Friday Firesmith – Where Are The Savages?

We were a bunch of savages when we were kids. We were half naked practically all Summer long, we played outside until it was dark, we swam in creeks and ponds, and we caught snakes. We camped out under the stars, ate candy we stuffed in our pockets, and drank water right out of the hose. We threw dirt clods at one another and meant it, and we also wound up with cuts, bruises, BB gun wounds, and on occasion got hurt when we wrecked a bike or fell out of a tree. From the time classes ended in May until it let back in when September rolled around, there wasn’t a time I didn’t have some open wound on my legs or arms or both. Scars were badges of honor to be compared with the wounds of other kids, and the scar I wore on one of my knees was one of the more impressive ones. The scar on my finger from the bite of a foot long alligator was also envied, quite strongly, and you knew you were someone when other kids came up and asked to see your scars.

When I was a kid I promised myself I wouldn’t grow up to be one of those adults who didn’t like kids, but here we are; I simply dislike children.

A couple of years ago I managed a construction project that stretched out over seven miles and went through many sub-divisions and side roads. We had quite a few miles of drainage pipes and that sort of thing. We spent nearly two years on the construction, and in that two years, we never saw the first child outside playing. There wasn’t a bicycle tire track or a barefoot print anywhere near any of the areas I would have been knee deep in as a child. I never saw kids outside playing ball or hide and go seek. There were a couple of ponds in the area and two good sized lakes. I never saw a kid near any of these in the light of day. I didn’t see any kids mowing the grass or pulling weeds in a flower bed or raking leaves.

Other than people don’t teach their kids as many manners as I’ve taught my dogs, I think part of the problem is my inner child doesn’t like these kids. None of them have ever fallen off a bike at top speed on a dirt road and got a mouth full of sand and road rash. None of them have ever felt a snake slip over their leg in a creek. None of them ever walked barefoot two miles into town to see an afternoon movie for a dime. These pale and overprotective creatures wouldn’t have survived the kids I hung out with. Being physically tough, immune to heat and cold, being hard enough to push a mower in the middle of the day, in the middle of July, and was not only common, it was expected.

I cannot remember seeing a kid pushing a mower in the last ten years. Honestly.

If you’ve got a kid that’s a hard playing, hardworking, bat swinging, ball kicking, tree climbing, sun burned little savage, sound off. Let me know there’s not only hope out there, but life as well.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

35 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – Where Are The Savages?”

  1. My daughter has kids that are pretty active outside, certainly not to the extent I was, but I didn’t have so many channels to watch, or digital games to play.

    However, I agree that kids aren’t very industrious or adventurous anymore. In the 30 years that I owned homes in the northeast I don’t recall a single kid asking if he (or she?) could shovel my driveway or cut my grass.

  2. that is the problem with todays world they are a slave to their phones ,they miss all those nice things

    • It all started, Barry, with air conditioning. That was what really began the decline. There was a time that being out in the woods was a hell of a lot cooler than being inside.

      • first 21 years of my life was with no ac and that was here in Georgia those summers were brutal ,but looking back I now have a lot of appreciation for things

        • Infidel, no one in our entire neighborhood had air conditioning for years, or even a color television. To this day I tend to get cold with ac on. I miss the days that heat and cold in its natural form didn’t bother me.

  3. Things can be different — that doesn’t mean the old ways were superior. Those kids you say are pale and not physically tough? Way to over-generalize and to romanticize things that just don’t matter. By those standards, Neanderthals were superior to Homo Sapiens. And see how well that worked out for them.

    Maybe you don’t see as many kids shoveling driveways or mowing lawns because homeowners are more cognizant of the chances of a kid getting hurt doing that and their parents suing them, so it’s better to pay a licensed and insured company.

    Maybe you don’t see kids wandering unsupervised in packs (often committing mayhem on animals, property, and weaker kids — as they most certainly did) because they are far more likely to be involved in organized sports than kids of decades ago.

