Once upon a time, when dinosaurs roamed the backcountry roads, I had a friend we shall call Shirley.
Shirley and yours truly were no more than 10 or so years old the day we jumped the backyard fence of her home to snoop. Who made the call is anyone’s guess. I don’t think it matters now. No fear or worry about who convinced the other or being grounded for it, right?
We scrambled over the chain-link fence, easier for tall, gangly Shirley than short, all thumbs yours truly, the whole thing a precarious endeavor. (Mind you, not the first time, but that’s another story for another day). There was always the fear that pants or worse a shoestring would get caught when throwing the last leg over, causing either an embarrassing rip or pain-filled tumble.
Fortune was on our side that day as we made it over unscathed into a neighbor’s yard to cut across the street towards the farm field and woods not far from Shirley’s house. We lived north of the high school, not far from the field where Zechar Bailey Funeral Home, Brookdale Greenville, and all the homes surrounding the two businesses now stand. Over 35 years ago, that area was nothing but field. The woods along Russ Road may have been a little er, woodsier, back then, but don’t hold me to it.
It was either early spring before planting or late fall after harvest as we made our way across the open field to the woods. There was a mix of delicious freedom with absolute dread of getting caught.
Once close enough to the woods, we followed a path created by a combination of foot traffic and bikes. Not far inside, we found what my youthful head deemed as a hobo camp (as opposed to teenage and young adult doings) with a small fire pit surrounded by crushed beer and soda cans. I used a large stick to poke around the ashes, which proved disappointing, what I’d expected to find, who knows.
At some point, two older boys appeared from the opposite end of the woods. One boy was no one to worry over. He was a nice kid with parents well-known in the community, but the “buddy” was another story. Shirley was high enough on the kid hierarchy (or is that food chain?) that she held something of neutrality whereas yours truly, always holding onto the last link in the chain, felt unwelcome, if a little unsafe. It was a feeling that grew worse as whatever chatter that ensued ended with the buddy demanding the stick.
Of course, there was an expectation of my complete compliance, and I was as incredulous as the buddy when I dared to do anything but promptly hand it over. Why I decided a stick (a perfectly good walking stick by the way but still a stick) was worth getting verbally or physically pummeled for, I’ve no clue. I was an odd kid with moments of reckless obstinance, but the moment is reflective of the New Year upon us.
There will be, undoubtedly, battles this year that will require one of two choices — to fight or let it go. Some choices will be obvious, others not so much, if a little head-scratching, and it is the latter that is always the challenge. The goal is not to beat ourselves up for whatever the choice. After all, hindsight is a four-letter word as one has no way of knowing for certain the outcome.
That day in the woods, for whatever reason, I chose to keep the stick. I held it like a Tusken Raider from Star Wars: A New Hope above my head as I ran back to Shirley’s house. I ran across that farm field akin to the sandy wasteland of Tatooine like a gazelle. It was no easy feat all things considered about my less-than-gangly self. There is a vague recollection the buddy gave chase, but only for a short distance after I took a slight lead by suddenly taking off.
Looking back three-plus decades, I get a good laugh at the memory, but it could just as well as be a cringe-worthy one. The buddy doing far worse than a short chase, but that’s the risk on the battles fought and the ones left behind.
Someone said life is all about making choices, so always do your best to make the right ones and learn from the wrong ones. However, they left off the part that once a choice is made, whatever the outcome, take responsibility for it. Don’t make excuses or, worse, blame others. If you choose to run with the stick, that’s on you.
That said, may you and yours have a happy New Year. I hope it is filled with adventure, that you climb a few fences, and snoop in a good, challenging sense. And while it may be a big ask of the Universe, I also hope that all your battles this year are nothing more tumultuous or earth-shattering than a walking stick. It’s the least this Tusken Raider can offer.