Author’s Note: It’s hard to believe that my 1970’s childhood was a half a century ago. As I look back, which I seem to do as time passes with increasing frequency, I cannot help but thinking:
“Life Adirondack for kids growing up was so much simpler back then. We didn’t get criminal arrest records for every heinous kid crime, like playing down by the river and chucking a few rocks at some ducks. Police gave kids stern warnings. When it came to kid enforcement, our MOMS were the law!
If I & my neighborhood crew of Adirondack Outlaws had been held to the same societal standards for kids that exist today, by the time we were teenagers, we’d have all collectively been sent to reform school, never again to see light of day.”
My first brush with the law came when I was just 10. Fresh out of 5th Grade, I still had a fairly clean record. No outstanding warrants, no arrests, no convictions.
It all started innocently enough. I was outdoors playing with my friends. We didn’t have smart phones in our pockets. Our social media network was bikes.
My family had moved to Saranac Lake from Lake Placid the previous summer. We lived in the big stone house on the corner of Stevenson Lane. It’s still there. Our yard bordered the river. Stevenson Lane ended in a dead end. Mom always baked cookies. A great place for three boys with bikes to hang out.
Kris and Billy had pedaled over Helen Hill from town. Eventually bored with popping wheelies, racing down the Stevenson Lane hill with no hands, “burning rubber” and “skidding out”, we ditched bikes out behind the garage and headed for the river to explore and chuck rocks.
There are all kinds of good stationary targets by a river for three boys chucking rocks. We took aim at all of them. We hit more than a few. Suddenly, bobbing down river- a new target appeared.
Without hesitation, we took aim and fired.
In Saranac Lake at that time, on the river there were two kinds of ducks. Regular ducks, and town ducks. The way to tell regular ducks from town ducks was simple. Town ducks were part white, and grown-ups clipped their wings so they never flew anywhere.
Important facts, well known by Adirondack Outlaw boys. These ducks had white on them. We were knowingly pegging rocks at town ducks. We weren’t concerned about that at the time. We just kept on chucking.
It’s still a bit unclear to me exactly what happened next. I didn’t even have the best arm among us. But somehow, in the end, it all ended up pinned on me.
Somehow, at some point, someone managed to actually hit one of those town ducks. I suppose now, in retrospect, that was likely to happen.
When it did, in our defense, we immediately stopped chucking rocks. Three boys stood and watched momentarily in stunned disbelief as what had only moments before been a town duck was now a white bobber floating slowly down river.
“What do we do now?” We had to act fast.
“Quick! before it Gets away.!”
We raced to the garage, grabbed our bikes, and peeled out across the Pine Street Bridge.
Route 3 follows the river pretty close for quite a ways along that stretch. We made a mad dash out of town, catching glimpses of our quarry on the water as we went.
At some point finally, we got ahead of the duck. We ditched our bikes and crashed down through the bushes towards a bend in the river.
Old Man Quisnell owned a small bait shop and game farm at the dead end at the top of my street. His bait ponds and game pens overlooked the river at just about that point. I am not sure what his role was in town ducks- but at that moment, he was standing above us on the far shore, taking aim.
“Pop!” “Pop!” “Pop!” Now we were the target!
Old Man Quisnell was pointing some sort of pellet or air rifle. Or maybe a BB gun. We didn’t stick around to find out. He was pointing, yelling and firing rounds all at once! We scrambled back up the slope in a hasty retreat.
Back on our bikes, we escaped up Route 3, crossed the bridge, to the relative safety my house.
At that point, it was clear- every man for himself. Kris and Billy kept right on going. I was clearly on my own. I hid my bike in the garage and went inside to lay low in my room.
Mom was in the kitchen.
“Where’s Kris and Billy? I’m made chocolate chips.”
“Uh- they had to go home. I’m going up to my room.”
I grabbed a couple of cookies and started up the back stairs.
The doorbell rang. I heard a male voice. Then my mom’s voice. I peaked down the stairs.
Gulp! The police!
“Dick, come down here!”
My first interrogation. I held up pretty well, denied everything. I did not crack. The officer apparently bought it, and left. I breathed a guilty sigh of relief and turned back towards my room.
“Not so fast.”
Uh- OH! Apparently, Mom wasn’t so easily convinced.
Moms are skilled interrogators. I was no match. Mom turned up the heat. I finally cracked, broke down and confessed. I pleaded for leniency.
“But Mom-I’m sorry. It was an accident. We didn’t mean it.” I could tell, she wasn’t buying it.
I tried deflection.
“But Mr. Quisnell was SHOOTING at us! Shouldn’t HE be in trouble?”
Judge Mom wasn’t swayed, showed no mercy. She dialed the police.
The Trooper returned. Turned in by my own Mom, to the real law! I was10!
I had no option. My own Mom gave me up. I confessed.
“It was me. I did it. I killed the town duck.”
The Trooper frowned sternly.
“I’ve got my eye on you now. Anything like this ever happens again- you’ll be coming with me.” Then Mom apologized, thanked him, and he once again left.
I went to my room. Stayed there awhile. Apparently, Mom later went up the street and gave Old Man Quisnell a few verbal shots of her own. But I didn’t find out about that until several years later.
Billy later died in a car crash. I was home on leave from the Army when it happened and paid my respects. I’m sure Mr. Quisnell has long since passed. I don’t know what ever happened to Kris.
Me? I’m an Adirondack Outlaw. Living life on the lam. Until our trails cross again, I’ll finish with one important piece of advice:
Alibis don’t work on Moms!
The story of my life. Every Adirondack boy knows it.