A long time ago, on a planet far away, I enjoyed my early formative years in the neighborhood of 511 Main Street in Bennington. Some would say that this was a simpler time to be alive. Life was less complicated, enjoying fewer of the present day distractions that create obstacles in terms of interpersonal relationships. You may agree to some of this as many "Boomers" have found it more and more challenging to communicate with the newer generations who always seem to be looking at their hand-held devices and less able to give human eye contact.
My neighborhood was located in a cul-de-sac but enjoyed a front door exit on to the Main Street. Exiting my house on to Main Street brought you face to face with Sleeman's apartment house across the street whose driveway separated it from a barbershop to the right and next to that a funeral home. The person I considered to be the neighborhood nemesis lived and lurked somewhere near the Sleeman apartments. To the west of the Sleeman apartments were neighboring homes and apartments.
It was my backyard neighborhood that seemed most exciting as a place to play and be a kid. The rear entryway to my neighborhood was a single lane dirt road which originated on Valentine Street next to the back entryway of the Baptist Church. Today this lane is labeled as a private drive and peering up the driveway I could see that much had changed over the years.
The address 511 Main was a two story affair. My family occupied the ground floor (which made out-the-window escapes much easier than dangling from a window sill on the second story!). The O'dell family occupied the apartment up stairs and later became the site of the first funeral I ever attended. Our next door neighbor was the Whitman family. George was the father but I remember Mrs. Whitman the most, especially her baseball shaped hamburgers on family picnics. Al Whitman was my best friend. Other neighborhood boys were Arty and Terry Senecal and John Sherman.
As youngsters we were totally engaged with hands-on learning experiences. We learned and gained skills in critical thinking, strategy development, making observations and developing hypothesis and formulating theories. We learned a lot by trial and error. We taught ourselves secret calls to improve communication and developed secret signs that we knew would confound our "nemesis." But mostly we just had fun and didn't think about what we were really learning.
I remember when we formed a club and built a clubhouse. We held meetings and collected dues, played Superman by jumping off the roof of the clubhouse using our Mom's good bathroom towels wrapped around our necks! We raced our bicycles, played war games with our toy soldiers and we stayed out after dark playing until we couldn't see one another! Never really saw any girls on our block except for my sister, Joyce, who was my strong arm if I ever got myself into a tight spot with the neighborhood bully; admittedly. I did need her assistance once or twice (so long, Mr. Nemesis!).
There were two "problems," as we saw it, in our neighborhood that needed attention, namely that of pigeons and bats! We talked to our parents regarding these problems and how to best take care of them. My Dad told me that the pigeons would be the easier of the two to tackle but still would take some planning. A meeting took place in the clubhouse. Al Whitman and I were the only ones to show up but we were not to be discouraged as we were confident that with a good plan and the right supplies we could be successful. The idea or goal was to capture the pigeons and the bats and remove these troublemakers from the neighborhood! A daytime and a nighttime operation. Here is how it unfolded:
Of pigeons. Having lots of experience at Saturday morning cartoon-watching the plan to eliminate pigeons from the neighborhood began to unfold. The only pieces of equipment needed were: a box, a long piece of string and a stick about 10" in length. Oh, yes. Quite a bit of patience was also needed. The operation was simple enough: Tie the string to the stick which held one end of the box up and when the pigeon wandered under the box simply pull the string and Voila!, a captured pigeon! (This entire operation was undercover, of course). We discovered that pigeons are a wary prey and catching them was near impossible. When we doused the bread crumbs (bait) with poisonous Clorox (thinking they might pass-out from the noxious odor) but they simply ignored the bread! Do you know anyone who has caught an unsuspecting pigeon using this method?
Let's move on to the bats. Someone told us (probably my big brother Henry, the prankster); all we needed was a dark summer night and large tin garbage can covers. Late one evening, armed with the proper instruments for this operation, we assembled on the lawn of the First Baptist Church with several recruits from the neighborhood (good news travels fast!) to do battle with the bats who attacked us from the heights of the belfry. There was chaos and mayhem and pandemonium, all at once! We seemed greatly outnumbered, outflanked and couldn't even see the enemy! The only result we achieved was the wrath of the neighbors for all of the racket we were making and interfering with the Lawrence Welch Champagne Hour. The final toll (if one is keeping score): Pigeons 100, kids 0; Bats 100, kids 0!
Had Kenny Rogers been in the neighborhood at this time in history he would have stumbled upon his theme of: "Know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em." We learned a lot from our childhood adventures. Lessons to carry us through life, such as never stir Clorox using your Mom's good silverware unless you want a good paddling!
Tom Pinsonneault can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.