Saturday, January 16, 2016

Summer Storm

Saw this picture on the internet the other day and it reminded of a summer day during my childhood. Painting by Robert Henri (American; American Realism, The Eight, Ashcan School; 1865-1929): Storm Tide

 The neighborhood I spent a large part of childhood was first built in the late 1950's, probably out of a response to the growing affluence of white southerners brought on by businesses building new factories and relocating many from the northern states. They were all taking advantage of the relatively cheap labor that still paid wages far better than most Southerners had ever experienced.

For reasons I don't remember the neighborhood was named Kensington although I did hear a story once that the property was named for an antebellum plantation that existed at that location. I admit, when you consider that possibility that a working class housing development was built on land where slaves once lived and died is quite unnerving. At least to those of us who possess this curiously rare thing called a conscious.

Whatever the case, this neighborhood was located just a couple of miles outside the town limits of Georgetown, South Carolina. And it had what would today be considered the unusual features of having an elementary school and a couple of old fashioned mom-and-pop stores all within its boundaries. This allowed gangs of bicycle riding children a wide area to explore and play until the street lights came on forcing us all to rush back home for dinner. Today's carefully planned subdivisions all seem especially designed to make common chores require someone to get in a car and drive a short distance like dropping off the kids at school or buy a gallon of milk. That didn't mean self-contained communities like Kensington did not have some issues.

Sometime in the early 1970's there was a summer day where my mom pretty much issued the order that I go outside, find some friends, and play until the sun started to go down late in the afternoon. During this period she would have been taking care of the house and my two younger brothers, one barely a toddler and the other an infant. The last thing she needed would have been a bored six or seven year old bumping around the house all day.

So, I did what my mom said and started riding up and down the streets looking for some kids to hang out with until I could return home. I can't really speak for kids today with their in-home gaming systems and the tendency of parents to arrange most aspects of their children's lives, but once the kids in my neighborhood were let loose there was no telling where we would end up.

Surrounding the neighborhood were large sections of forested areas that were perfect for kids wanting to explore or play. These undeveloped parcels, being so near the coast, were quite swampy and inhabited with alligators, poisonous snakes, and even bears. The fact that I don't remember any of my fellow adventurers ending up as snacks for those wild inhabitants is a small miracle. Parents at that time just assumed that the kids would either stay away from the obviously dangerous areas or that they would think of some way to save themselves if they did stumble into trouble.

I don't remember the exact details of that day but I'm sure I spent a good deal of time in those woods playing soldier with the other kids whose moms had also kicked them out of the house. In one section located outside the neighborhood, there were unusual dirt mounds and, for the lack of a better word, trenches cut between those formations and we made full use them for cover and concealment while shooting each other with broken sticks we imagined were rifles. Before long all the shoot Em up bang-bang got boring and we kids would then ride off to some other location.

A few of us ended up at school with the intention of playing kickball in the softball field. This is where a kid's ability to ignore just about everything around then comes into play. It would be impossible to say how long when our hastily organized kickball game had gone on when one of us heard an adult voice scream a name of one of the kids in our group. We all turned and looked in the direction of that voice when we saw about ten adults quickly walking towards our location. At first all of us were puzzled but not concerned, none of us had done anything weird like destruction of property but when I saw the face of my mother in the crowd I instantly knew something had gone very wrong.

Long before the adults reached us, all the kids playing kickball began walking towards them all slightly wondering just what in the hell had we done wrong. Since the softball field was situated right against an east facing treeline of rather old and tall pine trees we didn't see the enormous change in the weather about to overtake the entire area of Georgetown. It was only when us kids stepped onto the neighborhood's main avenue that ran east-west did we see the clouds.

This wasn't a simple thunderstorm, which was quite common to the coastal area, but something far more menacing. I looked up towards the east and saw a massive and midnight black formation of clouds that was something straight from a nightmare. Those clouds seemed to be consuming the world and the brief but numerous flashes of lightning underneath them only made the scene more terrifying. Adding to the ominous sight about to overtake us all, it was at that moment the first clap of god-like thunder hit sending all of us quickly scurrying back to our homes.

Luckily, for my mom, her parents lived a couple of streets over and she was able to get my grandmother to walk over and watch my siblings while she joined the search for the missing kids. My mom and I got back to the house a couple of minutes after the squall line hit the neighborhood, yeah, we were both soaked. Except for the lightning, I thought the run back home through the rain was quite the fun experience. However, my mother totally failed in every possible way to think of the sudden change in weather as anything like fun.

Turns out a tropical storm had suddenly formed off the coast and began making a beeline for South Carolina. With our more advanced weather monitoring systems, I doubt such a system could form these days but one of my clearest memories was of old and respected Charleston weather guy, Charlie Hall scratching his gray hair and worriedly explaining what had happened and how the storm would affect the coast. It mostly went unsaid but at the time the memory of the near apocalyptic 1954 hurricane named Hazel was still on everyone's mind.

This tropical storm eventually passed us by leaving little in the way of damage. The next day it was business as usual for all the other kids and myself but the storm did spawn a good number of tall tales that lasted the rest of the summer.


Unknown said...

This is a great story. The line "they would think of some way to save themselves if they did stumble into trouble" had me rolling.

I believe kids would still like to go outside and play even if there are no video games out there. Unfortunately, neighborhoods are set up wrong and parents are all convinced that every third person is a potential kidnapper.

Crime has consistently fallen since the late sixties, but you'd never guess it watching TV.

The Bug said...

Your poor mom - can you imagine her terror? But I'm more on your side - how exciting!

My mom tried to get us to play outside too, and I did, but really, once I learned to read I didn't much want to go outside & be pestered by my brother :)

Pixel Peeper said...

We had a few favorite hangouts in my hometown when I was a kid - great places to play hide and seek, cowboys and Indians, and so on. I still have a scar on my temple from when I slipped on wet grass while running down a hill, fell, and hit my head on a rock with a sharp edge. I remember coming home with blood streaming down my face. My cousins and I were really worried about getting in trouble for this, because it would be (of course) our fault that this had happened. Heh.

Beach Bum said...

Nasreen: Thanks for your kind words. Yes, I agree, its still quite safe for kids to go out and play but parents are so controlling these days. My wife and I have had several discussions over the years about the concept of "play dates" and how silly all the organizing and planning that can go into them.

The Bug: Oh, the stories I could write about my mom. But I can't because people would believe I was stealing material from Pat Conroy. The less I elaborate any further the better.

Pixel: Those mounds in the woods I mentioned may have actually been Native American burial sites. Unfortunately, they were bulldozed sometime in the 90's when the town limit was moved and they built another collection of strip malls and a new supersized Walmart on that site.

Ranch Chimp said...

Fun story Bum ... reminding me of the kid years, although I grew up in very different environments and coast to coast across the country (from the northeast to the southwest ... no, I didnt come from Texas and had no family here, and would have never dreamed as a kid of even going to Texas {:-) ... but fun story because we were all kids at once and remember some of those special times, and how big everything was to us, the simple adventures and the grown up's as our authoritative figures that surrounded us.

sage said...

A depressing part of growing up on the coast is that we never got off school for snow but we did for hurricane warnings and there wasn't much one could do when it was pouring. Good story.

Deron said...

This is a good beginning to something potentially bigger in a longer story format. I quite enjoyed it.

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