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Chick Ludwig

SURVIVING CHILDHOOD IN ST. PETE.

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This story isn't really about boats and boating, but there is a little involving boats included. I thought maybe my reader might enjoy it anyway.                                                                               

 

                                                                                     SURVIVING CHILDHOOD IN ST. PETE.

 

   Things were different back in the days that I grew up in St. Pete., Florida. We had adventures no one would even imagine today. These adventures happened when I lived on Seminole Blvd, South. No zip codes back then. This was WAY back in the 50s when there was no air conditioning, video games, only 3 channels on TV, and those channels with no kid’s programming except on Saturday mornings. We kids were expected to find something to do. Outside. Out from under Mom’s feet. But, we would complain that “there’s nuttin to do!” “Well, go find something…”.

 

   So we did. Not always what Mom had in mind. An inventive mind can always find something exciting to fill those long, hot summer days. I must admit that my mind was a bit more inventive than was good for me. Fortunately, “God protects fools and kids with over active imaginations.” I believe that there is a special “trouble gene” that boys are born with that inclines them towards the kind of adventures that I’ll be telling you about. Now that there is no one left to hold me accountable for those long ago days, I’ll relate a few of the adventures that the fertile minds of my friends and I found to do. I’ll group them under a few headings to help you follow along. I will state that as hard to believe some of these tales are, they are 100% true!

   I suppose I’d better start back to the time that the inventive genes were just beginning to kick in. You’ll notice that many of these escapades involve my best childhood friend, Thumper, who lived a few houses down from me. I must admit that he didn’t often instigate them, but he did participate willingly. The first I can remember was when Thumper and I were playing on an upstairs porch of a rental house that my dad owned. This is one case that Thumper took the initiative. I’m not sure why, but he must have thought it would be fun to push me off. So he did. With flailing arms and legs, and a blood curdling  scream, I found myself free falling through space. Musta scared poor Thumper pretty bad, too, ‘cause I believe that he made it home before I even bounced once. Another time he was chasing me around, and I dove under my gramma’s house, which was next door to my house. I almost made it, but my knee struck a concrete block and split my leg open just below my knee cap. OUCH! Stitches in that one! And then the time that he was chasing me around the rental house, and I looked back to see how close he was. I turned back around just in time to smack my fore head right into a post that was holding that same porch that he pushed me off of. More stitches!

   How about when I was playing with some other kids across the street in the Glenoak Elementary playground. I chased a ball under the old wooden merry-go-round. There was a nail sticking down. I used my head to try to bend the nail. Didn’t work. More stitches! At least Thumper wasn’t involved this time. I don’t think. Then again---I wonder who threw the ball?

   One last comment about dumb things we did before we found the more creative adventures I’m about to relate. We used to try jumping off my garage to test ideas related to gravity, and how it affects the rate of fall of a boy with a sheet, raincoat, umbrella, or??? At least no stitches. The really good news is that we all survived these early excursions into pain. Now into the more advanced activities in pain and mayhem.

 

Chapter 1. Fire and things that go boom!

 

   It all started like most boys with firecrackers.  It was fun lighting them and watching them explode on the ground. But, sometimes they would just fizzle. The thing to do then was to break them in half, lay them on the ground, light the powder that was spilling out, and quickly stomp them to make them “pop”. Hopefully with shoes on! One of the guys, not me or Thumper, would hold a firecracker tightly in his hand as it exploded! He claimed that it didn’t hurt if he squeezed it tight enough. Another friend claimed he actually threw a cherry bomb in the school toilet. I dunno. Might have been a “story” to impress the rest of us. At any rate, we all survived these early years. Now on to the more advanced methods of disaster.

   This was during the early days of the space race. Shortly after the “big war”, WWII. Our days were spent playing “war”. Well, we called it “playing army”. It was also the time of “Duck and cover drills”. The cold war had begun, and we expected the Russians to drop The Bomb on us at any time. When an alarm went off at school, we kids were to get under our desks and cover back of our necks. It was also the time of Sputnik, Russia’s first satellite, when America and the Russians were trying to beat the other into space. Stories of UFOs, or as we called them then, flying saucers, filled the newspapers, and the movies. It was also not many years before President Kennedy would announce that we would put a man on the moon. Naturally, we wanted to be part of the action.

