A memoir of another time, another place, another 4th of July, and another level of parenting.
I've been thinking a lot about my folks lately.
I refer to them the same way that Dad referred to his,... "the folks".
Invited this week to a Fourth of July party Saturday I remembered one 4th when I was a younger fool than I am now.
I had gone three or four miles up the road to the tiny town of Port Orange to watch the fireworks over the Halifax River. I was about eleven.
The Folks had the next door neighbors over for drinks and dinner, stayed up late, indulging in far more of the former than latter.
Now lest anyone start with judgmental comments on The Folks about allowing a eleven year old boy to travel that far from home unescorted, I should note that they didn't know I was gone, they thought that I was out on the dock, and that I did not ask permission, I just went.
Life in Harbor Oaks was different in the early nineteen-sixties.
By the age of eleven I had seen a president buried and watched on live teevee as his suspected assassin was gunned down. I had seen convoy after convoy of American troops go by as we were pulled over waiting in our schoolbus in the cool September and October mornings, and listened to the Folks discussing whether there was any point in trying to fort up after a nuclear exchange between three of the biggest military targets in the country, when they didn't think I could hear.
I guess the final straw to my early childhood was when, in the third grade, a sheriffs officer had come to our elementary school and passed out dogtags to us.
I had tested out embarrassingly high on the standard IQ tests of the day not long before but it didn't take a genius, (which I wasn't, I was just nine going on twenty-five…), to remember what Dad had told me about dogtags.
One Sunday afternoon I had asked him while we had been watching Victory At Sea's segment on the assault on the Japanese held South Sea Islands.
The answer??? Dogtags were for identifying dead bodies.
In this case MY third grade dead body.
So…. You might see that when I decided that I wanted to go see the fireworks, knew I'd be back home before anybody missed me, and knew that the Folks weren't going to go because I could see them from the end of the dock, the only thing to do was go by myself.
I had gotten a beautiful new black Schwinn bike for my birthday that year and it made the three or four miles the work of just minutes to cover between the house and Port Orange.
However, in order to get to the toll bridge quickly where the fireworks were, I had to go right past Constable Greens' house.
Constable Green was what had passed for Law Enforcement in an area that seldom saw a Sheriffs cruiser, and was county, so had no police force.
He was at that point in history in the early sixties that he knew he had become an anachronism and his cop days were numbered but he was determined to be a rough tough cop to the end. Even better if he could put the fear of the law into somebody with very little effort.
I knew better than to attract attention by racing by. I had seen him get in his huge old Ford and go after kids for doing just that.
So I just sort of…. Rode by. Just in time for he and his no-neck wife to be crossing the road out to the river to watch the fireworks.
"MAC!, Where YA goin???" called the Constable, "Stop and visit a spell!"
Shit. An unescorted eleven year old boy in those days did not, NOT 'stop and visit', when the constable called.
So I stopped, dropped off the seat and duck walked the bike over to the dock they were going to but refused without speaking to get off the bike like a cowboy sitting his horse. I knew if I 'stepped down', I'd be stuck.
"I'm right behind my cousins Constable!" I lied, "I can't stay but a minute".
"Waaallll now young feller" I've been sitting up there on the porch most of the evening and I hadn't seen them go by!" the Constable had called me on it.
"uh," (point… never begin lies with UH), "They are in the pickup with the Folks and I have to meet them at the bridge!?!", I sallied back.
"Brenda wanted to ask about your Grandmother, dinnya Brenda?" which got a grunt out of Mrs. Constable no-neck.
"she's fine Ma'am, last we heard she was shooting Elk in Montana", which was the, I swear, the honest truth.
"I better be getting along Sir, I want to be there before dark".
"Yes I notice you don't have either a light or front reflector on that shiny new bike there, boy", threatened the constable.
"I'll be riding back in the pickup sir," I lied again as I intended to go the LONG way back which did NOT cross the Constables' path.
"Ok son, toddle on, but you just be sure we don't have another incident like last month, right!?!" and he finally let me go.
Because see, the month before some of the older local juvenile delinquents and I had taken an old truck drive shaft, tapped it for a spark plug, borrowed the Old Mans' beloved Model T coil and Randy's Dad's Acetylene tank and built a cannon capable of tossing a steel beer can packed with sand about a quarter of a mile.
It made a four or five foot geyser of water when the can hit the river and damn near no noise when it fired.
The first or second fisherman we shot NEAR, (we weren't dumb enough to shoot AT anybody with this thing…), must have stopped at the Constables house on the way home and let him know... because a day or two later while I was sitting on the dock fishing here he came putting along in his old jon boat with the tiny three horsepower kicker on it peering up into all the docks.
"What's yer name boy!?!", he called from the bow as he eased up to the dock… "seen anything suspicious around here in the last few days???"
That had been my first encounter lying to Law Enforcement.