There isn’t much chance you’ll remember the song “Down in the Boondocks” by Billy Joe Royal unless you were raised in the 60’s. It’s one of those songs I remember as kid, and it was back during the days when kids didn’t own their own record players or personal entertainment devices. For course, I was four or five years old, and my parents weren’t big on playing music in the house to begin with. Kids didn’t have choices back then in music, and whatever your parents listened to on the radio was just fine with you because you were just along for the ride.
I remember we went to Kolomoki Mounds one day, the entire family of five crammed into a car without air conditioning, but we didn’t know such a thing existed so we didn’t realize it was hot. That was back in the day when paved roads were something that was mentioned when you went somewhere. “Yeah, I think it’s paved, but you might want to check.” Even though it was a state park, the road into Kolomoki was only partially paved. The entrance to the east end of the park was still a dirt road, and the paving ended over by the lake.
Going anywhere in a car was a miraculous thing, a terribly exciting thing, and to let all the windows down and feel the sensation of flying was incredible. The mound built by the natives of this land was an enormous thing, huge and imposing, and overwhelming. The eighty-eight steps up were as if climbing Everest, and to be on top of that structure, to have survived the climb, to be able to look over the park from such a height, at such an age, was intoxicating to a degree that cannot be recaptured, ever. The idea of loading children into a car these days without them being plugged up to something, watching something, taking something with them, without air conditioning, without planning it all out, without having some sort of agenda and without giving them some say in the manner is an alien concept.
At the time, there were dirt paths up the mound, as well as the concrete steps, and erosion had carved deep gullies in the side of the mound, and the rich red clay looked like wounds in the side of a structure likely thought sacred when it was built. But to me it was the first mountain I had ever seen, and I was one of the last generations of children to have free reign over the mound before they cleaned the place up, and restored it. It was a good thing they did this, and I am glad they filled in the gullies and made the place whole again, but the path on the North Slope was so steep it was a sign of coming of age to have climbed it.
There were various paths that might, perhaps, be taken by car, if it hadn’t rained, and if the driver had some skill, but now all of that is asphalt. You had to want to go somewhere to get there for a while, and we roamed the park before the roads were paved, and it was incredible. We didn’t realize any of this, of course, and to us it was just the way things were, just like kids today have never been inside of a vehicle without a DVD player in it. There wasn’t a question of being entertained because you were entertained simply by being alive. The fact that you were away from the house, away from the norm, and allowed to roam free in a place with trees and places to climb was enough, more than enough, enormously more than enough.
That was during the time of extended parental rights. All adults, by virtue of age, were allowed to say pretty much anything they wanted to say to any child, and there was only a very limited amount of responses any kid was allowed to say back, and “Yes ma’am or “Yes sir” was about it. I truly and still honestly believe my parents took it to extremes because they so closely scrutinized my interactions with adults I was always afraid to speak to anyone over the age of ten for the first part of my life.
As if that trip to Kolomoki wasn’t an adventure in and of itself, close enough to heaven that it was, as we drove back into Blakely, I remember “Down in the Boondocks” coming on the radio, and I had no idea at all what a boondock might be, and my father told me that was some isolated or abandoned part of town or someplace out of the way. Kolomoki was down in the boondocks, I ventured, and to think I had been in the boondocks, just like the song on the radio, was magical. We stopped at a store and got a Pepsi. Back then, that sort of thing was some sort of treat. We kids drank water out of the hose in the yard, and ice was something that was hard to make, and freezer space for ice cube trays was limited. No one bought any sort of cola drink by the six pack, or the case, and we kids never were allowed to have one except on rare occasions like this.
There was something special about the little things, the unimportant things, and tiny things they seem to us all now. Today I looked up that song, and listened to it for the first time in decades, and I still remember how it sounded back then. It was grand then, to hear that song, because there was no way to control or predict when it might happen like a falling star, or a rainbow. The roads are paved, the MP3 player stocked with every song ever loved, the air is cooled, and there are convenience stores on every corner. The boondocks are all gone now, and the song that mentioned them is just another relic, preserved like the mound the natives built long before I was a child.