In 1949, I was in high school.

That was 75 years ago, and 75 years before 1949 was 1874. When I was in high school, I could have asked many of my neighbors to tell me what they did for work or fun from the 1860s right up through the Depression. I’d also like to know who was living in all the houses in my neighborhood back in those days and who built them. I wish some of them had written about these things.

So writing about what I did and saw as a kid is now a moral obligation.

There has always been a market for nostalgia. Old folks are perhaps its biggest subscribers. You have read of Mark Twain’s fragrant town drunk, asleep on the steamboat dock. Dickens also milked the good old days for all he could, filing volumes with the gloom of his childhood poverty.

These two, and many like them, were far from innovators. Around 2,500 years ago, Aristophanes wrote of an elderly farmer who missed the oldies but goodies. He wanted to hear Simonides’ “Shearing of the Ram,” not realizing that nobody played that corny old song anymore. I, and perhaps you, feel the old man’s pain.

It has always been so. We have all seen the cartoons of two elderly cavemen looking at a young buck walking by with a spear. “In our day, we didn’t need those complicated modern contraptions. Did all our fighting with rocks – and brains the size of a grape.”


I was born in the 1930s and raised in the 1940s. When I think of what I did in those days, I marvel that I am here today. It must have been hard on my parents.

In the early 40s, every afternoon before supper, we’d sit by the radio and listen to Tom Mix, Jack Armstrong and Captain Midnight. I had a 1945 Captain Midnight code-o-graph badge in my desk for over 40 years. It vanished when I got married.

Hitchhiking was taken for granted. On Saturdays, at the age of 12, I was hitchhiking nine miles to Rockland to see the serial cowboy movies.

When I was 14, I skipped school and hitchhiked 55 miles to see a girl I’d met at a band concert. She was in school at Lincoln Academy that day so that’s where I went, for no other reason that I just wanted to see her. I don’t remember if I saw her or not. It didn’t matter; up until a certain age boys are programmed to behave like animals rather than thinking beings.

Boys and girls roved in packs. Christmas. Halloween. Summer Bible school.

Perhaps because we were accustomed to being together in the village school. Every day in the summer we’d walk down to the river and go swimming, an hour later every day. We’d start when the tide was just coming in over the warm mud flats so it would not be ice cold by the time it got up to the shore. After an hour, we’d wrap ourselves in towels and change our wet bathing suits for clothes. Sometimes a towel would fall off one of the older girls. It was many years before I wondered if it was accidental.

Like all the others, I walked to our one-room school. When the bell rang to bring us in from recess I might have been 30 feet up in a spruce tree. Back then it was taken for granted that boys climbed trees. We played in puddles in the schoolyard and in one spring day could destroy the leather soles in new shoes.

The schoolhouse had two front doors. The left entrance was for boys and had a small coat room. The door on the right was for girls. There were also two doors in the back of the classroom. The one on the left went to the boy’s privy. The one on the right was for girls.

My friend Bruno once went into the privy, stood on the seat, crawled out the window and dropped on the ground. He was only six years old, and too small to reach the window to get back in, so he had to walk around the building and come in the front door. There were only two ways of getting out of the privy without using the door, so the teacher must have been relieved to see that he had gone out through the window. The alternative was too horrible to contemplate.

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