See the spire above the little turret?
John would pick me up for something we were going to do and I would find myself in front of this house and driving slowly, sometimes circling the block. I knew him for twenty years and heard this story at least four times each year.
One day, he was bored as his mother was visiting a friend who was fixing her hair. So, he just wandered off to see his father. Since this was before TVA, the city produced their own electricity. He did not see his father as he entered the gate, so he just looked at different things as he walked around. Remember, he was only six. He remembers seeing something like a handle, just above his reach. It appeared to him like it might turn. So, he struggled to reach it and pulled. John knew he was in trouble as he heard machinery quit working, then lots of yelling. .
The whole city lost electricity. He had single-handedly shut down EVERYTHING in the city. Men came running from offices and other places around the power plant. His father reached him and pulled him away, very angry but mostly embarrassed. He was forbidden to ever set foot in the plant again. It still is outside town. John would tell me about this at least twice a year, maybe more. More laughs ensued.
John liked that I laughed at his antics and questioned him each time like I had never heard the story. Actually, I did not remember all the details from one time to another at first. Then, I had it down pat.
The power plant did secure the switch so that could never happen again. Weren't we a trusting bunch of people 75 years ago?
No one had any money at the time. Oh, some could afford a few toys, but they could not. He bemoaned the fact that he and his friends could not afford fire crackers. Would your mother approve of you having firecrackers? "Oh, Hell NO!" He went on to relate how they had to settle for dynamite. It seems that some people who were using it for construction excavation or stump removal would give the boys some sticks of dynamite. What would your mother say if she knew you had dynamite? He assured me he would never be allowed outside the yard again.
He was so poor that he could not afford the little balsa wood airplane kits at the Five & Dime. So, he and this group of boys would search for broken wooden apple boxes that had very thin wood. Then, they had to use a knife to cut out their own planes. It seems the boys did this for many years. The store owners would have pity and help them by saving broken boxes. John went on the be a Wild Weasel in Vietnam.
When he was about seven-years-old, he and his mother went somewhere in the family car. I forget the details, but his mother managed to break the door off the car because he was getting into the car as she was backing out of the garage. Since they were afraid of what his father would say or do, they dragged the heavy door into the house and hid it behind the sofa. His father ate dinner and sat on the sofa, never seeing the car door and never noticing the car had no door.
I was a little horrified because his mother could have killed him. John said she was not worried about that, just that her husband would be furious. As it turns out, his father was told after dinner and after John went to bed. His father was not very mad. I think John said he laughed at her for years, telling his friends what she did. .
John's mother like to go fast in a car. She even got on her nephew's motorcycle as he drove, urging him to go faster. John's father took John for rides on his own motorcycle but would not take his wife. He disapproved. So, John grew up to fly in one of the fastest planes of the time, flying for his life over Vietnam as the navigator and as a Wild Weasel.
Once, there was a party being held in the country and they all went. At some point, John's mother decided to take the beer truck sitting out front for a spin because she had never driven a big truck before. She managed to give about six little boys a ride, too. No one missed them at first, and she managed to get back in one piece before the guy driving the beer truck returned.
I wrote about John here.
Kids found their own things to do back then. John and his friends certainly did. I believe their environment fostered imagination, self-directing activities, and a respect for the forces in the world and natural phenomenon. He had to learn as an adult how to stay alive in the jungle and in the desert. I think his childhood toughened him up, made him resilient in ways children today have not had a chance to develop.
Did your parents or grandparents tell you of things they did for fun as kids during the Great Depression? Is anyone old enough to remember kids playing with dynamite or cutting their little airplanes from boxes?