I suppose what makes a man is in part what each of us did when we were children. What were you up to when you were a little boy? I ask about the boys because I had a younger sister who participated in none of what kept my friends and me busy running around outdoors. Below are the opening few pages of "So Dad, What Makes a Man" that describe what I did, mostly out of sight of my mother.
“Jeez, you can stand on a beer can and see Denver from here,” a college classmate once said to me while visiting the Panhandle of Texas. It is flat out there. Those vast expanses of unbroken sky became so ingrained in me that to this day I seek living spaces and vacations with extensive views.
I was born on these high plains in the early forties. The petroleum company my father worked for built our tiny community, which was surrounded by wide-open prairies except for an occasional farmhouse. The wind blew continuously through the elm trees that had been planted to break it up. I divided my first twelve years between Bunavista and a similar company community north of Amarillo, called Cactus, Texas. Both towns held around five hundred employees and their families who lived in multifamily, white-shingled buildings whose size indicated the employee's level in the company hierarchy.
Relatively isolated, crime was unknown, and we felt safe. Our moms shooed us outside during the day, where as young boys we did young boy things. We ran around in only shorts, playing ball in the fields, trying to force black tarantulas out of their spider holes with buckets of water, catching the lizards we called horned toads and rubbing their bellies to make them go limp, capturing a bunch of big red ants in a quart glass jar Mom used to can fruit, and dumping them on the bed of the little black ants to see what happened.
All neighborhood garbage was dumped in an open-topped cast iron incinerator that had natural gas outlets in the bottom, so when it was full, the trash was burned on the spot. Before it burned, it was a great place to climb into and root around, collecting, for example, the mercury from discarded thermometers to play with. We walked down to little gullies to search for crawdads in their holes at the waterline or hiked out to a farmer's windmill to capture the frogs or bull snakes around the water trough. Or we crossed the highway—a no-no, of course—and played on the railroad tracks that paralleled it, where freight trains of over a hundred cars passed daily.
We'd catch someone's cat and pitch it high up against the wall of the two-story, six-family dormitory we lived in to see if it also landed on its feet when the surface was vertical. Most of them did. We found a ladder to climb so we could stick our arms in the open-ended crosspieces of hollow clothesline poles behind the dorms to retrieve sparrows' eggs or their chicks to feed the snakes we caught. If it rained or was too cold, we'd go into a basement below the dormitory and roller skate on the concrete floor.
I look forward to hearing what kept you entertained as a young boy.