   Following in no particular order, mainly because I don’t remember which came before what, are some of the the things we thought up to do. We were enthused about rockets and wanted to build our own. That was back in the days before Estes model rockets were available. Many experiments were made to come up with the design of a rocket that would actually fly. We’d use the end of a metal ball point pen for the body of the rocket, and glue balsa fins on. Or a piece of aluminum tubing with the end crushed down around a nut to form a nozzle. (A nut like goes on a bolt, not a nut like a squirrel eats.), or, I can’t remember what all. Once in a while, one would actually work. Kinda. But not often. Either they didn’t work, or only fizzled, or they went BOOM.

   The more involved part came from finding and making some kind of fuel. And here is where we get to the point of the story. Some of the first experiments combined match heads laboriously cut from paper match books. We didn’t smoke, but we’d steal book matches from our parents who did. Or grab them when we went out to eat with our folks. There was always a container of them on the counter, or on the table. They had printing on them advertising the restaurant. Back to the story. The fuel was created by mixing the match heads with sulfur. One of the gang was ramming that fuel into a metal pipe that he was supporting between his feet, with a metal bar to compact the maximum amount in. Bad idea. BOOM!!!! He wound up in the hospital. Blew the flesh off the inside of his feet. Burned his eye lashes and eyebrows off, and burned his face severely. But he survived the experience.

   Then there was the time I was messing around with various compounds from my chemistry set in the garage. Somehow it caught fire and flamed up to the rafters! But it burned itself out before anything caught fire. Like the garage. Our old wooden, flammable garage! If my dad ever wondered why there were charred areas on the rafters, he never said anything. I survived to live another day.

   Another time, a friend and I were in my mom’s kitchen making a refined version of our latest fuel mixture. Maybe I’d better stop here and explain that one of the guys, Buster by name, would actually go to the library and research this stuff. He found all kinds of formulas for explosives, like gunpowder, but not much on rocket fuel. He did discover that the fuel pellets that you could buy for those little, low powered, so called rocket motors, Jetex rockets, was a mixture of saltpeter and sugar. These motors would power a little balsa glider, but didn’t have enough thrust to actually launch a rocket. We had used this mixture in lots of rockets without much success. But a lot of fun trying. It sure would burn and smoke!

   Back to the story. We figured out that the Jetex pellets were molded and hard, and maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe we should try that. The best way to mold the powder into a solid pellet form would be to melt it with heat. How to do that? Easy, on Mom’s kitchen stove. Her electric stove, of course. This was at our vacation house at Snug Harbor. “Snug”, as we called it, appears in many of out adventures. Even we kids knew better that to try it over an open flame. Perfect. We were smart in how we did it. We didn’t use one of Mom’s pots. It might get ruined. Here’s the plan. Place the mixture in an old tin can that we cleaned out especially for our purpose. Place can directly on burner. Turn on heat. What could be easier, or more logical?

   Gotta stop again and explain about tin cans back then. They were made out of steel. I guess it was tin coated. I dunno. Anyway, the top and bottom were soldered in place. And there was a seam soldered down the side. Can ya guess what happened next? The solder melted. The partially melted mixture spilled out onto the stove burner. And POOOOOF!!!! Flames erupted all the way to the ceiling. Smoke everywhere. Burned a hole in the stove top. Burned the wallpaper on the wall behind the stove. Burned the paint on the ceiling. Spilled over onto Mom’s new carpet. Random pattern carpet that couldn’t be matched! Sassy, the parakeet, coughing his little head off! Mom screaming! Boys screaming! But, at least the house didn’t burn down. Sassy survived. New paint. New wallpaper, or maybe the wall was painted, I don’t remember. New carpet. New stove. I survived whatever the punishment was. I’ve blocked that part from my memory!

    Here’s another fun use for saltpeter and sugar. Remember how we used to play army? Army guys had hand grenades. I made my own. The old chemistry sets had wooden vials to hold some of the chemicals. My older brother had gone off to college and left his chemistry set behind. Those vials were perfect! Fill them with saltpeter and sugar mix. Drill a little hole in the lid and insert a fuse. We bought rolls of Jetex rocket fuse to ignite our various rockets and other “burny” things. In the heat of battle, I’d light one and throw it in the general direction of the enemy. The enemy let me know in no uncertain terms that hand grenades were not allowed! Other than a burn or two in the enemies’ clothing, no injuries occurred. And I survived.

