If I learned anything early in life it’s the opinion that most kids have of what is, or isn’t, justice. All too often, it’s just tit for tat, or, “What you do to me, I can do to you.”
The best example I saw of that while I was young happened 79 long years ago back in the summer of 1942, when Mom, knowing how much my next oldest brother, Charlie, was enjoying his stay with Uncle Neil and Aunt Libby in upstate New York, decided to see if she could get me a month or so up there among the trees, fields, and fresh air of Brasher Falls, a tiny rural town on the Saint Regis River just two miles south of the Canadian border.
One of my favorite radio stations when I was young was WNYC, the New York City radio station, which constantly did everything it could do to enhance the image of the city. During every station break it said, “This is radio station WNYC, the radio station of New York City, where 7 million people live together in peace and harmony, and enjoy the benefits of democracy.”
Considering that claim, it always struck me as odd that the city fathers believed that one of the best things they could for New York City kids was to send us as far away from the city as they possibly could.
“If this place is so great,” I used to ask, “why did they create the Fresh Air Fund to send us elsewhere?”
Anyway, Mom convinced the folks running the Fresh Air program that 10-year-old Tommy Garrett was sadly in need of some air that had not already been used by 7 million other bodies. So off I went on a train, headed north. Eight hours later, after watching dozens of kids dropped off along the way, I found myself all alone at three in the afternoon on the train platform of Massena, New York, where Aunt Libby, her 27-year-old daughter Marion, and my 14-year-old brother Charlie popped out of a car, which came zooming up just in time to save me from asking a nearby cop why I had been abandoned.
An hour and 15 minutes later we were in tiny Brasher Falls, where I began a summer filled with childhood adventures as Charlie and I and four of Charlie’s friends spent idyllic days pigging out on fresh ripe apples and pears picked right off the trees, or on huge sweet wild grapes, or pulling up the night line we had strung across the river and stripping it of fish, or rowing our rowboat from our little camping place on the Saint Regis River over to a small island across the way, which had more types and kinds of edible wilderness than I had ever imagined existed.
One morning, Charlie, I, and Joe Rocheford, a friend of Charlie’s, were rowing our boat out to get the fish catch off the night line. Just then we heard the familiar sound of a certain power boat motor we hated, so we veered away from the night line, not wanting the two wiseguys who owned the boat to find out about it.
There we sat, in our drifting rowboat, trying to look as though we weren’t doing a thing as the wiseguys slowed down, and stopped near us. Sneering at us, one of them reached into the water, pulled up our night line, laughed, and asked, “Hey! Is this what you’re looking for?”
Next week: Revenge!