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The Best of Times

December 25th, 2009

The title “Baby Boomers” was just a normal classification with which kids of my era have always identified.  We knew our Dads fought in the big war and we were proud of them.  We grew up in the post World War II years.  Looking back now, I am convinced those were the best of times to have been a kid.  No, we didn’t have the video games, computers, iPods, cell phones and all the gadgetry that these kids today have but we had things they don’t have.

The kids of my era didn’t have a lot of “things” but we had imagination.  We made our own toys and we even made tiny road and building construction a fun game.   I can remember using an old hoe to make roads for my toy trucks and cars to drive on.  We also made many of our toy trucks and cars too.  “Store-bought” toys were hard to come by so we made our own.  Once I made a paddle wheel boat that was powered by a carbide flame.  I made a “boiler” out of an old snuff can and a bicycle spokes.

That’s what I mean by having imagination and being creative.  Those little games and homemade toys that we kids used to make and build made us a generation of adults that could “do” things by thinking them through and using the laws of physics and just good old fashioned brain power to accomplish things.  I’d like to think that we helped make America the most productive nation on earth.

Just the other day I was pondering Baby Boomer’s chronology to past historical events, such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor and even the Civil War.  Born in 1948, I began to do some simple math and was amazed at my own historical proximity to these events.  For instance, I was amazed when I realized that I was born only 7 years after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and a mere 83 years after the end of The Civil War.  There were still some War Between the States veterans alive when I was born.  I don’t like to call it a Civil War because it was anything but a civil war.  It was actually The War Between the North and the South, or as I prefer to call it, The War for Southern Independence, but I digress.

My Daddy and Mother married in 1947.  The economy was just rebuilding from the war years and Daddy was trying to get a start with raising his family.  I was raised by two wonderful parents, but our livelihood was one of meager means.  My parents were honest, poor folks but we always managed to have enough food to eat, clothes on our backs and shoes on our feet and somehow we managed to get something for Christmas.

Lately, I have been musing over the past; especially my childhood years.  I can honestly say that I really enjoyed being a kid.  I guess when you get closer to the end of your life, you begin to look back more to the early years of your life and relive those “good ole days” in your memory.  Early this morning as I lay awake in bed but not yet risen, I took about an hour and began pondering and reminiscing about my life thus far, with particular emphasis on my childhood years.  As I said before, I really enjoyed being a kid.

Christmas 1956 was my most memorable Christmas of all time.  That’s the year Santa Claus brought us brand new red bicycles.  We marked them so we could tell them apart.  I stayed on my bike from sun up to sun down every day.  Till today I still don’t know how my parents could afford such an extravagant gift, but they loved us dearly and did what they could for us.

That bike was my vehicle of exploration for the world around me.  In 1957 my folks moved to northeast Georgia and for the first time in my life, I was a country boy.  Oh, I really loved living in the country and thoroughly enjoyed exploring my corner of the world.

It’s amazing how the mind and imagination of an eight-year-old boy with a bicycle can really make lifelong impressions and endless memories.  It seemed like life itself was magical.  I explored and learned more about the natural world during those years than the rest of my life.  I was living an enchanted life and was probably the happiest kid on the planet.

Then, when I was a little older, I remember that my friends and I used to build our own swimming hole at the creek; we called it our “wash hole”.  We really made a big deal out of the construction of our wash hole.  First, was finding the proper site where the dam was to be built and where the wash hole would be just right for our swimming enjoyment.  We first cleared the banks of brush, trees, vines, weeds and anything that didn’t fit in a swimming hole; next came the shovel and digging work.  We dug down and made the site for the dam as solid as we could make it.

We then constructed our dam by filling feed sacks, flour sacks, cotton sacks and anything we could find, with dirt.  We placed the sacks of dirt in the flowing stream and shored it all up really tight with loose dirt to make a sturdy dam.  The overflow was most important because it had to hold up in the event of a big rain.  We built this thing with the integrity and energy of a bunch of beavers.

When the wash hole was filled and flowing properly, we made a Tarzan-type swing over the wash hole by tying a rope overhead to a big tree limb.  What great fun to swing out and drop into the water.  Oh what a time we had!  The water had a particular smell to it that you just can’t describe.  It smelled clean and natural.  It was a great joy to swim in our wash hole.  Of course, we always went skinny dipping since there were no girls allowed.  We spent many of our summer days at the wash hole just enjoying being country boys.  Yea, life was really special.

