THE SUNDAY GAZETTE-MAIL  -   6/8/2003

 

PARENTS BEWARE: BOYS' ADVENTURES CAN BE DANGEROUS

 

By JAMES A. HAUGHT

 

Millions of parents don't have a clue. They're completely unaware of dangerous, brainless things their children do in the secret world of kid life.

When I look back on my boyhood, I shudder over some of our horrifying capers that might have caused tragedy. At the time, we thought they merely were fun. Our parents never knew.

In my little hamlet of Reader, Wetzel County, the biggest structure, except for the school, was a wooden general store that filled most of a block. Attached to one side was a row of garages. Upstairs were apartments. Enveloped in the center was an opening filled with bales of hay.

The store was owned by my cousin's grandfather. When my cousin and I were grade-schoolers, we played around the place constantly. In the hay storage area, we formed bales into an igloo-like hideout, unseen behind stacks of other bales.

Through a hidden entrance, we crawled into our secret hideaway - and used candles to light the interior.

Jeez! I still can't believe that we did such an idiotic thing. Sheer luck saved us from starting a blaze that would have wiped out much of Reader.

Later, in high school, we learned how to make gunpowder from charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter - and we became eager bomb-makers. We began exploding tin cans on the creekbank. Then we graduated to pipe bombs, never pausing to think that they might be dangerous.

At one end of the old Reader bridge was a boulder as large as a car. One night we put a pipe bomb on top of the rock, lit our homemade fuse, and ran behind the bridge girders to watch her blow.

As we peeked around the girders, the Shortline bus stopped beside the rock, disgorging passengers. Through the bus windows, we could see our fuse burning atop the rock, just at the level of passengers' heads. We jumped around frantically, wondering what to do.

By sheer luck, again, our crude fuse went out, and the bus drove off. Later, we detonated the bomb under creekside rocks, hurling a big stone into midstream.

Then we graduated to dynamite. An old gas well driller had lived at my father's isolated farm, a couple of miles from our home in town - but he died, leaving his rig half-finished. We boys discovered that his supplies were locked in a dilapidated log barn by the farmhouse. We learned that we could climb the log exterior, crawl through an opening under the roof, and get the driller's dynamite, fuse and caps.

We never thought it was stealing, from our own farm - merely adventure. We would use a stick of dynamite as a firecracker, lighting a short fuse, throwing the stick down a bank, and hiding behind trees as the blast showered us with sticks and leaves. We smiled among ourselves when Reader people talked about the strange booms in the hills.

There were only three boys my age in Reader - me, my cousin and a chum. We ran around almost daily with guns, including cheap pistols, shooting cans and bottles. I had an aged muzzle-loader with a worn-out hammer mechanism. Once it slipped and fired, missing my cousin's head by a few inches.

My parents were responsible folks - Dad a postmaster, Mom a schoolteacher. They thought that we boys were just "hanging out" or making model airplanes or something. Years later, when my mom was in her 80s and I was in my 50s, I asked her:

"Remember that period when J.B., Roy Lee and I made a lot of bombs?"

She stared at me, flabbergasted, and said: "What?" She had no inkling.

I got some payback when my own sons were in Nitro High School. One day I freaked out when I found my oldest son and his buddies clinging to the top of the Nitro water tank, drinking beer and painting their class name - far, far above the ground.

When I tell these tales to other aging parents, they usually supply horror stories of their own. One woman said there's a towering cliff near her home, and she once spotted a soda bottle sitting on a ledge high above jagged rocks. She was baffled, and asked neighbors how it could have gotten there. Then she was stunned when her son proudly said he rappelled down a rope and placed the bottle like a trophy.

A former Gazette reporter who lived in Teays Valley told me that his boy and a neighbor kid laboriously rolled a huge truck tire up a hill, so they could watch it hurtle down. It demolished the shed of a neighbor, who sued.

The point of this column is: Parents, beware. Your kids - especially boys - probably are having secret "adventures" that are fearfully dangerous, while you're blissfully unaware. Try to be watchful.

( Haught, the Gazette's editor, can be reached by phone at 348-5199 or e-mail at haught@ wvgazette.com. )