Boyhood Capers

Growing up in small town America where Route 66 went straight through it and with freedom to do most anything was just too much of a temptation for me. I was never thrown into a juvenile jail or correction facility, but I surely would have been had I grown up in a city. So, what did I do that was so juvenile?

For starters, the local culture was gun friendly, so I wasn’t very old when I acquired a BB gun, a perfect weapon to shoot out street lights and do other nasty things. At age 15, apparently my father thought I was old enough to handle a shot gun, so he bought me a 16-gauge automatic firing Remington, so I could hunt. I also acquired a .22 single shot rifle.

I hunted rabbits with the shot gun and shot at anything that moved and sometimes things that didn’t move with the rifle. My best friend, David West, would often accompany me down the railroad tracks looking for something to shoot at with my rifle. One day we decided to shoot each other with the rifle. We didn’t think a .22 was powerful enough to get through our coats. So, we would back off from one another about 25 yards and fire away. Lo and behold, we were right. How stupid was that caper?

On the hunting front, I got pretty good with the shot gun.  Then one day I spotted a rabbit siting in the snow about 20 feet away. I lifted my gun, aimed, and fired—and what happened next has never ever been erased from my memory banks. I blew the head right off the rabbit. How could I do such a dastardly deed, I asked myself. But I did, and I never went rabbit hunting again.

On the more humorous side of my boyhood capers, one summer day two of my friends and I decided to explore the open ditch that transported sewage from the town’s solid waste facility (A large tank for primary treatment only.  These were the days long before an EPA existed and laws required tertiary treatment of human waste).

The ditch had been moving human waste from Atlanta to the Kickapoo creek for decades. Consequently, there were trees and bushes galore lining both sides of it. And the trees had long vines that had proven reliable for Tarzan antics. So, on this day we all grabbed a vine and swung across the open sewer below.  But not everyone was successful. George made a perfect three-point landing in the sewer—landing on his bottom with both arms splayed out.

George pulled himself out of the muck and headed our way. But we were too smart and too fast for him. “Run, run, run for your life!” I shouted. And we did. To this very day I can remember that scene. Poor smelly George! What could we do but escape?

Winter always presented boys with the opportunity to ply their sledding skills. So, we would stand in a street that was covered with snow and ice and wait for an approaching auto. Then, as it passed, we would pounce on our sled, grab hold of the bumper, and off we would go. Wow! It couldn’t get any better, unless we hit a barren spot in the road. Then our sled rails would light up with sparks. Yup, it didn’t get any better.

Now, my mother never knew we did this. Thank God, because she would have gone berserk over our stupid, reckless and dangerous behavior. Is it not so?

Don Menzel (shown here at a somewhat younger age) is a past president of the American Society for Public Administration, an author and an international speaker on ethics reform. Before his recent move to Colorado, Don organized OLLI-USF’s China Special Interest Group. He also served as an OLLI-USF faculty member for over 10 years.  Don’s memories of his “capers” as a boy remind us all of the things we did that we hoped our parents would never find out about!


6 Replies to “Boyhood Capers”

  1. I’m with you Don. Your adventures duplicate mine in too many ways. How did we ever grow up? Did we? Well we survived and have had wonderful lives. Thanks for being a friend to so many of us OLLI participants and introducing us to spectacular Kay.

  2. Growing up in the Caribbean in a time without electricity and of course no refrigerator, you ate meat only when you shot it. Never hunted for sport but my dad taught me to use our double barrel twelve gauge when I was twelve years old. Never regretted shooting wild rabbits called Lappe or agoutis or deer because one deer would feed a whole village! Necessity and hunger make a big difference in your perspective.

  3. A delightful story, Don. I had a big brother who I’m sure rivaled your escapades, but as the “good girl” in the family I didn’t dare do much of anything exciting. One of the worst experiences I recall was when my mean big brother took my bike, knocked it down, and sat on it. I tried to wrest it out from under him and he got hurt. Naturally, I was the one who got in big trouble.

    1. Too soon old, too late smart. I grew up in small town Ohio where I rode my bike to school most mornings to play and sing a 6:30 Mass, then head downtown to the bakery for hot cinnamon rolls out of the oven, and to the local SPOT for hot chocolate– returning to church for the 8:00 a.m. mass followed by school. We went home for dinner at noon and walked back to school until 3:00 for dismissal when we again walked home. Never occurred to us to be afraid to walk in the dark. It was a safer time for growing up.

  4. Thanks for recounting your boyhood exploits in such an entertaining way!
    Very enjoyable reading …..

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