With three grandchildren to buy for this year, my wife and I have already begun Christmas shopping. That experience, along with a recent blog I read about growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, had me thinking about my childhood and the kind of ways my friends and I used to entertain ourselves. No matter what we were doing, or what time of year we were doing it, “it” was almost always done outdoors. As for toys, the ones we enjoyed the most were the ones we created ourselves.
Probably the most enjoyable playground in my neighborhood sat right smack in the middle of our small farm. It was a 1 acre pond, complete with fish, snapping turtles, frogs and snakes. It had a ratty old dock, a sea of cattails that we often turned into torches at night, and a small boat. What more could a handful of 10 year old boys want?
Every May, as soon as school was released, we would pitch an old tent down at the pond and declare it officially “summer vacation.” The tent would stay up all summer and we spent many nights sleeping in it. Actually, we probably stayed up all night more times than we slept. We’d sit around a campfire, fishing lines in the water, hooks baited with chicken livers or stink bait, as we tried to catch the big catfish swimming in the pond. When we got bored with that, we would gig frogs. Our pond was running over with frogs. They filled the air every night with their deep harmonic rhythm. Don’t worry, we didn’t kill them just to kill them. We ate the legs. I can’t tell you how many times we carried a gunny sack of frogs down to the house, where my father would spill them out onto the carport and he and I would prepare them for a meal the next day.
Snakes, on the other hand, we killed just because. Because they are creepy, that’s why! One year in particular, the pond was absolutely swarming with snakes. You could not walk around it one time without seeing at least one snake. I’m not talking black snakes. These were mean, nasty, aggressive water snakes. And some of them were eating very well…on frogs I’m guessing. My two neighborhood buddies and I decided to to make it our mission to rid the world of snakes…or at least the pond. We hunted snakes with frog gigs, pellet guns, pitch forks and anything we could get our hands on. Once we killed them, we hung them in a tree by the shore. I know at one point we had at least 14 snake carcasses hanging in that tree. And you thought the Internet was fun!
The three of us grew up around that pond. We saw and did just about everything you can imagine on those shores, especially when we got older. Some of those stories best not be told. I can’t really imagine any toy being more enjoyable, lasting or memorable as that old farm pond. In fact, I was just there last week, standing on my mother’s porch, looking down toward it and thinking, “I should go take a walk around the pond.” Wonder if that frog gig is still hanging in the barn?