My dark age years began one evening when I was about six years old and fresh from the bathtub. I’m sure Mom didn’t expect me to slip outdoors and timidly join the game my big brothers and sisters were playing. I was afraid of the dark and had never done it before.
My siblings called the game “seven steps around the house.” They didn’t stop to explain the rules of the game to me, but I quickly gathered that a player was not to be seen by the person who was IT taking more than seven steps. The overall goal for each player to run around the farmhouse, starting at the back door and ending there. The person who was IT couldn’t stay at the back door to tag players as they ran away and returned from their run. He or she had to run around the house, too.
Bushes in the flowerbeds beside the house quivered as giggling siblings hid behind them in the darkening yard. I heard scampering footsteps pounding the dewy grass when players thought the coast was clear. What fun I had! My clean, bare feet turned muddy. My fresh nighty picked-up a grass stain.
In the years that followed, I hated full-on night-time, convinced that a bogey-man would get me if I were foolish enough to venture out into it. By my standards dusk was OK even though it was often fully dark by the time I was finished playing. Several others were always with me, so I figured there was safety in numbers.
Sometimes our farm yard lawn didn’t get mowed until after milking chores were done on hot summer evenings, especially if we’d spent the afternoon hauling hay into the barn. I ran barefoot on the freshly-cut grass, chasing lightning bugs and turning my bare feet the most amazing green. Mom spent this time weeding her flowerbeds. When we finally went into the house, we’d look at the dark windows and exclaim, “It didn’t seem THAT dark out!” June bugs scrabbled on the window screens, attracted to the house lights. I considered them dinosaurs of the bug world. They were huge creatures that chewed up leaves and had clutchy-grabby feet. I knew this because one I picked up to examine revoltingly clung to my hands.
By the time I was twelve, my neighborhood cousins and I would occasionally walk down to the woods for an evening campfire picnic. Our menu often included hot dogs, marshmallows and scrubbed potatoes wrapped in tinfoil. Little packets of butter, salt and pepper came along. Mom’s advice, “Wait until you have a nice bed of coals before putting the potatoes in. Don’t leave them in more than fifteen minutes or all you’ll find inside the foil is a lump of coal.”
There were four of us. Even though it would be dark when we returned, being with them made me feel safe. Wanting to rough-it as much as possible, I brought no toasting forks, planning to use my trusty jack-knife to cut and sharpen branches. Forked twigs could be used to scoop the hot, buttery potatoes into our mouths.
A stone pile near the edge of the woods provided the perfect place to build our fire. One large granite rock had slid down into a small gully nearby. We rolled two big stones to the left and right of the boulder and placed a row of smaller rocks in front. With the fire area confined, we set about gathering fallen sticks and twigs.
Although some of our potatoes had charcoal shells, we enjoyed their soft, buttery innards as much as a gourmet food. The toasted marshmallows that we gobbled down made the entire adventure a total success. Although it was dark, we were in a cozy bubble of fire light.
By the time we had finished eating, the herd of cows Daddy had milked earlier had found their way down the cow lane, across the creek, and into the woods where they liked to sleep on hot summer nights. Holsteins, being nosey creatures, gathered in a circle around our camp to see what we were doing. In the firelight, we could see their flat, black and white faces. Their huge eyes were iridescent and reflected the leaping flames.
I loved the soft, murmuring moos they made, but didn’t like the sound of plopping cow pies hitting the ground or the accompanying waterfalls. I knew that before long my cousins and I would be ready to go home and had to walk through the area where they were standing. We didn’t have flashlights with us.
As a child, I loved playing outdoors during summer-time dusk, but as an adult, I still scurry indoors when the semi dark of evening morphs into full night. I don’t believe in bogey-men anymore, but through the years I’ve seen several bears and skunks in my yard. Surprising a bear with cubs would be far worse than running into an imaginary beast!