   Another war related instrument of destruction was the land mine. Here’s how we made ours. A large jar lid filled with saltpeter and sugar, place a smaller lid filled with potash in it on top of the salt peter and sugar. Place a bottle cap on top of that filled with glycerin. Cover with a piece of wax paper covered with sand and leaves to hide it. I shoulda mentioned that this happened in the alley behind my house that some of the kids would use to walk home from school. We’d rush home in time to hide the landmine in their path. Then we’d hide in wait in the garage. The same one that I almost burned down. Soon, an unsuspecting kid would come walking down the ally and step on it. The glycerin would mix with the potash, and about the time the kid was a few feet down the alley, it would ignite and set off the saltpeter and sugar, Flames and smoke would erupt several feet in the air with a great “swoooshhh”. Imagine their surprise! Great fun. We’d howl with laughter at their reaction. No one was ever hurt, and my parents never knew, so yet again, I survived to think up yet more fun things to do.

   That alley was the location of yet another exciting prank. During the summer, I would often have Thumper over to “camp out” in the back yard. It’s been said that nothing good happens after midnight. Here’s an example of that truth. One warm summer night we had stayed awake late talking and a strange idea came into my fertile brain. Wouldn’t it be great fun to pour my dad’s mower gas down the storm drain that ran right down the center of the alley? And throw a match in! It WAS fun! Fuuume! Flames shooting out of the manhole. And manholes blowing off and flames erupting down the alley! I loved it. Scared poor old Thumper half to death! Dad didn’t ever find out what happened to his gas, so, yet again, I survived.

   Here’s yet another, but, this time it was when a few of us were camping in the front yard of my families vacation house in Snug Harbor, on Tampa Bay, near Gandy Bridge. I had an old mullet boat that had washed up in front of our house during a storm. We figured that it was abandoned. Kinda rotten, and no registration numbers. We rode around in it with my 15 horse Merc. This night, we had the brilliant idea to drive it out to the cooling inlet of the Florida power generating plant on Weedon’s island. There was a channel marker and platform at the entrance to the cooling channel. But we needed a reason to go out there. One of Buster’s creations was a device called a “Coke bottle bomb”. This is made by filling an empty coke bottle with our scientific mixture of match heads and sulfur. A Jetex fuse was then inserted in the top of the bottle.

   So, off we went. It was probably 1 or 2 in the morning when we got to our destination. We tied up to the dock, and placed the Coke bottle on one of the planks. One of the guys lit the fuse as I proceeded to Yank the starter cord on the motor. Brmm, Brmm, brmm. It wouldn’t start! We’re gonna DIE!!! But, just in time, the old Merc did start, and we barely escaped the dock when the bomb exploded with a satisfying KA-BOOM! And with burning match heads raining over a wide area! A great night! Next morning we went back out to the channel marker to see what we had wrought. The only evidence was a perfect imprint of the bottom of the glass bottle. “Coca-cola Bottling Company”.

   I’m sure that here were many other fire and boom adventures, but I can’t recall any right now. But, never fear. Thumper, “camping out”, and other activities supplied plenty of opportunities for my genius. So, let’s move on to the next heading.

 

Chapter 2. Camp-out-in-the-yard adventures.

 

