Free Range Kids
The creek was long, and on one side it had rolling hills. Shaped like three sides of a square, we’d pick it up at a corner where our trail led. There was nothing but a mile or so of woods between our backyards and this “playground.”
One day, we followed the creek up around another of its bends. Next to the grocery store was the American Legion. It was the time of year they would have live fire shooting ranges – turkey shoots I think they used to call them. I imagine if you missed the target, the round ended up in the woods. They weren’t shooting so we didn’t have to get our feet muddy in the creek. The creek on this stretch had no hills, but its earthen walls were steep, camouflaged by bushes and saplings.
We decided to venture up to the grocery store. Men were at the dock unloading huge sides of beef. Out of the truck, they would slide one slab at a time down a cable attached to a hook. It would slam into the other slabs at the end of the tilted line. We sat on the concrete ledge and whooped it up when we heard a solid slam. We went nuts when meat parts flung off. The workers were grinning as they worked, allowing us to carry on.
When they finished, they took a break. We slipped inside to see what happened next. The saw noise was deafening so when a guy yelled at us we only saw lips moving. We exited at the nearest door and were now inside the store by the meat department and a water fountain. We strategically hit an assortment of free sample tables and satisfied our hunger.
Eddie suggested we play hide-and-seek. The game had never been this much fun. After a while, we decided on one more round. Then, we’d go back to the creek and woods.
I found the perfect spot. It was the cereal section. I moved enough boxes to slide my body behind an outer wall of cereal. Then, I pulled one box over to hide my face. I was so proud of my creativity. I knew nobody would ever find me.
About the time I was cramping up and dozing off, I thought about ditching my spot to see what everyone else was doing. That’s when I heard someone closing in. They were onto me. They must have been. Box after box was being moved to see what was behind it, I presumed. My anxiety from the anticipation of being found was off the charts high.
That last box I placed in front of my face moved. I looked out and saw the slacks of a lady. She was holding the box between us. It looked like she was reading the back of it because staring at me was Count Chocola. I held my breath and remained motionless. I don’t know when she sensed me, but when she did, she dropped the Count and screamed so damn loud, I felt like bursting from my hideout and sprinting for the exit. But my body would not move.
In the manager’s office, I got a good scolding, but before he finished, someone came in and alerted him of more boys creating mischief.
He pointed at me and said, “Don’t you move!”
He disappeared, and so did I.
Cautiously, I walked out of the office, looked around, turned the corner and strolled right out the front doors. Once I was in the parking lot, I sprinted around the far corner of the building into an open field heading for the woods. I kicked into overdrive when my friends flew around the opposite corner of the building and into the field. Three men were in hot pursuit. We made a “V” toward each other and the creek.
We ran right up to the edge of the creek and jumped. We knew we couldn’t clear it and that wasn’t what we had in mind. We splatted into the far bank, righted ourselves and splashed down the middle of the creek in the direction of the American Legion. The men weren’t far behind. They drew closer quickly, running along the upper edge of the creek peering down when their view wasn’t obstructed.
We stopped when they stopped.
Everyone took notice of the gunfire.
One of the men made a motion with his finger for us to come his way thinking we were at a dead end so-to-speak.
My friends and I looked at each other, smiled and then bolted toward the gunfire …and to “safety.”
By Rocco Satullo, author of a memoir and novel