The following excerpt is from Farmington, Darrow's 1904 autobiographical novel:

The difference between the child and the man lies chiefly in the unlimited confidence and buoyancy of youth.
The life of the child is not the life of the man, and the town of the child is not the town of the man.
I can never see Farmington except through my boyhood's eyes, and no doubt the town and its people were not at all the same to the men and the women that they were to me. Every object meant one thing to them and quite a different thing to our childish minds. As I grew to boyhood, the mill-pond was only a place where I could fish and skate and swim, and the great turning wheel served only to divert my wondering eyes and ears as it kept up its noisy rounds. The old mill furnished us boys a place to hide and run and play our games. The whole scheme of things was ours, and was utilized by a boy's varying needs to help fill up his life.
To the kind old miller the condition of the water in the pond was doubtless quite another thing, and every revolution of the groaning wheel must have meant bread to him-not only bread for the customers whose grain he ground, but sorely-needed bread for the hungry mouths of those who had no thought or care whence or how it came, but only unbounded faith that it would always be ready to satisfy their needs.
It is only by imagination, through the hard experience life has brought, that I know these familiar things had a different, meaning to the old miller and to me. Yet even now I am sure that they had for him a deeper or more vital sense. Perhaps the water for my swimming-hole was as important as the water for his bread. For after all, both were needed, in their several ways, to make more tolerable the ever-illusive game of life.
But I must describe Farmington and its people as they seemed to me-as in fact they were according to their utility in the schemes of a little child.
The world seems to take for granted that every parent hero to his children, and that they look to the father and mother as to almost superhuman beings whose power they cannot understand, but can rely upon with implicit faith. Even the street signs tell this old tale, and advertise "pies like mother used make." No doubt the infant looks with perfect confidence to the eyes of the mother who gave it birth, and in its tender years the child has the utmost trust in the wisdom and protection the parent to whom it has always looked to satisfy its needs. But I cannot remember that in my youth either I, or any of companions, had the feeling and regard for our parents that commonly assumed. In fact, we believed that, as to wisdom a general ability to cope with the affairs of life, we were super to them; and we early came to see their shortcomings rather than their strength. I cannot say that I looked upon my mother even as a cook exactly in the light of the street-car advertisements, but I distinctly recall that often when I visited the woodsheds neighboring children and was kindly given a piece of pie cake, I went back home and told my mother how much better this pie tasted than the kind she baked, and asked her why she did not make pies and cakes the way the neighbors did. To these suggestions I ever got the same reply-if I did not like cooking I could go elsewhere to board. Of course this put a stop to all discussion. I am quite certain that it is only after long years of absence, when we look back upon our childhood homes, the bread and pies are mixed with a tender sentiment that makes imagine they were better than in fact they really were. I rather fancy that if our mother's cooking were set before us once again, we should need the strong primitive appetite of our youth to make it taste as our imagination tells us that it did.
As to my father, I am sure I never thought he was a man of extraordinary power. In fact, from the time I was a little child I often urged him to do things in a different way especially as to his rules about my studies and my schooling. I never believed that he ran the mill in the best way; and I used to think that other men were stronger or richer, or kinder to their children, than my father was to us. It was only after years had passed, and I looked back through the hazy mist that hung about his ambitions and his life, that I could realize how great he really was. As a child, I had no doubt that any man could create conditions for himself; the copybooks had told me so, and the teachers had assured us in the most positive way that our success was with ourselves. It took years of care and toll to show me that life is stronger than man, that conditions control individuals. It is with this knowledge that I look back at the old miller, with his fatal love of books; that I see him as he surveys every position the world offers to her favored sons. He knows them all and understands them all, and he knows the conditions on which they have ever been bestowed; yet he could bury these ambitions·one by one, and cover them so deep as almost to forget they had once been a portion of his life, and in full sight of the glories of the promised land could day by day live in the dust and hum of his ever-turning mill, and take from the farmers' grist the toll that filled the mouths of his little brood. To appreciate and understand the greatness of the simple life, one must know life; and this the child of whatever age can never understand.
After my father and mother-whom I did not appreciate, and who, I am bound to think, but half understand me-no other men or women came very near my life. My relations were with the boys and girls, especially the boys. The men and women were there only to board and clothe the children, and furnish them with a place to sleep at night. To be sure, we knew something of all the men and women in the town, but we saw them only through childish eyes. There was the blacksmith, who was very strong, and whom we liked and called "clever" because he sometimes helped us with our games. There was one old farmer in particular, who had a large orchard and a fierce dog, and who would let his apples rot on the ground rather than give us one to eat. We hated him and called him stingy and a miser. Perhaps he was not that sort of a man at all, and the dog may not have been so very fierce. No doubt someone had given them bad names, and the people preferred to believe evil of them instead of good.
Then there was the town drunkard, whom all of us knew. We liked him when he was sober, although we were told that he was very bad; but he always laughed and joked with us, and watched our games in a friendly way, but when we heard that he was drunk we were all afraid of him and ran away. Then there was another man who kept a little store, and we knew he was very rich; we had no idea how much he was really worth, but anyhow we knew he was rich. And so on, through all the neighborhood, we knew something of the men, and classified them by some one trait or supposed fact-just as the grown-up world always persists it has a right to do.
The women, too, we knew even better than the men, for it was the mothers who controlled the boys, and in almost every case it depended on them alone whether or not the boys might go and play. Still, we children only knew and cared about the grown-up people in a remote secondary way. Every home was full of boys, and by common affinity these boys were always together-at least, as many of them as could get away from home. As a rule, the goodness and desirability of a parent were in exact proportion to the ease with which the children could get away from home. I am afraid that in this child's world my good parents stood very low upon the list-much lower than I wished them to stand.
