Let me preface all the following by saying that my sister and I were deeply loved children and we would not recommend or allow ANY of these activities to take place now.
However, our father was a single father, a fireman, and worked 24 hour shifts as well as working other jobs. As a result, we were left to our own devices quite often. We grew up in a house on an empty cow pasture in the country, surrounded by pine woods and trickling creeks. Essentially, we spent summer days and warm afternoons in a secret garden of sorts.
We hunted squirrels and birds with Red Ryder BB guns we got for Christmas. We climbed trees way higher than we should have, and we rode four wheelers as fast as they would go with no helmets or regard for our own safety.
We were invincible.
I often look back on those days very fondly, but now that I am an adult with a young niece I think, “My God, we could have died doing that crazy thing!”
One Summer my little sister, Bronwyn and I were determined to build a slide to ride our bicycles down. We must’ve been around 9 or 10 years old, maybe 11. We did not own a slide, but we did own - well we found - a long, rusty piece of corrugated tin in the trash heap in the woods that we shared with our neighbors.
Side note: everyone pretended that an airplane crash had caused the pit that became the resting place of old refrigerators and washing machines. We were told that if we looked closely, we could see the control panel of the small aircraft at the bottom of the pit. For the sake of posterity, I will neither confirm nor deny that the “control panel” was the innards of an old microwave.
Back to the slide of rusty death. Now, what would you say is the mark of a good slide? The incline, of course! We dragged that piece of tin all around our property looking for a suitable hill until we had a lightbulb moment.
Between our house and our neighbors’ ran a small dirt path wide enough to drive through. The path was dug into the ground about ten feet. We decided (based on our tenuous grasp of physics) that perhaps if we weighed the tin down at the top, we could ride down the tin safely to the bottom. But it was STEEP.
My sister refused to ride down, but it had taken us half the day to find the spot and hours more to find something heavy enough to weigh the tin down. This was happening. I wasn’t too keen on doing it myself, but I am the oldest and couldn’t back down from a challenge. I climbed the cliff with my sister’s off-road scooter in tow. I decided that I was way too afraid to ride down standing up, but I could stomach it sitting down on the wide base of the scooter.
I took a deep breath or two and lined myself up with the tin. It looked much taller from up there. I took an awkward crawling start and tipped myself over the edge of the “slide”. I don’t remember much about the beginning of the ride. I can only imagine it went relatively smoothly. However, I vividly remember the end of it. As I raced down the cliff, my butt hit a large rock that was jutting up under the tin. The shocks of the off-road scooter launched me into the air, and I landed in a heap at my little sister’s feet.
After a round of raucous laughter, I attempted to stand up and brush the red clay off my clothes. I had frogged my coccyx so badly I could barely stand, but I limped the whole way home, proud of the days’ adventure.
When we were much smaller, maybe around 3 or 4, my sister and I were playing in a bubble bath together at my grandmother’s house. She kept a butter tub full of spare change on the sink. I don't really recall how it happened, but the idea came to us to try to ring each other’s open mouths with pennies. We took turns pegging each other in the face until it was my turn again. I threw a penny so true that it sailed straight down my sister’s throat. She never even had to swallow (fear not, we got it back about a week later).
Another time, when I was 13, I climbed a tree that grew on the edge of my aunt and uncle’s gravel driveway to rescue a kite. I was almost to the top of the tree, when I let go with one hand to grab the kite. By changing my grip on the tree trunk, I lost my balance and fell all the way to the ground. A rock from the gravel driveway wedged itself into the back of my hand so deeply, that it had to be dug out with tweezers.
We slapped some Neosporin and a band aid on it, and I got to spend the rest of the day watching cartoons while my sister and cousins were told not to come inside until the streetlights came on. I still have a round, rock-shaped scar on the back of my hand to this day. I smile every time I see it.
That’s the thing. We all expected each other to come up with something a little risky, but exciting. We were invincible, but what good would it be if we didn’t prove it? It was a childhood well wasted if we didn’t bestow our parents with a few grey hairs.
We aren’t the only kids who grew up that way. There are whole scores of us running around with hard earned battle scars, and ludicrous stories behind them. Dazzling feats of daring that we are all happy to tell, if you only ask, “Hey, where’d you get that scar from?”