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!