By Steve Graf
As a kid who was raised in the outdoors of East Texas, my days growing up in Mt. Pleasant were filled with fun, fishing, hunting, and work. A water hose was more than something you watered the garden with; it was a survival tool while we played outside all day. You had freedom as a kid as long as you made it home before the streetlights came on. We were up at sunrise and hated sunsets. Our childhood was spent outside and not inside the house. We lived in the great outdoors and found many ways to entertain ourselves. Today, we’ll go back in time and take a good look at what it was like growing up in the late 60s and early 70s…the good ole days.
Kids of my generation were made and told to get outside and play…and play we did! We played in the ditches, streets, and creeks. We climbed trees for fun and ran barefoot and shirtless daily. Sunscreen did not exist, and we cut the grass barefoot until a parent caught us and made us put on shoes. Our main form of transportation was a bicycle, and we rode our bikes five to ten miles daily. We raced, jump ditches, and ended most of our days by riding our bikes behind the city mosquito fogging truck at dusk as it made its way through town. It’s a miracle we did not die from lung cancer or get run over by a car.
We met at the city swimming pool at least twice a week hoping to get a glimpse of the high school girls sunning and putting on tanning oil. We challenged ourselves to go off the high dive and survive! We peed in the pool because it was convenient while looking around to make sure no one saw us. We played piggyback wars in the water and dove for money at the bottom of the pool. But no one wore a bathing suit…we wore cut-off jeans which I believe are banned at pools today.
Every afternoon we sat under a shade tree listening for the music coming from the ice cream truck as it came within hearing distance. Then we raced into our houses and begged for money and quickly ran back outside just in time to stop the ice cream truck before he got out of sight. We were so out of breath that we could hardly order what we wanted. Some days under that shade tree, we ate watermelon that had been put on ice earlier in the day. But a watermelon feast was not complete without a seed spitting contest, which I excelled at! Just another talent God blessed me with! We made homemade ice cream by turning the handle on a wooden bucket. Yes, it was hard work, but the reward was worth it!
I learned to hunt at the age of 8 by hunting squirrels with my best friend (Kevin) and his dad, who I called Uncle Tracy. Not really related, but for some reason, I always called Kevin’s mom, Aunt Nancy, and his dad, Uncle Tracy. Uncle Tracy was a great squirrel hunter and taught us how to do it the right way. He took the time to not only take us hunting but teach us gun safety as well. He taught us how to stalk squirrels while keeping an eye out for snakes. There were days when Uncle Tracy would go by himself, and I believe it was so he could get his limit. Due to our inability to stalk quietly, Uncle Tracy gave us nicknames…lead foot and stumblebum. Not sure who was which, but I’m pretty sure the names were fitting.
Uncle Tracy was a great teacher as he taught us how to be patient and take a good shot. I learned to shoot with a single shot 410 and I think that’s why I became pretty good with a shotgun later in life. My idea of duck hunting was sneaking up behind the dam on our stock ponds at our ranch and shooting ducks while they were sitting on the water. The problem was after I shot them, I had to wait for the wind to blow the ducks closer to shore so I could retrieve them. But one thing was for certain, I never left behind a single duck no matter how long it took for them to drift to the shore. A good hunter doesn’t condone wanton waste.
Next week, I’ll go into more detail about my youth and how my generation was shaped by the time we spent in the great outdoors. Till then, good luck, good fishing, and don’t forget your sunscreen!