As I Remember (A Free for All)


By Wayne Allensworth

We established this website to chronicle the past as well as the tumultuous times we live in. My great grandmother left behind written reminisces about her early life, and before mass media had completely stamped out storytelling, we heard stories of our family’s past from our parents, grandparents, and other older relatives. The rate of change, driven in part by technology, has been dizzying and disorienting during my lifetime. Change in the more distant past was incremental, which not only allowed continuity, avoiding destabilizing society, but also grounded us in historical memory. Accelerated change has wrought the creation of ever widening “generation gaps” that have reached a danger zone of alienation and disruption. The generations are strangers to one another. No society can function in such a manner. So, from time to time, I’ve told stories and related tales of the past that must be told if there is to be any connections between generations. Knowing anything about the reality we are immersed in is largely a matter of memory, or of memories nested in one another, adding texture and context to our lives. It’s all a long time gone. As I remember …

When did I get old? When did everything change? And what happened to the world we grew up in? I’ve spent a lot of time pounding on keyboards trying to understand those questions, but they still haunt me, and I wonder about them quite a bit. But I don’t really think of the past as behind me. It’s in the stream of a long, continuous flow, and in my mind, I can meander back and follow it. Memory preserves the past, bounds the present, and points to possible futures, for the past is the only guide we have. It’s a single living stream.

Maybe I’m on a walk, or listening to music, or just daydreaming, when certain time passages in the flow materialize and I see them again.

I’m biking down a tree canopied street, an arch of live oak limbs warmly embracing me as I pedal down the road toward my friend Mark’s house directly ahead of me in a T with the road I’m on. It seemed like such a journey back then! That place where Mark lived was kind of wondrous, even mysterious to an imaginative boy. The house was invisible from the road, squatting down at the end of a long driveway covered by trees and thick foliage. As I pedaled along, the neighbors’ dogs rushed out to the road as I approached. And they followed along barking and jumping for a certain distance, a distance that seemed to have a set boundary, for they always quit following and barking and jumping at about the same spot. 

I sped up when they came at me, though I did not fear them. That was the game we played. Relations between boys and animals, boys and other boys, and children of all sorts, and, yes, between grownups, were sorts of games in which everyone intuitively knew their roles. And if they were considerate people, they played them accordingly. That’s how we learn to live together — playing games, winning, losing, engaging with others. As children we watch, observe, and mirror others’ behavior, gestures, facial expressions, and body language long before we are articulate. It’s part of the socialization process that encourages empathy and cooperation, which are just as, or more, necessary for a functioning world as competition is.

I was thinking of Mark the other day, and of a number of friends and family members who have passed on. And of others I have lost track of. But what would friendship or family have meant if I didn’t think of them? I remember all of you, and I remember the way things were back then, and how we met, and what it was like to be a friend or brother or son in a time that is always present to me, while seeming, from another perspective, as distant as an antediluvian age.


I grew up during a time of social ferment, upheaval, and transformation. Like other such periods in our past, it made for a strange brew of chaos and creativity, an ocean of waters both bitter and sweet, and those waters came lapping up on the shores of my world in waves that varied in frequency and tumult. At its core, our world was still part of the old America. My friends and I have lamented its passing and are grateful to have seen the tail end of maybe the best days this country ever knew. At the same time, the kind of freedom we enjoyed within the cultural boundaries in which we flourished made for an interesting, contradictory mix with the wide open era of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.

Our parents did not expect us to be angels. And they accepted that sowing wild oats was a natural part of our lives, of learning, of achieving and failing, of testing our boundaries and, by trial and error, absorbing the ins and outs of human relationships. That was never spoken aloud. It was understood. But I’d be lying if I denied that our dubious adventures were also one helluva of a lot of fun. Nobody I knew then can, I think, envision that era without those wild times. We often listen to and tell stories from those days among ourselves, and sometimes to others, at least the tales we’re willing to tell outside the circle.

A little background …

At that time — I was born in 1959 — kids were not strapped into car seats, did not wear seat belts (neither did anybody else), did not wear helmets while riding bikes, and rode in the beds of pickups. We owned guns, climbed trees, played rough contact sports, even when they weren’t supposed to be contact sports — for even a game of Monopoly could erupt into a brawl over who got to be the race car or battleship, or worse, when a wise guy claimed he didn’t get his $200 for passing Go and you knew he had! We played outside in ways that would shock today’s helicopter moms — using wooden “swords” to hack at one another or shooting at somebody with a BB gun. We’d swing on ropes suspended from tree limbs high off the ground and build “forts” that might include tunnels dug in the open fields around our houses. Tetherball was a contact sport. We’d fight, and we were generally reckless as all get out. We’d ride our bikes for miles and miles away from home and when we got old enough to drive — well, that’s when the real trouble (or fun, depending on how you think of it) really started.

Without ever saying so, everyone seemed to take it for granted that a life without risk would be one in which nobody ever learned or achieved anything. You took your knocks, got up, and moved on. And there was a deeper underlying sense that risk was an integral element of freedom. There were boundaries, of course, but they were much wider than the suffocating restrictions of today’s nanny state. Anyway, a little risk could be a lot of fun. And people, especially boys, would fight, a certain amount of which was taken as a sign of health. We are talking fist fights here, not drive-by shootings, which were as shocking when they came along as serial killers or disgruntled employees “going postal.”

Here’s a little boyhood story that I can use as a warmup. It’s one of the tamer ones.

It was Christmas time. I can’t remember which year, but I was 10 or younger. I was a year and a half or so older than my younger brother. We were playing with a Christmas present from our parents, a miniature pool table with sticks and billiard balls made to scale. Naturally, whoever was losing accused the other one of cheating, though I can’t quite figure out how you would cheat at a pool game being played right in front of your opponent. Anyway, that’s the way it went. We fought over everything. The gist of the story is that the fight started, and we were wrestling. We crashed down on the pool table, broke its legs and crushed its flimsy plywood frame. There was some blood, as well as yelling and screaming and jostling and finger pointing. My younger brother has a small scar over his left eyebrow as a little reminder of that tussle.

Then Daddy stepped in. Wild Bill may not have been surprised, but he was certainly not amused. I can’t remember the exact string of cuss words he let loose, but I can guess. He threw us out of the way, and promptly gathered up the remains of the pool table and chucked it into a trash can outside. We just sat there a bit. Little brother got a band aid or two. We lost our pool table. And that was it.

Just another day. Nobody got sent to therapy or anything, and my parents didn’t get any more upset than they should have. A kick in the pants and life goes on.

And it did.

I have lots of stories to tell. Maybe I’ll get to more of them…

Chronicles contributor Wayne Allensworth is the author of  The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, and a novel, Field of Blood. For thirty-two years, he worked as an analyst and Russia area expert in the US intelligence community.

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Wayne Allensworth

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