    Or maybe they are on their computers, talking and playing games with friends from all over the world — developing connections and insights into other cultures that yesterday’s parochial and segregated children had no chance of doing.

    Nostalgia is an addictive and terrible thing — those rose-colored glasses are giving you a warped and romanticized view of the past, and blinding you to the good parts about the present. In every generation since the beginning of time, there have been things lost and things gained. It doesn’t mean things used to be better. Just different.

    • An interesting rebuttal. I like it, but as someone who mainly agrees with Mike on this issue (we had the same type of childhood, it seems), I just want to make a few points.

      “Those kids you say are pale and not physically tough? Way to over-generalize and to romanticize things that just don’t matter.”

      Don’t matter? Sure, paleness doesn’t, but this country suffers from a serious obesity epidemic, and most people are seriously ignorant of the natural world. Please don’t act like playing outside doesn’t matter. It matters more than you think. Unorganized sports taught me a lot of things that organized sports never did. I played both, and enjoyed both, mostly.

      “Or maybe they are on their computers, talking and playing games with friends from all over the world — developing connections and insights into other cultures that yesterday’s parochial and segregated children had no chance of doing.”

      OK, so, yes, being on computers can allow you to connect with people who are physically far away, which is great. Used correctly, they can explain the world to us, too. But I think you are a bit pie-in-the-sky with this example. Humans are typically passive leisure seekers, and I’d be willing to bet the bulk of their screen time isn’t frequently in positive mind-opening ways.

      I certainly could be wrong. Maybe they aren’t just texting friends and playing video games and Snapchatting.

      We tend to judge the people, eras, tools, and activities we like by their best qualities, and the people, eras, tools, and activities we dislike by their worst. I think we just need to agree that the truth, as usual, probably lies somewhere in the middle.

      I had a great childhood spent mostly outdoors, and I’m grateful for it. I do realize that we live in different times now, but I think we might see the pendulum swing back a bit. I hope we will.

  4. I’m a tad past my 3 score year and 10..the once allotted life span for females…I remember arriving in Australia aged 8, and being in awe of the freedom of kids playing outside and far afield from their front doors, compared to London where we were accompanied everywhere by parents. Still etched in my memory is in the first week of our new country I was persuaded by some kids at school to visit a swamp to catch some tadpoles. Mum scolded when I got home, dress tucked in wet knickers, and barefoot; never did find my sandals. Dad laughed it off, Mum gradually accepted, this was Australia

    The migrant town we grew up in was surrounded by bush, we climbed trees, fell out of them, survived broken arms. Got bitten by all manner of insects, bull ants were the worst. We double dinked on push bikes and rode 5 miles for a swim on hot days. We had to help out at home for pocket money. Dad saved and bought an old boat, and we became water babies.

    Thank goodness our own 3 children grew up before technology had much of a hold, TV sufficed in parental approved timeslots. The rest of their free time was spent similar to ours; outside playing, in the ocean, or playing sport. Where we lived then had plenty of open spaces, playgrounds with equipment which today would be deemed dangerous…I reckon a kid hasn’t lived until their bottoms have been burned on a metal slide, or splinters in the rear from wooden seats on swings.

    Must be a generational family thing, our eldest son has 5 offspring. They live on 5 acres, and I reckon savages is a fairly accurate description of them…. minus the alligator bites

  5. I am 82 and the youngest of six-four of whom are gone. I was always in trouble. Lose tools, sneak beer, get brused and cut up, disappear for hours, piss of teachers, steal, wander of to god knows where. Got kicked out of school at 17 and was convinced I was stupid. The Navy took me in for four years. I came out second class petty officer in aviation electronics. I could read a electronic schematic like a dime novel. After Navy I got a BSEE. I retired from a Fortune 100 engineering department . The moral– I wasn’t a bad kid.

