The boys went for a hike around the section. Four miles. They packed a lunch in an empty gallon syrup can and set off at noon. They knew they'd be doing some things along the way--watching for wild strawberries, checking out a couple creeks, crawling through some culverts, maybe chase a few calves, make a visit to their favorite apple orchards, tease a few geese if they came toward the road, that sort of thing--but they figured they'd be done by four o'clock. Plenty early for afternoon chores, anyhow, so no one would complain that they'd been gone too long.And so begins one of dozens of Jim Heynen's tales of "the boys," some blessedly generic farm kids who wake up to life itself through barn windows and pasture gates. Heynen's boys abide in a world that's almost gone, even here in the neighborhood where Heynen himself grew up. It's difficult to imagine too many ten-year-old boys who'd think of a hike around the section as being any kind of adventure. . .as long as they'd be home before milking.
You can't plan for blisters on your heels or sunburn on the spot where your shirt sleeves are too short. You can't plan on bumblebees in the roadside ditches, or for twisted ankles from jumping off a little bridge. No one expects barbed wire cuts or getting caught in somebody's apple tree, or getting nipped by a goose that has a worse bite than a rat terrier.But the boys, their lunch in an empty syrup can, know darn well that a hike around the section will be an adventure because their world is elegantly simple, ripe with possibilities once they clear the driveway. They're adventurers, explorers, even a little criminal. They're boys.
And who'd expect to get bawled out for using a few leaves of corn for toilet paper, or that there'd be leeches in the neighbor's creek? And what's wrong with putting a seed corn sign at the edge of an alfalfa field as a joke? And how much trouble could it have been for people to find their mail when it had been switched to a neighbor's mailbox that was only a half-mile away?They're bound to get into trouble somewhere around the section, even though land there is so flat and exposed they never got out of sight of someone's kitchen window. They're boys, and if they're not whacking each other or picking sputzies off telephone lines with BB guns, they're peeing somewhere they shouldn't.
And if somebody's bull is mean, why not tease him a little by waving a shirt to show him he shouldn't be so serious about things? and isn't it a good idea to throw some weeds over the telephone wires so birds can eat without worrying about lurking cats? And who would ever think there's be a problem with filling one end of a culvert with stones so that the next rabbit that thought it could run in one side and out the other would have another guess coming?Once in a while I see two or three or four of them along the river out here, maybe toting a five-gallon bucket or two, a fishing pole thrown over their shoulders, skinny kids walking along in shorts and sneakers, suntanned boys out to nab some frogs or polliwogs.
And so what if there's an apple stuck in the end of the muffler on somebody's tractor--it would just blow out when the tractor started. And just what good do the glass insulators on telephone poles do anyway?How were Heynen's boys to know that a little hike around the section would take 'em all afternoon, that they wouldn't get back until six, "that they'd be scratched up, bitten, stung, tired, hungry, let along practically crippled, and screamed at like some kind of menace to the community?"
And that so many people for miles around would waste their own time yelling across the fences and fields and using what was left of their telephones just to ask each other, Where are they now and what are they up to?I see them myself occasionally around in the neighborhood, walking along the old railroad tracks, a gang of boys out on an adventure, getting soakers in the creek or wading through the trickle the river becomes in thick July heat. It's a half-century later now, more than that really, and, come summer, most boys are in this, that, or the other program most all summer--music, sports, summer bible school.
And besides there's iPads after all, and more fancy shoot-'em-up electronic games than a parent can ever stay up on, new stuff all the time. Videos, thousands of them, right there in their fingers.
But when I seem them walking along or riding bikes down to some crick somewhere, whenever I stumble on a couple of Jim Heynen's boys hanging out on the river, a handful of little guys straining their arms and backs to catch frogs or do whatever they came to do or shouldn't be doing, totally oblivious to any world but their own, I can't help but think the world still holds great promise.