   This first story could maybe have been included in the fire and boom stories, but it was an unplanned boom, so it probably fits better in this category. Remember that during the Summer I’d have a friend or two over to camp out in the back yard.  Usually Thumper, or later, Bill O’neal, my best friend in Junior High. We usually had a campfire in the corner of the backyard, and would cook hot dogs. Beefaroni, spaghetti, or pork and beans were often substituted when we felt we wanted something requiring more effort that poking a coat hanger through a hot dog. Of course, these things came in cans. We’d have to open the can and dump the contents into a pot. Then stick the can in the flames. Yes, I know that we shoulda waited ‘til we had some coals to put the pan in. WAY to complicated. It was easier to just get a good fire going and stick the opened can in close to it to heat up. One night we didn’t want to go to the trouble of watching the can. Besides, we were planning to go on some adventure in the neighborhood. Instead, we got the fire going, and put the unopened can in, and then we began getting the things we would need for our neighborhood excursion. About the time we were ready to go. BOOM! The can exploded! But, no one was hurt by flying can shrapnel. Bill and I were in the boy scouts and had been told about some boys that were heating can of unopened beans. In their tent. Their can had exploded and the hot beans had burned through the tent fabric, leaving perfect bean shaped holes behind. Too bad we hadn’t remembered about that. Oh well, by now I’m sure that you figured out that, as usual, we survived. I’ll quit reminding you of that fact after each incident that I’m fixin’ to tell you about. You get the idea by now.

   As mentioned in the last story, Bill and I had joined the Boy Scouts. We were only involved for about three months, We figured we could have more fun on our own, but one benefit from our time as scouts was that we now figured that we knew all there was to know about camping, and had the proper gear to do it with. Tents, sleeping bags, camp stove, comic books, and such.

  One weekend, Bill and I, and a couple other guys that we were in scouts with, planned to camp in the woods north of St. Pete. I don’t remember just where it was, but there was a stream running through the woods that we followed back to a cleared area that we were going to camp in. We set up camp and built a fire to cook over. About that time, the skeeters attacked! It was unbearable. The only thing we could think of to do, was to move into a concrete shed that was in the clearing. There were no windows, and only a half rotten wooden door in the shed. The skeeters found us! Being bright, intelligent young men, we decided that we could chase the skeeters out by building a good smoking fire on the concrete floor. We did. And, it kinda worked. Trouble was, the heat and smoke was worse that the skeeters! We didn’t realize at the time that we could of asphyxiated ourselves along with the skeeters. On top of that, next morning when we tumbled out of the shed and crawled down to the creek to wash the soot off of our faces and bodies, the creek was full of cotton mouth snakes!

   Here is another camp-out-in-the-yard escapade. This one involves Thumper again. It was another night when we just couldn’t seem to get to sleep. One of us, probably the writer, thought up the idea of riding our bikes down to the St. Pete. Waterfront. There was a park that we used to go to, to play army or to swim in the shallows of Tampa bay water front. That was fine with our parents for us to do during the day. But night time? Not so much! There was only one small problem with our plan. Thumper’s bike had a flat tire. Hmmm, gotta be creative. I know, we’ll just borrow a bike from Bob and Bill Lindberg (The “Bergy Brothers”), who lived across the street to the north of my house. Maybe you begin to see how this is gonna go. It was night time. After midnight. (Didn’t I tell y’all that nothing good happens after midnight?) We couldn’t just knock on the door and ask. Awww, they won’t mind. Besides, they’ll never know. We’ll return it when we get back.

   So, off we went. I on my bike, and Thumper on theirs. We were just crossing 9th. Street. There were no cars. Except one. A COP!, Excuse me, a police officer. What could we do? We weren’t supposed to be out at that time of night. Especially on a “borrowed” bike. We RAN! I took the lead, and Thumper followed close behind. The policeman was gaining on us! I know what to do! We’ll cut through the wooded lot next to the road. I turned in, but when I looked back, there was no Thumper. Poor Thumper had stopped, and the cop had taken him home. My memory is a bit foggy, but I suppose I must have gone on home. Anyway, next morning my folks got a call from the police station. Thumper, I, and our parents had to appear at the station to explain what we were doing out in the wee, small hours. The subject of the “borrowed” bike didn’t come up. I guess we were the only ones that knew about that little detail. I suppose we returned the bike next day. I don’t remember. I also don’t remember the consequences. Probably, we weren’t allowed to see each other for some period of time. We were on “restriction” a lot in those days. Or camp out for the rest of the summer. And there begins and ends my experience with the police. I learned a valuable lesson that night! Don’t get caught.

 

Chapter 3. Water games:

 

   Like most St. Pete. Kids, we spent many happy hours on the water, whether swimming at the beach, water skiing, or just blasting around in boats. My dad taught me to swim before I could walk, which resulted in a couple of outcomes. I had no fear of the water, and I LOVED anything to do with the water. Here are a few examples of water activities that could have ended in disaster, buy yet, somehow I survived.

