I love history. I hate memorizing dates that history teachers taught us in high school, rather I like learning what the times were like, how people lived and how people thought. I love learning about their challenges and how different they were from the ones we face now. I love learning about the technology of the time and whether it was available to most people. I think this is how history should be taught. Maybe then, children would get excited and give a damn about the past so they wouldn’t be inclined to make the same mistakes in the future.
With my father on his death bed, his oldest and dearest friend has been faithful in visiting him. And while my father sleeps, we’ve had a chance to visit the past. Roy has taken me back to the time when they both were little boys who had busy parents who didn’t have time to keep tabs on their young boys–and I do mean young! Roy wandered several blocks away from his home to my father’s house when the two of them were only three years old! After playing all day, Roy found his way back home. My Dad must enjoyed the outing because a few days later, he went off to find his new friend. Needless to say, this story tells us a lot about what it was like 85 years ago in a small village like Sturtevant.
Roy told me another story about when the two of them went to kindergarten. One day they had a dispute on the playground and got into a tussle. After they were separated, they were hauled in front of the principal. who had a reputation of meanness. As he was yelling at them, saying there was to be no fighting on the playground, both boys got so scared, they peed their pants.
When they got a little older, about eight, in the summer they would go to a pond on a farmer’s land to cool off. In the winter, when the pond froze over, they would skate on the ice. But in the summer, this small body of water became a swimming hole. Roy and my Dad only could go swimming after they chased the cows out of the pond. He said the mud in the pond was about six to eight inches deep, and they would go home muddy and wet under their clothes because they were skinny-dipping. When Roy recounted the story, he laughed. “It’s a miracle we didn’t die of typhus!”
When they were both about ten, they built a hut on a vacant lot as a private boy’s club. In the hut they had scavenged a small stove that they would fire up with coal they had picked up at a neighbors coal bin. From time to time the bin would over-flow and bits of coal would lie on the ground. They’d pick up the coal to make a fire in the stove, but whenever there was smoke coming out of their hut, the constable would stop by, put out the fire and “give ’em hell.”
Through these little stories, I got a glimpse of my father as a young boy through the eyes of his best pal. These stories are precious to me as my Dad faces the end of his life and can’t tell me about when he was a boy himself. The stories reveal my father’s free spirit that has lived in him for 89 years. In his eyes, even now, there are glimmers of that shining light. I know when he finally gets his “angel wings,” he’ll probably be dive-bombing his old friends and laughing hard at one more prank.