One of the great things about farm life is there is no shortage of measuring sticks for bravery. Of course, my wife is aware I have a long and proven track record of surviving idiotic feats of recklessness, so I rarely feel the need to prove my valor at this point in my life. But sometimes I do remember those foolhardy days of youth. Yesterday, for instance, I felt an acute bout of nostalgia (and slight puckering of my cheeks) when I walked past the persimmon tree behind our barn. Currently, it’s loaded with unripe persimmons, the perfect test of gallantry for children engaged in the ancient game of one-upmanship known as double-dog dare.
Dare, double-dare, double-dog dare, triple-dog dare. Those were the levels of daremanship. Eating, or at least nibbling, an unripe persimmon was worthy of a double-dog dare, which was about on par with touching an electric fence with a long piece of wheat straw. As far as I know nobody ever earnestly attempted a triple-dog dare, like grabbing an electric fence barehanded. Attempts at triple-dog dares were mostly bluster. Sure, we may have turned over a few rocks here and there to show our willingness to catch a black widow spider, but had we found one I doubt we would have been in its proximity long enough to encapsulate it in a jar. Plus, it’s not like we were lacking in wisdom. Even as children, we realized there was little point in bravery if we couldn’t brag about it—and triple-dog dares were too dangerous to brag about because of our parents. For some strange reason, parents considered that much bravery worthy of a pat on the backside—usually with a switch, wooden spoon, or belt.
Climbing trees was a test of bravery that I usually excelled at, at least until my neighbor Andy and I nearly got stuck in the top limbs of a magnolia tree and my mom threatened to call the fire department. That got us down fast. Nothing negates the bravery earned in climbing to a treetop more than having one’s mom request an embarrassing emergency rescue. Even Andy (who wasn’t the bravest of tree climbers, hence his position on a limb underneath me) realized we’d be better off taking our chances with gravity than living with a rescue on our permanent record. After my mom motivated us “to get down now,” it was no time before Andy was blissfully biking home with orders to say hello to his mom. Erstwhile, once my feet touched terra firma, I was ordered straight to my room. That just goes to show you that you’re usually better off performing courageous acts at a friend’s house and being extradited than performing them in your own parent’s jurisdiction.
Bikes, of course, were associated with many feats of valor, like who could go the fastest down Clay Hill or pop the biggest wheelie or jump the highest over a makeshift plywood ramp. In those days, all these tests were performed without adult supervision because kids rode bikes in the safety of big packs. As long as you stayed together with your friends and rode straight home before supper, then you were allowed the freedom to ride. If an accident did happen, there was at least one kid in the horde who had watched Doogie Howser and could provide basic medical care.
Personally, I don’t remember any friends ever getting seriously injured while riding bikes or performing any other test of bravery. That said, the lapse in memory might be due to all the childhood concussions. We didn’t wear helmets in those days either.