By: JohnPaul Valente
My earliest memories are of trying to get out of my fenced yard to see what was on the other side. I was always curious about everything, just like my father. The fence was made of wood and about five feet high. I figured out that by climbing on and holding on to the big fence door would allow the door to drop just enough to dislodge and open the lock that was on the opposite side of the door. The door would then swing open with me holding on and I was free to visit with my elderly neighbors who would bring me back. My mom tells me of her horror after seeing the door open and me missing or my neighbors ringing the doorbell with a harsh look of “do you know where your child is?” I was only about three years old and required a lot of supervision. She figured out how I escaped by hiding behind the fence door and waiting silently until I thought everything was clear. She knew it was impossible for me to reach over a 5 foot wooden fence and I only escaped when no-one was around. She tells me of the wooden fence door swinging slowly open and my surprised face when I saw her waiting for me with her stern face and saying “where do you think you are going?” After that my dad tied the locks so I could not leave our property.
When I was a little older my friends and I were allowed to go to Francisco Park and play on a small treehouse in the woods near the basketball court. I still remember that tree house today. I think I should go back to that small treehouse and sit in it and think of how much fun we had. We imagined being in a Nerf War. The two teams were US vs Russia. And we used hundreds of Nerf Darts. During our Nerf years my parents had a big patio added to our house, which was great, because now we had real trench to play in, dirt, supplies and ladders to escape from our enemies. The trench we played in was about 8 feet deep and 40 feet long. It was perfect until the contractor filled it with concrete footings. It was summer and we played late into the night, using our flashlights as we ran from backyard to backyard all around the neighborhood.
When I was about five years old I again escaped from my family. We were in the Museum of Natural History in New York City. We had just entered the Gold Exhibit after visiting the Ocean Exhibit but I was not done exploring in the Ocean Exhibit and no one wanted to listen to me. So, I snuck past some people and returned to the great, giant whale hanging from the ceiling. It was amazing and I wanted to take my time looking at it. When I was done, I went back to find my family, but then I got lost. I didn’t know it, but the museum was locked down because of me. All the security guards were looking for me. One of the security guards found me on the steps. I don’t remember everything about that day with the exception of the beautiful whale and my mom’s furious, red face. My dad and my cousin Jeffrey got an earful from my mom; they were the ones in charge of watching over me.
I am very lucky because I really only have good memories, with the exception of this one bad memory involving a dog. My first big family vacation was going to Italy when I was about seven years old. We had just arrived at my cousin’s house near Avellino, when I noticed a small farm and animals behind the house. Again, I was so curious to see what was back there. While everybody was kissing and hugging, I went into the back. There were rabbits, hens and beautiful English Hunting dogs. The dogs were chained but I got too close and one of them bit me in the arm and chin. Again, my mom was really angry with me. We had just arrived and already I had caused trouble. We quickly went to the hospital to get stitches on my arm and chin. I just remember everyone being so nice– What a way to start our vacation! The rest of the vacation was really fun. I remember riding on quads and having picnics high on top of the mountains with thousands of sheep and where you could see for miles around, wow! I can still smell the fresh, cool air. We also spent time in Sicily with my mom’s family, where we explored temples and gardens and, of course, cemeteries because we also had to say hello to our dead relatives. But it was not that bad and even interesting because every family has their own little house mausoleum and every box has a picture of the dead person, and it’s interesting to see the resemblance we all have to each other.
Next, came the Boy Scouts years. I remembered lots and lots of Boy Scouts trips, turkey roasts, canoeing trips, backpacking trips, summer camps, the Big Maine trip, and many more trips. Being a Boy Scout was very big in my life. I remember the Maine trip the best: eating clams and mussels cooked over the campfire and roasting marshmallows. Hiking up Cadillac Mountain was a very big deal because it was a very long hike. We camped just about everywhere; on the baseball fields when we saw the New Jersey Jackals, and on plain dirt for other trips. I made it to 2nd Class but as I got older, the trips became more and more uncomfortable. Sleeping outside in the cold without toilets became too much. Sometimes, I regret quitting.
For a while my friends and I were obsessed with the Titanic movie. We acted out the last scene of the movie in my attic. My attic is very large, because it was originally meant to be a second family room and an additional bedroom and bath. It is the entire length and width of the house, but my parents thought that the house was big enough and additional rooms would almost double our taxes. So, to my joy, it was left completely empty with the exception of a lot of extra stuff that we store in it. This was the perfect place for a ship to sink and my friends and I to get tossed around in the waves that were actually suitcases, which my parents had lots of. We also had a few extra mattresses which we imagined were our life rafts and we imagined freezing to death. We played this over and over again. When my parents decided that we would go on a cruise, I became very anxious, what if the ship did sink like the Titanic?
In my early teens, we had bees and also raised chickens in our backyard. My parents both love nature, and my mom was born in Italy so she likes farms and animals. Keeping bees was a lot of fun and a lot of work., but they were also dangerous. My family and some of my friends got stung a few times., but I never did. Sometimes, if you get them angry, they swarm all over you. And, getting them angry can be simply be caused by wearing a deodorant, shampoo or a color that they don’t like. We always wore protective suits, but being swarmed can be amazingly scary. However, harvesting the honey is really great. Having chickens can also be scary, as they are often attacked by hawks and foxes. One day my friends and I were trying to get the chickens to jump as high as possible by holding up pieces of cheese really high. The chickens were all excited and we were screaming and laughing. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a hawk swooped down and snatched one of the chickens as it was dashing up for the cheese. My friend who was holding the cheese for the chicken, saw the hawk only a few inches from his face. He screamed so loud, everybody including the chickens began to scream, the hawk was so overwhelmed that at about 15 to 20 feet in the air it dropped the chicken. It was so loud that my neighbors came running over thinking something horrible had happened. Sometimes, the chickens would escape from the yard and run across Smull Ave. The look on peoples’ faces when they see a chicken crossing the street is hysterical. Some even stop and ask if they can help. We eventually got rid of the chickens because the hawks and foxes had made my backyard their lunch hang-out and my mom was getting freaked-out every time she saw a hawk fly anywhere near our part of town. We gave them to Rick, the fish guy at ShopRite., who also had chickens and my mother begged him to take ours because she could not stand having another mangled and missing chicken. But the hawks and raccoons eventually got them at Rick’s house too. We gave away a lot of honey and a lot of eggs and we made lots of friends in the process. Animals are a great way to meet people. At the moment we only have three cats.
When I get older, I really want to work with animals. I like all of them, every single species.
Categories: Lit Magazine