  6. Mike will likely be a little ticked at me for posting this here but hey, he’ll get over it.
    For those only here who don’t follow him on Facebook, he just fostered another abandoned dog. That makes a 6 pack that’s depending on him for their survival. The last one, Bud, was dumped at the Humane Society and would be dead by now if Mike hadn’t intervened. Unfortunately, this dog is in need of some medical attention and to be neutered before he even has a chance of being adopted. I know Mike doesn’t ask for anything but it would be nice if all his followers here would kick in just a coupla’ bucks. The money goes to the Humane Society but they’ll use the bulk of it to pay for Buds care. Read more about it and donate here:

  7. I definitely was one of those savage kids when I was growing up. Best line I remember was my grandmother. “If you fall out of that tree and break your neck, I’ll kill you”. Of course, that was back before people would call CPS for that kind of talk.
    My 2 boys were savage kids too. I used to bring home some long length of yellow rope that was used to pull thick telephone cables between manholes. My younger one asked to “borrow some so his friend’s dad could use it”. Haha. The school across the street is 4 stories high and scaleable if you know how and the rope long enough to stretch to a fence about 100 yards away. I didn’t put 2 & 2 together until I noticed a pulley missing from my garage. My son survived. His friend ended up getting bruised pretty badly.
    My eldest was always a daredevil. Nothing ever went fast enough for him. He used to claim that he could keep the front wheel of his dirt bike off the ground through all 6 gears. Got spooked by a car one day and spent hours in the ER getting asphalt picked out of his skin. Even with all the protective gear he was wearing (shorts, sneakers and a t-shirt) he still got scraped up pretty badly. Sequel to that story is that he spent a week stretched out wherever he could until all his scrapes healed. Loads of large patches of virgin skin everywhere. “Dad, I’m going to the beach”. “Keep out of the sun or you’re going to get a really bad burn on that virgin skin!”. “I know, dad. I know. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
    He ended up admitting that the next 5 days he spent stretched out waiting for the sun blisters to heal was worse than the scrapes from the dirt bike accident.

    • John, I think the fact that we grew up in very similar environments makes up for most of our differences. I would have loved to watch your sons grow up. I bet you weren’t bored very often, were you?

      • Never a dull moment, Mike. My eldest liked to work on his dirt bike even when he wasn’t supposed to ride it (which was anytime he wasn’t being supervised). When he was 13, the ex had just moved out and I was working nights and sleeping days. He convinced me to just lock up the chain so he could roll it out of the garage to work on it. He would pop the master link on the chain, drop the lock, reconnect it, roll it down the block and off he went. He was good at fixing other peoples bikes so when he did, as payment, he’d have free use of whatever bike he fixed for a week at a time. Never ever a dull moment.

          • Figured I’d wait until the weekend was over and all your regular readers have put this post to pasture before adding this.
            My eldest, John, was my type of kid too and a very lot like myself. When I was younger, I had no fear. He was even more reckless than I ever was.
            His love of speed finally caught up to him almost 13 years ago when he was only 34.
            Fast dirt bikes, fast cars, fast motorcycles and finally fast jet skis. Alcohol, speed, fearlessness and a lapse of common sense was a recipe for disaster.
            He lived life on the edge but for the time he was alive, he enjoyed every minute of it.

  8. I was a bit of a savage as a kid. Before I could drive, I would ride my bike about 4 miles on country roads to play with a friend.

    Friends in the neighborhood and I would play for hours outside during the summer–and the heck with wimping out and drinking–even from a water hose.

    I also remember all the fun playground equipment: monkey bars and metal slides on an asphalt playground, and even the witches hat–although from my search for a picture, I found out we played differently on it: a bunch of us at recess would grab it and one “side” would push down which would cause the other side to fly up; they would then push down when they got back to earth and my side would go flying up. I remember getting palm-sized calluses from that. Apparently everyone not from my hometown would run in circles trying to send everyone else off of it.

    Today, the only time I see kids outside in our neighborhood is when they are walking to or from the school bus, or selling girl scout cookies or boy scout popcorn. Even my kid prefers to stay home and not venture out much–which I and my wife are to blame somewhat for that. Oh well.

