What’s something you remember from your childhood that’s all but gone now? I remember all the mothers coming out at dinnertime to call their kids inside. I would hear my mother call out ‘AH LEE CEE EYAAA’ and I would pretty much drop whatever I was doing, say ‘Bye!’ and dash home!
And it wasn’t uncommon for the other kids to figure if my mom had called me, their moms had probably called them too and off they’d woosh in various directions into the sunset. Within minutes, the streets were suddenly deserted. Who needed texts and Messenger?
I also remember I had a pal who showed me how to fish for crawdads in a nearby ditch. Based on where we lived at the time, we couldn’t have been any more than eight or nine years old. I wish I could remember his name. Our crawdading kit consisted of an empty Folgers Coffee can with one bottom cut out and the other left intact but with two small pierced holes, some lengths of fishing line and a few hooks, some corn kernels in foil, a chunk of butter in another foil packet, and a little paper bag with some flour.
When we found a likely spot, with reeds along the bank and maybe exposed tree roots, we’d grab a couple of nice straight sticks and then settle down like two old fishermen. We got to the serious business of making the day’s rods by tying on a length of fishing line, adding a hook, and then squishing on a kernel or two of corn.
Standing at the ditch’s edge, we would carefully, artfully plop our lines into the ditch. My friend would smile at me, I’d smile back and try not to hold my breath. If you spied the two of us from a distance, you would’ve seen two kid statues. Thankfully, almost immediately we’d get a bite. It seems there was no thrill that could compare to that tiny, almost imperceptible tug. You really had to get zen with it — at eight or nine years old.
After we had hauled out several crawdads, my pal would ‘deal with them.’ I guess I was too squeamish for that. Anyway, my memory is after the poor creatures met their maker, there would be these plumpish things my friend would shake vigorously in the flour bag. It was Shake n’ Bake Huckleberry Finn style.
Then we would set up our little fire under the Folgers Coffee can — oh yeah, we had a box of matches. (Today, I would go bonkers if any of my kids were walking around with a box of matches at any age under maybe 30.) Once the cutest miniature fire you’d ever seen was aglow, my pal would add a tiny bit of the butter to the surface of the can until it sizzled. Then he’d plop on a battered crawdad or two until they popped golden like popcorn.
This was no silver service, of course. We grabbed them right off the top of the Folgers Coffee can stove so hot we’d hop them back and forth between our hands until we could pop them into our mouths.
My pal and I sat across from each other all the while. I don’t remember talking about much – what do eight-year-olds talk about really? But it seems we were always in happy companionship and a great team.
Then we would cover our little fire with dirt from the ditch bank, pack everything back into our bags, and head home. With every little fishing trip we were away for hours and during that time walked along roadsides, dealt with sharp things and made fires, stood next to bodies of water, and ate off the fat of the land.
There were no badges for skill or merit. No praise from any adult for any aspect of our crawdad expeditions. In fact, they may have hit the roof had they known, or maybe not batted an eyelid considering the freedom they had experienced as kids in the 40s and 50s. All I know is we were just two kids doing stuff on our own, for ourselves, in a way that is surely extinct now.
I’ve been vegan for years and I still cherish that memory because obviously it’s not a story about ‘food choices’ or fishing expeditions but about freedom and childhood and figuring things out for yourself and so on.
If you have a similar childhood story to share with me, just join in here.