The first time I can remember being sent to the store I was six. I could ride a bike and I would take a list and a couple of dollars and ride into the nearest store for my mom. If I had something cold or frozen, I would ride back as fast as I could.
I used to put my glove over the handlebars and ride across town to my ballgames. A few times my parents came to see me play, but it was nothing to eat an early supper and take off. There would be a row of bikes behind the backstop, so I wasn't the only one. Often, the only adults were the coaches and the umpire. When the game ended, we rode home in the dusk. No lights, no helmets, no adults.
When we visited my grandparents, my grandfather would tire of me underfoot and he would hand me a single shot .22 and a peanut butter jar full of ammo and shoo me out the door. I shot a bird in a tree once. Just once. I learned a lot about life and death and responsibility. I went back to shooting old cans and pine cones and never again shot anything I didn't plan to eat. I didn't need a lecture.
We swam in a creek, built a big dam to make it deeper, worked on that dam off and on for a couple of summers. I would come home so muddy and wet I had to strip off my clothes on the porch before I was allowed inside.
We climbed trees. I used to climb this one pine tree high enough to see out across a small valley. I would take a knapsack with a canteen and a book and climb up high enough the tree would sway in the breeze and read in the lazy hot summer afternoon.
We built fires, carried pocketknives, played war with BB guns, threw snowballs, and came home when we were expected to, usually for supper, but sometimes by dark.
I joined the Cub Scouts, which wasn't much, and then the Boy Scouts, which was camping every month and some real skills like cooking, hiking, canoeing, and pioneering. I still remember my friends from the Troop.
I was free in ways that kids today cannot imagine.
I was free in ways that I am not today.