Growing Up In Waterford, PA


Boys and dirt
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

When you were a kid, did you like dirt? I mean did you have an affinity for soil? Earth? Mud? Stuff like that?

If your answer is "yes," chances are you're a boy! Boys and dirt have always gone together like ham and eggs, pork and beans, beef and stroganoff, and so on and so on. Boys and dirt are synonymous, analogous, infamous, and notorious.

This is not to say there aren't exceptions. There certainly are. In fact, I once knew a boy who did not like mud! He wanted neither to wade in it nor jump in it. He would never consider throwing it at someone, much less have it thrown at him. I took several pictures of him and got his autograph before he took off to return to his home-galaxy.

Some little girls like dirt, too. I am thinking now of mud pies and such. But they soon outgrow it. We boys never do.

We spend our early years just plain playing in dirt. Walking, crawling, rolling around in it --- the mode doesn't much matter as long as we're able to get a few bushels of the stuff to adhere to our clothes and persons. A boy who, after a day of play, cannot plug up a bathtub drain just isn't doing his job!

By the time we reach age 10 or so, we still like to get dirty, but the type and source of dirt changed. We're into bicycles now, and that means grease! Heavy, thick, black grease!

Back in the old days, cleaning and lubricating the coaster brake was a satisfying, greasy job. And if we decided to do likewise to the chain, well, we could get greasy clear to our elbows without even trying.

Still later comes the automobile. Those of us fortunate enough to begin our driving careers with an old Junker, that had nothing going for them except character, really had it made. Something under the hood usually needed fixing, sometimes on a daily basis. Dirty grease and oil is always in abundance in and around an old engine, and transferring it from the engine to us was fairly simple.

By the time we boys grow up, (and there is doubt among some that this ever really happens), we have to look for new ways to get dirty. Hunting and fishing are among the best excuses I know. Anyone who can do either and remain unsoiled should try harder!

I think fishing affords more opportunities to get dirty than hunting, unless you usually wrestle a deer to the ground with your bare hands. Creek and pond fishing offer a plethora of sources of dirt including, but not limited to, mud, clay, algae, assorted slime and pond scum, and if you're really lucky, fish guts and worm stuff!

As we enter our "golden years," many of us return to the basics. Having experienced and exhausted most exotic dirt sources, we go back to "Mother Earth." Unlike our early childhood when we needed no excuse for crawling and rolling around in the soil, we now feel obligated to have a reason. And we do. It is called "gardening!"

Certainly one can work in a garden without getting very dirty, but where's the fun in that? There was a time when I pulled weeds while bending over. I soon discovered that not only is that really hard, there is practically no chance of getting dirty. So now I get down on hands and knees. Sometimes I sit down. Right in the dirt! You would be surprised at how quickly and thoroughly dirty I can get that way! Especially after a rain!

Way back when I was a teenager, a little boy about five years old lived across the street from us. His parents lived there, too. During one week that summer, we had two or three days of steady rain, and a huge puddle about six inches deep formed along the road where the boy's parents parked their car.

I was sitting on our steps, enjoying the summer sun after the rainy days, when I saw the little boy come out to play. The puddle attracted him like a magnet, and he rode his tricycle in and out of it several times. Then he waded around in it.

For a few minutes, I though I was going to have to go over and teach him about jumping up and down in it. In fact, I was already removing shoes and socks when he discovered the technique on his own.

Pretty soon, he tired of jumping and started doing something similar to push-ups. He was clad only in white shorts when he started but after a couple push-ups, he and the shorts were a rich, chocolate brown.

He finished off by sitting down in the puddle, (which was more mud that water by now), and then laying back nearly submerging himself.

I applauded him! Here was a little boy who had gotten more thoroughly dirty in less time than I ever had! It usually took me the better part of an afternoon. His accomplishment had taken less than 20 minutes!

I though the show was over when this walking Hershey Bar started for the house. But when he suddenly took notice of his parents' car parked at the edge of the puddle, it was time for Act II.

Obviously inspired, he returned to the puddle and scooped up two handfuls of mud. He slithered up to the car and purposefully applied the mud to the front fender. A natural master of finger-painting, he kept smearing mud on the car (which had been blue), until he had done a professional job of "two-toning." I assume it would have been "one-tone" had he been taller and able to reach the windows and beyond.

Now came ACT III, the Grand Finale! The boy had "painted" about two-thirds of the car when his mother came out to see what was going on. She looked at him in such a way that I though maybe she wasn't sure that was really her son. Or even a human, for that matter. Then she saw the car! I could almost feel her shock!

To her great credit, she neither screamed nor yelled. I couldn't even hear her scolding the little boy, although I tried desperately. (Actually, I was laughing too hard to hear much of anything).

She simply took him by his mud-caked hand and led him to the house, taking steps easily exceeding a yard in length. I did notice that the boy's little muddy feet never touched the ground even once for the whole distance!

In the decades that have passed, I often wondered what became of this little connoisseur of dirt. He was the epitome of dirt collectors. And at such a tender age. One can only imagine and envy the countless times and methods this boy got dirty in the years to follow.

I don't know what ever happened to him. A lot of time has passed. He mut be getting along in years. Let's see, it's been ----- geez! I'll bet he has a garden!

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