When I was 9, we lived in a rural neighborhood tucked between our family’s farm and a DuPont plant built for commercial polyester production. Our yard was bordered by pasture land on one side and a railroad track on the other.
The drainage was bad.
I remember the yard flooded more than once. It was a big yard, too, with a small garden and a shed in the back. If it rained hard, which it did sometimes in North Carolina, our yard transformed into a small lake full of minnows and crawfish and the occasional cottonmouth.
Our neighbor kept chickens.
My brother and I would leave pennies on the rails and hunt for them in the mud between the ties after the train had flashed past the house.
We rode our bicycles all over the neighborhood. It was a small neighborhood, situated on a circular drive. Half of the drive was dirt road. We lived where the pavement turned into dirt, right next to the railroad crossing. The neighborhood was called DuPont Circle.
Another neighbor kept a pen of hunting dogs on the other side of the railroad track, about a half-mile back. At feeding time, we heard those dogs baying like they were right in our kitchen.
One night, around Christmastime, we heard a tiny meow coming from under the house. Sometimes farm cats came over to our neighborhood to give birth to their litters. One of the kittens either got left or got lost, and it meowed its displeasure into the night.
I crawled under the house and used my green jean jacket to trap the spitting and scratching gray ball of fur. I brought her out and adopted her as my own. I looked in a book about cats and named her Cattae because I thought it was French for cat. It wasn’t, but that was her name until Grandma Mary renamed her Katy after we moved to Florida.
I turned 9 in 1978. Star Wars was less than a year old. We didn’t know – had no clue, when I was 9 – that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father. What do you think about that?
When I was 9, I wanted to be a veterinarian.
One time, a kid named Bucky who lived down the street on DuPont Circle wrapped a black racer around our front door knob, rang the doorbell and ran away. I answered the door and that snake was pissed. I never screamed louder or ran faster.
When I was 9, we used those yellow Wiffle ball bats as light sabers. Our bicycles were X-wings and TIE fighters. We loved CHIPs and Battlestar Galactica and college basketball.
When I was 9, we had no cable TV, no microwave, no Blu-Ray or DVD, no cell phones.
My dad played in a bluegrass band and danced in a clogging troupe. We had a pig-pickin’ at our house with more than 100 guests.
When I was 9, I played baseball and I loved to read. We played a game called cup ball at Kinston Eagles minor league games. Does anybody play cup ball anymore? We would wad up a Pepsi cup as tight as we could and play a version of baseball, using our bare hands as the bat. If you caught it in the air, or if you pegged them between bases, they were out.
I read Watership Down when I was 9.
I remember all of this, and so much more, about 9.
Today, my older son is 9.
He lives in a nice suburban neighborhood in a house with his father and mother and brother with a small pond and cypress stand across the street. Cattle used to graze on this land. Before that, it was Florida scrub: palmettos, mostly, and wetland.
He loves Star Wars and Minecraft and Pokémon and theme parks and books. I’m reading Watership Down to him at night before bed.
He loves his family and he loves school. He loves playing with his friends and he loves animals. He wants to be a veterinarian.
In nine years, he will be an adult – legally, at least. In 36 years, he will be my age. He will look back at the coming year and remember so much.
And so will I.
So will I.