I love to camp. I love to fish. I love to hunt. I love to canoe down a slow meandering stream. I love the out-of-doors. I was raised in a small town in West Virginia where half of our growing up was spent in the out of doors and on the river. I lived in a town of 1,500 population and our high school (including the 7th and 8th grades) numbered only about 500 students.

We went to school for a few hours and spent the rest of the time outside. We hiked the mountains, fished the rivers, built forts, climbed rocks, ate windfall apples from abandoned orchards, drank from wet weather springs, and we helped with the family garden. We even lived off the land by gathering wild edible plants. We lived in a time frame before gadgets designed to keep kids occupied.

It’s the middle of May or the beginning of June (sometime in the 40s – 50s, it’s on a Friday – it’s after school – you change into your non-school clothes to keep mom happy – you head for the river with your school buddies – all you have with you is a five-bladed Kamp King pocketknife or a two bladed Barlow knife, some string, a Copper Head® safety match box with a few fish hooks in it – some strike-anywhere matches. And of course you’re wearing a jacket (because your Mom was cold when you left the house). You’ve donned your favorite baseball cap. Likely as not you will find some salt, pepper, and sugar wrapped in wax paper along with a spare handkerchief in one of your jacket pockets.

You’re all set to adventure into the great outdoors. All the land around rightfully belongs to every boy no matter whose name is on the deed. Usually a member of your group has a dad/uncle/cousin/friend that owns the land you are about to invade and they always smile and wave when invaded.

Families knew to plant a few extra tomato plants, extra rows of corn, or leave their root cellars and smoke houses unlocked as they expected to furnish vittles for marauding pirates, cowboy outlaws, or members of Robin Hood’s gang. They once were members of the same gangs when they were growing up. They knew . . .  they knew.

The ‘gang’ picked a well-worn secret spot by the river and camped for the night. It’s warm but they erected a lean-to in case of rain and built a fire of driftwood to roast their potatoes, and to cook up the few bluegills that they caught and cleaned. The fish were wrapped in leaves, packed in mud, and thrown in the fire to bake along with the potatoes, while the boys went skinny dippin’. And they stayed overnight, unafraid.

Did their parents worry? Naaaaaaaaaayyy but, maybe sometimes a dad might just walk the two miles up the railroad tracks to the ‘secret’ place beside the river and listen for a while before going home to bed. He might call a few neighbors, to let them know the boys were safe.

Was this a tale out of a Mark Twain novel? No, this actually happened not once but many, many times; I was a part of the gang that called themselves the Screaming Groundhog Patrol of Troop 155.

Latest posts by Ray McCune (see all)

Ray McCune

He has lived in Waynedale for over 45 years. He has taken to his lifelong dream of being a full time Outdoor Freelance Writer and author. Ray has authored one book and has written Kampfire Kookin' as well as other outdoors articles for the newspaper. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer