination.  I didn't realize it for many years, but those were times of significant emotional and intellectual growth and development that serves me well even now.  I think the greatest unexpected benefit has been that I am quite content to be alone in the quiet.  It seems to me that many people seem unable to handle being on their own.  They have to have TV or music, video games or be on the phone, or somehow fill the silence with noise and activity.  It seems they literally don't know how to be alone in their own thoughts.  When I had kids of my own, I tried to give them that freedom to be alone.  I don't know that I accomplished it very well, but I'm hoping I did at least a little.

So now I'm turning it over to you, dear reader.  What do you remember doing as a kid that, looking back today, would now be considered too dangerous, too messy, or just not allowed anymore for one reason or another?  How free range was your own childhood?  Was there something in your youth that you now really appreciate, that our modern culture no longer allows for children?

Let me know.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:45 PM

    We lived on a hill that looked over the Stillwater River. From the house to the river bank was about a fifty yard steep decline.

    On the other side of the river, there was public park, Deweese Park, in the Stillwater River flood plain. On our side of the river there were trees that would fall into the river when the floodwaters eroded the soil that covered the tree roots.

    The Spring floods, from snow thaws and rains, would fill the park and creep up the hill toward our house. From up-river once or twice a Spring, row boats would lose their moorings and the floodwaters would carry the boats down river past our house.

    After school, my friends, Corky Sanders, Marion Guillerman, and in high school years, sometimes Rod Mehlhop and John Sibert, would venture down to the edge of the flood waters and try to capture the row boats floating past. Sometimes the boats would snarl in branches of fallen trees. We would balance our way out on the fallen trees to try to rescue a boat. If we captured a boat, we would tie it to a tree hoping the owner would reward us for the capture. Hope was never fulfilled. The boat owners would retrieve their boats and never track us down for thanks or a reward. I've never liked fishermen since then.

    The amazing thing is that we never fell in the floodwaters. We didn't wear life preservers.

    All this danger while we were in grade school. And our mothers would let us take those risks. And I'm glad they did. What an adventure so close to home.


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