In the long summers of my childhood, we read, went to the movies, swam, built clubhouses, fished, sold lemonade and at least once a week did something so dangerous and stupid that I wonder we were alive when school took back in.
We left home after breakfast, had a lunch of sandwiches at home or at a friend’s house and weren’t seen again until dusk.
We filled the yawning hours with unsupervised experiments in electricity, low explosives and long bicycle trips that sometimes took us over bridges that crossed rivers.
I think I won’t be too specific about the electrical experiments that involved frogs or the explosives. Our work in electricity often resulted in blown fuses that took a while to discover.
Our houses weren’t air conditioned so there was no sudden loss of chilled air. There were windows in all rooms, often on opposing walls. Our experiments didn’t plunge mothers into suspicious darkness.
Someone might notice that the radio had stopped playing, but radios didn’t blare all day the way they do now. Most kitchen ranges were gas. Singed eyebrows, along with wounds and burns a Band-Aid wouldn’t cover were the big giveaways.
Explosions attracted attention, but it took us so long to manufacture the charge from kitchen matches that blasts were infrequent.
A friend recalls with dewy nostalgia playing in the spray of the mosquito trucks and buses that took summer’s children to parks for the day.
In 1950’s Alexandria, we took ourselves to play on bicycles. This sometimes meant riding our bicycles across bridges over the Red River.
I get chills this very moment remembering coming down the O.K. Allen Bridge on my bicycle, a blue jean cuff caught in the chain, one hand clutching the handlebar and tackle box, the other hand a death grip on fishing rod and the other handlebar.
If my life flashed before my eyes, it was a short review. I was too busy looking for a place to crash that would stop me without causing noticeable wounds or broken bones.
A steep grassy bank proved a hard landing but one I walked away from. The rest of the summer, permanent grass stains and black holes in the cuffs made by the bicycle chain and sprocket reminded me of that harrowing descent.
Where had we gone? We’d crossed the river to fish a pond in a farmer’s pasture in Pineville. Other bicycle trips took us to Fort Buhlow where we might stand to regard what was left of Bailey’s Dam or so we imagined.
A Union officer named Bailey had dammed the rapids to permit gunboats to pass during the Civil War. The river’s rapids gave us the name of our parish, Rapides.
We got our history “on the ground” rather than “on the Net.”
We fixed our own flats and knew where fuses for the breaker box were kept. We paid dearly for our mistakes which brought a freedom we’d never know again.