The group of sleepers shrank down as time progressed but a few of us continued the practice and had semiweekly sleepouts until school started. We still brought flashlights, but like cavemen we had discovered fire. A small campfire took center stage and because of it the sleepout menu changed to hotdogs and marshmallows.
The following summer we started our sleepouts again but something had changed: we were teenagers! Instead of spending the night at the campsite we wandered around the neighborhood, almost getting in trouble. We weren’t quite juvenile delinquents, but we did manage to be obnoxious and loud and even threw rocks at a deserted factory, breaking a window or two. Our main crime was becoming garden raiders. The sleepout menu changed again. We had a mission.
My best friend Dave and I were always coming up with ideas, most of which weren’t too good or smart but at the time we thought we had a winner and we borrowed a big pot from Dave’s mom and a kitchen knife from my mom and brought them to the sleepsite. Almost every house in the neighborhood had a vegetable garden, some were quite large and had a variety of items, and Dave and I would scope out the good stuff while doing our paper routes and make plans. When sleepout time came we would wait until the dead of night when the lights went out and then grab a bunch of veggies from the gardens (tomatoes, squash, peppers, carrots, and corn, to name a few) and quickly put them in the big pot and run back to our camp. We were hunters, raiders, and gatherers and were proud of it. When we returned to the fire we would cut everything up, add some water, and make a rustic vegetable stew that we would have never eaten at home if our moms had made it. We enjoyed it because the ingredients were ill-gotten, freshly picked, and we made it ourselves. Thankfully, we never did get caught.
As our teenage years went on, our sleepouts gradually faded from our lives. Spooky stories became discussions about cute girls. Pizza and burgers replaced stolen veggies and the comics changed to “other” magazines, stolen from our dads’ drawer. Other things seemed more important now as we had gotten jobs, cars, and girlfriends. Our sleepouts completely stopped when Dave’s dad got a job in another state and his family moved from town. Without my partner in crime, garden raiding wasn’t fun anymore. We were entering the adult world whether we wanted to or not. It’s strange how things change as you get older.
I now have a garden of my own and realize how wrong it was to violate those neighborhood patches. Karma has visited my garden in the shape of squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits. They seem to take joy in only taking one bite of each tomato, squash, or cuke, leaving the rest to spoil. The baby boom is over and there aren’t many kids around the neighborhood these days to carry out our sleepout and garden raiding tradition. A good thing perhaps, but in some ways, also something to be missed. I thankfully still have my fond memories of reading comics by flashlight, eating snacks while sleeping under the stars, listening to the crickets and critters sing their nighttime songs for us, and waiting for the neighbors’ lights to go out so we could make our garden raids.
~ Michael Romano, a Great Barrington, MA, resident for almost 40 years, is an avid fisherman who in his own words “kind of treats fishing as a contact sport and has had more than a few misadventures in the process.” He has fished many local waters and also enjoyed quite a few saltwater trips. Michael is a retired chef – he and his wife, Susan, worked for years at the now-closed Kolburne School in New Marlborough, MA.
Read this article in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Our BerkshireTimes Magazine.