Before we took a shine to girls, the young men in my village would pass the long, steamy summer afternoons by throwing dirt clods at one another.
Or bits of asphalt pried up from the single road that ran through our village.
Come autumn, we would “chunk” — that’s country for “throw” — smelly black walnuts and hard kernels of feed corn. In winter, it was snowballs and thick plates of ice, winged sideways like a frisbee. And in spring we threw blossoms and berries plucked from the bushes.
That was life growing up in a rural village on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the 1970s.
Back then, Quantico was a universe unto itself — a shady stretch of three dozen century-old houses along a quiet two-lane road.
Outside the post office, the only commerce in the village was an RC Cola vending machine under the metal porch awning of the long-closed village store.
I remember on warm summer nights, bedroom windows open, being roused by a just-purchased soda can rattling and bumping down through the metal guts of the machine, the mystery buyer’s shadow cast on the road by a flickering streetlight.
That was about as exciting as it ever got in Quantico.
To pass the time, the village kids — there were about a dozen of us ranging from elementary to high school age — did what other kids did in that era.
We rode bikes. We played catch. We fished. We built a clubhouse. We shot baskets at a hoop mounted on a barn — our dirt court was insufficient for dribbling, so we played a lot of Horse.
We launched model rockets. We shot BB guns. We set things on fire and then stomped them out.
And after we had done everything we could think of, we resorted to throwing things at each other. Mostly dirt clods.
Still, time crept by, as slow as molasses in wintertime.
Weekends and summers away from school were especially interminable.
I remember waking from a nap, only to be disappointed that it was still the same day and only an hour or so had passed since I shut my eyes.
I dreamed of living somewhere else — anywhere else — that life so not so boring.
Eventually I turned 16, passed my driving test, drove away and never looked back.
I started working part-time. I got a girlfriend. I graduated high school.
I went to college. I took more part-time jobs.
I graduated college. I started a career. I fell in love.
We got married. We built a house. Hosted a German exchange student. Had a daughter, then another.
I joined a church, professional organizations, civic groups and leadership boards.
I coached a softball team.
I started a business.
And like other middle-aged adults who have traveled similar journeys, I reached a point where my life got so busy and complicated that I was jumping from one thing to the next without ever savoring what was zipping past.
I longed for a day off. To do nothing. To be so bored that time slowed to a crawl like it did during those long, dull, mind-numbing summer days growing up in Quantico.
And now this. A pandemic. Quarantined.
Our lives depend on staying home and doing nothing.
We are cooped up with no end in sight. And daily news reports are more than most of us can bear.
But there is a silver lining in my little corner of the world — and perhaps yours too.
Right here, right now — because that’s all there is anymore — life is good.
We have our health. We have food and basic necessities. And with our schedules stripped bare, we are discovering new — and old — ways to pass the time. Together.
We have family dinner every night, something the Sahlers haven’t done in years.
Molly and I have taken bicycle rides, and she has started making paintings.
Tracy and I have “attended” several of Alison’s online college classes.
We’ve played frisbee in the yard and invented new games with pine cones and sticks in our woods.
Recently I woke up from a nap, realized it was still the same day it was two long hours ago, and I felt gratified.
Time is creeping by ever so slowly again.
I think I’ll go outside and throw dirt clods at the dog.
Salisbury artist Erick Sahler and be contacted at ericksahler.com.