Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bazooka Joe in the Age of Innocence

Like most children fortunate enough to grow up in the charming, storybook village of Sandwich, New Hampshire in the 1960’s, my sisters and I strayed often. It was okay. Back then it was almost unheard of for children to be abducted, raped, mutilated, and if found at all, buried in a shallow grave.

The first time I became aware of the horrific possibility of child homicide, I was about fourteen years old. I saw a photo of a murdered girl on the front page of the newspaper. She was from a town in New Hampshire that I had never heard of; no one talked about it. I read the article and tried to imagine it, which was difficult because things like that just didn’t happen in my world.

We rode our bikes or moseyed on foot to the general store, ball field, fairgrounds, school yard, woods and each other’s homes. Everything was fair game. We could go just about anywhere we wanted to go. The clock on the quintessential New England church steeple was our guide, ringing faithfully on the hour.

My older sister, Susan, was friends with Sally and I was friends with Sally’s younger sister Betsy. Once in a while, our paths crossed and we played together as a foursome. One particularly frigid afternoon, one of the older girls thought that it might be interesting to seek out a new place to go skating. For some reason and still to this day, many homes in Sandwich have their own private ponds. (Possibly fire ponds). Susan remembered a place across the road from a kind, plump, old woman named Edrie Burrows. With our skates in tow, we headed there to see what kind of skating situation her pond offered.

In addition to the thrill of skating at a new site, we found an old pot bellied stove in the woods surrounded by broken cattails and birch saplings. It must have been excitement that created super human strength for two ten-year-old and two seven-year-old girls to drag a woodstove out onto the middle of a frozen pond.

Being Sandwich girls, we had the know how to build a respectable fire. Sally ran home and got a package of hotdogs and a pan from her house and we cooked them on the stove. I don’t recall anyone asking any questions or why one of us had matches. What a peculiar sight – four young girls stoking a fire in an old rusty woodstove set in the middle of a frozen pond cooking hot dogs.

I beamed with pride and a strong sense of independence when Susan made the meal complete by distributing a piece of Bazooka Bubblegum for dessert. I always enjoyed reading the miniature comic [Bazooka Joe] that was carefully folded and wrapped around the soft, pink, confection. Sometimes I tore the gum in half and saved the rest for later, but not very often.

After skating around in rather small circles – the pond was the size of a Volkswagen Beetle – the church clock rang five times and it was getting dark. Reluctantly we parted ways and headed home.

I have no memory of my mother’s response to us cooking our supper on a small frozen pond or how Sally’s mother reacted to the fact that Sally helped herself to a package of hotdogs. I don’t know if they were ever aware of our adventure.

For the remaining days of that indefinable winter, I watched the woodstove slowly sink into the slushy pond until one warm, buggy day it was no longer visible. I never stepped beyond the safety of the trees to visit that pond again. If Edrie even knew that we had a stove on her pond that day, she did not say; my mother never spoke of it and my sister and I only mention it from time to time as a reminder of how much the world has changed; we couldn’t imagine our children being off at some random frozen pond skating, playing with fire, eating hotdogs and bubblegum without our knowledge. It isn’t a criticism of our parents; it is a sign of the times. Back then, no one seemed to care or even know.

Now that I’m back in town, I have entertained the thought of returning to see if the woodstove lies in a heap of corroded metal on the bottom of the pond, or if there is even a pond there at all. My memory conjures a very small area; it may have been nothing more than a swamp that has disappeared in time.

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