Remember When: Skipping school in search of a greater adventure

  • A teacher fights for the attention of students during the Great Depression Era. WIKIMEDIACOMMONS

  • Paul Seamans

For The Recorder
Saturday, May 27, 2017

I refer to the fact that when the spring mood hit us, we skipped school. Funny part was that if the Devil really did have us kids by the tail, coercing us down the path to perdition, we almost never got the devil for doing what he made us do.

Donald and Harold Martin were our ringleaders. “Mucky” McComb was also in our gang. All of our families were broke as The Great Depression had gripped our neighborhood the way some snakes put a stranglehold on their prey.

As youngsters, we were poorly dressed — nearly ragged — and it was only rarely that anyone had more than a single pair of shoes.

The Martins’ father was a self-made mechanic who fooled around with wrecked automobiles. Flivvers were towed into his yard — hulks with no heart in them. He had a pole tripod rigged to get a winch on an engine. He pulled that out and set it on the ground. There it stayed, along with a dozen rusting hulls, waiting for parts that never came. There was no profit in anything Mr. Martin did, and his income was a measure of it: zeroes across the board.

His two boys, our ringleaders, were absent from school one day. As an aside, the teacher considered them little more than savages — one foot out and one foot in the jungle. Why were they absent, we wondered? It looked a little suspicious.

Harold was in my classroom, and when he turned in his “excuse” to Miss Barrett after he returned, she read it aloud.

“Please excuse Harold. He had no shoes yesterday,” it read.

Good Lord! The lid came off. The Martins, the School Committee, the superintendent, the neighborhood, every clacking gossip — all got their tongues tangled in the ropy web of charge and counter-charge, recrimination, hostility, hate and bitterness. They’re probably still boiling in that small town where Harold Martin had no shoes to wear one day ever so long ago.

Harold had no shoes to wear, but it didn’t seem to bother him. It did pain his poor mother, who wilted in the white heat of that publicity.

There was a pretty big hole in the student body when all four of us went missing. And, four of us did skip on the same spring day one time. After the episode with the Martins, nobody in authority dared a repeat, so our absences were never seriously looked into.

If there was such a thing as a truant officer in town, we never met him. We never gave him much of a chance to meet us, either. We were masters of disappearance and hiding, always searching for some place — any place — where we could simply vanish.

We didn’t plan it that day; it just came over us on the way to school. I suppose we made the break on the basis of a dare. But once we turned away from the broad highway to school, we never looked back — skipping school, we were off and gone.

We had several hiding places. The pine and oak barrens near home were high on our list. Like some of history’s most romantic brigands, we were merry men among the trees, where no sheriff had sufficient courage to look for us. We spent a lot of time in the tops of pine trees. Their pitch stuck all over our pants, so it might have given us away, except that no one ever thought to use it against us as evidence.

An abandoned rail line ran off one of the main trunks to the city. We loved walking the line on a hot day, with the heat waves shimmering ahead of us and the smell of creosote a perfume to our noses.

There’s a mistake commonly made about boys skipping school to go fishing. To take in hand a fishing pole and can of worms in full sight of the community would have been a dead give-away. We loved the water. The water was much too cold for swimming in late April or early May, but we swam anyway — our lips blue and teeth chattering when we came out.

“Mucky” was no swimmer — he was too skinny to float, and we almost lost him on one of our outings. He floundered and thrashed so violently when we went to haul him out of the water that he came close to drowning all three of his rescuers.

I suppose we skipped school six or seven times while we were in grammar school. When I think back on the grand good times we had, our gang of four young rascals, it seems as though our richest, most extensive history was written in those few stories away from law and order.

I went back once to review the grounds on which we had pirated time and so enormously enjoyed ourselves doing it. The pine and oaks were gone — they were replaced by homes. The abandoned track had been converted into a highway, and I was unable to find any of the brooks we had dammed or the ponds in which we had taken our swims so many times.

Humanity had apparently drunk all the fresh water.

We understand the old gents among us who still search out places where they can disappear from view. There’s something in them still that begets craving for privacy and a deep-rooted desire to be solitary.

It’s not as easy as it used to be to find such places — and it isn’t as easy for boys today to skip off in search of them.

In light of our own libertine and enormously happy past, we wouldn’t blame them for trying, though.