The boy sat naked in the middle of the sunny meadow, studiously watching a ladybug proceed up a grass blade. His long golden hair framed his suntanned face. His five-year-old body was as tanned as his face.
A voice called him from the cabin at the edge of the woods. He dutifully stood and toddled into the cabin, where his mother, Rachel, prepared lunch for him and his younger brother.
Tad had been born in the cabin in May of 1970, when Rachel was only 16. His father, Neil, a hard worker and devoted father and husband was older than she was, nearly 27. Although he considered himself Rachel’s husband, they had never legally married.
Neil had bought the cabin with money he had inherited. He had no financial concerns and worked in the woods and around the cabin cutting wood for the stove and making improvements in the building. He had added a sleeping loft to the cabin, as well as a propane cooking stove. The wood-burning stove which came with the cabin supplied enough heat to carry them through the winters.
He installed a generator behind the cabin and wired the cabin for electricity. He then dug a deep well outside the cabin and installed a pump so they could have running water. The final installation was a water heater to make bathing and washing easier and more comfortable.
“Hey, kiddo,” said Neil as he entered the cabin.
“Hey, Neil,” the boy replied. Tad always called his parents by their first names. He didn’t even know the words ‘mom’ and ‘dad’.
Rachel and Neil talked about what the man had been doing in the morning, as Tad and his younger brother, Woody, listened. Rachel turned to Tad and asked him what he had been doing.
“I was watching a ladybug,” he replied.
His parents had taught him a great deal about the insects, birds, animals, and wildflowers in the meadow and the woods. He had learned their names easily, never having to be told more than once.
Woody, who was 3, also ran about naked in the summer but was not allowed out of the cabin unless an adult was with him.
“Soon it’ll be cool enough that you’ll have to put on some clothes,” Rachel told Tad.
“I hate clothes,” he responded.
“Yes, but you know you can’t run around naked in snow,” she said.
Tad made a face and asked if he could go outside again. When he received permission, he ran out the door and into the meadow to look for his ladybug, but he either didn’t remember exactly where it was or it had flown away.
Disappointed, he poked about in the grass until he found a green grasshopper. Picking it up very gently, he examined its legs carefully before releasing it back to the grass, where it began to hop away. Tad followed it, noting carefully how its legs moved and how it took off and landed, adding that knowledge to his memory.
When Neil emerged from the cabin he asked if Tad wanted to go with him into the woods. Tad wasn’t allowed to go into the woods alone. He didn’t really know why. His mother had simply said, “Don’t do it.” Being a generally obedient child, he stayed out of the woods unless one of his parents took him.
He loved the woods. He enjoyed their coolness and their play of light and shadow which changed as the breeze blew the trees. His father allowed him to lead, and he walked confidently, even though his feet were bare. They’d been toughened up by months of going barefoot and he never bothered to look for soft places to step.
They came to a place in the woods where Neil had been harvesting wood for their stove, cutting down dead or near-dead trees, trimming the limbs off them, and then cutting them into pieces small enough to fit into the stove.
Neil enjoyed physical work. Sometimes he worked at harvest time on nearby farms. Sometimes he did carpentry in town. But he was happiest working on his own property.
Tad watched Neil work, admiring his muscles and the sweat that soon coated his body. The boy helped by picking up the finished pieces and making a neat pile of them.
They worked all afternoon. Tad never grew bored. In fact, that was another word he didn’t know. While his father was working, he stayed out of the way looking for insects in the cut wood. Each time he found a new one, he took it to his father and asked what it was. Occasionally his father didn’t know, and then they’d have to wait until they were in the cabin, where Neil could consult his books.
They returned home, each carrying an armful of wood which they added to a stack beside the cabin. They entered and Neil said he would take a shower.
“Do you want one too, Tad?” he asked.
Tad, who rather enjoyed being dirty and sweaty, shook his head. Neil moved to a corner of the cabin where there was a shower head and a drain. He stripped off his clothes, turned on the water, and quickly cleaned himself. He was no more embarrassed by his nudity than his sons were by theirs.
Tad was accustomed to seeing his parents unclothed. They slept naked in the bed that Neil had built. Now that there were two children, the sleeping loft was a little crowded, but Tad enjoyed being close to his family.
A natural observer, Tad had long been aware of his parents’ sexual activity, and he thought nothing of it. His parents had explained about sex and conception and birth. Rachel told him that he had been conceived at the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York. When he asked if he could make a baby, Rachel told him that he had to wait until he was older. Nevertheless, his penis did harden from time to time, and when that happened at night, he enjoyed playing with it.
In the fall, Tad helped his father carry the last of the cut wood to the cabin. The mornings became cool, and Neil built fires in the stove to remove the early chill.
One day, Rachel took Tad into the woods to collect leaves. As the boy looked for the most colorful ones and brought them to her, he named which tree each one had fallen from and she nodded.
Back in the cabin, she showed him how to dry the leaves and preserve them.
The next day was cold and rainy, so Tad remained indoors and worked on his leaves. When he finished, he went over to one of the bookshelves, of which there were many, and selected a book.
