Childhood Memories Taste Like Darwinism

Summer always brings to memory a phrase my mother would say to me my brother.

“Remember, you boys be sure to wipe off the end of the hose before you drink from it – your dad sprayed weed killer on the lawn the other day.”

Yes, that was the world I grew up in and somehow survived.

By today’s standards the world I experienced as a child seems like a twisted suburban version of Darwinism. With little direct supervision and the light-handedness from our parents at the time, we were left to learning lessons from our childhood experiences.

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To this day I can detect the taste of weed killer in my drink. Now that might not sound like a life skill, but if you considered every neighbor’s garden hose a free drinking station as a kid, you’d better learn fast. Far as I’m concerned, if the zombie apocalypse arrives one day, I’m ahead of the game.

Our parents cared for us. But in my childhood the term nanny-state had yet be uttered. Honestly, we didn’t even know what a nanny was in the first place.

Our parent’s didn’t have email or smartphones, but they all seemed to operate with the same playbook. While one might be grumpier than another, there were certain universal understandings between them.

  1. Being outside was the default for kids during the day.
  2. If kids happened to be at your house at lunch, you fed them.
  3. Don’t get hurt or in trouble, and be home when streetlights came on.

Believe it or not, those rules encompassed about every situation.

Each house was a local ER station, complete with Band-Aids, and ice water. And when it came to eating, no one ever balked at a peanut butter sandwich because of a nut allergy. And after you ate, you said thank you and quickly got back outside.

We crawled beneath neighborhoods via’ underground storm sewers, pushing up manhole covers like Christopher Columbus discovering new worlds. We jumped into flash flood waters, riding them hundreds of yards without ever a concern of drowning. And we engineered plastic bats with small cutouts to allow us to shoot bottle rockets at each other with deadly accuracy.

And for the most part, our parents simply viewed these activities as within the universal parameters outlined.

It was a remarkable time. We’d fight and make up without the need to a therapist asking us how we felt. If hurt, the default was to walk it off – that is unless blood was evident.

To us this world seemed remarkably normal. That is until I began telling my wife about what we did as kids. Apparently not all kids climb out of second story windows and across steeply pitched rooftops simply to take in the view. And apparently finding a bag of gunpowder did not lead most other kids to make small exploding bombs out of glass Gerber’s baby food jars.

But I do know if the zombie apocalypse does arrive, my childhood skills will come in handy.

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Heaven Gets A Great Journalist

My friend is dead. Rear-ended while parked at a red light, the impact crushed his Ford F-150 and pushed him into the intersection. He died a few days later from complications resulting for head injuries. Already the world feels a bit less exciting, a little less complete.

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I first met my friend inside a small conference room without windows. Sitting across from each other, his resume in my hand, we looked at each other. He needed a job and I was unsure the mysterious ball of nervous energy sitting across from me. To this day I’m not sure he could ever sit still for longer than the brief spit of time between flashes of a firefly. His strong hands, tightly clasped in front of him, seemed to be anchoring him to the table.

“I know you don’t know me,” he said. “But if you will give me this chance, I’ll work harder than anyone you’ve ever met. And I’ll promise I’ll work to be the best journalist you’ll ever hire.”

Out of most people’s mouth this would sound like someone trying to blow dust into a place it should not go. But something was peculiar about the man. Maybe it was the twinkle in his eyes – a twinkle like I imagined I’d see if I’d ever ran across Santa Claus.

And then there was his voice. Something was different. Nine-nine times out of a hundred your gut says walk away. And generally that is the right call. All I can say is that day must have been number one hundred because I put my trust – and comparatively smaller hand – into his and we shook.

I was sitting at home last week when the text came though about my friend’s accident. Details were sketchy but you didn’t need to be a doctor to know he needed God to be at his side. I prayed out loud repeatedly.

My new editor soon proved his word. Many times I asked him if he was sleeping in his office. He denied it, but that darn twinkle in his eye told me I shouldn’t press my luck. Within days he was teaching me what a real journalist was – the kind born, not made with a university degree. Over the course of the years we worked together we banged heads over deadlines, filing Freedom of Information requests, and his unorthodox manner of conducting business. I remember him once confronting a district attorney with damning information while they were out alone fishing on a nearby lake. Right there, with God and 213 striped bass as witnesses, the two of them negotiated an early retirement for the district attorney.

That was how my friend did business. If unorthodox is not considered a compliment, it ought to be. Watching my friend do his version of journalism was like witnessing naturally brilliant self-taught pianist play as Beethoven originally heard it in his head. You don’t see that twice in a lifetime.

The next day a call brought the news I knew I might hear. God called my friend home. From what I hear, St. Peter waved him through. Something about heaven needing a man of true character and a penchant for the unorthodox. Score one for the good guys.

[Mitch Sneed passed away on Sunday July 1, 2018.]

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