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Len Harris/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com

Here I sit at my kitchen table. I am recuperating from back surgery. I had L4/L5 fused together. The surgery was required due to my back wearing out. It wasn’t from some childhood injury or a car accident. It easily could have been from a myriad of bad choices or simply not thinking as a kid and young adult.

This story was prompted by watching an episode of 'Ridiculousness' last night with my daughter and wife. For those of you that don’t know the show, it is a conglomerate of videos from Youtube of absolutely idiotic and dangerous things folks have taped and placed on the internet. Many of the people in the show have to have been seriously injured but the show’s editors chose to leave that out.

My youth was one non-stop episode from this television show. I was from a family of six kids. As the only male, my mother worried less about me. My father died when I was 10 years old and I was basically without adult supervision from age 10 until I was 20 years old and went in the Army.

Some of my less-than-stellar decisions as a kid I blame on stupidity and others I rack up to “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” If there are any kids reading this story please heed my tales of misfortune and don’t try to repeat them.

I am going to begin my wayward trek with just a plain and simple accident. It was the first day the swimming pool was open in Gays Mills. I guess June 14, 1968 as the day. It was the day after my birthday and I was on the way to the pool sporting a new huge bath towel and my blinged out new Green Bay Packers flip flops. The spring floods had shifted the small bridge at the base of the hill just before the pool and there was not a route up the hill without wading across the small creek. I didn’t want to dirty my new packer flip flops before I could show them off at the pool. I decided I would crawl up on the rail and balance on it and walk across and jump off the rail at the end to avoid the water. It all worked out as planned. I made one mighty jump at the end to clear the water. I stuck the landing. I was a little proud of myself for the feat. Off I went to the pool. I took one step forward with my left foot and tried an accompanying right step but my right foot wouldn’t move. It was like it was cemented to the ground. I knelt forward to examine what was going on. I saw a sharp thing protruding from the center of the top of my right foot. I tipped my foot to the side and then the pain hit me. I had jumped off that rail on top of another piece of 2-by-4 that was about four feet long. The board had a giant nail in it and it was now completely through my entire foot. My first impulse was to try to pull it off but that wasn’t happening. No one was at the pool. I wanted to be first there and was way early. I limped home 12 blocks with that board welded to my foot. A fast trip to the ER and a tetanus shot I was good to go. My new flip flops had to be cut off to extract the nail and my new beach towel was a mess due to bleeding all 12 blocks home. The horror stories keep on rolling throughout my youth. Fall came quickly and that meant going to the dump to search for treasure with my good friend John. The treasure hunt was lacking that day and we decided to get a 55 gallon drum and fill it with magazines and see what we could melt in there with our raging inferno. It was amazing at what would melt if we got the fire burning hot enough. That grew boring quite quickly so we decided to throw in aerosol cans. We took turns throwing them in and running like crazy to get away from the potential missile or grenade effect. Some of those paint spray cans really rocked the surroundings dump and woods when they exploded. It was like WWII. Our 11 year old brains obviously didn’t register the real danger we were putting ourselves into. Some of the hair spray cans that were full really shot up high in the air before exploding. It was my turn and I had found an almost full Aquanet can and I bragged to John that I bet this would be the best yet. John got extra far away from the burning barrel and hid behind an old junk car. I tossed the can in and hauled butt to my area of cover. I did not make it there. I saw a fireball go directly in front of my eyes and a giant explosion just 20 feet from me. John ran to me and was frantic and asked me if I was ok? I didn’t know what all the fuss was about until John told me what he saw. The Aquanet can came out of the fire almost as fast as I threw it in and came screaming out of the inferno right at my head like a guided missile. He was certain it had hit me in the head. We did a check of my head for injuries. Both of my eyebrows and eye lashes were burnt off. That missile had missed my head by literally an eye lash. John and I swore each other to secrecy and moved on with our less than brilliant childhoods. Spring came quickly and so did my stupidity. Another friend of mine and I hung out a lot when we were young. I am going to leave his name out of the story because it might embarrass him. We were at the playground in Gays Mills. The regular playground equipment grew boring really quickly so we moved back towards the river and swamp behind the playground. All of you know what a telephone pole looks