We live in a neighborhood that is filled with children. Our streets are safe, we still have an ice cream truck that plays music up and down the roads, and the kids are never afraid to stop in for a visit. Our home is always open to the kids who stop by, and I keep snacks and CapriSun stocked in the fridge just for them. It’s a nice way to live, and I can’t imaging a day when our doorbell doesn’t ring because a child wants to stop by for a chat. We talk with them, we laugh with them, we know most of their parents, but most of all – we listen to them.
One day I even went as far as to paint an entire wall in our home in chalkboard paint so that the kids can draw and write on it. I never wipe it off. Their messages and pictures stay as a reminder to us that these kids are crucial to our future as Americans and as humans.
One thing that I cherish the most is when they ask permission to come into our home to see the animals. Not our dogs, even though our 2 dogs are loved by all of the kids, but the animals that we have proudly displayed on our walls and throughout the house.
When a little girl gets to touch the soft hair on an elk for the first time, or a little boy gets up close to a mounted whitetail for the first time, it lights up my heart. The wonder in their eyes is apparent, and they typically ask if it’s all real. I always tell them the truth. The eyes are glass. The rest is real. They run their little hands over the red stags hair and the elk horns, they look in amazement at the caribou in velvet, and they feel the softness of the pheasants feathers. They touch the sharp teeth of the alligator and sometimes I’ll take out the ivory teeth from and elk for them to pass around and look at.
Our home is like a small museum, or a step back in time, for these kids who are growing up in a world full of electronics. Instead of sitting at home playing video games and texting with their friends, we always encourage them to come to our home and learn something new.
We talk to them about the animals they see on the walls. We tell them stories about the far away places we travel to. Sometimes we will teach them how to use a blow gun in the backyard, or how to shoot a bow. Even as adults, we never get tired of shooting slingshots at bottles in the back yard. We live in a place that’s very much like Mayberry, except it’s in color.
We always listen. Sometimes they just need to reach out and talk to someone who is genuinely interested in their lives. If the bond between us begins with nature, then all the better. They all know that they are welcome in this house. And someday I hope that some of them will carry on the tradition and heritage of hunting and fishing. If, when that day comes for them, we are a memory in their minds, then our job here has been done.