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Rusty Saber

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by Joe McAdoo

Editor's note: While Rusty Saber columnist Joe McAdoo is taking some time off to frolic on the beach in Maui, SBJ is presenting some of the best of The Rusty Saber from Joe's book, "McAdoo About Nothing."

Most people have a period of time from their childhood that is especially memorable. There was such a period for me. I can tell you exactly when it was the summer between the sixth and seventh grades.

Several factors came together to make this particular summer special. This was the transition between grade school and junior high school, when one is neither child nor adult.

Also, my parents had moved us into a new home that spring. I was a stranger in a strange neighborhood. To top it off, my right arm got into a fight with a barbed wire fence, and the arm lost badly. The doctor said I couldn't go swimming until the arm healed, which would take all summer.

Normally, I would have spent every day of the summer at the swimming pool. To be told I couldn't swim was like telling me that summer had been canceled.

I'm sure my parents wondered what was going on inside my head. I remember being very quiet when I was around them, and I did a lot of wandering around ... and sitting ... and thinking. It was many years later before I learned that what I had been doing was growing up, and in the process I was learning who I was. I vividly remember that summer as though it were only yesterday.

My dog, Corky, a mixed-breed little guy with a pure-bred heart, was my constant companion. Corky and I spent countless hours sitting under trees looking up at the sky in total awe of its vastness.

Looking into space can lead to a lot of contemplation of life, and one's place in it. Corky didn't have much interest in solving the riddle of life. But he allowed as how important it was to me, so he sat and gazed at the sky with me.

Much of our time was spent on the river. It was here that one of the summer's most memorable experiences took place. A neighbor offered to pay me a quarter for a bucket of crawdad tails this sounded like big bucks to me.

Corky and I caught hundreds of the ugly critters we caught a quarter's worth at least. The time came to separate the heads from the tails. I decapitated one, but couldn't do it again. I had killed something with my bare hands, and wanted no more to do with the slaughter.

I dumped the other crawdads back into the river and wrote an end to my career as a game fisherman. There was to be yet another event that shaped my outlook on life.

My dad and I took the BB gun I had received for my birthday and shot at a lot of birds. The birds were safe until, through pure blind luck, I hit one. The image of that big blackbird floating to the ground remains in my head to this day. I never again shot that BB gun and have never knowingly killed any living thing since. Try as he would, my father was never able to convince me to go hunting and fishing with him again.

The dead crawdad and dead bird both profoundly affected me insofar as my notion of the true nature of life. Since then, I have wanted no part of taking life away from anything.

There is a flood of memories in my head from that summer when Corky and I experienced life. I can't explain why this was such an important time. Corky and I talked for hours about what was going on. He was as confused as I.

Even today, when I grow especially introspective, some little piece of that summer will come fluttering back to me. That was the end of my age of innocence it was my coming of age. After that strange and glorious summer, never again would I be a child.

If I could be guaranteed the chance to return to the present three months from now, I would give anything to turn back time and relive that summer. There are so many things that I could now explain to Corky about the meaning of life. He was such a good listener.

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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