Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Of Arrowheads and Bicycles

Back behind my family’s home in Blakely Georgia there were always arrowheads to be found in the field. After a good rain we would walk around in the mud and find relics from a day when people hunting their food with sticks and stones. We always thought of the natives as the people we saw on television, replete with feathers and broken English, and it did not occur to us their lives might have been very much like our own, as well as very different.
You have to think there are those coming of age events in each generation, no matter what culture, when you pass from being part of a younger class of people to an older class of people, and in our neighborhood the big thing was to have a two wheeled bike without training wheels.  The bicycle was the one thing that freed a kid from being able to get from one place to another, and quickly. It was like learning to fly without the feathers. Suddenly, a trip that might have taken forever by foot was done in just a few moments, and at delightful speed.
It seemed as if we lived that age of bicycle travel forever. I remember when the first red bike tires appeared, and when “slicks” which were wider back tires came out. I remember the first time we put playing cards on the spokes with clothes pins to make a sound unlike any other on earth.  Banana seats came out and everyone had to have one of those, too. We discovered wheelies and we discovered that with speed came more scrapes and less blood on the inside of body parts that found their way to the pavement.
Between the City Pool On Westview Drive, and the Little Green Store on Redbud Street, the distance was perhaps a miles, maybe less, and one day I raced the delivery truck that made the run between the two when it delivered coke and Pepsi products. There was no way for me to outrun the truck, but it has to stop for one stop sign, and it had to make two turns, and I could always almost catch up with it. The long stretch of road where Westview headed South to River Street is where I lost ground, but I never lost much. We out ran dogs on our bikes, and it was so natural and effortless to go anywhere on a bike.
I sometimes wonder what sort of rite of passage marked the natives passing from early childhood to that part of life when you are not yet an adult, yet no longer a baby. What sort of social activity occurred so that one part of childhood was more clearly defined as more adult than the other part? When you took the training wheels off your bike, when you dived off the high dive at the pool, and when you were able to climb up on the corn bin without help, you were no longer one of the little kids. I remember kids climbing down from the high dive in shame because they were too afraid to jump. You could see the awe in their eyes when you dove from the high dive, and sliced clearly into the water.
What was it that defined the natives in this manner? Did they have some version of this? The river was a good ten miles from where we lived, and I wonder if going down to the river was a part of that rite of passage event for the native youths. Ten miles on foot is at least three or four hours, and a round trip might take a day, if you stopped to fish.  Did going to the river mean trying to catch fish, and did that mean if you brought back fish, or something else, that was like getting a bike, or jumping off the high dive? Was the river some place that the older kids went and stayed overnight, while the younger ones waited to come of age?
Were there other villages there, with other kids, and was it a marking of passage to meet the new kids, just as we met kids from other neighborhoods when they rode their bikes to the pool. We owned the pool, in a sense, because we lived closer to it, and I wonder what sort of navigation went on to visit the river, and if there was some spot the local kids took their new friends, and if in fact, I have been there, and thought the same place was rather cool?

There was a lot of farming, and a lot of gardening when I was a kid, and there isn’t nearly as much of that as there once was. If you didn’t want to get drafted as slave labor you learned to stay away from adults when they were puttering around in the garden. I wonder if the native children, once guns and such came into existence in their lives on a regular basis, avoided the old ones who still made arrowheads and pottery.  I think I could still hunt and fish if I had to do so, but I wonder how many people these days could not.  I wonder if there was some native at some point who realized his people no longer could live off the land if they had to do so, and knew at that point how much was lost?
We won’t ever know who was the last person in this part of the world to make an arrowhead for hunting, and when that last arrowhead was made, and what happened to it. The skill of shaping stone into tools is a craft long since past. We were the last to use the high dive, because the city took it down due t insurance reasons, but we didn’t think very much of that, until the first set of kids came by who had never seen it. At some point, there was a set of kids who had never seen arrowheads made, but they had heard of it.
I wonder what was lost before them, and if we’ll ever know if they regretted losing that, as much as we ought to regret losing them.

Take Care,

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