Sitting on a hilltop in southern West Virginia on a clear night, I could see countless stars. A sea of them against a deep blue night sky. Have not seen such a sky in a long time. It is one of the fond memories from my childhood along with sitting by a fire with friends while listening to our hounds run through the woods. We would Indian wrestle. You lie on your back head to toe and wrestle with your leg. The object is to flip your opponent. After we tired of that, we would eat the potatoes we baked in the camp fire. Then we would tell lies. We were young boys. Old would have been 13 or 14. There were no drugs, no alcohol. Just country kids having country fun. Oh. And we did not have computers, Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet, and television was a couple of snowy black and white channels.
We fought wars too. Occasionally with Daisy BB guns, but mostly with bang, bang. We would also make homemade bows powerful enough to raise a welt with the dull sticks we shot from them. We played tackle football and our only piece of equipment was the ball. We would strap on someone’s boxing gloves and flail the daylights out of one another. For fun. Until you took one straight on the nose. After playing a baseball game, we rode standing up in the back of a pick-up truck screaming at the top of our lungs. We got old rickety, rusty bicycles with no chains or brakes, a frame with wheels, and coasted a long hill that ended by shooting across the highway. No helmets, no elbow pads, no knee pads. Nobody died although Grant did run over the hill once and through a briar patch. Later, a badge of honor. We swam, in the river, unsupervised. We floated down the river on homemade rafts until they fell apart. In school we were encouraged to read Huck Finn. We climbed skinny trees to the top and rode them over to the ground before letting them fly. We cut old vines in the woods so we could swing on them and pretend to be Tarzan. If we got hungry along the way, we found an apple tree and ate green apples. Or climbed a mulberry tree and sat there eating until our hands and faces were purple. We went exploring into abandoned coal mines. Just because they were there. We zipped down the mine’s abandoned tracks on an old left behind push car. We walked far enough into the hills until we could not see a house in any direction. Then we became pioneers. Daniel Boone or Davey Crocket. Our squirrel rifles were BB guns. Yes, we were kids playing with guns. In winter, we found the steepest hill to sled down in the most thrilling – and dangerous – way we could think of. The best was several of us riding on a sheet of roofing tin. Our sled run ended at the bottom of a hillside pasture. At a barbed wire fence. Just before the creek. The challenge? Bail out just before the sheet of tin shot beneath the wire. We always made it, but my cousin Preston once left a little piece of his jeans – and rear end – on the tin. We were always home for supper with the family.
At school, we started each day with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America. We sang a verse of My Country Tis of The. We had a classroom prayer. We were encouraged to read the biographies of our founders and other great statesmen. We were taught that America meant freedom and freedom was good. Communism was evil. Most of us went on to serve some time in the Armed Forces.
On Sunday mornings, we were inspected to make sure we washed well. Put on our white shirts and went to Sunday School and Church. And, yes, we would occasionally try to sneak a smoke in the outhouse.
None of us were taking Ritalin. None of us turned in to psychotic killers. Other things perhaps, but not that.
We spend a lot of time talking about what ails us. We blame every problem on something. Everything from the Internet to violent video games to bullies to inanimate objects that can do nothing by themselves but sit there. Lives are too busy. Kids are left alone. Too many parents like it when the kids can entertain themselves with video games and rap music degrading women and telling them to kill a cop. They can even do that while they eat their dinner pizza. Alone.
We spend way too little time talking about what will cure what ails us. Even if the cure is right in front of us. Sometimes the best thing is to look forward – to the past.