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  • When I was in first grade, in Iowa, my parents bought their first new house in a housing edition with lots of little kids. They were small box shaped homes but with large yards and chainlink fences separating the yards, not like the big wooden fences in California that block out neighbors. We saw our neighbors and they saw us!

    Kids ran freely in those days. Parents didn't worry about children being kidnapped or run over by aggressive drivers. At night large groups of neighborhood kids would play flashlight tag, running from yard to yard and scaling the low chain wire fences with an occasional shirt getting caught and pulled free with a rip. When it was time to come in, my mom would stand on our porch and beller out our names and we had better come running! Other nights we would go out with our jelly jars with the lid punched with ice pick holes and capture fireflies till the jars were aglow. My older brother would sometimes tear them apart, a precursor perhaps to his less than stellar personality.

    Among these care free memories I remember my first (and last) snipe hunt. One summer evening when I was around seven my father announced I was old enough to go snipe hunting with him and my 14 year old brother. "Tonight?" I said.

    "Yes, tonight," he replied.

    "Do we take guns dad?" We were a hunting family so the question was not so strange.

    "No, no guns," my father said, shooting a glance to my brother. I looked over at my mother as she was the practical person and I knew would intervene in any dangerous endeavor. But mother sat quietly and seemed o.k. with the plan.

    My father told me to put on long pants and a long-sleeved shirt as there may be mosquitos.

    "But dad, how will we get the snipe?"

    "You'll see, Squeaky." The latter was a nickname given to me ... which never took. At one point I had decided us kids should all have nicknames, so I came up with the nicknames and my parents went along. But the names never took, maybe because they were too contrived or maybe because we weren't really a family that nicknames worked for. But this day I was "Squeaky."

    My father padded us into the car (except mom who stayed home). Dad had an aire of mystery that intrigued me. He drove us to a field across from the neighborhood store. When we got out he handed me a bag and two sticks.

    "Your brother will show you what to do."

    My brother grabbed his bag and began walking and banging his sticks together and calling, "Here snipe, here snipe."

    Even to my young mind it appeared rather ridiculous, but my father was straight-faced and he was the master hunter.

    "But Dad," I said, "It's getting dark out. How will I see the snipe?"

    "You don't need to see them," he replied. "You go down to the end of the field and hold your bag open and your brother will chase them your way. When you feel the snipe go into your bag, close it quicky."

    "Ok, Dad."

    So I ran down the field banging my sticks and yelling, "Here snipe!" just in case I ran into any on my path. I thought I heard my brother snicker but when I turned around he started banging his sticks and calling, "Here snipe!"

    "You better get ready!" he yelled.

    I ran further down the field and turned around with my feet firmly planted on the ground. I leaned over and held the bag open with both hands gripping to the sides. Within minutes I heard a whoop from my brother and he started madly banging the sticks and yelling, "Snipe! snipe!" He was running my direction and I stood my ground. Soon he was so close I thought he would run me over but at the last minute he swerved around me. At the same time I felt a large object hit the inside of my bag and I closed it.

    "Dad! Dad! I got it! I got it."

    My dad jogged over to me, obviously pleased. It was now twilight and I expected to see fireflies in the sky any minute.

    "Let me see it honey," dad smiled.

    I opened the bag, .....slowly, ......carefully, so the snipe wouldn't escape. The inside of the bag was so dark.

    "Reach in there Squeaky, it won't hurt you."

    Well, I was accustomed to pulling fish off of hooks, and handling squiggly worms, so I figured I could do this.

    " OK, Dad."

    I reached in, expecting to find a soft furry thing that might peck at my hand. Instead, I felt a hard, heavy, uneven ball. I pulled it out and it was a dirt ball!

    I looked up at my father, incredulous. I guess I didn't expect this from him. My brother dropped to the ground in hysterics, laughing his head off. My father could no longer contain himself and joined in with the laughing, patting me on the back. I had bought so fully into the hunt that I was trying to understand what just happened.

    When we got home my father announced to my mother, "Well, she just got her first snipe!"

    My mother smiled.

    I admit I felt more than a little betrayed by my mother, my protectress. But as time went on I came to realize this was an initiation, a rite of passage and my mom didn't want to keep me from it.

    And many years later I thought maybe the lesson was to learn not to take myself so seriously.

    After all life is a bit of a snipe hunt, isn't it?
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