The summers of my childhood were endless. I woke up, had breakfast and immediately was sent outside until the noon whistle blew. When I was growing up, every small town had a whistle that sounded every day at noon sharp; that’s how we knew to go home (or back to grandmas) for lunch. After a lunch hastily eaten, we quickly headed back out before we could be corralled into doing dishes.
We spend our days running wild, rain or shine. We had the run of the main street sidewalk for playing games, like hopscotch or roller skating. It was the 60s, the end of the baby boom, and kids to play with were plentiful. The grown-ups were there to keep an eye on us and corral us for the occasional errand.
Other children’s parents/grandparents never hesitated to help or hinder us with the occasional warning. We had the run of two playgrounds, the public and the elementary school ones, and there was a paddling pool to splash in. We loved to hide in the lumber yard, but being it was off limits, only got to explore it on Sundays and holidays. The lumber yard was a forbidden danger full of nails, the fear of tetanus shots because of a rusty nail stepped on and splinters.
In reality, the lumber yard consisted of hundreds of open shelves, long enough for two or three kids to lie down in them toe to head. I don’t really remember the appeal except it was cool & dark and smelt of saw dust, and was, of course, forbidden!
Our summer games were different from the schoolyard games we played from September to June. There were fewer rules, nobody to tell us what to do and boys & girls roamed together as one large pack, a gaggle of kids, a mob.
What is a large group of children called?
The biggest difference was that in the summer we were allowed out after supper. Summer evenings are long, for a few short weeks, the sun stays up until ten and we pack of children were not called in early to bed. In the back alley, we played tag or hide-n-seek in the waning twilight.
I don’t remember many rainy childhood days. The rain did not stop my fun; I would pull on my serviceable rubber boots and follow the streams the rain made. I would imagine tiny people boating and building and playing along these streams. It was very British, in my imagination; there were green forests and rolling hills and fairies. My first book was Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book and these are the illustrations that haunt my childhood memories.
If I was not outside, I was at the library (after all it was right next door) or I was hiding and reading. I don’t know why I hid with my books? I hid under the bed, in the back of my mother’s closet or upstairs in the back of eldest sister’s closet. I still like creating caves and I still like reading; you could say that on bright summer days, the curtains closed as they are now, my apartment is one big, solitary cave.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town, 5 blocks x 5 blocks in size, with a bustling main street. Main Street had two grocery stores, a drugstore, a hardware store, the library, a meat market, a bank, a cafe, the seldom used train station at one end, the elementary school at the other end, and a horseshoe pitch. It had every thing we could ever need.
Of course, part of the summer was spent with grandparents. My mother’s parents lived in a smaller town than we did after they sold their farm and my father’s parents were, on a farm, just a few miles out of town. We had swimming lessons in the lake my mother’s parents’ town was named for. When we were in our early teens, my younger brother and I walked across this lake one winter and the news reached my grandparents before we were even across this frozen vast-land (yes, we got in trouble).
On my father’s parents farm we morphed into farm kids, free to roam the countryside, staying within yelling distance, of course. We weeded the garden, we climbed the rock pile we helped to create, we picked cattails at the slough, we conversed with the cows and were chased by the vicious geese. When he was twelve, my younger brother got a BB gun for Christmas. I was so jealous! When he finally let me use it, I accidentally on purpose shot him in the back of the leg. I wanted to see if it would hurt and was not about to shoot myself. I didn’t get in trouble for this because he never tattled on me (which was very unlike my younger brother).
There were cousins galore on my father’s side and none on my mother’s, though there were a handful of second & third cousins much older than us. On my father’s side we cousins ranged from babies to teenagers and there was always some one to run wild with. I miss that aspect of summer. My summers now are too bereft of companionship.
From the ages of 7 – 13, I was a wild child, a tomboy, a member of Peter Pan’s tribe or Robin Hoods. There was endless freedom and no responsibility except to be home in time for meals and to be respectful and kind. Like any normal pack of children there were fights, disagreements, bumps, bruises and tears. We learned to negotiate our way; we learned how to survive and who would compromise.
Childhood is not necessarily safe but we all survive it somehow.
In spite of the bumps, scrapes, bruises and hurt feelings.
My summer childhoods felt perfect and I miss that bliss of perfection.
I wonder what I have lost, growing up, becoming fearful, and losing that fearlessness to try everything.
What would you answer if I asked you to come out and play?
(Playing Hide-n-seek in the dark is fun for grown-ups too.)