Friday, February 10, 2006

Tree Forts and Pigs

Warning: Nostalgia Alert! Be prepared for a sappy stroll down memory lane - AND don't say I didn't warn you!

The other day I was watching my kids play outside. They weren't doing anything particularly significant, but they were still having a lot of fun. And as I watched I couldn't help but think about how these simple events, while not all that important on their own, still help contribute to the collective total of their childhood memories, the complete package of how they will view their youth when they are "old", like me.

Of course, this caused me to think about my own childhood and what it was about it that still brings me such a sense of satisfaction. Without a doubt my main source of nostalgia comes from not only the era, a time when kids were free to roam the streets without fear of abduction or other recourse, but also from my neighborhood itself - and especially Trudeau Road, where it all took place. So in tribute to the "good old days", I give you:

The 10 best things about growing up on
1. Our bikes - Our bikes were probably the single most important tool we had. Our bikes were: our transportation, our vehicular pride, our Evel Knievel stunt "motorcycles" and our identity. On our bikes we could go where we needed, show off, "spin out" or skid to a sideways stop on the gravel road.

2. The gravel road -
For most of my childhood, Trudeau Road was gravel. The grownups, of course, viewed this as outdated, dusty and bad for the car. But for us it was perfect. Still today whenever I smell wet gravel from a sudden rain I am instantly transported back to Trudeau Road, where the potholes would fill with water and become little ponds for our GI Joes to wade through, or hazards for our marble game.

But the best thing to do on the road was to play Pop Bottle, the game where you roll the ball down the road and bounce it off a bat laying sideways in front of a "catcher". Of course the gravel only made it all the more challenging when right before the ball would hit the bat, a wayward stone would send it off course just enough to fool the catcher. This was merely one of many games we would indulge ourselves in during our endless summers.

3. Yard games - Just after supper when it would start to cool off, kids from nearly every hous
e on the street would begin to gather for the nightly game of choice. Kick the can, Jack may we cross the river, Einee-Inee-Over, "army" and front-yard football were favorites. Walking around on wooden stilts and setting new height records on pole vaults made from young popple trees was also big. All of this took place in our front yard - with our front porch as our command base.

4. The front porch - The big cement front porch - where we sat to wait our turn when we were "out" in whatever game was being played. Where we schemed about our daily plans. Where we warmed ourselves on the hot cement after dousing ourselves with ice cold water from the garden hose. Where we said a billion times "what do you want to do?" - "I don't know, what do you want to do?" Where we eventually would answer, "Wanna go up to Pig's?"

5. Piggly Wiggly and Rexall Drugs - In the small plaza just a few blocks up the road, but miles away in our minds, and the very best place to just ride around on our bikes or "jump" the hill at the edge of the parking lot. And Rexall, where we perfected the art of loitering and would spend our pocket change on penny candy. But if we were lucky and were able to make our moms feel sorry enough for us and give us a dollar, we would slip into the coffee shop next door and buy the tastiest malts on the planet.

But after all that, if we were still bored - we could always head for...

6. The woods - "Shopa's Woods", our very own Sherwood Forest. Blocks of undeveloped property just down the end of Trudeau Road was the answer to everyone's boredom. Wild animals, motocross bike trails, a gazillion trees to climb and the ultimate place to just simply explore. An entire day could be spent in the woods, and many many were. But the greatest thing about the woods was...

7. The forts - Tree forts to be specific, built strategically so as to provide the best view of the intersecting trails below. Some so high that only the "big" kids dare go up there. Others so poorly constructed that only a fool would be dumb enough to sit in them, which of course we all did. But of all the forts, shacks and places we would hang out, none compared to the infamous "crick" (creek) tree.

8. The crick tree - With its huge bent branch that grew out sideways, horizontal to the ground to give us our own balance beam, space ship and meeting place. This was the headquarters for our own neighborhood Army Corps of Engineers as we planned how we would dam up the crick for the day, backing up the water until our sod and stick barrier walls could hold it no more.

Our engineering skills were not limited to summer of course. Much planning was also required if we were going to construct our favorite wintertime structures...

9. Tunn
els, forts and igloos - Giant snowbanks pushed up by the snowplows left us with enough raw material to excavate elaborate tunnel systems and caverns. And when the snowbanks weren't big enough for that we would simply extract our own snow from the yard. Huge sinkholes remained after digging out blocks of snow down to the grass, so we could reassemble them into igloos and forts. Of course we had to be careful of these pits so we didn't run into them on our Ski-doos.

10. Ski-doos - We had several over the years, but the two that suffered the most abuse were the "16" and the "18" (horsepower). On these we would spend endless hours "Ski-dooing" around the field in counter-clockwise circles. For some reason it made more sense to put our right knee on the seat with our left foot on the floor rail which made it more natural to lean into our lefthand turns. My dad would always say when we came in the house, "You'd better go back out there and drive around the other direction - so you can unwind!"

So there it is. Ten things that come to mind when I think of growing up on Trudeau Road. Please feel free to contribute your own childhood memories as comments if you were there at the time, or even if you weren't and you have your own memories from where you grew up.

And finally, here's a line that sums it up for me, from a song I wrote called Headin' Home.

"I remember being little and growin up in Duluth. I wish life were still that simple, shoulda never left my youth."


Anonymous said...

Wow, I grew up in the southwest, and we did most of that stuff,too, with the exception of the snow activities. I never thought living in Duluth was such a picnic ("Duluth, not for wimps"), but when Jess and I went there in November and turned on Trudeau Road, it felt like home.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

You probably don't know it but the big elm "crick" tree was actually in your back yard. I went down there last year to check it out but the big branch we use to climb on has long since rotted away. But the tree is still there!

Anonymous said...

you forgot to mention the movies you guys made, playing army. The blood and guts, the drama of dying, the marching around--all so cool. Those "innocent" days are so gone. Sad.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Anyone remember the name of the coffee shop next door to Rexall? I know Dwight Swanstrom Insurance was right above it (and maybe still is?).

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking the name of the malt shop was "the coffee shop"..and you're right..they were the most wonderful malts in the world! They cost 25 cents. You went in there on a boiling hot summer day. There was a fan, cooling the place off. The malt was so cold it hurt your head.But,it was like drinking liquid heaven! Sweet, thick and you couldn't swallow it fast enough. You wanted to drink faster but It hurt! The best part was the stainless steel metal cylinder. th You used your spoon to get out every last drop! Then you tipped it up, just in case there was one drop more!

Anonymous said...

I think I know the tree you're talking about. Randy used to talk about cutting those trees down, and I wouldn't let him! I did get a kick out of Cindy referring to a "boiling hot summer day" in Duluth.

Anonymous said...

I loved it!!!!It brought me down memory lane, remembering all the things you kids did. I always said living on Trudeau Rd. was like living in a little piece of heaven---there was so much space for kids to play and have fun. And you are right--I never had to worry about you when you were out playing for hours. It was so safe and secure there!!!