Monday, May 19, 2008

The Woods, Part Two.

Once again, here's the setting. You can click on this picture to enlarge it. Check out all those woods. There were even more trees there in the early 1970s. Most of the upper left quarter of this picture was nothing but open field and tall trees back then. The bulldozers started clearing it for those houses in the last summer we were there, in about 1973. We didn't react well to that.

It's amazing what sand and rocks will do to the engine of a dozer that's been unwisely left out in the open over night when the kids are pissed off that you're cutting down their playground. Can't be good when you pour it in the gas tank and down the muffler. We'll talk.

Anyway, as I said before, my passion in the years between my 9th and 12th years was in these woods. It was paradise to me then, and it still lives and breathes in my memory today. It was my preferred world. there was peace and solitude out there, preferred to the world of my parents, teachers, and most other people. I had very few friends there, but that was normal for me.

Wherever we were, I'd have one or maybe, rarely, two. I'd learned not to get close from having to leave too many behind, following Dad around the world. I'd also learned not to trust other people too easily. There were always other kids around, and we all played and hung out, but they weren't really close friends.

I had two close friends in Missouri... Mike Hinkley and Greg Rogers. Mike and I hooked up almost from day one. I was walkin' out off the dead end road at the end of our street towards the woods and met him comin' the other way. We hit it off somehow and next thing you know we were runnin' buddies.

His dad had been a paratrooper in the World War Two and was really cool, but was never there. In the fall he'd take Mike out hunting squirrels and they'd always come back with cool stories to tell. I was VERY jealous of that, but was never invited. He'd show me the dead critters, pullin' them out of the freezer in their basement (in plastic bags), and I'd just look on with wonder. My dad played golf and wasn't into hunting, or guns, or the woods, so there was less than no chance of he and I having this sort of bonding experience. There'll be more on my lame adolescent hunting attempts later. Sad. Very sad.

His folks were older than mine and for whatever reason they didn't have much to do with his or his older sisters friends. For instance, he wasn't allowed to invite anyone to birthday party's or anything like that. That fact was the cause of our eventual bust up. After a year or so of us being tight, runnin' the woods together and sharing a lot of good times, everything hit the shit can. It was totally surprising, and ended up having nothing to do with us. It was our mothers.

When Mike didn't invite me to his birthday party (remember, no one got invited... there really wasn't one), my mom decided to take Mike off my birthday party list. When Mike found out about that he was destroyed. I was in the woods with all the other guys, tellin' them about the upcoming party and had to tell mike he wasn't invited. He tried to explain why I hadn't been able to come to his and burst into tears, running home. When his mom found out about that she went ballistic.

His mom was this little Italian woman, or maybe she was German. Hell, I can't remember. His dad traveled a lot in his job and wasn't there much of the time. Anyway, the story I heard later was that she used to beat Mike up on a regular basis. She supposedly beat him so badly once that his older sister called the cops on her. I had no idea any of that was going on at the time. I just knew that his mom was someone to avoid, and when we hung out it was always ether at my house or in the woods, unless his dad was home. Than everything was cool.

I was still out on the edge of the woods when his mom came stompin' out to where we were and told me to tell my mother where she could stick the birthday party. She tried to explain again why Mike hadn't had a party, but of course I was just dumbfounded, shaking my head and sayin' "It wasn't my decision!" I went home to tell mom and next thing I knew Mike and I were officially hating one another and our mom's were trading barbs. Thankfully our dad's never got into it.

Anyway, Mike and I didn't hang out together again for a long time after that. One day, about a year later we ran into one another on the edge of the woods and hit it off again. Next thing you knew my folks were shocked to see us runnin' up the stairs to my room and playin' just like before. It's cool how kids can forget and forgive like that. Too bad more grownups can't do it.

When Mike and I had our falling out I started hangin' out more with Greg Rogers. He and I shared many interests in common, but were also very different. He was adopted, and there was a weird vibe in his family. Mom told me once she'd heard that his mom was the one that really wanted a kid. His dad was much older and notoriously unfriendly and distant. You could see it when you went over there to play. Later, I got a good look at the family dynamic in action. Scared the piss out of me.

We both loved to play soldier, or Indian, and to shoot bows and arrows. We both spent most of our time out of school in the woods. And we were both outside the larger social circle of the neighborhood. As a result we were both seen by the others as misfits. While many of the other kids were busy becoming teenagers, beginning to try to figure out the opposite sex and getting good at competitive sports and all that stuff, he and I were too busy playing in the woods, pretending to be someone else, somewhere else, learning how too shoot a bow.

