Saturday, 15 January 2011


When I was a kid long, long ago, before time began, or anyone had thought of why time ought to begin, or what it might be good for, I lived in rural King George County, Virginia. The county bordered on the Potomac River and was mostly woods. Dahlgren Naval Proving Ground, on which my family lived, sloped down to Machodoc Creek, perhaps three-quarters of a mile wide.

Things were looser then. When I wanted to go shooting, I put my rifle, a nice .22 Marlin with a ten-power Weaver, on my shoulder and walked out the main gate. At the country store outside the gate I’d buy a couple of boxes of long rifles, no questions asked, and away my co-conspirator Rusty and I went to some field or swamp to murder beer cans.

Today if a kid of fifteen tried it, six squad cars and a SWAT team (in all likelihood literally) would show up with sirens yowling, the kid’s parents would be jailed, the store closed and its proprietors imprisoned, and the kid subjected to compulsory psychiatric examination. Times change.

In King George if a buddy and I wanted to go swimming, we might go to the boat dock, which was for public use, and jump in. We did this by day or night. Almost never were there other people around, certainly no lifeguard. Or we might take my canoe, bought with paper-route money, and paddle out into the nighttime water and glory in being young and free and jumping overboard to swim. No one thought anything of it. It was what kids did.

Today, unsupervised swimming is everywhere forbidden. Worse, swimming at night, hundreds of yards from shore. In a canoe without floation devices approved by the Coast Guard. No supervising adult? No proof of having taken a governmentally approved course in how to paddle a canoe? Impossible in these over-protected, vindictively mommified times.

We saw no need of floatation devices because we were flotation devices. We could swim, easily, fluently, because we had been doing it forever. I don’t think I knew anyone who couldn’t have swum the width of Machodoc. Nobody supervised us. Nobody thought we needed supervision. And we didn’t.

If we wanted to fish, an urge frequently upon us, we just got our poles and did. We caught mostly cat, perch, and bream and the occasional wildly combative eel. Adults had nothing to do with it. We didn’t need fishing permits. Nor did we need help.

What I didn’t notice then, but remember now, is that we didn’t look nervously about to see whether our elders might disapprove. We knew they wouldn’t. We were fishing. So what?

The whole world worked that way—unsupervised, unwatched, left alone. In winter the Cooling Pond on base froze deep, and way after dark fifty of us would sail across slick new ice on skates, unsupervised. Adults skated, but they were skaters, not Mommy. And if you wanted to stay late till you were the only one on the (huge) pond, sailing fast, ice hissing under blades, not tired because you are sixteen and don’t know what the word means—you did. No supervision.

Go read it all:

And if you enjoyed that, try this - it's even better:


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