In the summer of my twelfth year I discovered, for the first time, that I really was free.
I lived in a town and in a time when a kid could go off on his own for a whole day, no questions asked. Mother would make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I would take off on my bike. I didn’t really know for sure where I was going. But I knew I was going to have some adventures.
So off I went, knowing that some surprises were in store. That’s because I lived in kind of a magical town called Hannibal and I was living in the same setting Mark Twain used in his stories. I was a little bit like Huckleberry Finn come to life all over again.
I was growing up in the same places where Tom and Huck played. And they didn’t seem fictional to me. They were as real as every day and as familiar as morning. First I decided to go to the highest place in town – – Lover’s Leap. This was a very high outcropping of stone that offered a view of the Mississippi and much of Illinois. The story was that there had been an Indian brave and a maiden who wanted to marry but couldn’t because they were from different tribes. And so they leapt to their death from Lover’s Leap. Kind of like the story of Romeo and Juliet done Indian style.
Next I got on my bike and went to a place on the River Road that I had a funny feeling about.
I climbed up the steep embankment until I discovered what I had imagined, a natural stone tower that jutted about eight feet out of the hillside. I climbed on top of it and just sat there and looked around in wonder. I was thinking that I was the first person to ever sit on this tower, which was probably the work of a glacier.
Vowing to never share my discovery with anyone, I set out for more Hannibal magic.
After finishing my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I decided to go to what was my very favorite place. So I biked up into Riverview Park where the statue of the great man stood, looking over the Mississippi.
Hannibal was his boyhood home, so we had something in common. And I felt like I knew his characters like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It was a great thing to be a writer and that set me to thinking. Maybe I could be like him if only in small ways.
I always read the inscription on the statue and it always gave me chills.
“His religion was humanity and when he died, a whole world mourned,”