As the other kids, including Mike Hinkley, started to awaken to more adult stuff, Greg and I were in the creek on our hands and knees gigging frogs and catching crawdads, finding our way in the thick of the woods where earlier generations of kids had already staked out the trails, trees and clearings as forts, hideouts and playgrounds. Gregg and I would spend summer nights watching scary movies on TV and sleeping in his tent in their back yard (they didn't have any Hawthorn trees), or spending hours in the winter in our basements building shields and swords out of wood and having mock battles like gladiators.

I have no idea what became of Greg. I'd love to know, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out ugly. He had a really scary side to him. Every once and a while one of the older kids, one of the various neighborhood toughs, would fuck with him too much and he'd explode with anger. I saw him draw his bow once on a guy, crying with rage, pulling a razor sharp hunting arrow to his cheek within feet of the guy. He came very close to letting go of it, but he didn't. There were other times too. Once, as we walked out of the woods a group of older kids began threatening us.

They were standing at the edge of the woods, behind the hulk of a huge tree that had fallen down and had mostly rotted and fallen apart. It was a favorite fort or arrow target. One of the kids had a new BB gun, the kind that looks just like a Winchester and was cocked with the lever action, just like the real thing. It was cool as hell. State of the art then. I loved it and wanted one, but my mom vetoed any idea of me having a BB gun.

My mom and dad were always in a snit over whether or not to give me dangerous toys. Mom always opted for caution, but dad always said "Oh what the hell, let him have fun!" He was on my side when it came to that and I never really knew it. Jesus, he'd played with REAL guns when he was my age, so what the hell. He would buy me stuff like Lawn Darts, and quivers full of arrows, including Fred Bear hunting arrows with razor sharp broad heads on them, but because of mom, a BB gun was off limits. You explain that to me. Where guns were concerned, I had to make due with an old air rifle designed to shoot a cork out of the end on a string. We'd tear off the cork, stick the end of the barrel in the dirt, cock it and shoot dirt clods at one another. We wore that thing out!

Anyway, it was summer and we were wearing shorts. Next thing you know I felt the BB hitting my ass and I whirled around to hear their laughter. Again, Greg went nuts and came close to letting an arrow loose in their direction, but I told him not to worry about it and calmed him down. I thought later that I should have sunk an arrow into that log in front of them or just jump the kid and beat his ass with his own gun, but they were bigger, older kids, and I'd learned a long time earlier to let things slide in situations like that and avoid a fight. I guess it came from a sense of always being outnumbered by older kids wherever we lived. By this time in my life it was instinctive to just take it.

I got a good, shocking glimpse of why Greg was so angry one day when I was over at his house checking out his new portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. It was the first such thing I'd ever seen and we both thought it was cool as hell. We were busy recording our voices and playing them back when Greg's dad yelled to him from another part of the house. We were having a hell of a time, but Greg started to respond to his dad, but apparently he didn't move fast enough. As he was carefully putting the recorder away his father ran into the room yelling, knocking him down, kicking and stomping on him.

I stood back in shock, never having seen anything like that before, and slowly slinked out of the room. As I left the room and walked past the kitchen towards the front door I saw Greg's mom standing with her back to me, doing the dishes in the sink. We could easily hear what was going on in the other room, so I assumed then that she didn't want to hear it. I said something like "I guess I should leave", went out the front door and walked home. Later Greg tried to laugh it all off, making jokes about how his dad had given him a "real wuppin' ". I laughed it off too, not really knowing what to say, but knew from then on what was up with Greg.

OK, it wasn't all weird and depressing. We had HUGE fun in those woods. I'll relate some of that next. We'll talk. Cheers.


Suldog said...

That's excellent storytelling, FHB. I enjoyed it a lot, and I'm looking forward to more.

Sad how some folks are. I had a very happy home life, despite my folks getting divorced by the time I was 15.

Appropos of nothing here, I'm running a contest over at my place. The prize is 10 (crummy) CDs, guaranteed to make any family start whaling on each other when they listen to them. Why not come over and take a shot? :-)

pat houseworth said...

I was lucky, only an occasional ass whuppin' usually by mom....and I deserved them all. Never knew any friends that got it big time either...of if they did, I never knew about it.

As for the woods, like growing up in south Florida....most are gone...but you should have been with us in Michigan this those are some woods.

Jerry said...

I was in one of our woods the other day. Dad had gotten the skid loader stuck. I bet I hadn't been back in that woods for 20 years.

Funny how people can view a woods and conjure up different memories.

Great story of yours!

Mushy said...

My dad was hot tempered and my mom whipped me often, but I guess it didn't do much to my personality. I guess I understood that I deserved it and although my dad beat too hard at times I never held a grudge.

We used to have BB-gun fights in the neighborhood, although it was understood that we aimed low. I learned to use cover and move fast in those days.

Good stuff bud.