Monday, June 12, 2006

The Adventures of My Youth

We found it on an unassuming hill next to an abandoned vineyard. There were shrubs growing all around, and from the street, you would never have known it was there.

We had to trespass to get there. But in those days, cutting across neighbors yards was an accepted method of getting anywhere. No one complained. I'm not even sure anyone got upset. This was in the days before everyone lived in isolated islands called "my property". Property simply defined the plot of land you were responsible for mowing, and nothing more. Beyond that, property was deemed rather public, except to those few who put up fences.

So, when we trekked through the shrubs to the door in the ground, it was like discovering a portal to a whole other world. It almost looked like those cellar doors we saw on TV shows that were flat and led to a basement from the outside.

"Should we open it?" I asked.

But it was a pointless question. Scott or Jason (I honestly can't remember which), was already lifting it.

There wasn't a lot of light, since the entire area was shadowed by trees. But with what light we had, we could see a set of old, crumbling concrete steps leading down into darkness. There were spiders and other creepy crawlies, as we liked to call them.

I was petrified. My eyes darted around, sure that someone was going to come running, yelling at us. And in those days, being yelled at by a neighbor was reason enough to be petrified. But Scott and Jason wouldn't leave it alone.

"Come on," they said, already halfway down the stairs.

"I'm not going in there," I said. "We might get caught."

"Nobody even knows this place is here, Ryan. Come on!"

I said I would stand guard. That was the brave thing to do, after all. They disappeared into the darkness, and I could hear the scuffling noises, and the sound of wood banging on the floor.

And so began our journey into "The Vault." I'm not sure I was even nine when we found it. We probably weren't even the first ones to find it. But to us, we had stumbled onto a great mystery. Why was it there? What was hidden in the darkness? And why, ultimately, was there literally a metal vault door down there, locked? What was hidden in the locked room?

These were the questions we would ask ourselves for years, after many visits to The Vault.

Today, as an adult, I still have many theories about that place. But even better than the treasures that may have once been held in the Vault is the treasure of the memory of that place. It is fodder for stories. I think I might write about the Vault some day. And, like that one small part of my childhood, there are many other sources of adventures to draw from.

I never realized just how rich my childhood was until I started seriously writing. Things we did in innocence which, today, would probably get us arrested. Like the time my friends and I, uh, borrowed a row boat and crossed the lake. We found this canal I didn't even know existed where the water was black and cold as ice. So cold, in fact, that the metal row boat started to chill my backside.

It is almost a shame that we have to be so incredibly protective of our kids these days. I only hope I can portray a small bit of the sense of adventure I experienced as a child in my own writing.

So, I'm curious what memories you have as children. What is it that made your life an adventure?


Angie said...

When I lived in Pennsylvania, about age 8 or 9, there was a grown up empty lot next to my house. I went wondering off over there one day and found a clearing among the growth. Right in the center it was well kept as if it had been mowed. There was also a mound there. I guess it was an ant mound, but believe it or not I never once saw a bug of any kind come out of that mound. I never got bit by anything over there either, but that place was my secret clubhouse. It was so neat to gather the neighborhood kids, who were mostly boys by the way, and have "meetings" in the clubhouse. We didn't do anything unclean or naughty, we just loved to go there and hide. The growth was so high you couldn't see the clearing from the house. I have fond memories of that cubbie place in the weeds. Though I still wonder what kind of bugs made that mound.

RyanBruner said...


That reminds me of my neighbor's yard. We lived on 1/2 acre lots, and the back half of their yard was completely covered in woods. That was the greatest playground we could ever have! Plenty of places for "forts", etc. We were sad, however, the day that they decided to clear out the woods, only leaving behind the big trees. It seemed a shame. They replaced such a fun area with grass. What fun is that?

We still had plenty of wooded areas around our neighborhood...but you had to walk a ways to get there. Having woods literally in your backyard was great!