When we were kids, we invented things. We invented games, activities and ways to add excitement to the neighborhood.
Once we took a wagon load of pennies to the local laundry mat. We thought that surely the soda machine, which gave glass bottles of soda, would work if we were to put in 25 pennies. Although no one believes the story, we have witnesses. I kid you not, we were able to buy six bottles of soda that day, all because we put pennies into the machine.
We also got into a car once that had been sitting in a driveway behind our houses. It had been sitting there for weeks and weeks, and someone was dared to get in it. That person did, and although there were no keys in the car, this person turned the thingamajig where one puts a key, and the darned car started right up. We were so frightened we ran away as fast as we could, giggling nervously at our near miss at car thievery.
Anytime something happened to us that we deemed extraordinary, there would undoubtedly be some sensationalizing or elaborating to make the story sound better.
When riding a mini-bike in the woods once, we were all convinced we’d seen the Wayne County version of Bigfoot back there. We even heard growling as we swiftly rode away. All of us told the story to any person who’d listen. We even went back and found footprints.
On a hasty trip back from the local grocery store, we got caught in a rainy, lightning-filled storm. When we arrived home, barely alive, we told stories of near misses as lightning bolts shot at us from all directions and our hair stood up on end.
The road on the way back from the store had so much rain in this flash flood that it looked like a river.
Older kids in the neighborhood would tell tales of teachers we had yet to encounter and shenanigans that would go on when we got to the upper grades. We listened with a sense of fear but also with a sense of entertainment.
What I think about most are the stories we made up about some of the local characters in our neighborhood. I think about it now and wonder if those people knew they were the objects of our childhood imaginations. At times, I’m a little ashamed at how we’d go on and on.
One man we were particularly afraid of was a long-haired, bearded man who drove around in a ram-shackle station wagon packed full of miscellaneous things. He drove slowly down the street, and we were certain that he was looking for something sinister to do.
We told one another stories of how he’d ask kids to come over to his car to snatch them up. One of the neighborhood kids swore that this man had gotten out of the car and chased him one day. Still another told about being followed home from school by the man in the station wagon.
Whatever the true story was, this man never seemed to be in any trouble and when we told our parents about him, they would all just dismiss our stories.
“He’s a little off,” they’d say. “You don’t need to worry about him.”
There was another man who lived a street over with his elderly mother and he walked everywhere he went. He talked to himself, and if you were riding your bike when he passed by, he seemed to be having a conversation with himself.
More than once, we swore that he said disturbing things to us as we sped by, and again, kids told stories of him chasing them on their way home from school.
I look back now and see that the man was probably just an odd person. I think he most likely had special needs of some kind, and I wonder what would have happened if we children had treated him a little better, possibly saying hello. Instead, we were afraid and used his strangeness to entertain ourselves with scary stories.
The man in the station wagon was a celebrated war hero from Vietnam, who came back to our hometown a broken man with many problems. I doubt he was harmful in any way. Again, we used the mystery surrounding him to our advantage, spinning great tales and scaring one another.
But, we were just kids. I guess we didn’t know any better.