February 9th, 2013

When I thought as a child

[NOTE: Here's a repeat of a favorite old post of mine.]

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.1 Corinthians 13:11

Children have a lot of time on their hands. In my case, there was a fair amount of solitary time, and I filled it with musings and experiments.

For example, there was lying-down-on-the-grass-and-looking-up-at-the-sky, great for studying floaters and musing on what they might be. Insects trapped in the eye? Single-celled creatures, likewise (close, but no cigar)?

And then there was the eating of dirt, an activity I tried only a few times before I abandoned it as unsatisfactory. But I still remember the taste—gritty and complex. Likewise, sucking on a wet washcloth during down time in the bath, an interesting combination of rough and refreshing.

Shining a flashlight on the fingers to see the red glow was rather nice. Lying in bed at night, waiting for sleep to overtake me, an entertaining feature was to press gently on my eyes with my fists and rub, causing the activation of phosphenes and a bit of a light show (the Greeks had described the phenomenon long before my time, but I was unaware of that and thought I’d invented the activity on my own).

Then there was the repetition of a familiar word until it became strange. This was accomplished by simply saying it aloud over and over to the point where it was leached of its original meaning and devolved to a mere sound. I recall this happening most effectively and dramatically with the word “pink,” but others will do quite nicely.

Many of these explorations took place in my yard, which had some dirt patches where grass stuggled to grow, and in the summer anthills were plentiful there. These were opportunities for some very mild ant torture that involved covering an ant with a bit of fine light sand and watching it emerge after a very short struggle, now temporarily and somehow satisfyingly light-colored rather than dark (did that make me both a budding racist and a PETA offender? Mea culpa!)

Our block—a dead-end street—featured areas that had been patched over with tar, and on hot days these bubbled up in splendid fashion. There was a plentiful supply of rocks in the gutters, the pointiest of which could be used to strike the tar bubbles and cause a pleasant pop, similar but not quite as good as the scented zap! of that same rock used on the dots that lined the paper rolls we otherwise would load into our cap guns as ammunition.

I wonder whether children still have the time and inclination to do these things. If they do, they’re not telling the adults. Nor did we—till now.

12 Responses to “When I thought as a child”

  1. Barbara Says:

    I found you through a comment by a poster at PJMedia. I got a chuckle out of the Magritte reference and I like your style. I’m bookmarking you and I’ll be back to read more of your story when I can.

  2. Susanamantha Says:

    For me, the repetition of the word “midget” brought hysterics.
    I was fascinated by the dirt under the swing set, ground to a powder, finer than talc, by the neighborhood kids’ feet through the years.

  3. RigelDog Says:

    I remember doing every single one of those things, Neo! Thanks for the reminders. A word that became absurd for me was “of.”

  4. Wry Mouth Says:

    bang a rock (granite, where we lived) with a hammer to breaking and then bang the pieces and then make the smallest, smallest pieces you could. I have no idea how old I was when I was doing this. It could have been 2; it could have been 12.

  5. expat Says:

    I and a friend did the hot tar thing. I think we may have even tasted it. I also remember going into the yard under a group of bloomimg lilac trees and singing–no one was around. I also spent hours in the summer with above friend sitting on her grandmother’s porch swing, plucking honeysuckle blossoms, and sucking out the honey.

  6. CV Says:

    I can remember doing very single thing on your list, Neo! When I was little (1960s) we did a lot of aimless running around the neighborhood, building “shacks” in the wooded areas, etc. It’s much more rare for kids to do that kind of thing these days, and that’s a shame. I think it helped build a sense of creativity and independence.

  7. OldTexan Says:

    Nearing 70 I remember wonderful childhood days playing in the sunshine, sneaking my mom’s large make-up mirror outside and reflecting light at will. My ants suffer a bit more when I discovered Real-Kill could be administered most effectively. My imagination and a few boards turned an old swing set into a fort, boat or an airplane and since I was alone, I was alway the hero in my stories.

    Now I see granddaughter occasionally playing by herself, singing and dancing in the backyard and acting out a story in her head. She is turning ten years old and usually has an electronic device welded onto her hand so it is a treat to watch he still take time to play.

  8. vanderleun Says:

    Such a girly list! Boy’s have a much longer one.

