fun in your own backyard

I. Where did you go for fun? the movies? the pool? the ball diamond? Recall a few specific events where fun was the object. You were supposed to enjoy yourself. Other people were there. Stuff happened. It was your idea of fun. Or not.

The carnival was a fact of life in a Midwest farm town. Including my town. Good stuff could happen.  And bad stuff. All you needed to run a carnival was a large vacant lot. In Freeland, the one-stoplight town where I grew up, we were rich in large, flat, open spaces. 

South of town, on the southeast corner of Main Street and Powley Drive was one such space. It must have been school property. If you walked or drove east on Powley, in that quarter mile stretch of road you passed this wide, empty, weedy space, then you passed the school track field, which was also a wide, empty weedy space, except for the oval quarter mile cinder track, and then came the high school. The available patch of ground, which would eventually become the site of Watson Chevrolet and a medical plaza, was cleared of trees and sufficiently dry as long as it didn’t rain, ideal for the township’s summer festival called Freeland Frontier Days.  

II. Recall an experience that was supposed to be fun but didn’t turn out that way.

I peed my pants at the Sanford Boat Races when I was nine years old. It was a Sunday afternoon. My dad loaded my brother and me into the car. We both had asked a friend along, Doug Haynes and Jeff Schillings. We drove 45 minutes north, to the dammed up Tittabawassee River, which formed a narrow lake that was wide enough to serve as an aquatic race track for long sleek runabouts. We were sort of a boating family by then. Small boat, slow boat, a boat fast enough to slowly pull kids on water skis and for my dad to fish from. He must have thought we would like a boat race. He must have thought he would like it. 

He paid to park up by the road and we hiked down toward the water’s edge, where we sat on the bank of the river-lake and watched the action, yelling at each other over the deafening whine of outboard motors. Around they went, fast. Around they went some more, still fast. There were no wrecks, which was good. If there were pit stops, they were uneventful, at least from our point of view. A boat race, I concluded, was pretty boring. 

After thirty minutes or so, the four of us walked back up to the top of the hill, where there was a concession stand and a beer booth and a few carnival rides. For a buck you could buy five green paper tickets. A ride cost one ticket. A hot dog was two tickets. We each ate a hot dog and went on a few rides.

III. One more story. You might focus on stuff involved in this fun–gear, equipment, accessories. I could enjoy baseball a lot more if I had a better ball glove. Camping could be a lot of fun, provided you have the right gear. Tell a story in which the stuff involved made a big difference, good or bad.

Heavy rains had flooded the river. Across the bridge west of town, in low-lying fields, the flood waters always took a few days to recede. On the south side of the road was a field that lay fallow. Jeff called me one day and said hey, let’s go shoot some carp.

I had a beebee gun. I knew he had one too. We had hunted, shot, and killed sparrows and chickadees in the pine trees behind the Rices and the Gauls. I knew enough about carp to understand that a beebee gun would not take one down. Their scales were like armor. They probably wouldn’t even feel a beebee. The river was full of carp, some of them large, grotesque, stinking beasts with wide sucker mouths and fu manchu mustache stingers and creepy, filmy eyes. We fished for them with corn and doughballs, dragging them out of the water and tossing them on the bank. When you picked one up to unhook it, a carp flopped and jerked in your hands with an awful fury, with a terrible slippery life source that kind of made you sick, made you want to kick them back in the water. 

I said yes, let’s go shoot some carp.