At the far end of Maple Street in Germantown was a narrow strip of woods between two cornfields. That skinny bit of woods led down to Twin Creek about one-third of a mile to the south.
Twin Creek is still a beautiful little stream that is surrounded by thick woods. It was the perfect playground for kids.
Almost every day during the summer, our moms would pack us a lunch and several of the kids from the neighborhood would hike down to Twin Creek. There we would do the things kids were supposed to do during their summer break. We would build forts, play war, wade in the creek, catch crawdads and snakes.
Our imaginations could transform an old log into a mighty horse and a pile of sticks into a hideout.
When I became a dad, I wanted my boys to enjoy some of the same adventures I had. By the time they were starting elementary school, I was a single father living on Westfield Drive. With a young father and two young boys, there were times that it seemed like we were living in a situation comedy.
Westfield Drive was a perfect place for playing street football. Several times, after getting home from work and getting the boys fed, I would relax while reading the News Journal and watching a little television, there would be knocking at the door. It would be one of the neighborhood boys wanting me to come out and play football with them.
I was always the full-time quarterback. During a game, if someone yelled, “Car-ball,” the play would pause until the car passed. Then the game would continue. It was great.
It didn’t take much to get a water fight started. A squirt from a squirt gun would require tossing a cup of water. The cup of water would require a bucket in retaliation. That would quickly lead to water balloons and water hoses.
It was almost impossible to wash my car in the back yard without it leading to all out water-wars.
A few times Josh and Danny would come into the house soaking wet and angry because they were outnumbered. That would mean that Dad was about to get involved. I was good at devising plans and ambushes that would provide a soaking experience for the older boys in the neighborhood.
Of course, I would also get soaked and the day would usually end with me buying popsicles for everyone. It was great fun.
One summer in the early 1980s, a large treadmill was delivered to my department at the hospital. I asked our maintenance department not to throw the big, wooden box away. It was big enough for two or three people to sit in. When I saw it, a lightbulb went off in my mind – treehouse.
When I got that big, sturdy wooden box home and measured it and our tree, the fit was going to be perfect. We needed a few nails to stabilize it and it would be perfect. I explained to the boys what we needed to do, and they were excited about it.
With a few of my hammers and some nails, they got started … Bam, Bam, Bam!
Probably every neighborhood has a grumpy old man who enjoys yelling at kids. “Quit making so much noise!”, “Get off my lawn.” Give a grumpy old man half a reason and they’ll yell.
It didn’t take long for our grumpy old neighbor to start yelling at the boys to stop the racket. They came inside half-crying because he had threatened to call the sheriff on them. That was a little more than I could take.
I told them to get back up the tree and finish their job. I would take care of the neighbor.
As the hammering started again, I was sitting at the back door. Immediately, I heard, “I told you boys to stop making that racket. Now, you’re in trouble!”
I was out that back door in a shot. His threats were still echoing around the neighborhood when I started shouting, “I don’t know what gives you the right to threaten my boys with the sheriff’s department, but it’s going to stop right now. They have at least another two hours of daylight and they can work on their treehouse as much as they want. And I don’t expect a crabby neighbor to try and stop them. Do you understand!?”
He half-apologized and the boys got back to work. I did remind them to be as quiet and respectful as possible, but to get the job done.
That weekend they slept in their new treehouse. They were the envy of all the neighborhood boys. We found we could sleep four boys up there if they really got cozy.
As adults, I believe we need to help our kids enjoy their youthful adventures as much as possible, and whenever possible … join them.
By the way, if you haven’t said it yet, take a second and loudly ask, “Who Dey?!”
Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.