I’ve written here before about growing up country in rural Mercer County back in the 1960s, but I haven’t told everything. Usually I write about other people’s embarrassing moments, but today I’ll tell a story on myself, and it’s a doozy, an incident from my earliest memories as the second son of the rural Feigert family out on Sharpsville-Mercer Road, which is Lamor Road today.
I drove out there the other day and looked around and got to thinking about how things have changed. The dirt road we lived on has long since become a paved thoroughfare, and many of the grassy fields, blackberry brambles, and woodlots where we ran beagles and hunted cottontail rabbits and ringnecked pheasants are gone, plowed under long ago into housing developments on the frontier edge of urban sprawl.
There are still signs of rural life, however. A few local farms still nurture the same earth they tilled 50 years ago, and some of the woodlots remain standing. But the hunting, fishing, and country life of youngsters and teenagers has changed.
We had more access to private hunting land and private fishing ponds back then, when “posted” signs were less prevalent, and we worked the fallow fields and overgrown fencerows that were gold mines for game in the days before farmers began implementing total acreage farming practices.
I don’t see country kids spending long summer days wandering free in the outdoors like we did, hiking or biking to the Homestead Dairy pond or to the Shenango River in Clark, organizing pick-up neighborhood baseball games, and spending evenings sitting around a bonfire or playing games of hide-and-seek in the dark. Parents are more protective today of their wandering children, sports are more organized, and computers, TV, and video games compete for leisure time, even during summer.
Country neighbors have changed, too. What happened to me at age six would not occur today, because the world has become too dangerous, and mothers must keep a tighter watch on their kids. Back then our closest neighbors were the Shaffer family, Twila and Stan and their five children, whose property bordered a field 100 yards from the west end of our vegetable garden. For many years we mowed a path through that field, which the Shaffer and Feigert children traveled back and forth, even at age six or eight, without our parents considering us in danger at all.
It was December, as I recall, with Christmas wreaths up and snow on the ground, and I must have been on holiday vacation from first grade. Little Mama sent me next door to Twila’s house to borrow something — wrapping paper, a cup of sugar, an emergency supply of toilet paper, perhaps — and gave me instructions before I left.
“Donnie, it’s cold outside,” she yelled from the upstairs hallway, where she was doing some holiday cleaning. “You make sure you put your hat and gloves and boots on, you hear?”
I was a good boy, six years old and stupid, eager to please my mommy and obedient to the letter. The phone call that happened 10 minutes later is now a classic family comedy sketch. Little Mama, who is a feisty 80-year-old today, loves to tell the story to anyone who’ll listen.
Twila dialed the phone that day, I guess, and my mother answered.
“Marge,” Twila managed to say between fits of laughter, “did you send Donnie over for something?”
“Well, yes,” Little Mama answered. “I need a cup of sugar (or roll of bathroom tissue or whatever; she tells the story differently every time).”
“Marge,” Twila managed to say again, laughing so hard she could barely speak, “did you tell him to put his hat and boots and gloves on?”
“What’s the matter, Twila?” she asked. “Of course I did. It’s cold outside.”
“Well,” Twila said and paused to regain her composure, “he’s wearing exactly that, his hat and boots and gloves, and nothing else!”
So ha, ha, ha, goes everyone within earshot — except myself — as Little Mama finishes the tale for the 900th time.
And now I finally told it on myself.
“The Evening Campfire” from The Herald, April 8, 2007