Every summer, I stay at a little house in the middle of the Czech countryside. I’ve done so since I was a baby. It’s in a tiny town in the absolute middle of nowhere, miles away from any place of significance, and it’s perfect.
These days, adult commitments being what they are, I’m lucky if I get to go for two weeks. When I was a kid, though, I’d be there for almost two months. The summers there felt endless, and in some ways I think I was conscious even then, that in the sun-drenched haze of those days out in the country I was making what would become some of my fondest childhood memories.
I’m in that town on holiday right now, and something happened last night that really brought one of those memories rushing back with a wallop.
There used to be a group of us here, a little rascal-y gang of kids, that would run around town and the surrounding countryside, causing mischief. It was before the era of mobile phones and it was magic. One of my main partners in crime was a kid who lived just across the road from me. His name was Karl, and he was one or two years older than me. We used to roam around town, doing stupid shit, like little kids are meant to do.
One of my favourite memories is of the day we found a massive hornet’s nest in the tree at the top of our road. I think I was about 8 or 9 at the time. So my friend, I, and a mate of his that I didn’t really know went up there with our bikes, and being the very wise little sages that we were we grabbed some pears, and we started throwing the pears at the hornet’s nest inside the tree as hard as we could.
Like I say: Smart, we were.
Sure enough, the hornets got angry, quick. Seeing this, we saddled up the bikes in half a second, and peddled furiously down the road, followed by an apocalyptic, deep buzzing. We were quick though, and once we were safe out of harm’s way and the buzzing had died down, we slowed our pace. My friend and I were in front, the other guy behind. Still rolling on our bikes, we turned round to look at him, thrilled relief painted on our faces, ready to share in the solidarity of a job well done, only for that to change very quickly when we saw that he, peddling along, had a hornet sat right on top of his head, clinging to him like Indiana Jones to a car in a Nazi motorcade.
The thing was: He didn’t know. He had a very close-shaved head at the time. Practically bald. The hornet must’ve been gripping onto one of the few short strands up there, but the adrenaline pulsing through the boy’s veins would’ve made its presence unnoticeable. He was laughing, his eyes all scrunched up from the thrill. Until the hornet stung, and his expression changed to agony and he fell. Luckily, as much as hornets were the ultimate horrors of our childhood, being stung on the skull is about the best place a little boy can be stung by a hornet, so after a bit of a scare we took care of the wound for a little while and then got on with our day and the rest of the story isn’t that interesting. But I always, always, always remember this story when thinking about what life was like growing up here in those long, perfect summers.
I always remember the dude too, who got stung and who I didn’t really know. I came back here every subsequent summer but I never saw him again after that day.
Yesterday I went to the one pub we have here, and it’s what I would describe in a purely positive way as: proper white trash. It’s glorious. It’s on the edge of a field, and the rules are: 1) Pour your own beer, write it down in the big book and pay later; 2) Beer costs the equivalent of 70 pence; and 3) Here’re the keys, lock up when you’re done. Just a wonderful, casual mess.
The guy who’s ‘on duty’ that day is a mate of the friend who I went with. I don’t know him. But he’s playing Slayer very loud through the pub’s speakers so I like him, and I tell him he’s got good taste in music. Eventually all three of us sit together, get drunker, and we get to chatting, laughing. I keep looking at the guy’s eyes as he’s laughing, and something weird is tugging at my brain. I tell him, ‘Dude, I know I don’t know you, but your eyes look really familiar. I can’t place it.’ We move past it, laughing more, but I stay low key perplexed. I can’t let go of this nagging feeling. Those damn eyes insist. Something about the way they scrunch up. Anyway eventually we get to talking about mutual acquaintances, and it turns out he knew my friend Karl back in the day. Used to hang out with him in the summers, he says. Says they used to do real stupid shit. Says one time, he and Karl went up to the top of the road where they had found a hornet’s nest, and there had been another kid there, he says, that he didn’t really know…
And so it dawned.
It was him.
I remembered those scrunched up eyes, twenty bloody years later, laughing then before they knew a hornet was sat on his head, laughing now because we can’t believe we’ve both been trying to place this ‘third guy’ in our memories and here suddenly was the answer. I was his third guy! He was mine!
I feel like I’ve closed some ancient, mystical loop in my life.
It was definitely worth the hangover.
Anyway, Pajibans, pray tell: What’s your favourite childhood memory.
Bonus points for stupidity and carelessness.
Header Image Source: Columbia Pictures