Misadventures of a Latchkey Kid

I ponder modern technology and remember how things were before cell phones and the Internet.

Without modern technology to babysit us and keep us sedate in a chair staring at pixelated images, how were we kept from venturing out into the wilderness and doing stupid things. I mean, in the 1970's, if a child wanted to watch television after school, the only choices were The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch. Gilligan's Island was already in reruns by then.

Our limited opportunities led us to do something nearly unheard of today - go outside and play. Of course I loved being outside so this was not a problem. Back in those days, it was common on the weekends for parents to banish their children from the house until dark. On the weekdays, it was pretty much the same but with no parent at home in case of emergency; no cell phones attached to our bodies to call anyone case of emergency. It's amazing that kids those days managed to survive through childhood. You know, with Darwin's theory and all that.

This life lesson was one of humility, grace, and forgiveness. It surely took all of these to keep my parents from beating me to death that day. It all started innocent enough. I was home from school and down at the bay with a friend playing with our G.I. Joes. By "playing" I mean putting them into their jeeps and setting their fuzzy hair on fire before launching them down the rocky shore into some tidal pools.

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We soon grew tired of this because, really, how many times can you set a Joe's hair on fire before his face melts off? If you're seriously pondering the question, then I can tell you from experience, the answer is three. So, bored with our destructive antics, we were ready to move on. We tried going back to the friend's house and playing "Big Time Wrestling." That's were we would pretend to fight and throw ourselves to the walls and floors with great enthusiasm. This usually turns into real fighting and a cooling off period of the friendship for day or two. Although the real fighting never ensued, we were kicked out of the house by an older sister, finding ourselves back at the water's edge. That's the great thing about living near the water-there's always something to do and, as long as one was confident in their swimming abilities, nothing was too risky.

We roamed the rocky shoreline for a few minutes, turning over rocks and looking for crabs or any other little critters underneath. Before long we ran across some old shark lines we'd run out at some low tide in hopes of hooking Jaws or some long-extinct megalodon. Our thoughts never extended beyond the setting of the lines and what might be used for bait, so when one of the lines provided some resistance to our retrieval, we were completely dumbfounded.

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I pulled the line, hand over hand, from the murky depths of Poseidon's realm. Visions flashed through my mind at what monstrous creature might be attached at the end of the line. The slimy beast made its first appearance as a distorted flash of moving shadow but I knew at a glance what it was.

When at last, the water dweller broke the surface, I discovered I had a shark on the line. Sure, it was only a dogfish shark but dogfish sharks still have incredibly sharp teeth and a spike on the front of their dorsal fin filled with poison - so I was told.

Seeing the three foot long monster on the rocky shore, I was overwhelmed with pride. I'd fought a monster and won. This was something I needed to share with my parents. Things were different back then. One was not considered grown up just because of age. Rather, one "showed" their maturity by actions. One was only considered "grown up" if they did their chores, chopped wood, slaughtered chickens for dinner, held a job, moved out of the house. Sure, catching a shark was not one of those things but, at the time, I thought it was a good start.

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Unable, or unwilling, to attempt pulling the hook out of the shark's mouth across those razor-sharp teeth, I simply cut the line and wrapped the end around a stick. I used the stick as a handle to drag the dying fish nearly a mile through the woods, across a stream and up a muddy trail to my house. I was so happy when I arrived at my front door. I imagined how proud my parents would be when they gazed upon my marvelous achievement.

I wanted to preserve my catch so I carefully lifted the shark to my chest and carried it through the kitchen and over the carpeted floor to my parent's bathroom tub. The white porcelain of the tub provided an excellent backdrop for the brownish-grey shark as it lay stiff, motionless, and half-curled in the tub as if it were a perfectly cooked steak resting on a fancy dinner plate.

My task complete, I reveled at my own achievement for a moment before losing interest and venturing back outside to find some other fun thing to do.

By the time my parents arrived home, I was deep into another adventure. As I think back to that day, I can't help but wonder if I would have been able to explain the carcass in the bathtub along with a recounting of my glorious and daring achievement of winning against a ferocious beast, they would've understood.

If I could've explained, my adventure I may have been rewarded with admiration instead of a spanking.

I'm not sure of the moral of this story but for some strange reason, I still think back to that day as one of my prouder moments up to that point in my life. But, if you are a young child, I would suggest against the leaving a dead shark in a bathtub for your parents as proof of your daytime adventures.