    • Tim, I suspect that callouses are relics now, like scars and playground equipment that could maim a kid. Once, I climbed a ladder to the top of the school. The maintenance guys were working on a leak. I got caught and got paddled for it, but there for a long time, I was the only kid they knew what the top of the school looked like.

  9. My 13th birthday party was on a day during the week. My mother picked up all ten of us after school in a pickup truck for the two mile ride home. After the party we played football in a cow pasture. Nobody went home without at least a little cow shit on them.

    Imagine trying to pick up somebody else’s kids from school in a truck today. I doubt the kids would complain, but the school, police, and parents, would have a conniption fit. And a football game without protective gear, coaches, and officials is reason to call Social Services.

    I don’t think it’s the kids, it’s the parents… and their lawyers.

    • Our parents encouraged to play hard, even when we got hurt. I mean, so what? Life hurts. It’s like that. we played football like it was a religion of pain. You’d blindside some kid trying to play quarterback and knock him flat as hell and the next game he would be on your side, or on top of you. It didn’t matter. We loved it.

  10. The description in the post reminds me of my kids, who grew up mainly in the 21st century. Except for the barefoot part -theaters won’t let you in without shoes. I went round and round with the school that didn’t want them to walk home, but as a single working parent, I didn’t have much choice. The youngest, particularly, would play in the river nearby despite snakes. This summer, she’s going to Thailand to work with elephants in a rain forest sanctuary.

  11. I was never inside as a child if I could help it. There was so much more adventure outside! I loved going to the creek and wading into it, I never came home with my clothing looking the same as it did when I left. I climbed trees and explored. What was around that bend? And the next, and the next. I can remember finding a mulberry tree growing wild on one of my adventures and coming home to tell my mother. She and my stepfather came back with me and brought a bed sheet. They had me climb the tree and shake it while they held the sheet beneath it. Good stuff. Can’t see that happening now.

    • I don’t think most people would even know what a mulberry tree looked like these days. We had a huge one at the corner of two main roads in my hometown. They put a parking lot up and that was that. Damn thing was a giant, too.

      • That sounds like a song, sadly. They Paved Paradise and put up a Parking Lot. I always loved that song, layered meanings.

  12. The place I grew up in is still there probably still has its problems, but the open spaces and farm fields are now gone to over-development. Where you could once smell the cows and horses on a farm are now exhaust fumes and the greasy oily smell of asphalt. Closed now are the canals, the sides fenced in, and the old dangerous (ha, ha) swimming holes with the large trees and ropes cut down.

    When we rode bicycles to town or school either way it was four miles away, the nearest grocery store, a small country store with one gas pump, was two miles so riding to town was an adventure in its own right. Its still four miles to the main part of town, but about 1/3 of a mile to the town’s boundary from where I grew up. Gone too is the volunteer fire department (paid today) and you now get a city police officer instead of waiting for what seemed like forever for a county mounty. That used to be good as we knew it would be awhile before the law arrived and we acted accordingly. Not saying we were necessarily bad and breaking the law, but we knew it would be awhile if we were injured severely or to what extent we could push the limits.

    I drive by these new subdivisions and the only kids I see are the ones walking to and from school as there also seems to be an elementary or junior high nearby.

    Still, I wouldn’t trade my childhood place in for anything, well okay, if I could change some things I would. But definitely not the losing of farm fields and the areas that they once were into a non-delineation of which town is which. Nor would I trade the experience of waiting for the junior high school bus at the neighbors and listening to an older brothers Cheech and Chong records. I also will never tell Mom, who has passed, about the many trips to high school on my own dirt bike I kept parked at a neighbors because it was Mom.

    • David, I think distance changed since we bike riders were kids. We never saw distance as a problem for either walking or riding a bike. We walked to school, biked to school, and we never thought about getting a ride because that was not how it was done. I wonder if part of the obesity problem is that kids simply do not walk like we did. And we did.

      The neighborhood I grew up end is slowly becoming just another subdivision at the edge of just another small town getting bigger. So much is gone, and all of the savages now, so alive and so dangerous, are now simply fading away.


Comments are closed.