Another thing I remember is the games we used to play.  Summer evenings seemed to be the best time to get together with friends and play some really fun games like, Red Rover, Hide and Seek, Red Light, Tag and a lot of games that we just made up.  A common phrase of the kids of my day was “let’s pretend like…” and then we were off to another game or adventure.  Catching “lightning bugs” and putting them in a jar was great fun right after dark.

Hot summer days were the time for baseball.  Two team captains would “choose up sides” as we used to call it.  With the teams chosen, the game began.  There too, we made up many rules as we went along, and our ball field was usually a pasture or cornfield.  We used anything we could find as our bases and we either shared a bat or used a board, plank or limb to smack the ball.  Oh, we played ball for hours on end and never seemed to tire of it.

Another of my great interests when I was growing up was hunting and fishing.  When I turned 14, my Daddy finally got me a .22 rifle for Christmas.  Daddy spent a lot of time teaching me gun safety.  That was years before there was a hunter safety course required by law. Daddy taught me how to safely carry my firearm and to keep my safety on until I was ready to shoot. He taught me to never point my gun at anything I did not intend to shoot. That and many more gun safety rules he taught me.  I knew to never disobey him or be careless with a firearm.  I still use those rules he taught me so many years ago. Notice that I call it my firearm or my gun but never my weapon. Weapons are carried by the military, not hunters or sport shooters.

I spent most of my winter days in the woods and fields hunting squirrels and rabbits.  That’s how I learned to be a good woodsman.  Those things I learned all those years ago would one day serve me well when I became a Conservation Ranger.  I grew up doing the things I most enjoyed; being in the woods and outdoors.

Not only did I hunt and fish, but I built and set rabbit boxes.  A friend and I built several rabbit boxes and set them near a creek swamp.  We caught some really big rabbits that way.  I checked my boxes every day after I got off the school bus.  I cleaned the rabbits and Mother cooked them.  Fried rabbit and homemade biscuits was a special treat for me.

Growing up wasn’t all playing; I had my work and chores to do but that only helped build character in me.  My Daddy gave me chores to do and I knew not to let him down.  You see, he was also a strict disciplinarian.  I didn’t mind the outdoor chores like working in the garden, slopping the hog, milking the cow or plowing our mule, Kate.  But having no sisters meant that I had to do housework chores since my Mother worked to help pay the bills.  I had to wash dishes, make up beds, and sweep the floors and other such household chores.  I dearly hated housework and that’s usually where I got my dose of discipline.

In addition to making our own swimming hole, my buddies and I also built tree houses, dug caves, and built bridges over the creek or other such projects.  It was a lot of work but we spent many hours accomplishing some really neat projects like that.

You just don’t see kids doing such things like that today.  Heck, they don’t even get outside and play much anymore.  These video games and such have about ruined kids today.  There is no imagination or creativity being encouraged in them.  We have failed them by not challenging them to do things for themselves.  I think we have raised a nation of video game, TV watching little couch potatoes.  That’s no way to enjoy a childhood.  Kids should be encouraged to get outdoors and be creative.  Imagination is a wonderful thing if we would only encourage them to use it.

That is one of the best gifts to give a kid so get outside with them and teach them how to be a kid.  Just this morning I took my grandson squirrel hunting.  He bagged his first squirrel and he was so excited.  Of course, the gun safety and ethical hunting lecture came first.  Next, I think I’ll teach him how to dam up a creek and make a swimming hole, or build a tree house.

But, he has been asking me lately how to play the game of marbles and I can surely teach him a lot about that since I was one of the best marble shooters in my school.  I remember coming home with both pockets full of marbles that I had won on the playground at school.  I had a dresser drawer about half full of marbles that I kept until I was married.  I don’t know whatever became of them now, but the fun was winning them fair and square.  Yep, it’s time to teach him how to shoot marbles like a champ.  Then we might break out the saw and hammer and build some rabbit boxes.

One of the final steps in the evolution of a conservationist is to teach others the things you have learned.  I think I have come full circle and have begun to pass along some tips and knowledge I gained by being a kid of the 50s.  I think kids today aren’t any different from what we were; they just need a nudge in the right direction.  Times may change but kids don’t; once a kid, always a kid.

It has been said, “growing old is inevitable but growing up is optional”.  Enjoy life while you still have some kid in you.  This can continue to be “the best of times” for all of us.  God bless!

Jim Hethcox

hisservant Jim's America, Jim's Journal

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