Tad had begun to read when he was three. His mother had been reading Winnie the Pooh to him. Following along in the book, he picked up the skill quickly and was soon entertaining himself with books from the shelf. Sometimes, when Neil was in town, he stopped at the library to get books for himself, Rachel, and Tad.
Neil and Rachel subscribed to three magazines: “Life”, “Time”, and “National Geographic”. Tad enjoyed looking at the pictures, especially the ones in “National Geographic”, which expanded his understanding of the world outside their home and surroundings.
Tad and his parents spent many evenings reading while Woody played on the floor. Occasionally, Tad would ask his parents what a word meant and then stored the answer away for future reference. Neil and Rachel usually smoked pot as they read. Tad enjoyed the smell and asked if he could do it. Rachel told him he couldn’t until he was grown up, so smoking joined sex as something to be done when he was older.
When snow fell, Neil put the plow on his truck and plowed their long dirt driveway. Tad gave in and wore clothes. The stove heated the cabin, but it was cold in the loft at night, so Tad and Woody wore flannel pajamas and snuggled under several blankets.
There were days when Tad could go out and enjoy the bright sun on the snow and the clear blue sky. He made snowmen and built himself a fort, although he had nothing to defend and nobody to attack.
In the spring, Neil took him to town in the truck. Tad had been there a few times before, and he always gazed at the buildings in awe, for they were very different from his cabin. Most were taller and had large windows in which various items were displayed. They were painted different colors, which charmed the boy. There were also a few of what Neil explained were official buildings: the fire department, the town hall, and the police department.
Tad had never been into any of the buildings, but that day, Neil took him first to a market, where the boy roamed the aisles, marveling at all the food, some of it loose and some in packages. He was especially interested in the butcher shop, watching the man work behind the counter.
When they left the store, his father drove to a parking lot beside a stone building. “This is the library, Tad,” his father said. “Would you like to pick out a few books yourself to take home?”
Tad nodded enthusiastically. When they went in, his father took him to a room that was filled with shelves and shelves of books. As Tad gazed about, Neil said, “This is the children’s room. All of the books in here are for children.”
“To keep?” Tad asked.
His father smiled. “No, to borrow. Why don’t you pick out two or three you think you might like? I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Alone in the room, Tad had no idea where to begin. He saw that some of the lower shelves had picture books, and he knew at nearly six he was beyond those. Going from shelf to shelf, he finally picked out The Wizard of Oz. He took it to a table where he sat and began to read. By the time Neil returned, the boy was deeply engrossed in the storm which carried Dorothy and Toto far, far away.
“Do you like that book?” Neil asked.
Tad smiled and nodded. He closed the book, left it on the table, and returned to the shelves, where he selected two more books.
Neil took him to the checkout counter, where he shyly handed the books to the lady behind the desk. Other than Rachel and Neil, Tad had no experience with adults. When the lady asked him if he had a library card, Tad shook his head. She produced a short form for his father to fill out. Then, with the new card, she very seriously checked out his books. Handing him the card, which she put in a little paper sleeve, she said, “Bring this with you every time you come here. You can use it to take out other books.” Tad nodded solemnly.
Looking at Neil, she asked, “Shouldn’t Tad be in school?”
“We’ve been teaching him at home.”
“How old is he?”
“I’m almost 6 years old,” Tad piped up.
“In that case, the laws of the state say he should be in kindergarten.”
“We thought kindergarten would be a waste of time for him, so, his mother and I have taught him.”
She said no more but thanked them for coming and encouraged them to return.
In the truck, Neil said nothing but began driving home.
“Neil, was the lady right? Should I be in school?”
“I don’t know, Tad, but we do plan to send you to first grade in the fall.”
Tad thought about that. He had read about schools in his books. In some stories, the children loved school; in others, they hated it. What was he to think?
The next day, a car drove up to the cabin and a man in a suit got out, looked about for a moment, and then went to the cabin, where he knocked on the door. Tad, who was reading curled up in an overstuffed chair, wondered who it could be; they never had visitors.
Rachael opened the door and invited the man in. She offered him some coffee, which he accepted, and they sat at the kitchen table.
“I understand that you have a boy here who should be in school,” the man began. “Can you tell me why he’s not?”
Rachel explained to the man about their teaching Tad and that they planned to enter him in school in the fall.
“But the law says he should be in kindergarten,” the man replied.
Instead of answering the man, Rachel told Tad to bring The Wizard of Oz to the table. Then she instructed him to open the book at random and read the page. Tad did as he was told, and the man’s mouth began to open wider and wider as the boy read.
“That’s quite remarkable,” he said quietly when the boy stopped.
“How many of your kindergarteners could do that?” Rachel asked.
The man sighed and said, “None.”
Then she took a paper and pencil and wrote a four-digit addition problem with carrying. Handing it to Tad, she said, “Solve that.”
When the boy quickly completed the problem, she asked the man, “How many of your kindergarteners could do that?”
Again the man sighed, this time just shaking his head.
At last he said, “There is a serious fine for not sending the boy to school, but in light of what I just saw, we’ll waive the fine if you will agree to send him to school in the fall.”
Rachel promptly agreed. The man thanked her for his coffee and left.
“Am I really going to school in the fall?” Tad asked.
“Yes,” she replied, hoping Tad would not be bored out of his mind.