  9. parker Says:

    As a farm boy I remember watching animals have sex and realizing at a young age that humans have sex and understanding the cycle of life. Sex-birth-death. I remember playing in the hayloft. I remember climbing trees and waiting silently and patiently for the birds to return to the nest. I remember the smell of flowers in mom’s fenced in flower garden and the watching insects pollenating the flowers. I remember walking with my first dog down dusty country roads. I remember riding my bicycle on gravel. I remember the World Series of the 1950s. I remember my transistor radio and listening to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night when I was supposed to be asleep. I remember blizzards and droughts. I remember helping mom can vegetables and dad walk the bean fields. I remember chores and grumping about being awaken at 6 am to do chores before standing out in front of the house waiting for the school bus.

    I remember that as a youngster I lived in paradise.

  10. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    I remember burrowing through snowbanks. A neighbor had a large pad at the end of his drive, and hired a guy with an end loader to clean his drive and pad. There would usually be a plow bank about 7 feet high, and 20 long, made of hard packed stuff, and we kids would do our best to hollow it out. I remember rooting around the grove on my Grandfather’s farm, and watching the chickens run around, and being allowed to sit on the fender of the Case VAC tractor, when Grandpa Lind would mow the ditches. I remember the entrance of a small river into Collinwood Lake, that had a MN DNR fish trap, and looking at all the fish milling about, waiting to be caught, measured, weighed, and tossed back in the lake.

    Boxes were things that could provide days of fun. I built submarines and spacehips out of large backing boxes, and sailed them to far places. I remember the stream in the woods behind Jerry McGuire’s. a small thing about a foot wide, and 8 inches deep, and the corn field out back of Pat Fuge’s home. There was a swamp out behind the Four Wheel Drive truck plant, that would be full of tadpoles in spring, and you could watch FWD putting Air Force crash trucks through thier paces on the test track. Climbing the bluff at Carl Henry’s place, where you could see 45 miles away from the top of. I remember our dog, Goobs’ love of playing snowplow, where he would lower his nose into the show, and then dart off, plowing a small furrow in the new fallen snow.

    Our house had very tall ceilings, so us kids would go with Dad to harvest the Christmas Bush, Dad’s idea of a proper tree involving finding a 30 footer, and taking the middle ten, so the tree would be huge at both top and bottom. Tyrone, Tristan, and Lazarus, our three tomcats, would climb the tree daily, so the bush had to be wired to the walls, so it would not tip, when full of cats. Lazarus, who lived into his mid twenties, liked to sleep with me, and would curl up next to my head, so one of the things I associate with Christmas, is a pine scented Norwegian Forest Cat.

    Like Parker, I lived in a paradise as a Badger Kit.

  11. harbqll Says:

    I remember “sitting backward” against the walls of buildings – as in lying on the ground, with my legs going up the wall – and changing the direction of ‘down’ in my head so that I was sitting on a brick floor with my back against a grass wall. And then imagine getting up and walking around on that brick floor, looking down into the windows, and going to the very edge and looking down into space. This always worked best with a building that had a courtyard.

    Growing up in Alaska, there were a wide variety of different rocks, deposited who knows how long ago by roaming glaciers. I once found two golf ball sized bits of rough quartz in the creek by our house. I remember my amazement at discovering scratching them together would cause green sparks.

    We lived at the very end of our street, and the town snow plow would come through to clear the road, but would leave all that snow compacted in a giant pile at the end of the road. After a few weeks of this, that meant there was essentially a giant pile of compacted ice blocking our driveway, which we would have to clear in order to get in and out. It used to drive my father crazy having to do this, every three or four weeks, all winter long. I never told him, but I loved it – I got to swing a pick axe and smash up ice! This was the 70′s, when Lord of the Rings was big (the first time), so I was a dwarf mining for gold. Or sometimes I was Captain Kirk, trying to dig out of a trap.

    And playing in the woods behind our house – who knows how many goblins and dragons (and sometimes Klingons and Romulins!) my friends and I slew in those woods…

    I do feel sorry for modern kids. All they have is Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies. We had anything we could imagine…which was everything.

  12. TrueNorth Says:

    A lot of these things ring a bell – a nostalgic one. Another thing I remember: I used to have “concerts” in bed, where I would hold my hands over my ears and hum all my favourite songs before going to sleep. Also, when I was in first grade I was a solipsist. I didn’t know the word at the time, but that is what I was. When I left the classroom, I found it easier to believe that everybody froze in place rather than that they actually kept talking without me being there to hear it.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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