Utopia on the Bayou
I grew up on a bayou. Our house was nestled in a small community in the panhandle of Florida. During the peak of the summer, the humidity could sit on you thick and heavy, weighing you down as if you were on a different planet with enhanced gravity. Often the only relief available was a dip in the murky, brackish water that poked like fingers into the land and touched my neighborhood to the south and west. Summer days were consumed in that water — jumping off docks and leaping from rope swings. I can still feel the thick, sandy bottom and taste the cool, salty water. Protecting us to the north and east of my neighborhood was a heavily wooded preserve containing a couple of small, fresh-water creeks that meandered through the trees and palmetto to feed the bayou. While some summer days could be unbearably muggy, some of our winter days in North Florida could be surprisingly bone chilling. My grandparents would visit from Colorado and complain about the wetness of the cold. Notwithstanding, most of the year was simply perfect to be outdoors, whether trouncing through the woods or re-enacting the “Rocket” Ismail returning a kick off for a touchdown in someone’s front yard. For a young boy, it was an incredible, utopian place to live.
I was fortunate to be part of a tight pack of boys the same age living in the neighborhood. There were seven of us at our core, but there were several others that drifted in and out of our inner circle over the years. We lived within streets of each other, and it wasn’t unusual to spend two or three nights in a row at a friend’s house. As a group we would roam our neighborhood by skateboard or bike during the day and by covert operation during the night. I can remember one night coming across two young teenagers making out in a local park. We immediately entered delta force mode, crawling on our bellies in the dark to the cover of a nearby picnic table. A friend produced a large pinecone grenade, pulled the imaginary pin out with his teeth, and then jumped up and hurled it at them with a scream. We then ran like hell. We did stupid stuff like that. We played war. We dodged cars. We would even shuffle around in the dark for kicks like John Belushi in Animal House. We played sports together. We were in Boy Scouts together. Many of us went to church together.
As we got older, we seemed to develop into our own version of The Breakfast Club. Some of us were athletes, some ladies men, some exceptionally smart, and some goofballs. I was the nice guy floating in the middle of the pack. My best friend, Brian, was one of the goofballs. He was my best man at my wedding and is still a great friend today.
I have incredible memories of my time with these guys. In retrospect, though, it was relatively short. I joined the group when I was around 10 and went my own direction when I graduated from high school at 18. Eight years. Not that long. I’ve been hanging out with guys at work for longer than that. I’ve been married for 22 years and have three kids who are older than eight years. But, I must say, they were an awesome eight years. They were fun. They were care-free. They were life altering.
I miss them.