Sunday, July 14, 2013

100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren: #2

Fun is not a thing. It is a place in your mind. 

(Yes, that's me in my feral youth - about 6 years old.)

When I was very young I only cared about the next fun thing I was going to do, until those unwelcome moments when my body trumped my mind, forcing me to eat or collapse into a bottomless sleep. But around the time I entered the age of double digits, I began to wonder what life was like for mom and dad when they were kids.  So, to my children and grandchildren, here is a story of what my life was like when I was a kid.

If you asked me what my life was like before the age of five, my response would be more supposition than fact, speckled here and there with truths captured more accurately on photograph paper than on my mind.  By the time I popped uninvited into the family, mom was 40 and dad was 60 and they had four other kids. I asked my mom how she could have become pregnant at that age and she replied that “back then” birth control was more of an art than a science and “those things happened.”

Even as a 10-year-old I found it remotely peculiar that my elder sister Gloria had kids older than me. Nowhere in Dick and Jane or the Bible, my two major sources of information at that time since TV hadn’t arrived in our neck of the woods yet, did I see a family that looked quite like ours. Family photos from that era look like scenes from a daycare – lots of babies, toddlers and young kids, and a scattering of young adults. Gloria’s five kids, middle sister Dot’s two, and youngest sister Honey’s four. My brother J. S., dad’s namesake and my only male sibling, was 12 when I was born, so he understandably appears in my childhood photos as a surly teen.

We were living in Iraan, TX, where I believe Mom and Dad and the balance of the family had lived for the previous 20 years or so. Dad, feeding off the growing West Texas oil boom spurred by World War II, had a seemingly lucrative construction business, building roads, bridges, well sites, etc. Our property, a quarter of a city block a couple of blocks off the center of town, consisted of a three-bedroom flat board house with a screened-in front porch and an unfenced front and back yard, a large service garage, a small office, a grease rack, and a large equipment yard filled with bulldozers, maintainers and dump trucks. There was no end to the intriguing and dangerous things I could get into without ever even leaving our property.

I can’t imagine that Mom and Dad didn’t tell me not to go out into the equipment yard because I could get run over, and not to play in the service garage because it was full of dangerous things. But I don't recall that they did and those places, accompanied by my very vivid imagination, were my playground. Being the fifth of five kids to parents anesthetized by time and experience had its advantages. Most days along with a varying assortment of neighborhood kids (in a town of 1,200 people, every kid is a neighborhood kid) I would play “war” or hide and seek, or act out life dramas around the construction yard. 

 (Me and a couple of my nieces playing around the construction yard)
One of our favorite places to play was Dad’s service garage. Large enough to accommodate huge road construction equipment, and with few windows long ago glossed over with a film of grease and exhaust, it was a cavernous, dark wood and tin wonderland with the acrid, dense smell of motor oil, rubber tires, metal and dirt. Over in one especially dark corner was an 8-foot high stack of discarded tires that would no doubt have been home to deadly spiders and rattlesnakes, had they not been consistently scared off by even more deadly kids. To this day when I smell a rubber tire or motor oil I smile at the memory of jumping over and over again from the rafters of the garage into that heap of tires. Tiring of that, we kids would look for “daddy long leg” spiders in the workers bathroom, which was another unmatched wonderland of filth. Or we would go play in the grease rack, a trench in the ground over which the workers would park the trucks when they needed to change the oil or do some other mechanical surgery. The trench was about six feet deep and wide and 30 feet long, and was an excellent, albeit greasy, place to hide.

And then there were the bulldozers and maintainers, both of which were monstrous school bus yellow pieces of equipment that could have easily crushed us. I think mom or dad actually told me not to ever start or drive the equipment (imagine that), but I recall temptation getting the best of me on one, and only one, occasion when I came precariously close to driving a bulldozer through our house.

I guess one of the workers had left the key in the ignition. My fate was sealed. I squinted into the setting sun, making sure that there were no witnesses, turned the key and instantly began moving forward. No mashing the gas, no shifting gears, just rumbling slowly but relentlessly forward. Since the bulldozer was parked about 10 feet from the center of our house, it wouldn’t take long for me to enter my bedroom the wrong way. Fortunately, after a couple of seconds of panic, I turned the key off as the bulldozer rolled within about 2 feet of the tomato bed under my bedroom window. That was a scary lesson learned well.

When we kids weren’t playing dangerously around dad’s construction yard, we were frequently playing dangerously somewhere else, like having firecracker or BB gun wars in the nearby dry creek beds where we’d long ago scared off the snakes.

Of course my days weren’t always characterized by dangerous play, which at the time didn’t seem dangerous at all. More often than not we were playing “house” over at someone’s house or in said dry creek beds, or we were skating on the roads, which I guess could have been considered dangerous, or playing marathon monopoly or jacks, rummaging through the city dump grounds, or swimming for seven hours straight at the county swimming pool.

The common denominator of all of those activities, dangerous or not, and the point I want to make, is that our fun was generated in our own imaginations, which turned piles of tires and desert landscapes into playscapes, roadways into roller rinks, and a pool into a waterpark.

Fun is not a thing. It’s a place in your mind.


  1. Really enjoy your second rendition of wisdom & memories. Looking forward to the next 98 :) Looking at that first picture of you, you sure do look like my mom at that age - WOW!! Those are some strong Wade genes - ha! ha!

  2. Thanks for the memories, Sue. They mirror mine in myriad ways: youngest in the family, family business
    immersed near home, small town with many playmates.
    I had decided to grieve over missing your Mother's advice, but now you've encouraged
    me by sharing advice for the next generation.