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How We Were

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I peaked early. It happened in tenth-grade English in King George High, in rural King George County, Virginia, in 1962. The teacher had asked us to write the beginning of a short story, which she would read aloud to the class for criticism. I wrote about an Indian fur-trapper named Three Feathers in Quebec who at the local trading post bought traps made by Bob Ferguson, an English Canadian. But it seemed that competition had come in the form of a French-Canadian named Jock Lerouu, which I thought sounded French, who made stronger traps. Mrs. Souder duly read my effort to the assembled studentry:

“Do you want Bob’s traps?” the store owner asked Three Feathers.

“Three Feathers no want Bob’s traps. Three Feathers want twelve Jock’s traps….”

Like I say, life has since been mere, dull, and pedestrian, without savor. You can’t go up from the top.

The county was forested, abutting on the Potomac River, with muddy Machodoc Creek, catfish rich – in that part of Virginia, three-quarters of a mile wide is a creek – emptying into the river. At sixteen we sailed along winding wooded roads at night in ailing jalopies that remembered compression as an octogenarian remember the ardors of youth. We had guns, fishing poles, deer and, blessedly, almost no adult supervision. We parked endlessly in the deep woods with the nicest girls on this or any other planet, and…again…no supervision! Adults assumed we had sense enough not to kill ourselves. Rather to our surprise, we did have it.

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