Shared Stories: Young and Fearless

Gail Earl’s account of a childhood adventure is in the best tradition of coming-of-age tales. Many readers may have similar memories of youthful exploration when adults sent them outside to play. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Gail Earl

The year was 1960. The place was a new but small suburb of Detroit. There were many open plots of land where future homes would eventually be built and neighborhoods would grow.   

Life was simple for a young girl just beginning to learn about life. With all the open fields and farms and construction of rows of houses going up, there were always places that needed to be explored.  

My bike gave me the freedom to find new adventures every day. I remember the anticipation of pulling that garage door open each morning, just knowing that the tires inside would carry me off to someplace new.

My small group of friends would ride from one house to another to pick each other up before we would head off to places unknown. The wind flew through our hair like the colorful flying streamers dangling and twisting from our handlebars.  

The clickety-click sound from the baseball cards, fastened to our spokes with clothes pins, grew faster and louder as we sped off in unison.  We had no problems or sadness. We had only opportunity, and we took it each day.

One day my friend Carol and I found ourselves alone in our exploration. We decided to head over towards the mushroom farm and see what might catch our interest. It was only about a half mile away but because it was across the main mile road, it was an area that we had yet to explore.  

We crossed the heavily trafficked road with much care and felt like Columbus discovering new land. The fields were massive and mostly bare dirt. The mushroom farm must have been way beyond our sight. 

Although there was nothing really that we could see in this huge field, it didn’t stop us from watching each inch of ground with eyes like eagles.  You just never knew when you might ride past an interesting bottle cap or piece of plastic that would beckon you to stop and figure out what it used to be a part of.  Scraps of paper would draw us into wondering who might have explored this field before us.  

As we continued to scour the land, we came across a huge old barrel. The wood was dark and rotting, the metal bands around it were rough and rusty. There was a rather sickening white foam oozing from inside.  

We had to immediately dump our bikes in the dirt and get a closer look. We spontaneously had to find sticks to poke at the decaying barrel. After much jabbing and because of our total inability to move the heavy barrel, we naturally assumed that there must be a dead body inside.

We peddled in silence as fast as we could back to my house to get tools to help us pry open our new find. We grabbled two large hammers and headed back with urgency like we had never known before. I’m not sure now what the hurry was but at the time it seemed appropriate. 

We spent the next several hours striking the metal bands and blackened wood. We stood in amazement as more of the foul- smelling liquid seeped from the barrel. The stench further convinced us that there had to be a body inside.  

As the rungs of the barrel began to break down against the blows of our hammers, more and more foam and liquid escaped. With one last pound hitting the metal ring, it broke free from its wooden skeleton. As the ground around our feet got drenched in ooze, we quickly backed our bikes up and watched the flow.

Standing back all sweaty and dirty, we realized, after all, that there was no dead body to be found that day. What I know today is that it was just an old rotting wine barrel in a field but it stills feels like one of my best childhood adventures.