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Free-range (Feral?) Children

Image: a creek (pronounced 'crick' in the Springfield, Ohio dialect)

I just celebrated a birthday this week which gave me license to reminisce about my childhood. I've mentioned before that my mom, Joanne, had four boys in six years. Mom (who will be 89 in July) was a public health nurse who through a lack of affordable, consistent childcare (my dad once told me it cost $25 a week for someone to watch my older brother!) made the decision to be a stay-at-home-Mom until my youngest brother went to kindergarten. That meant our upbringing was a mix of The Sound of Music (without the Nazis) and Lord of the Flies. I mean, we got guns when we turned twelve.

Mom used to take us hiking At Indian Point Park which is nestled between the Grand River and Paine Creek in Northeast Ohio. We loved to hike the trails in the park, but in the summer months spent most of our time hiking in Paine creek. We could walk from the park all the way to the I-90 bridge a couple of miles south of the park. Hiking the creek meant hunting for crawdads and salamanders and snakes and anything else we thought we could grab. You had to be careful that your shadow falling on the water would not scare off whatever you were hoping to catch. For crawdads, one of us would lift a rock and the others would try to grab whatever was hiding underneath. We wore special 'creek shoes' --the sneakers you had just outgrown-- to protect our feet and could spend four hour or more at the park.

We did a lot of fishing as well, both at the park and in the creek that ran behind our house. We made fishing gear by bending sewing needles and threading fishing line through the eye of the needle. We would roll sliced bread into dough balls and drop them in the creek. You had to jerk the line perfectly to hook the minnows and sunfish that were in the creek, and then you would let them go. Some afternoons you could catch the same minnow four or five times. The fish still got the best of it, growing fat on all the dough balls we fed them.

We collected garter snakes, frogs and toads, box turtles (never snapping turtles!) and an assortment of baby rabbits, fox kits, possums and other critters.

When Mom went back to work, childcare was still an issue. We lived out in the country, and this was before latchkey programs and who wants to babysit four rambunctious boys between the ages of 5 and 11? So, we got to stay home alone. It's not like we had guns yet. Just bows and arrows and pocketknives and slingshots and bicycles and BB guns (they stung but couldn't do much damage, and we still have all of our eyes.) Speaking of pocketknives, my brother Andy just gave me a pocketknife for my birthday. He got it from our grandpa when he (Andy, not grandpa) was a kid. What I remember most about that knife is that one year my parents were having a Christmas party for Dad's work colleagues and their friends and Rudy (Boy #3) tried to grab the knife out of Andy's hand and cut himself badly and had to go to the ER, thus ending the Christmas party.

(Writer's Note: if I ever write my memoirs Growing Up Jeff, at least a chapter, if not an entire section, will be devoted to the time we spent in the waiting room at the hospital while Rudy was in the ER. I was only responsible for about half of them.)

The great thing about being a kid in rural Ohio in the late sixties and seventies is we had a whole world open to us. Parents had no clue how many predators were out there, so kids had free rein. If we could hike or bike somewhere we could go there. We didn't even have to ask permission or tell them where we were going to go. (Writer's note: I'm not actually sure my parents would have agreed with that last statement, but I am sure we did not tell them where we were going or what we were going to do.) Camping out became code for 'See you next week.' It was wonderful, and I doubt kids anywhere have that level of freedom now.

Love: a story of grief and desire is now available as an audiobook! Available on amazon, and wherever audiobooks are sold.

Win a free Kindle edition of Love: a novel of grief and desire: I work with Reader's Favorite on the Kindle book giveaway. If you go to you can sign up for the monthly giveaway. You can scroll through the list of giveaways (over 500 each month) or sort the list by title or author to find Love: a novel of grief and desire and put your name in for this month's drawing. Good luck!

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