Sunday, June 11, 2006

My misspent youth

I had a productive day yesterday. I wrote a blog entry, removed the broken storm window from the kitchen, set up my telephone service, and arranged to have the garage window replaced. Some friends came by to help me move a lot of stuff out of my garage and into my new house, and move a lot of furniture from the to-be-remodeled side of the house to the "storage" side of the house. We also moved out the heirloom items that people wanted to pick up, and got the rocker out of my car. Finally I mowed the lawn at my new house, and finished mowing the lawn at my current house.

Then I was ready for a party.

It was a graduation party for my cousin's daughter, who just graduated from eighth grade. It was a fairly mellow party, and the second family get-together in as many weeks - the last one was for my uncle's funeral. My cousin lives in a house at least as old as the house I just bought. My grandfather's sister used to live there, but before that it belonged to their mother (that is, my mother's father's mother). Where I am aiming for restoration with my house, my cousin and her husband opted for total remodeling, resulting in a modern-looking house that bears very few traces of its previous identity.

The sun had set and the party was winding down. My cousin's husband and his two brothers began sharing stories of the hijinks that they got into back in their younger, pre-High School days - hiking up and jumping down culm banks (or sledding down them on car hoods), hopping on the train that rumbles throught Nanticoke*, robbing the train that rumbles through Nanticoke**, playing bendy-bow with birch trees (a game which involves climbing to the top of a birch tree, rocking back and forth until the top touches the ground, and then getting catapulted through the air as the tree springs back), playing a game called "Horsey" which sounds a lot like the game "Buck Buck" described by Bill Cosby in the classic routine where he introduced the character of Fat Albert , playing "belt tag" (a lot like regular tag, only instead of "tagging" people who aren't "home free", the "it" player was allowed to beat them with a belt until they got to "home free"), stealing corn and melons and other stuff from the farms along the river flats (and running like hell from the farmers with their shotguns full of rock salt), getting in all sorts of trouble in school, hanging out with people who got in even worse trouble at school...

I told them they should write a book (read: start a blog) that details all this stuff. This is a world that doesn't really exist anymore, a world that died when video games became common. One of them pointed out that if they made a movie, it would look a lot like Stand By Me. But these aren't stories from the 1950's or even the 1960's; these are guys just a few years older than me, who were doing these things back in the mid-1970's. Just before 1977, the start of the Modern Era. You know: the year Star Wars came out.

I never had adventures like this when I was the age they were describing - 12, 13, 14. I never hung out with a bunch of guys in the strippings***, I never drank beer around a campfire in the middle of the woods. I never hopped a train or stole produce or rode a car hood down a culm bank. I was a good kid who kept his nose clean and in a book. I spent most of my free time reading. I guess it paid off in the end, with a full-tuition scholarship to a good college. But I can't help but wonder how things might have turned out if I had lived my life a little differently back then.

*Freight trains roll slowly through Nanticoke several times each day. Back in 1999 some convicts broke out of the nearby State Prison and hid out in the woods behind a supermarket not far from my house, about 100 yards from the railroad tracks. Philadelphia boys, not very bright. They could have hopped the train and been halfway to anywhere in no time. Instead they lived off waste food in a dumpster for a week before deciding to carjack a little old lady, who promptly beat the crap out of them.

**Well, sort of robbing. Another group of kids would break into the freight cars. Then everybody would help themselves to the cases of Schlitz inside.

***Strippings = Strip mine pits, usually filled with water and very deep and dangerous. Stick to the "shore" and you'll be fine.

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