I was always proud to bear the designation “country kid”, as opposed to what we’d (affectionately) call our metropolitan counterparts: “city slickers”. For most of my life, I didn’t know many kids from the city. There were only two who had the right to that title in my little world: two sisters from inner New York City who came up to live with our family through the “Fresh Air Fund” every summer. Over the years, those two girls (and later their two younger sisters) became a true part of our family, and we’ve kept in contact with them for the more than four decades since their last “Fresh Air” visit.
In the past five years, though, this term has also applied (in my imagination) to a very important character in my upcoming novel, which is based loosely on my fun, crazy, tragic, poignant always love-filled life growing up as one of seven daughters in an old-fashioned family living in a little “Cape Cod” style house at the foothills of the Adirondacks. Of course he’s a fictional character, but I had a great time playing with the stereotypes again and utilizing some of the fun and teasing that can develop between people of two different social experiences. Maybe it’s not a surprise that one of my favorite childhood stories was “The Country Mouse and The City Mouse”!
Being a country kid means a lot of things to various people. To me, it meant the opportunity to live much of my childhood outdoors. During school months that meant an hour or two in the evenings and any weekend time not taken up by dance lessons or play rehearsal for whatever production I or my sisters were in…but in summer, it meant hours upon hours roaming the woods, investigating and enjoying nature. Many an evening at dusk, I would come home with burdocks tangled in my hair and dirt smeared on my hands, knees, and usually my shorts (from my unconscious habit of wiping my dirty hands on whatever was covering my legs).
In fact, until I was around 12 and began to notice boys, I used to try every trick in the book to stop my mother from having to “help” me with my long hair. This included brushing or washing it. I told her I wanted to be a big girl and do it myself (using all of my acting skills) mostly because I didn’t want her to see the ever-growing matted snarls I had that I could never be bothered to comb through, instead just covering them with some brushed out hair over the top of them to hide them.
The picture at the top of the post is a location of much of my summer wandering, sometimes by myself and sometimes with a couple sisters, friends, or Pa (in those days of the late 70’s/early 80’s, we didn’t need to worry about kidnappings and such if we were out there by ourselves…it was a sense of freedom I so enjoyed and regret the loss of for my own children in current society). This is a ravine less than 200 yards from the Homestead. The base of it is dry in this picture, but you can see where the water would run after snow melt and rains. The ravine was formed when glaciers moved through, carving out the Adirondack mountains after the Ice Age, and I was always finding interesting and wonderful things along its sides and bottom.
More than once, I found evidence of a prehistoric leaf or creature left in the fossilized shale. Growing or fallen along the bottom of the ravine I’d find plants of all kinds, flowers, leaves…and of course the occasional animal or bird carcass or bleached white bones. I learned quite a bit from examining the weathered skeleton of an owl, the skulls or jawbones of several small animals like opossum, fox, or raccoon. And once we stumbled upon the body of a large golden eagle whose wingspan was more than five feet.
I’ve lived and travelled both nationally and abroad, but nothing compares to the wonderful, free, nature-and-love-filled childhood that I enjoyed. I guess the old saying is true: there’s no place like home!