When I was a boy growing up in Orleans in the mid forties, there was a procedure to life. Things came in a certain order, and everybody knew it and went along with it. When you turned fourteen, you could get your gunning license and go hunting without your father walking behind you. The very day that you turned sixteen, you could get your driver’s license. No driver’s education, no temporary permits; you got your license and that was that. Other things came as they still do today, all having to do with your age.
Of course we all had had plenty of experience driving before our sixteenth birthday, mostly due to the fact that the police force consisted of one chief and one night cop. Neither one of them was going to give anyone a hard time as long as they didn’t think you were foolish. I, for one, worked on Ralph Mayo’s dairy farm, and it was necessary to drive the farm vehicles here or there to pick up grain at the depot or deliver a load of cow manure to various customers. Ralph couldn’t do it all, so I learned to drive early on.
The game was to get an appointment at the Registry over in Hyannis to take your driver’s test the day you turned sixteen. Mr. Crocker, the Registry guy, would ask you a few questions about the law as he read your application. Invariably he would look over his glasses and say, “How come you’re here on your birthday? You must have been driving before you were sixteen! Well?” The answer that everyone memorized was, “Oh, no, Mr. Crocker, I learned to drive today on my way over to Hyannis from Orleans!” Mr. Crocker was not fooled at all, essentially because he had kids (the family lived in Brewster, so we all knew each other) who had done the same thing.
But the hunting thing was a bit more involved. Most of us grew up with shotguns in the house, and we learned the rules about hunting. We were very proud of the fact that we had bagged a pheasant, say, and we had made him fly before shooting. It was a shameful thing to shoot a “grounder”. In short we knew about guns and how dangerous and lethal they were, which brings me to the essence of this true story.
Three of us young fellas had reached the age when girls were beginning to be interesting. We began to like the idea of being around them. Charlie Freeman had some daughters that were fun to play summer evening games with (kick-the-can, hide-and-go-seek, etc.), and we were doing just that on this one occasion. Well, it began to get dark, so Charlie called the girls in the house and told us that it was time to “get up the road”. We started along toward Uncle Garfield’s house up the hill, and decided soon that we’d like to continue a little longer with the girls. Back we went. We started talking to them through their bedroom window. Charlie soon got fed up with that and told us in stronger words that we’d better go on home. We did just that, for a short distance. We started back again. Just as we got close to the house, Charlie jumped out of the bushes with a shotgun in his hands aimed at us.
“Hold it right there!” We couldn’t see him too well, because the street light was behind him and we could only see his silhouette, but we knew, being experienced hunters all, that we were in a peck of trouble. Charlie yelled to his wife to call the police. Soon the headlights of the cruiser stopped beside Charlie, and we got a better look at the shotgun, which, to our great dismay, was Charlie’s kitchen broom! Imagine the embarrassment for three testosterone-laden young hunters as we left for home with the tehees of the girls in the background.