   Do any of you experience the excitement of going to the beach? But, ya gotta drive through all of the congestion and traffic to get there. Then find a place to park. Then worm your way along the sand until you find a place big enough to spread your beach towel. Then wade through the throngs of people until you are far enough from shore to spread your arms and swim. At least that’s the way it was last time I visited the St. Pete. Beaches. It was a bit different back in the 50s and 60s. You couldn’t wait ‘til dad would holler, “Get in the car, y’all, we’re goin’ to the beach!” We’d drop whatever we were doing and run to the car, and jump in to the back, then maybe stretch out on the seat. No seat belts in those days. On the way to the beach, we’d pass through miles of wilderness. Nothing but Australian pines. Then we’d get to the beach. A few cars would be in the parking lot. A few folks on the beach. We’d have the water almost to ourselves! Pretty soon, the “good humor man” would come down the beach, music issuing from the speakers. Dad would always buy us an ice cream bar or Nutty-Buddy”.

   As we kids got into our teen years, we could hardly wait for Summer! The first warm weekend in spring, we’d beg to go to the beach. We’d play, swim, and lay in the Sun, and turn bright red! No sun block! Maybe a bit of coconut oil. Ohhh, the pain! Then we’d stay in the house until the dead skin all peeled off. A couple of weeks later, we’d do it all over again. by the time that had peeled, we’d have developed a protective tan, and were good for the Summer. So, what is there to survive from that? Well, years later, I developed melanoma from all that Sun exposure earlier in life. Had to have various organs removed along with the soccer ball sized melanoma!

   Another favorite swimming spot was the “17th. Street dock.” Mighta been 17th. Ave. What do kids know. Anyway, we’d ride our bikes from home to the docks. And off the end of the docks! At least  none of us ever got wrapped up in the bike frame and drowned. Kinda rough on the bikes, though.

   I think that the most fun was had when we’d spend weekends and Summer vacations at Snug Harbor. The house on the water that my folks had built is gone now, along with all of the others. Nothing but condos now. But, back then, we’d spend day’s water skiing, or just blasting around in my boat. The boat driver would swing by as close as he could to the dock to spray down anyone foolish enough to be standing or sitting on the end. If the skier was ready to stop, he’d let go of the tow rope at the last moment, and step out of the skis as he hit the beach, running up the beach until he slowed down enough to stop. Or fall on the beach! Oh, guess I outa tell ya that there were oyster shells mixed with the sand! Lotsa cuts resulted!

   Another favorite activity was to swim across from the house to the mud flats. Actually a few feet of water shallow enough to stand up in, with a sandy bottom. We’d have mud throwing wars. Like snow ball fights. There were little round non-stinging jelly fish that we’d throw, too. There were also sting rays aplenty! But none of us ever got “stung”. Have you ever flown over the beaches, and especially Tampa Bay in a plane? Low enough to see things in the water? SHARKS ALL OVER! Including hammer head sharks. But, none of us were ever eaten---or even snacked on.

   Across from the house were mangrove covered islands that had grown up on oyster bars. It was great fun racing the boat around between the islands and shore. Speaking of racing, in my later teen years, I got involved in outboard racing. We formed a club, and often met at “Snug” to practice with the boats. “Testing sessions” we called them. I remember two incidences in particular. I was practicing turning using one of the islands like a turn on the race course. Once, while sliding around the island, I hit a little wave, and skipped off sideways, right up into a mangrove tree! As I lay there gasping, I heard one of the guys holler, “Hey Chick! Watcha doin’ in that tree? Chasing squirrels?” Another time, I was practicing with a new hydroplane that I’d just finished building. I was running across a shallow spot next to a sand bar, when the hydro blew over backwards! It landed high and dry on the sand bar.   When I came up sputtering and coughing out sand, I heard my friends howling with mirth! They said that I’d hit head first in the shallow water, with just my kicking legs showing above the surface! I guess it WAS funny. But I coulda broken my neck!

Chapter 4. BB gun misadventures.

