Butch Says Kids Need Some Freedom

Recently I spoke on the phone with a former classmate of mine who I had not seen or heard from since 1959. When we were youngsters, I visited with him and stayed overnight at his house on numerous occasions. His mother graduated with my Dad in 1942, and his father, who graduated in 1943, was one of Dad’s best buddies in high school. Billy and I attended school at Darlington during our first four years, but in 1958, after we had finished fourth grade, his family moved to Lafayette, where his father worked…to save on that driving distance each day.

As I mentioned in a few columns previously, my parents gave me quite a bit of freedom as a youngster….sometimes a little too much freedom, as I often did a few things I shouldn’t have done, and subsequently got into trouble. Part of the problem was that I was “hard-headed,” as my folks used to say. “One of these days…maybe you’ll listen, young man!” Yes, I heard that many times. I had to learn my lessons the hard way…”Now bend over and grab your ankles…you’re going to get a whack!”

On the other hand, my childhood friend Billy, had very little freedom. His mother kept a tight rein on anything he did. Billy’s father was easy going and laid back, but his mother ran the household and kept a firm grip on what Billy could or could not do…period! Billy lived in Darlington just two blocks from the school. “Now you stay here. You don’t need to go to the school playground. I don’t know who might be up there right now. You have plenty of things you can do right here at home.”…”I don’t want to see you come in with dirty clothes on. You know better than to play in the dirt!”…”You don’t need to play baseball. It’s too dangerous, and you might get hurt.” To put it bluntly, Billy’s mother was a very controlling parent, and Billy’s younger sister, Nancy, was in the same boat…she couldn’t do anything without her mother’s permission. “Now Nancy, be sure to wear your sweater outside. You might catch cold….Now Nancy, you don’t need to go to that girl’s party…We just don’t know that much about their family”…”Now Nancy, you shouldn’t have a boyfriend at your age.” Well, you get the picture.

During the summer of 1958, my folks dropped me off at Billy’s house in Lafayette to play and stay overnight…since it was his birthday. I was surprised that Billy received a Daisy B-B rifle, but found out his Dad had bought it for him. As soon as he opened his gift, his mother frowned and stated with no uncertainty, “Now Billy, you really shouldn’t have this B-B gun, but you are to only shoot it when we are watching you, and you must only shoot at a target in the yard.” Well, I had other ideas. When his parents left to go to the grocery, Billy and I climbed over his backyard fence, crossed over US Highway 52, and went “hunting for wild game” in a woods nearby. We were gone for two hours. As the sun settled, we made it back to his house. His mother was not a happy camper! “No supper for you two. Get in the bathtub, get washed up, and get to bed…NOW!” Billy’s father sat there in silence, shaking his head…not at us, but at his wife.

That was the last time I visited or stayed overnight at Billy’s house. Billy’s father often visited my Dad and other friends in Darlington, but Billy’s mother never visited anyone here. Billy’s father worked for a firm in Lafayette and retired after 50 years. However, after just a few months at home, he headed back to work…likely to get away from his wife, and he continued working another 15 years. He passed away a few years ago at the age of 89. Last year I found out where Billy resided, and I started sending him copies of the Darlington newsletter, which I publish four times a year. The newsletter has information about the library, but it mostly consists of articles about Darlington history and people. Billy called to thank me, and we talked for several minutes, catching up on the last 64 years. Billy was married, had worked in banking, and retired a few years ago. His sister Nancy, now age 70, never married and lived with her parents her entire life. That did not surprise me at all.

By my calculation, Billy’s mother would be 98 years old. “How is your mother getting along?” I inquired.

There was a brief silence…”I have no idea,” he responded matter-of-factly.

To you parents out there…Yes, it is a somewhat more dangerous world we live in today. We must keep a watchful eye on circumstances, events, and strangers. But remember to let children have some freedoms, and to learn from their mistakes. Kids can’t be perfect. No, you can’t let them run wild, but you can “just let kids…be kids.”

– John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.