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Indian Gum

Author: Richard Carter




There were always woods near our homes. They were patches of trees a boy could escape into, connected to corn fields in Missouri or long forgotten, old mining operations in Illinois. Even thick, stretches of trees, maybe only a few hundred feet wide, were running through the suburbs that were a necessary part of our life.

The trees, weeds, grasses, and stone all were alchemist’s tools to a boy. Even the baked soil full of mysteries and ties with the past were part of this. My first homemade bow was pulled from a thin branch of Osage Orange tree, it’s string, a piece of masons cord, it’s arrows the straightest, sharpened sticks I could find.

But, to the spindly boy, for that afternoon, burnt brown by the sun, they might as well have been magic weapons, offerings of the lady of the lake. The sun, not a subject to complain about , the dirt and dried grasses I squatted in as much a part of my childhood as the three meals I was forced to come in for.

There were canes in the woods, especially near areas where water pooled. Some were quite thick. When they were old and dried out, they were great for imaginary spears, at least until they shattered from throwing and they quickly did. Inside the fragile, outer layer of these cane was a puffy, spongy, white stuff. My mother called it Indian Gum. She said, as kids, they’d chewed it, and that her parents told her Indians had done the same.

It’s tie to real Indian practice, may be questionable, most probably, though, she had, and if the stories of how poor her family were are true, which they doubtlessly were, it was more a practice dreamed up for children without the money for its store bought equivalent.

Flavorless, it was interesting still. I once chewed a piece of bubble gum with a large chunk of Indian gum, I guess thinking I might double my pleasure. Instead it merely ruined the pink stuff and soon both were spit out in a loss.

The streams were always inviting. You could lounge with half of you lying on the warm pebbly powdery, soil, and with your legs submerged to the knees in the cool water. It was a way of getting out of the sight of the buildings and houses, each step further out , not to grab a quick smoke, or any of the other sheltered secret practices of boys, but instead to get away from loud voices, to be absorbed in sound of buzzing ,clicking insects, or the breeze moving through the grass .

It was a refuge, a place to think, to dream. It was a balance in a social life spent with family, friends at school, or in church. Some of my friends, as I got older, kidded with me, saying “when are your parents going to let you cross the street?” Well, of course they had. I went most places that they did. The difference was, I think, that my parents didn’t want me to become a child who relied on the crutches of society.

By that, I mean, they wanted me to know another world besides the quick trip, or the theatre, or the drive in restaurant. They wanted me to be, not uncomfortable, but friendly with the experiences of quiet moments, ones in which we, on a much more basic level, can be thoughtful and introspective.

Dissatisfaction is the source of many tragedies in our world. It drives the young and the old to acts of crime, and infidelity. We feel that we must be constantly satisfied by some product or practice, and when these mini luxuries, the daily requirements of all our friends are withheld from us by circumstances, financial or physical, some of us actually feel wronged, feel this condition gives us a right to strike out against society, as we seek to take what we believe is ours.

“What have you done for me lately” is an appropriate phrase for many, totally out of touch with the question “what have I done for myself lately”. Attention to self, in our day and age, should be thought a purifying moment, a clarifying one, taking a step back away from it all long enough to really think .

Our children, for the most part, grow up inside minds that are turned on only with the help of an instrument of some kind. If they are smarter at their age than we were, they are just as well, more removed from the natural.

It’s the reason kids fifteen years old talk like adults finally burned out from hard living, that little girls exposed to the media of adults, are beginning to see themselves as sexual objects instead of kids, enjoying the short term of innocence our society allow . Some are driven to self-destructive feelings and actually claim they have nothing to live for with the enormous span of near infinite possibilities still ahead of them.

As a species, we grow further and further out of touch with our world and with ourselves, with the center the calm that should be looked at as a birthright. The basics of life, the lesser things, are really the base, the foundation for all that follows. Some claim the world we’re born into is the one of media driven needs, but I think that’s wrong. The world we’re born into is separate. Imagine the world as an empty house, and society as the half mad family that has moves in. Strip away our wealth, our property, our crutches, and many have little then to live for, will rob or even kill to replace it, even using the excuse it is done for their family. Surviving, in most cases, calls for neither.

Life is growing harder. The population that the earth supports continues to grow with conditions of mismanagement bringing conditions of poverty to more and more of us. This may or may not be a situation that we, at this point, have any power over, but what we can do, though, is to impose a state of damage control in our own lives.

We can slow down the spiral of our personal responses to it all and in the process show our children a better example of how to survive change. We, the generation who carried transistor radios not computers in our youth, surely understand what I’m saying. Just as water and foods must be regulated to protect us from harmful elements, knowledge, also, should come into each of our homes in a more similarly stringent fashion. Our choices as adults, as individuals are ours alone, but children should be allowed a more sheltered period than they have. The benefits of these pleasurable advancements come to us at a yet fully unrecognized cost.

Are my reminiscences of childhood just another form of long worn out memorabilia of another, more naive time, or are there elements of value we can draw from our memories, that may still be integrated into our lives, ones that may help to create a balance we seem to have lost?
Originally posted on “Positive Mornings”  9/25/2012

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