We children had our regular season's round of games and sports. There was no part of the year in which we could not play, and each season had its special charm. There might not have p been much foundation for the custom, but somehow certain the games were dropped unceremoniously and left for another year.
Of course the little creek and the great millpond and the river were sources of never-failing delight. I cannot remember when I learned to swim, but I learned it very young and very well; and it was lucky that I did, for I have been in deep water many times since then. The boys seemed to prefer water to land-that is, water like a pond or a stream. We did not care for the kitchen tub and the wash-basin. It was the constant aim of our parents and teachers to keep us out of the water for at least a portion of the time, and they laid down strict rules as to when and how often we should go swimming. But when boys are away from home they are apt to forget what teachers and parents say; and we always contrived to get more swimming than the rules prescribed. This would have been easier except for the fact that it generally took us so long to dry our hair, and our teachers and parents could often detect our swimming by simply feeling of our heads. I shall always remember that a boy was never supposed to be a complete swimmer until he could swim the "big bend." There was a bend in the river which was wide and deep, and a favorite swimming-place for the larger boys. I well remember the first time I swam across, and I have accomplished few feats that compared with this. All my life I had supposed that the big bend was very broad and deep, until I made a special examination of the place on my last visit, a little time ago, and really it was so changed that I could almost wade across. Still, at that very time there were little boys in the stream just getting ready to perform the same feat that I had accomplished long ago.
The same water that served us in summertime delighted us equally in the winter months. We learned to skate as early as we learned to swim. Our skates were not the fancy kind that are used today, but were made of steel and wood, and were fastened to our boots with straps. Few boys could skate long without the straps coming loose; but then, a few difficulties more or have little terror for a boy. It would be hard to make a town better fitted for boys than Farmington; even the high hills were made for coasting in the wintertime. In fact, nothing was lacking to us except that our parents and teachers were not so kind and considerate as they should have been.
In the summertime we often climbed to the top of the hills and looked down the valley to see the river winding off on its everlasting course. Then we would fancy that we were mountaineers and explorers, and would pick our way along the hills with the beautiful valley far beneath. I do not know why we climbed the hills in the summertime. It could not have been for the scenery, which was really fine, for boys care little for this sort of thing. The love of nature comes with maturing years and is one of the few compensations for growing old. More and more as the years go by we love the sun and the green earth, the silent mountains and the ever-moving sea. It seems as if slowly and all unawares our Mother Nature prepares and ripens us to be taken back to her all-embracing breast.
But boys like hills and animals and trees, not so much because they are part of nature as for the fife and activity they bring. So we climbed the hills and the trees, and went far down the winding stream for no purpose except to go, and when we reached the point for which we started out we turned around and came back home. Still, since I have grown to man's estate I do the self-same thing. I make my plans to go to a foreign port, and with great trouble and expense travel halfway round the earth, and then, not content with the new places I have found, and longing for the old ones once again, I turn back and journey home.
Since the days when we children followed the crests of the hills along the valley, this lovely scene has fallen under the notice of a business man. He has built a hotel on the top of the highest hill, overlooking the valleys and the little town, and in the summertime its wide verandas are filled day after day with women, young and old, who sit and swing in hammocks, and read Richard Harding Davis and Winston Churchill, and watch for the mail and wait for the dinner-bell to ring.
With what never-ending schemes our youth was filled, and in what quick succession each followed on the others' heels! Our most cherished plans fell far short of what we hoped and dreamed. Somehow everything in the world conspired to defeat our ends, and most of 0, our own childish nature, which jumped from fad to fancy in such quick succession that we could never do more than just begin. Even when we carried our plans almost to completion, their result was always far short of the thought our minds conceived.
With what infinite pains and unbounded hopes we prepared to go nutting in the woods! How many bags and sacks we took, and how surely these came back almost empty with the boys who started out with such high hopes as the sun rose up! How often did we prepare the night before to go blackberrying in the choicest spots, but after a long day of bruises and wasp-bites and scratches, come back with almost empty pails! Still, our failures in no way dampened the ardor of any new scheme we formed.
We could run and jump and throw stones with the greatest ease; but when we put any of our efforts to the test, we never ran so fast or jumped so high or threw a stone so far as we thought and said we could-and yet our failures had no effect in teaching us moderation in any other scheme. I well remember one ambitious lad who started out to make a cart. He planned and worked faithfully, until the wonderful structure took on the semblance of a cart. Then his interest began to flag, and the work went on more slowly than before. For days and weeks we used to come to his shop and ask, "Will, when are you going to finish your cart?" We asked this so often that finally it became a standing joke, and the cart was given up in shame and chagrin.
When the snow was soft and damp, we often planned to make a giant snow-man or an enormous fort. We laid out our work on a grand scale, and started in with great industry and energy to accomplish it. But long before it was finished, the rain came down or the sun shone so hot that our work and schemes melted away before our eyes.
So, too, the grown-up children build and build, and never complete what they begin. When the last day comes, it finds us all busy with unfinished schemes-that is, all who ever try to build. But this is doubtless better than not to try at all.
The difference between the child and the man lies chiefly in the unlimited confidence and buoyancy of youth. The past failure is wholly forgotten in the new idea. As we grow older, more and more do we remember how our plans fell short; more and more do we realize that no hope reaches full fruition and no dream is ever quite fulfilled. Age and life make us doubtful about new schemes, until at last we no longer even try.
Well, our youth brought its mistakes and its failures, its errors of judgment and its dreams so hopeless to achieve. But still it carried with it ambition and life, a boundless hope, and an energy which only time and years could quench. So, after all, perhaps childhood is the reality, and in maturity we simply doze and dream.

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