Did you know our brains are not fully developed until somewhere between the ages of 23 and 25?
The pre-frontal cortex, the portion of our brain that helps us think logically, control short-sighted, impulsive behaviors and recognize such things as danger, continues to develop into young adulthood.
Also, the amygdala, the emotional processing center of the limbic system found in the deep part of our brains, tends to be overloaded during our adolescent years. These are the portions of our brains that deal with emotions like fear, love and the sense of adventure.
When you mix the immaturity of the pre-frontal cortex and the overwhelming activity of the amygdala, you find an adolescent who is sometimes a hot-mess, one who believes their heart will break in one moment, and, instantly, in the next, believe they are indestructible. I give you this very simple tutorial on anatomy and physiology to preface my next story:
Spring floods are a given in Lawrence County. When I was in high school, the bus ride was very long, especially when our hope was to get home in time to see the melodramatic TV series, Dark Shadows. However, there was a portion of Aarons Creek that was notorious for flooding.
If the road was closed to traffic, our bus driver would have to take the long way home. This meant bypassing Aarons Creek Road at the village of Arabia and driving all the way to Johns Creek. We would then have to suffer the trip all the way up Johns Creek Road to the very top of Aaron’s Creek Hill. Finally, the bus would weave its way down Aaron’s Creek to our houses. This meant an hour or more extra time on the bus to get home.
On one particular flooded spring afternoon, our bus driver announced we would have to take the long way home. There were five of us high schoolers on the bus who couldn’t bear the extra time. We begged and begged until we talked the driver into allowing us to get off the bus and walk from Arabia home.
If you’ve ever tried to argue with a teen, you know the difficulty this poor man had. Multiply that by five teens and you might get the idea of what he was up against. Plus, being a country man himself, he knew a good walk wouldn’t hurt anyone. You also have to understand, this was way before the days of cell phones or even radios on the bus. The poor driver didn’t know what lay ahead.
So there we were, teenagers with underdeveloped brains beginning our adventure of walking home. Of course, first we stopped in at Roberts’ Store and bought a six-pack of 16-ounce bottles of Pepsi to carry home. These were the old fashioned type of glass bottles and the perfect match when watching after school TV.
The walk went uneventfully until we got about a mile up the road. Just past Bob Crawford’s rental house, we saw the road was covered with water. We had no idea how deep it was or when it would end. You see, right at Aunt Susie’s house there was a big bend in the road and flood waters were as far down our path as we could see.
What would five intelligent adolescents to do? We surveyed our path, determined the level of danger and agreed this would be the best water play we had ever envisioned. The five of us, including three Swango children who tended to present our arguments rather persuadingly, carried our books on our heads and walked through it.
We laughed and laughed as large logs and other nasty debris floated by us. We could not see where the road edges began or left off, as evidenced by brother Garry, falling into the ditch with water up to his chest. What did we do? We thought it was the most hilarious thing we’d ever seen.
We took some measure of safety as we lowered our books into our arms and tried to have at least two people hold hands to steady ourselves better. (Sister Linda kept the precious cargo of Pepsi on her head holding it with both hands.)
The current of the rushing water was swift and, when I think back on this memory, I shudder. With the curves of the road we had no idea when our water fun would end. We could feel debris bumping against our legs and waist. We struggled with each step and laughed uproariously.
Finally, perhaps another half mile down the road, we saw the end of the flood, and the waiting Jeep of one of our comrades’ parents. Why were they standing by the Jeep? Why did their faces appear so frantic and why were they standing there with dry quilts and towels?
As we approached the adults, it became clear to us for the first time that we were in major trouble, not because of walking through a flood, but because we were about to get the strongest tongue lashing ever known to children. First, the adults hugged their child, then wrapped us all in the cloths they had brought. We piled into their Jeep and all the way home listened as the father ranted and the mother cried.
Once home, Linda, Garry and I were thrilled with our adventure! We even laughed at the blue purple bruises already starting to form on our legs and the red blotches covering our skin up to our chests. We changed into dry clothes and settled into our afternoon TV with a cold glass bottle Pepsi in our laps.
I don’t know if we ever told our Mom of our escapade. But, so like adolescents with under developed brains and too much emotion, we treasured this memory as though we had earned a great badge of courage. Now, with my brain fully developed, I cringe at the stupidity of our actions.
I thank God that He protected us though our foolhardiness. Who says only cats have nine lives?
Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.