 

   Now we move on to some of the dumbest of the dumb. Did ya ever have a BB gun? I bet that you never did anything dangerous or dumb with it. Only shot at targets, and that with adult supervision. You young’uns reading this maybe never even had a BB gun. Well, back in my day, all boys had them. Often a Daisy or Red Rider would show up under the Christmas tree. Dad gave us a few simple rules and trusted us to follow them. Bad idea! Here are a few examples of just why it was a bad idea.

   Bad idea number one: Remember how we boys liked to play army? What could be more fun than playing army with a real gun? BB gun anyway. A few of us were actually dumb enough to have BB gun fights! I remember one time in particular. Thumper and I were tramping in the fields behind the house at Snug Harbor. We were showing off to each other shooting at various objects. Cans and bottles. Branches in a tree. Fish along shore. Even a bird or two. Somehow we decided on a hide and seek game. Thumper took off to hide, and after the agreed upon time, I went looking for him. And I found him. He was hiding up in a big old pine tree. I took careful aim and cut loose at him. He tried feebly to shoot back, but between trying to hold on to the tree and ducking my BBs, he never had a chance! OW! OUCH! QUIT IT! I GIVE UP! I stopped and he climbed down. I imagine that he had a few unkind words to say to me. Funny thing. Not long after that I had an experience that turned me off to guns and shooting living things, and Thumper went off to war and made the army a career.

   I don’t know how we ever kept from getting hurt. Did you see the movie, A Christmas Story? The boy in the movie wanted a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. He tries to convince his parents, teacher, and Santa that it would be the perfect Christmas present. All tell him, “You’ll shoot your eye out”. Well, that happened in real life to my brother. When he was about 12, he was shooting at the ground in front of his friend. A BB ricocheted off the ground and hit his friend in the eye and blinded him.

   Bad idea number two: I found a box of 22 long rifle shells in my brother’s closet when he went off to college. No gun. Thankfully. Heck, I can get in enough trouble without a real gun. Here’s what I did. I’d lay the bullets out one at a time on the ground, with the end of the shell facing back towards me. Then I’d take careful aim, and try to hit the shell with my BB to hear the loud BANG. I did it several times and got a satisfying bang. The last time, I heard the BANG and felt something hit me in my lower lip. OUCH! That hurt. Apparently the shell had come back at me and hit me. Oh well, no real harm done. I wiped the little bit of blood off, and forgot about it. In a few days it had healed and only left a little bump. I figured that it, too, would heal. It never did. Years later I needed to have a cavity filled, and the dentist took an X-ray. Guess what. Yep, there, showing up as a perfect little round ball, was the BB. It’s still there to this day. I have lots of fun when I go to the dentist as an adult, explaining what-in-the-world is showing up in his X-ray!

   Bad idea number three: Remember how I told you awhile back that something happened that turned me against guns and killing things? Here it comes. Like many boys, I loved animals. All kinds of animals. Birds, squirrels, lizards, among them. But yet I couldn’t resist the challenge of trying to shoot them. One day, I was by myself, wandering through the field behind the house at Snug Harbor. It was a hot, late summer day. You know the kind, Upper 90s, high humidity, no breeze. H-O-T, hot! I just had to crawl under a big bush, out of the Sun, to cool off and rest. As I laid there, a sparrow landed in the branches. Then another. And another. After awhile, the branches were full of those little sparrows. I don’t know what came over me, but I picked up my BB gun and took aim, and shot. And shot. Again and again. In a kind of trance. Suddenly, I woke up. All around me were dead and dying little birds. It horrified me that I had done that. Those little birds that I loved. It made me sick. That’s the last time that I tried to kill any animal on purpose. And it’s the last bad idea that I have to share about BB guns. But, never fear, I still have some other bad ideas to tell you about.

 

Chapter 5. Snakes, gators, and things that go bite:

 

   I’ve always loved reptiles and amphibians. Especially turtles. It started when my dad brought home a turtle that he had found crossing the road.  My dad built me a turtle pen, with a little pond.  Soon more were added. They were all over the place crossing roads back then. Eventually, he built a big 8 foot by 12 foot pool. I and my friends would head down to Lake Maggiore or Crescent Lake to try to catch turtles. We tramped all over the woods and swamps without ever being bitten by anything venomous or dangerous.

