Just the other day, a friend of mine posted a question on Facebook for her fellow mom friends to weigh in on with their opinions and household practices relating to summertime television allowances. She wanted to know how many hours of TV their kids were allowed to watch each day in the summer. Now I don’t have kids of the two-legged kind per se, so perhaps she wasn’t seeking my advice; however, that’s never stopped me from dishing out my two cents’ worth. I responded, “Make those kids play outside! That’s what we did as kids in the summertime. We built forts, rode our bikes, got dirty and didn’t come home ’til the sun went down!” Her response? “Thanks Cassie, but when the kids are outside, I’m outside, and that’s not always possible. It’s not as easy as it was when we were kids.” Well that got me to thinking–I guess times have changed and not every kid nowadays gets the privilege of experiencing small-town life out in the country as Bartonville was very much a personal “Mayberry” of sorts–only some 20+ years later. And as I scrolled through Facebook post after Facebook post, wishing family and friends a happy Independence Day, it got me to thinking about this even more–leading me straight down memory lane.
Sure, it wasn’t a totally safe and innocent world we were living in in the mid 1980s and early 90s, but for the most part, our parents didn’t fear that “bad guys” would come passing through our small neighborhood in shady-looking vans to lure us away with promises of candy and ice cream. We stuck together as a pack of kids. Where one kid went, we all went, and I guess the idea of a mass abduction seemed pretty ridiculous–especially for a group co-led by the token bully-ish “mean kid” with a personal track record for troublemaking.
I’m pretty certain the reason I was so tan as a child is because I LIVED outside in the summertime. When you’re a kid, the sweltering Texas heat is only a minor inconvenience–it doesn’t serve as a deterrent, driving you back indoors to the cool comfort of air conditioning…and us Green Oaks Estates kids played together on a daily basis. With a kind-hearted man for a next door neighbor, we had no limits to the land we were permitted to traverse. And the large pond atop the hill in my parents’ backyard (which belonged to said neighbor) was the setting for much of our childhood play.
We fashioned old, leaning oak trees into “pirate ships,” built girls-only/boys-only forts, fished for bass and went exploring, in search of adventure. Other days, we rode bikes through the neighborhood, playing cops & robbers without ever (gasp) donning a bicycle helmet. And I’m convinced to this day, I narrowly escaped death too many times to count on our neighbor’s large backyard trampoline, which was not equipped with a safety net or protective coil coverings you’d find on equipment today. My parents’ thought was: they won’t hurt themselves if we don’t own a trampoline–only that didn’t keep us off the neighbor kid’s, which, to my way of thinking made it a moot point. Nonetheless, nary a broken arm or leg, we jumped and tumbled without a care in the world until the evening “time-to-come-home” bell rang. This antique bell with an old, frayed jumprope attached as a handle served as our evening summons. Our dog just so happened to be more responsive to the bell than we were, as she often high-tailed it home while we rebelliously waited ’til the last minute possible before returning home to eat dinner together as a family around the kitchen table. We could hear that old bell anywhere in the neighborhood, and it disappointingly served as a nightly end to playtime–at least until the following day.
Other times when we weren’t traversing the banks of the pond or two-wheeling our way through the neighborhood, you could find us setting up our “businesses” on my parents’ wraparound porch and peddling goods and services with sheets of hundred dollar bills my dad Xeroxed on his home office copying machine. (If any governmental official is reading this, please take note, this was innocent “forgery” with no intent for use in real American enterprise.) I’ve hidden in every imaginable nook and cranny of that old yard during endless games of hide and go seek and kick the can, and I swear I can still hear the ringing shouts of “Ollie, Ollie, oxenfree” in my memory as a fellow neighborhood kid reached the gardenhose-encircled “base,” stomping on that old tin can and freeing himself from the potential danger of being tagged out.
Occasionally, we would break from our games and make the half-mile trek over the giant hill on Jeter Road to hit up the Bartonville Food Store and gas station for a couple dollars’ worth of candy and Dr Peppers. I was so sad to see that historical landmark finally close its doors for the last time several years ago when construction of a growing city forced a curvature in the road and passersby were thusly routed away from the mom and pop shop-style gas station, owned and operated by James Price and James Price Jr. since the early 70s.
I feel that symbolic event served as a reminder of what I already knew, yet wasn’t readily willing to admit. It was the end of an era, physical proof that time had passed, we had grown up and the “age of innocence” had come to conclusion. Though my future children may not know an adventure-filled, carefree childhood in a world that is now driven by technology–what with all the lack of personal interaction and use of imagination that goes hand-in-hand with the ownership of an iphone, I will stand by the fact that such a childhood shaped their mother into the woman I am today. Those good times and easy-going living are all I can ever wish for my children to experience someday. So when school lets out, summer vacation commences and their whining cries of boredom begin, I’ll tell them to turn off their phones, video games and TV shows–and for the love of God, go play outside! Because it’s outside in nature, on a backyard tree swing, and down by the lake amongst wooded tree forts where they’ll encounter the kinds of magical experiences that will teach them about life and shape them into adults who can only wish the same experiences and memories for their children someday.