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We were the original ‘free-range’ kids

“Free-range kids.”
I heard the term recently, and it took me a while to compose myself after the laughter.
Free-range kids seems to be a new derogatory term where parents allow their children to run around unattended or not on a short enough leash. Parents can now be chastised by police and society for being bad parents. How dare you let your children out of your sight? How can you not know where your children are every minute? Is there something wrong with you parents?
Free-range kids! Heck, that’s what we were growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, but apparently didn’t have a proper term for it.
All we heard was: “Don’t you have any thing to do? If you don’t go outside, I’ll find something for you to do!” We went outside and, apparently, “ranged freely.”
Well, if these new societal norms were in play growing up in International Falls, most “Baby Boomer” parents would have all been in jail for child neglect. As far as I can remember, none of us kids ranging freely in the neighborhoods and around town were ever lost. We knew where we were, we just never told our parents.
In fact, with so many kids in the neighborhood, it might take days to count heads to see if we all came home.
We free rangers of yore had to find our own form of entertainment. With Dad working, Mom as a homemaker did not want us underfoot, so out we went.
Years later, when my two older brothers and I got together after our father died, we began to tell Mom what we were actually up to on those days of free ranging. She was mortified!
My oldest brother once hopped a box car of a moving freight train and by the time he could “hop” off, he was 20 miles away in Littlefork. He had to walk back and was gone all day. No one missed him.
It was not unusual for us kids to be playing among the box cars of the nearby railroad tracks. We’d climb up on top and run from box car to box car leaping over the gap between them. As far as I recall, no one ever fell off.
My other brother shot himself in the leg trying to quick draw like the opening scene of TV’s “Gunsmoke.” Apparently his trigger finger on his .22 pistol was faster than his draw. He survived. Actually, he didn’t even know he shot himself. He had to be told by his buddy.
As kids, we always had water around to catch frogs, pollywogs and minnows. We even built a raft for one of the nearby ponds that promptly sank when too many kids wanted the first ride. We got wet, but no one drowned. And if you stayed outside long enough you dried off, and no one was the wiser.
Most boys, and some girls, in the neighborhood also were good tree climbers. And every tree was fair game, even the prickly pines. Getting down from a pine tree, however, was more of a challenge. Not only were the bows prickly, the pine tar on your clothes was hard to wash out, or explain to your mother.
Only once do I recall a kid falling out of a tree. He broke something, but recovered nicely.
Grass stains were as common as cuts and bruises. Scabs never seemed to ever heal as a kid, nor did the patched holes in the knees of our pants.
We often played cowboys and Indians with whatever we had. More often just sticks, but as we got more sophisticated, we armed ourselves with cap guns, then slingshots, using hard berries from nearby bushes as ammunition. The unwritten rule was never aim for the head. We abided by that … most of the time.
But playing cowboys and Indians, you never wanted to get captured because you’d get tied to someone’s clothes line pole with a jump rope, and then people tended to forget about you. My dear Finnish grandmother discovered one kid in such a predicament when she went out to hang up the wash. Speaking of mortified!
It was not unusual to miss the bus taking us swimming at the City Beach and have to walk and hitchhike those three or four miles to the lake. Never lost anyone along the way that I recall.
So you see, free ranging was nothing new. It was the norm when I grew up. Those escapades have now developed into fond memories.
Now the train tracks and box cars are gone. The woods and ponds behind our old house are now a city park, playground and site of an indoor ice arena. Most of the neighborhood trees also are gone.
Also disappearing are the “free-range imaginations” we had as kids.
Rich Glennie was the editor of The Chronicle for 23 years. He retired Aug. 1, 2014, but still plans to submit an occasional column.