The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Free range – good for kids, too

One of my favorite comic strip panels was from “Family Circus,” A single-panel series based on the life of author Bil Keane.

“Billy!” Mommy calls out. “Dinner’s ready.”[pullquote] We hire police for our schools, our cars lock their doors for us, and neighbors who once looked out for our children now call police.[/pullquote]

In a panel that occupied the top third of the newspaper page, Billy tracked from nearly next door, through several houses and mud puddles, picked up snakes and frogs, petted a neighbor’s dog, and performed numerous other procrastinations. Eventually, he arrived home.

The panel struck a spot in my heart. I started life in Manhattan, New York City. Every school morning I walked down six flights of stairs, through the laundry room and the alley between 735 West 172 St. and the next building up the hill, across 173rd Street, then Fort Washington Avenue to PS 173, where I attended through Third Grade.

Most days, I’d get to play in the park, climbing on rocks I did not then know had been pushed up from beneath an ocean that existed long before my parents were a dreamed-of possibility in my grandparents’ eyes. Mom did not hover as I sledded down the rocks in winter, or tried to launch into space from a swing.

On the other hand, I always knew where she was – so the day I was running with a stick, fell and jammed the stick into my lower jaw, I knew just where to take my tears. I still have the scar, somewhere under my beard, and part of Mom in my heart.

I started Fourth Grade in Maine. Lucius Webber drove the school bus that picked me up in the morning, but I walked the three miles home in the afternoon. Recess and lunch time I played ball at the edge of an apple orchard, or wandered a web of trails with a couple of schoolmates, (and tried my first cigarette).

I was 12 when we got our first television. I spent most of my non-chores time wandering through the woods, swimming with the loons and beaver, and fishing the crannies and deadfalls of the lake beside which we lived. I rode my bicycle across the county, and collected beer and soda bottles I would turn in for the deposit money to buy candy, a Kamp King pocket knife, and my first pocket watch (which I promptly destroyed by leaving it in my pocket when I dove in the river for a swim).

I was always amazed my dad would know by dinner where I’d been. I know now every window had someone noticing I had passed by, and would have immediately helped had trouble found me.

All that would be illegal now. Just ask the couple in Silver Spring, Md., who recently were the subject of a national news blitz.

A neighbor spotted the kids walking home by themselves and called police, who picked up 10-year old Rafi Meitiv and his six-year-old sister Dvora and drove them home. Then Child Services knocked on the door. Danielle and Sasha Meitiv face charges of child neglect.

There’s no wonder we are afraid of Muslims. We are afraid of any but our closest neighbors, and we are not really sure of them. We hire police for our schools, our cars lock their doors for us, and neighbors who once looked out for our children now call police.

A lot of us older folks can attest to the joy of being raised free range in the open air, instead of made to look out at it through double-pane windows.

1 Comment

  1. I feel sorry for today’s kids living such sheltered lives. We learned so much from our adventures. And, if we were misbehaving, our parents heard about that as soon as our neighbor finished giving us a scolding.

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