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Darrell Huckaby: May 1 brings a Porterdale rite of spring

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

It's May. Time to take off your shoes.

May 1 was a day we all looked forward to when I was a little linthead growing up in Porterdale, because May 1 was the day we could officially go barefoot, without fear of having to go cut a switch if we got caught. The temperature, understand, had nothing to do with the matter. It could be 87 degrees on the last day of April and it didn't matter. We had to keep our shoes on -- even if we had outgrown them by two sizes over the winter. May 1? It could be blackberry winter and 48 degrees. Those shoes were coming off.

My youngest child, Jenna, seldom wears shoes. I think she inherited a hillbilly gene somewhere. Other than her, I don't know many people who go barefoot anymore, of any age.

Going barefoot in Porterdale was a perilous proposition back in the 1950s. Porterdale was the sandspur capital of the world back in those days. Funny. I don't think a single one of my children -- not even Jenna -- has ever stepped on a sandspur. Sitting on the ground picking sandspurs out of your feet was an everyday occurrence when I was a child.

Another malady that was part of the territory that we explored sans shoes was the stubbed toe. We would be running like the wind one moment and sitting on the sidewalk trying to hold our skin in place the next. Nothing hurts worse than a class-one stubbed toe -- unless it's having your mama "clean up" a stubbed toe with peroxide and painting it with "red medicine," which could be Mercurochrome or Merthiolate. That stuff burned so bad it would make a preacher cuss -- of any denomination.

I think red medicine went the way of castor oil. People don't seem to use it much anymore. Maybe we should. Maybe that's when we started getting so much meanness in the world, when kids stopped being raised with Merthiolate and castor oil. Just a notion.

Hot pavement was something else we had to contend with when we all went barefoot all summer. Porterdale, Ga., might not have been the hottest place on Earth in the summer, but it had to have been amongst them, and that pavement would get scalding hot. Sometimes we just had to walk on it. Every kid from my generation has had their soles burned more than once -- which is considerably better than having your "souls" burn -- but painful nonetheless.

Sometimes it would get so hot that the volunteer fire department would open a hydrant for the kids to play in. We had a world-class pool we could swim in every afternoon, understand, and the Yellow River ran right through the center of town -- but nothing beat the novelty of getting to play in the powerful spray of an open fire hydrant.

Another inherent danger of going barefoot in Porterdale was due to the rather large population of stray dogs running around the town. I doubt that my children have ever had to deal with dog poop between their toes, any more than they have had to deal with sandspurs -- but I have. The worst part of stepping in a dog pile was the ridicule you would get from the other kids. Nobody ever teased anybody about their clothes or their possessions or their physical disabilities and shortcomings, but stepping in a fresh pile of dog droppings was fair game anywhere in the village.

Those were the days. I suppose that here in the 21st century the first day of May means that kids start pestering their parents for a new pair of hundred-dollar sneakers. I think I prefer the '50s I grew up in.

It's really funny, thinking back, about what a wonderful childhood I had. The television had three channels. The telephone was connected to the wall by a wire, and we shared a line with three families. There were no computers, no video games, no CDs, MP3s, DVDs or DVRs. But there was an awful lot of F-U-N and we created it for ourselves, through imagination.

All we needed was a taped-up baseball and an oft-broken bat, held together by tacks and electrical tape and we could all be Mickey Mantle all day long, without needing umpires or scoreboards or adults who thought they were Casey Stengel messing up our games.

All we needed was a can, a pole and a worm and we could fish all morning, and if we never caught anything, we didn't really care.

Discarded lawnmower wheels and a few pieces of boards were all we needed to create "race cars" that would roll like the wind down our paved back alleys. And we could build a fort or a hut or a clubhouse out of old boards and cardboard -- and stay happy doing it for days.

And we could go barefoot on May 1, whether the weather was suitable or not.

Dickens can have the worst of times. Porterdale in the 1950s was the best of times.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck008@gmail.com. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.