Reading Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers last night, and a character in it made me flash on a kid I met in the Ozarks one day. I spent the summer of ’74 with my cousin and his wife—they had 80 acres on a mountain in north Arkansas and they were trying to start a commune there. It was way the hell away from everything, no electricity, only a tiny spring for water, 20 miles of gravel roads to the nearest burg, etc., but occasionally people they knew would drift through and stay a day or two. One group was a family of four, and the older son was about nine, a handsome freckled kid with long yellow hair. We were all sitting round the redwood picnic table when he casually pulled out a bag of weed and papers and started rolling a huge, and perfect, joint like it’s nothing. Lights it, takes a huge hit, and hands it to me. While we were passing it around somebody mentioned to his parents how odd it felt and his parents—classic longhairs—just laughed. At some point everyone wandered off but the two of us and he rolled another fat joint. He was like a small adult. He wasn’t interested in kid stuff at all, and all his mannerisms and his way of expressing himself, even the things he talked about, were what you’d expect from someone three times his age. He had the hardcore stoner’s impatience with frivolous talk, and when I said something goofy at one point he grew cool enough that I was a little intimidated by him–which is messed up.
Anyway, there’s no big point to the story—they left after only a few hours. It was just something which, in that particular time and place, barely even registered as unusual, and it certainly laid waste to the notion that people can have their childhood “stolen” from them. This kid was clearly ecstatic to have shaken off the bonds of childhood; the big thing I remember about him is his adult-like poise sitting at that table. He was an equal, and totally happy with who he was.