Growing Up ‘Boomer Style


Think Knife

Tank got his beaded change pouch when he was seven, while on family vacation to the Great Smokey Mountains 49 years ago. He keeps arrowheads he found and a musket bullet in it now, for safekeeping — and taking trips down memory lane. Next to it is an old Barlow knife his Pap gave him when he was six.

When I was six I wanted to be an Indian. In those days, you could be anything you wanted to be…they told us so in school. I worked hard at it, something else they taught kids back then. I made my own bow and arrows, along with a knife from a piece of slate, a couple pieces of wood and an old shoestring.

Making our own stuff gave us a sense of pride, along with developing resourcefulness. Besides, money couldn’t buy the kind of things we dreamed up in our minds, right?

That’s why Boomers never throw out “extra” nuts, bolts and widgets. We have cans and jars full of potential perfect “fix it” parts for anything. So what if it takes seven months to get around to fixing it, we have everything we need from years of accumulating “stuff.”

Jeff and Bear

Here’s Tank about to pet a bear in the Great Smokey Mountains. Not his brightest idea — but he survived.

Barely Touched

Let me explain. Driving in the Smokey Mountains, black bears would hang around roadside picnic tables, begging for food and some people would feed them. Seeing the bears, we did as all tourists did, and pulled over. We Watched a bear catch slices of bread someone pitched to him.

I figured this was my best opportunity to pet a bear, especially since I was an Indian and all. Besides, they were pretty scarce in my neighborhood.

Not my brightest idea, but I did it. Startled, the bear jumped, stood on its hind legs, making everyone scatter. Figuring I was a stupid human cub, he left me unscathed. Mom got a picture of the incident, which got me thinking — was she trying to conveniently get rid of me, or simply allowing me to be adventurous? Hmmm…

One Big Adventure

We learned to amuse (abuse?) ourselves daily with bouts of risk and danger, making for grand adventure. Even our toys were dangerous!
Remember Lawn Darts? Consisting of sharpened metal spikes the size of ballpoint pens, with big plastic vanes — the design ensured they always landed point first. Tossing them underhanded, you attempted to make them land inside plastic circles.

Eventually, the underhand toss led to seeing how high you could launch these rockets into the sky. If you were good, you’d lose sight of the dart (again, not the brightest idea) and then scramble so you wouldn’t get impaled on top of your head. But, we survived.

Arts and crafts were just as risky. Wood burning kits were popular. You’d get some cheap pressed board with a picture stamped on it. Your mission was to use your plug-in branding iron, err…wood burner, and attach one of about 10 different torturous tips, to decoratively burn your portrait.

I constantly burned my fingers changing the tips when they dropped from the tool. I was also always just a bit panicky as I watched them burning through the couch fabric. It was a great pre-cursor for bullet casting. though. My fingertips are void of feeling now, so handling hot things is easy.

Fess Parker ruined my Indian inspirations by portraying both Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket on TV. Coonskin caps were cool, plus he carried “Betsy”, his never-missing muzzleloader. With only two channels, shows were both limited and in black and white.

Jeff's gun

From coonskin caps to cap guns, imagination was an integral part of who we were and how we played. Tank still wears his coonskin cap on special occasions.

First Gun

I got my first .22 rifle for my 8th birthday. Today, my parents would probably be arrested for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” committing such a horrendous act.

Giving me the gun told me they trusted me, and it was time to show them they made the right decision by being responsible with it. And I was.

Since kindergarten, I spent the first week of summer vacation at my grandparent’s farm. With my new rifle, a couple boxes of shells, and Pupper, the farm dog mutt, I was loaded for bear, or at least groundhogs, pigeons and other vermin.

I’d roam the fields and woods by myself, learning the lay of the land, always chasing adventure. I learned to shoot iron sights with that rifle, as well as a .22’s trajectory.

We hunted arrowheads, shot cap guns, wrist-rocket slingshots, Daisy BB guns and Fred Bear bows. We carried pocketknives, fished with Zebco rod/reels, and had a ball riding our Schwinn bicycles over homemade ramps, Evel Knievel style, jumping over our friends.

We learned how to take risks, becoming more calculated, as we discovered our abilities — and shortcomings. We rode our bikes miles from home, unsupervised.


‘Boomers are cavemen who aren’t plugged into the modern world, right? At least some Millenials think this way.

Stranglehold Supervision?

We Boomers experienced freedoms today’s kids never imagined. We experienced a sense of adventure and independence by playing outside without supervision.

Alas, the kids today feel sorry for us Boomers! We were denied cell phones, iPads, computers, X-boxes, and video games weren’t on our radar. We did have walkie-talkies and electric football, the vibrating metal field that magically moved the plastic players into each other.

No, I guess we Boomers were denied a lot of things, at least that’s what Millenials think. They can’t imagine being born during the caveman days before cell phones and microwave popcorn. “What? There’s a different way to make popcorn?” As for me, I’m damn happy to have been born when I was. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Bet you wouldn’t either.

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