Column: Neighborhood kids didn’t get chance to test mystical theory

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 29, 2002

Of course, we believed it. The juvenile hellions that peopled my neighborhood believed everything &045; that a horsehair soaked in a glass of water for 13 days would become a serpent; that if each time you saw a robin (or a white horse) and stamped it (applying a moistened thumb to the center of your opposite hand and then smiting that center with your fist) you would after either 20 robins or 20 white horses be blessed by being granted anything for which you wished.

Oh, there was much other dark knowledge we were hosts to: Step on a crack and break your mother’s back; laugh before breakfast and you’ll cry before supper; look over your left shoulder at the new moon on its first day and the wish you wish at the same time will be granted.

Most of this lore had long history. One bit I recall was new to me in my long past. A committee of three of my contemporaries called on me with the information that if we buried rocks under sand and left them covered for a month the rocks would turn into gold.

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The callers were not my favorites among the neighborhood gang and my sandpile was, perhaps, one of my most enjoyable sources of pleasure during the summer months. Still, while I had never thought much about acquiring gold before, I could see where it might have its advantages.

We planted the rocks we had each collected in the four corners of the sandbox and I gave up my mud pies and castles for the month.

Often I hear adults talking about the beautiful hours of their childhood, playing happily, they recall, with their little friends, in the gardens and the woods. A time of innocence, they remember, of heavenly peace and joy.

God forbid that I should challenge their memories. It would be the height of arrogance. I can only say that any time my childhood comrades and I played peacefully together was when we were being closely supervised by an adult who made no allowance at all for the ways of children, and frankly didn’t like them.

With one or two exceptions most of my friends were older than I. I was not without weapons, however. I had a sad look to me, like an underfed bloodhound. Because of it I was spared much. I was not an amiable child and a visitor to our neighborhood once questioned why the others played with me. &uot;You can’t really like her!&uot; the visitor exclaimed.

It was quickly explained to her that toleration of me had nothing to do with liking or not liking me. &uot;It’s just that she can always think of something to do.&uot;

I could always think of something to do and it almost always ended badly. The adults would sweep down, raining cuffs and verbal criticism on the lot of them &045; on them not on me. I was perfectly willing to confess that whatever catastrophe had come about it was based on my idea. I was always proud of my ideas whatever the outcome.

Whatever confession I offered made things worse. Adults attacking took one look at my melancholy face and renewed their attack on their erring offspring. This I understood to spring from the mistaken belief that I was a pathetic creature bravely trying to cover up for my wicked companions. While realizing the advantages of the mistake, I resented not being given credit for my creative ideas.

My playmates never thought of me as pathetic. Indeed I think they were a bit in awe of me. The seekers for gold, for instance, made the mistake of picking a scrap with me shortly before the month came to an end. I sat on the top step of the eight steps that fronted our house and listened while they insulted me, my parents, and finally &045; the final straw &045; my dog.

At that point I excused myself, promising to be back in a minute. They were having such fun that they could hardly wait for my return.

&uot;Did’ja go away and try to think of something to say?&uot; they jeered when I came back.

I sat down again on the top step. &uot;Nope,&uot; I told them, &uot;Just wanted to go out and uncover the rocks so there won’t be any gold.&uot;

That’s when I learned, I think, that you don’t have to be big, or fierce, or very smart to get a reputation for being dangerous.

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.