Editor’s note: FFRF columnist James Haught died on July 23. We still have a bunch of pieces that he sent us to use — some fresh and others previously published. We’re running this week a personal column that he wrote on childhood and parenting. Jim was a father to four children and took in 40-some foster kids.
Millions of parents don’t have a clue — they’re completely unaware of dangerous, brainless things their children do in the secret world of kid life.
When I look back on my boyhood, I shudder over some of our horrifying capers that might have caused tragedy. At the time, we thought they merely were fun. Our parents never knew.
There were only three boys my age in my hometown — my cousin, a chum and I. We ran around almost daily with guns, including cheap pistols, shooting cans and bottles. I had an aged muzzle-loader with a worn-out hammer mechanism. Once it slipped and fired, missing my cousin’s head by a few inches.
In my little hamlet in rural West Virginia, the biggest structure, except for the school, was a wooden general store that filled most of a block. Attached to one side was a row of garages. Upstairs were apartments. Enveloped in the center was an opening filled with bales of hay. When my cousin and I were grade-schoolers, we played around the place constantly. In the hay storage area, we formed bales into an igloo-like hideout, unseen behind stacks of other bales. Through a hidden entrance, we crawled into our secret hideaway — and used candles to light the interior.
I still can’t believe that we did such an idiotic thing. Sheer luck saved us from starting a blaze that would have wiped out much of the community.
Later, in high school, we learned how to make gunpowder from charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter – and we became eager bombmakers. We began exploding tin cans on the creekbank. Then we graduated to pipe bombs, never pausing to think that they might be dangerous.
At one end of a steel bridge was a boulder as large as a car. One night, we put a pipe bomb on top of the rock, lit our homemade fuse, and ran behind bridge girders to watch her blow. As we peeked around the girders, a bus stopped beside the rock, disgorging passengers. Through the bus windows, we could see our fuse burning atop the rock, just at the level of passengers’ heads. We jumped around frantically, wondering what to do. By sheer luck, our crude fuse went out, and the bus drove off. Later, we detonated the bomb under creekside rocks, hurling a big stone into midstream.
Then we graduated to dynamite. An old gas well driller had lived at my father’s isolated farm, a couple of miles from our home in town — but he died, leaving his rig half-finished. We boys discovered that his supplies were locked in a dilapidated log barn by the farmhouse. We learned that we could climb the log exterior, crawl through an opening under the roof and get the driller’s dynamite, fuse and caps.
We would use a stick of dynamite as a firecracker, lighting a short fuse, throwing the stick down a bank, and hiding behind trees as the blast showered us with sticks and leaves. We smiled among ourselves when people talked about the strange booms in the hills.
My parents were responsible folks; Dad a postmaster, Mom a schoolteacher. They thought that we boys were just “hanging out” or making model airplanes or something. Years later, I asked her: “Remember that period when J.B., Roy Lee and I made a lot of bombs?” She stared at me, flabbergasted, and said: “What?” She had no inkling whatsoever.
I got some payback when my own sons were in high school. One day, I freaked out when I found my oldest son and his buddies clinging to the top of the town water tank, drinking beer and painting their class name — far, far above the ground.
When I tell these tales to other parents, they usually supply horror stories of their own. One woman said there’s a towering cliff near her home, and she once spotted a soda bottle sitting on a ledge high above jagged rocks. She was baffled, and asked neighbors how it could have gotten there. She was stunned when her son proudly said he rappelled down a rope and placed the bottle like a trophy.
A former reporter told me that his boy and a neighbor kid laboriously rolled a huge truck tire up a hill so they could watch it hurtle down. It demolished the shed of a neighbor, who sued.
The point of this column is: Parents, beware. Your kids — especially boys — probably are having secret “adventures” that are fearfully dangerous while you’re blissfully unaware.