likes. Some of them have a metal cable that anchors them in place. It runs from the ground to the top of the pole at an angle and is secured to the ground with a metal spike and to the top of the pole with a loop. This cable was not tight like typical cables are. It had some slack in it. I was the first to swing around on it like “George in the Jungle.” That was a popular cartoon during those times. My friend and I always had a friendly competition going on about almost everything and this was no different so we tried to see who could swing more times around the cable. I was a really scrawny kid. My buddy was a little heavier and a little stronger than me and typically won most of our competitions. I was watching him spin around the cable and he was claiming his championship of the “George of the Jungle” when it happened. Because he was just a little heavier than I was, he caused the cable to swing wider and the cable touched the 2 leads of the transformer on the top of the pole. What happened next was surreal. The cable touching the transformer caused what looked like a lightning bolt of blue and yellow to travel down the cable. It happened so quickly my friend was unable to let go. His body straightened out like a board and he was thrown 20 feet. The sparks were flying at the top of the pole and the transformer exploded. Sparks were raining down on both of us and I was scared for my friend. I went to see if I could help him. Before I could get to him he popped up off the ground and ran home at Mach 12. I later learned that he was not killed because of the giant amount of power that came down that wire caused him to be thrown free instead of locking him in place and him being another statistic. I am very glad that I did not win that George of the Jungle competition that day. Then there was the 'Mad Bomber' hat. I saw some older kid have one and I had to have one and begged almost a year for it. My mom finally gave in and bought one for me Christmas. It was rabbit fur lined. It looked kind a like a Russian military hat. You could fold the ear flaps up. It depended on how warm of a day it was. It was a warm December day so I folded up the ear flaps and clipped them above my head. Off I went to my favorite fishing place and was casting away. This is where the story gets a little dicey. I don’t remember any of it. From what the doctor told me I gleaned I was a very lucky young man. A semi-truck had driven past my fishing location and a rock had squirted out the side of the tire as it ran over it. The rock catapulted at me. My back was turned facing the water. The small rock hit me in the back of the head and knocked me out. The next driver by saw me in a heap and called for help. If I had not folded up that cap and gave myself a double layer of protection that day, I would have died from the blow to the head. If I had fished with no hat I would be dead also. If I had fallen forward not to the side when I was out cold I would have fallen in the Kickapoo River and drown that day. There have been lots of close calls for me through my life. Some involved bees. Another involved being submerged in a full septic tank. There were a few while throwing bottles at signs (incidents that required sutures). I will leave you with the last less than intelligent choice I can remember. I was home on leave from the Army. It was my first leave after basic training. I was lean and mean and full of myself. My brother-in-law Dennis and I went out celebrating. It was 3 a.m. in the morning and I decided I wanted to take a swim at the local dam. I took off my glasses and new Mickey Mouse watch and took my wallet out of my pocket and placed them on the flood gate. Dennis didn’t swim so he watched from above the dam. Dennis was actually terrified of water so I was messing with him. The dam in Gays Mills has taken a few lives in its day when the water was high. This time it was as low as I had ever seen it. As a young whipper snapper I had slid off the dam many times. There is a proper way to slide off and then there is the head first way. Head first usually meant you were knocked out and a dirt nap followed very shortly. I decided to tease Dennis and hid in an area he couldn’t see me just mess with him. He yelled for me a couple times and I did not respond. The neighbors must have been woken up by my yelling and Dennis yelling and me not responding. The next thing I knew the Sheriff’s Department and Rescue Squad arrived. I scurried up the flood gate to put my glasses on and retrieve my watch and wallet. All were gone. In Dennis’ frantic search for me he had kicked them in the water and they were long gone. We explained to the police what was going on and later that week I received a huge bill for the police and rescue being called out at 3 a.m. Before I left to Germany on my first assignment, I stopped at the store and bought another Mick Mouse watch. I received my new glasses the day before I shipped out.

Read more from Len Harris.

Len Harris blogs from the "Heart" of Wisconsin's Driftless Area. Len's passion is small stream trout fishing with every legal means possible. When trout season is closed he writes and takes photos. He even dabbles in a little cooking. Read more of Len’s writing on his blog at http://lenharris.blogspot.com/.

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