   Well, once. We were crossing a ditch, when one of the guys reached down in the water for a little snake he saw there. Turned out to be a baby cotton mouth, who objected to being handled by biting the boy’s hand! What will we do? One of us pulled out his shoe lace and tied it around the bitten hand, then we scurried back to the road to get help. We tried to wave down a car to get a ride to the hospital. No one would stop! Finally, one of the guys laid down in the middle of the road, while the rest of us hollered and waved at the next car. Thankfully, this one stopped, and after hearing our story, took the boy and another friend to the hospital. The others of us took the bicycles and went home. Thankfully, it turned out to not be serious. For some reason the snake didn’t inject any venom. We were much more careful after that. Or were we?

   Sometime later, maybe a year or two, the pet store, I think it was actually Webb’s city, began to sell baby caimans, a member of the alligator family. We couldn’t afford one, but we all wanted one. Hey, they’re almost like baby alligators. We had seen these down at the swamp behind Lake Maggiore. Let’s see if we can catch our own! So, first opportunity, off we went on our trusty bikes, carrying nets and pillow cases (We always had old pillow cases with us to hold the varmits we caught.) We crept down to the edge of the swamp. We knew they were in there, ‘cause we could hear them as we were riding up, but they’d stop making noise as we got close. They made a kind of guttural croak sound. Pretty soon, one of us tried to imitate the croak to see if the baby gator would answer, and, sure enough, they did. As they croaked, they’d move enough so that we could see them. Then, we’d carefully wade out and pick them up, put ‘em in the pillow cases that we always had with us to carry our captures in , and take them home. They’d wind up in our various pens and ponds. They’d often manage to escape. I remember getting a call from a neighbor, “Is this your alligator?” “Come get the dang thing!”

   We never thought of the danger. The swamp was infested with cotton mouth water moccasins! We just waded right in! And, did you know that the mamma gator would watch over the babies for the first year? The big daddy bull gator, too! And that an adult gator could run faster on land than a person? Or even a quarter horse? And that they could swipe their tail and break your legs? Or that they’d then drag you into the water and do the “death roll” with you until you drowned? As I said way back at the beginning of this essay, “God protects fools and kids with over active imaginations.”

So, faithful reader, so ends this essay on how I survived my early years. In spite of myself. I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of our adventures, but please kids, don’t try this at home!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You know, this is great.  You think about the things kids used to be able to do and how adventurous you could be and it's hard to imagine getting away with it all today.  But without these hijinks, how could we have grown into men that could handle boats on uncooperative water?

 

This thread has convinced me...I'll post up some stories about growing up on the coast here.

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Dear "Cracked"........Gosh, what's your name anyway?

You done said a mouthful there! Poor kids don't get a chance to do much of anything adventurous these days. Parents won't let them outa their sight long enough. Go off across town on their bike? "NO WAY, you'll get run over!" Go for a hike in the woods with a friend? NO,NO,NO, you'll get lost or snake bit!" Go in a boat alone? "ARE YOU CRAZY? You'll drown!" WHAT? You wanna build a boat? With power tools? "NO WAY, you'll chop your fingers off!" Seems like most of the kids I know are limited to watching others enjoy real adventure on tv or YouTube.

 

Us old folks DID have fun way back then---if we survived. And most all of us did. Even with all of our fingers. I, for one, am looking forward to reading more of your adventures growing up on the Canadian west coast.

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Oh, my name is Geordie; pleased to meet you.

 

It's a sad thing...I don't really blame parents for worrying after their kids but I am also totally convinced that if I hadn't spent a lot of time taking risks when I was younger, I wouldn't be capable of what I am now that I am older.

 

I mean sure, I broke bones a lot as a kid, and got plenty of black eyes and bloody noses and more stitches than I can count, and I admit that one of my fingers is shorter than factory spec, but at the same time by taking those hits when I was young and healed quickly and was motivated to be back playing sports before the end of the season, I grew to be pretty resilient and independent.  I don't think those are traits we value enough in kids today and as a result they don't really develop them.

 

Anyway not to go all New Yorker think piece on you, it just struck me how the Mark Twain childhood you're describing OUGHT to be the gift we give our kids, instead of a new iphone.

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