The spirit of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn was alive and well in my small hometown of Caney, Kansas during the `40's. We boys wandered the woods, shooting at, but seldom hitting, small animals with our .22's. Or, we climbed the “Shale Pit"; skinny-dipped in "Smelter Pond", and tested our courage wading across the top of "The Dam" over the Caney River when the water ran deep. We were free in ways that, years later, became impossible. One day, Preston, Sam, Fred, and I started talking about building a cabin in the woods. Huck and Tom had their cave; “We need a place like that,” We agreed. Now when young boys begin talking about adventure, the adventure soon takes on a life of its own
It had to be close enough to get to easily, but secluded. A place on the river sounded good, but every boy in town played around the river. We'd be found out. The North Slope of the Shale Pit was rejected for the same reason. East, South, and West - nothing. Like first-time homebuyers, we despaired. Then we looked to the northwest and there it was; "Cochrane's Hill", as that deserted hill was known at the time. Perfect.
And so it began. Throughout late winter and early spring, of 1947, we scrounged lumber and supplies, and carried it to a secluded clearing at the base of Cochrane's Hill. We plundered our Dads' garages. A few businesses made donations, some even knowingly. . . When leaves blossomed, our work began. We built forms and poured a concrete slab, using "donated" cement and sand which we mixed, by hand, with water, carried from a pond several hundred yards away. While the concrete lay there like a giant gray cake in a flat pan, still soft but hardening, we wrote our initials, and the year, 1947. The walls and roof went up quickly. By June it was done. There was a kitchen/eating area which had a picture window closed in with isinglass in it to keep out the rain and wind, and a four-bed bunkroom.
Throughout all those weeks, none of our parents showed the slightest concern about where we spent so many Saturdays. That’s how it was in a small town in Kansas at the middle of the 20th Century. Kids could pretty much come and go where they pleased, as long as they pleased, in perfect safety. After the cabin was built they continued to accept out frequent weekend absences. We were camping. Boys camp. But boys aren't boys very long. Huck and Tom faded, losing their place of honor in our minds to girls, jobs, and career plans. The cabin became a ghost.
I went back to the cabin, alone, many years later. All I found was a collapsing mass of lumber and a slab of concrete. Since I had once heard them, I could, by standing quietly, hear boys' voices, talking and laughing. I could smell bacon frying, and hear the crack of a .22 rifle. And, had my eyes not suddenly watered, I might've seen a group of boys walking up to the cabin, their backpacks filled with food and soft drinks. But I didn't.
Now there is only a concrete pad, which, maybe once every ten years or so, makes some one wonder how it got there. They'd never guess.
Millard, you are a wonderful writer. I could smell the bacon too. I can only imagine the fun you guys had conjuring up whatever came to your imagination at the time. This is what we need a lot more. Thanks!! I'm sending this one to someone I know would really appreciate it.
Again, thanks, Tom. The 1940's were, like Dicken's "Tale of Two Cities;" "The Best of Times, the Worst of Times." I appreciate your sharing the story with someone.