I lift my glass to those ‘good ole days’ when there wasn’t much to do but drive the gravel backroads, smoke cigarettes, and drink just about anything we could get our hands on. How we managed to survive it all is still a mystery to me.
Before I understood that life was a ruthless and unforgiving master, my small town was a wonderful world of childish fantasy. I was young and healthy, with sun bleached hair and sky blue eyes. On summer days I ran free through deep forested hills, fished, hunted, and loved just because I could. I was alive with naive idealism. The world and everyone in it was perfection. My domain stretched to the crest of the hills northward and south to the Missouri River. Twenty square miles of anything I could ever hope for.
Sitting smack dab in the middle of it all was my little town of Wakenda. A place where fathers manicured their lawns and neighbors waved to each other over white picket fences. Then the men drove away every morning to work in places I’d heard the names of but didn’t care about. Where mothers stayed home, cooked lunches and dinners and hung laundry on clothes lines to let it dry in the breeze. Where children played safely in streets that had no traffic. Everybody knew who I was and I thought I knew everyone. There in that magical town, I was safe, loved, innocent and naive.
I was ten years old the first time I witnessed death. He was just a boy, many years older than me, but I knew him through neighborhood baseball games and tomato wars. His death was like a stone dropped into the pool of my reality. Its ripples spread out from the center of my soul and with each tiny wave; a new truth was unveiled to me. I could no longer see my life through the rose colored shroud of youth and suddenly that vast and wonderful playground had become a very small and cramped version of what it once was. I began to see the darkness that had been surrounding me, hiding in the shadows just out of my sight.
The small town that I had loved so dearly had become blurry around its edges. It was still the same town with the same houses and the same people. But suddenly it was dusty and unkempt, filled with ugliness, greed, envy and death. I could not force myself to see the beauty of it anymore and I knew that there would never be any going back. What had started out as just tiny ripples had become foaming waves that smashed my innocents against the rocky shores of adolescence.