Fields of green and gold stretching endlessly in the haze of an endless summer. Walking dogs off the beaten tracks for miles in carefree bliss. Building forts out of ferns and small boats out of reeds to bob along a sparkling brook. Even way back then a serpent had slithered into paradise.
My eight year old friend and I had our freedom curtailed with the first of a series of child murders. Before the advent of DNA testing, the culprit was known, but charges could not be proven. The children that we were could not understand why our world had shrunk to sidewalks and playgrounds with lots of other people around. We thought we were untouchable, but at the same time, this was the start of innocence lost as it was explained to us in careful terms that a bad man was murdering children.
That was the year my best friend moved away and I joined in with other kids working on the crop gathering for farmers. Loads of moms were with us, also working, so the ‘eyes’ were always there. We were paid exactly the same as adults and scored some wicked money. Child labor? Who was going to get up at 4 am to stop us? Now we could buy records and go to watch the movies at the local cinema. We could have many trips to the swimming pool and a bag of potato chips on the way home, always hanging out in a large group and never straying, or we wouldn’t be allowed out again.
The golden days of innocence were gone for ever, to be replaced by something very different, but good in its own way. There was a very special feeling about getting paid for honest labor. The dew on the pea fields in the pre-dawn glistened on the leaves. There was a sort of hush before the birds started up that was magical. We had a break about nine am for a snack and the women would all fuss around us, making sure we all had food and drink, and then we would work on till midday, when it got too hot and the wagons would come to take us home, tired but richer than the dreams of Crosius to our child minds. It filled the void of that which was now gone forever, those golden fields of freedom.