On November the 9th, 1970, I took a walk with a friend and we talked about what getting older meant. Mark was a year younger than I and we had both been waiting for this day for a while, even though we weren’t real sure what it all meant. We thought we had some sort of idea. I had finally turned ten years old. I had reached double digits in age. Mark and I thought that was one of the coolest things ever.
My life was lived on a timer. Because I was never a good student I was constantly on what my parents called “restriction” and that day they had decided to let me out of the house for an hour. I had an hour to talk about ten years. I remember the phase of the moon in the daylight being a half moon and I remember it was a clear and cold day.
Mark and I talked about the fact that we had memories that dug five years down into the past. Five years! That was half a lifetime. There was a difference between being a kid that was five and being a kid that was ten. We were so much older and knew so much more than those kids that were just starting out. And I was ten!
We walked around our neighborhood and I didn’t realize the next birthday I would be living somewhere else, in another house, in our hometown of Blakely Georgia. My parents would be divorced; something that was alien to us all. Mark and I wouldn’t be friends anymore. We were already drifting apart. His parents, in a response to desegregation, had sent him to a private school. This would be one of the last times he and I would walk this neighborhood in its present form and in less than five years it would be changed forever and it would keep changing.
The open field that we had walked that day is now a city park with a baseball field and all the trappings that go with it. There is a paved road on the other side that we once knew as a footpath through the woods. The dirt road that bordered the field is also paved. The City Pool, where we spent entire summers trying to grow gills is gone, totally destroyed, broken up and buried on site. The house where I once lived, right next to the pool, has been painted a garish yellow color. As we walked that day and imagined the future we never thought it would look the way that it does. Hell, the next year was something we couldn’t have anticipated and we didn’t.
I had no idea that in less than five more years I would start drinking and smoking. I would start smoking pot in four more years. The future was moving in fast and immediate. My father had given up on me two years earlier and in less than a year my mother would be gone. The family would be split up; my sisters would go live with my mother and I with my father, but we would all leave the house we grew up in. We would leave the place where Spud and Cookie was buried. We would take Spike and Smut with us when we went and they would both be dead in less than five years.
Mark and I agreed to try to remember as much as we could from that day. I am nearly certain I couldn’t go back to that spot and find where he had stood. Far too much has changed. There are more houses there now. There is more pavement. People lack the sense of village that we held back then when the whole neighborhood was community property and we kids wandered everywhere at will. Dogs were never on a leash. It was safe to play in the streets and there were no roads we couldn’t take our bikes. But the world was changing. I had turned ten years old.
We talked about what it would be like in another ten and that frightened us a bit. Ten years was a lifetime. How could we cope with being adults in ten years when we were so terribly far away from it at ten? We took a step back from the future because in South Georgia, children were taught that age meant maturity and until you reached a number you hadn’t reached another level of being. Adults were infallible and we sure as hell didn’t feel infallible. It was a false dichotomy that kept any of us from being truly prepared for life. Everything would be okay once you reached eighteen. Your ticket would be punched. You would receive wisdom. You would be transformed by magic. You would be an adult.
Birthdays were already meaning less to us and to our parents. The little kids got birthday presents and parties and we older kids were slowly but surely getting fewer toys and more clothes for birthdays. Gone were those gatherings where there would be ten children brought together and there would be screaming and yelling and a very good time as we all got jacked up on frosting and Kool-Aid. Mark and I talked about the good old days where we were much younger and much more free. There were beginning to be some stern warnings against acting like kids these days.
My time was up so I headed back home. There was a fire burning in the trash barrel in back of mark’s home and I remember smelling the acrid smoke on that day. Everyone burned their trash or at least part of it and we would be the last generation to do so. The sun began to go down and I knew I was late getting back. The wind was colder that day and I decided to run home. Adults never ran just for the hell of it and wondered if any of them every stopped to think when it was the last time they ran, just for the hell of it, across the yard and just ran for the hell of it, because they could.