by Peggy Goldtrap
I’m lucky to have grown up when a kid could be a kid without strapping on pounds of safety devices, a cell phone, camera, etc. I was lucky to grow up without a bicycle helmet, knee pads, and other protection devices.
Do I have scars from misjudging distance my bicycle could jump? Yes. Did I run into some weirdo’s (every neighborhood has them) and did they scare the wits out of me? Yes. Did I have some experiences that I wish I could erase from my memory? Yes. I’m still thankful I had the freedom to explore and learn the world by myself.
People of my age, (seasoned & salted), grew up in an era where childhood was not extended into the twenties. Even very young children were expected to use good judgment and behavior in public and on other people’s property. Remember when no one ‘cut across’ a neighbor’s lawn… a boy re-moved his cap when entering a room… everyone stopped for a funeral procession? Remember ‘Sunday go-to-meet’in…’ and you put on your best suit?
By the time I was 8, I was allowed to walk the streets or ride my bike quite a distance from home and without ‘checking in’ for hours. I was allowed to explore the town where we lived. There was no place off-limits to my curiosity.
The riverbank and the wild areas surrounding it drew me like a moth. As a child who loved Tarzan, the elms and oaks and maples became the jungle Tarzan roamed. If he could swing from vines then so could I. The wild grapevines along the river be- came ‘climbing ropes’, and a gateway to a potential tree-house where I could sit and daydream as long as I wanted.
There was always debris along the river; the end of another’s dream was the beginning of mine. I found scrap wood for the floor and sides of my tree-house. If Tarzan roped (vined) his tree-house together I would too. It had to be authentic, just like in the movies. It didn’t happen. Tarzan had skills, brawn, and a cast of thousands, but my dream didn’t die.
When I was a kid, we walked to school, stores, the theater (just one), hair shops, ball fields, workplaces. Now, people drive everywhere, even to a gym to exercise.
I played kick the can in the street; hide and seek in the side yard; and stick ball in the semi-dark. Parents and neighbors watched from the porch as they sipped iced tea. Moths and other small flying critters honed in on the single bulb that dimly lit the porch near the front door. If one dog barked, others echoed, but not very much: most just stretched belly out on the cooling porch or concrete. If a car drove down the street, we knew to move and driver knew to watch for us. No friend was ever mowed down by road rage or careening car.
One of our favorite activities was bat hunting, not the kind used in baseball. My friends and I would gather at the wide, well- lit intersection of three streets. An extra-large street light attracted bats to their hunting grounds. The ‘gang’ and I would wrap stones in white handkerchiefs or rags, tie them bag-like and throw with all our might; high up to and even above the streetlight. The bats would be distracted by the cloths. Startled, the combatants would fly and dive toward the ‘giant insects’ as they fell to the ground. Our goal was to capture the mythical mysterious mammals and see it up close. Thankfully, for us and the bats, that never happened.
Remember climbing trees and overseeing the entire known world? Do you remember the joy of wading or swimming in a creek? Remember attaching cards to hit your bike’s spokes and make it sound like a motorbike? Do you remember stretching out in the grass and counting the stars? Did you ever make a ‘skateboard’ from a plank, and your old roller skates? Remember the different sounds and textures between skating on sidewalks, paved streets, bricked streets, outdoor basketball courts, and best of all, the silkiness fresh asphalt? Remember trying to walk on homemade stilts, or cans with strings? Remember rosin cord and can telephones?
I was fortunate to be free from parental interference and warnings about dangers of the world. Mantras kept us grounded: ‘You’ll figure it out,’ mother would say, sometimes adding… ‘If you do anything to shame the family, I’ll have your hide!’ Another favorite was, ‘You’re the one who made the mistake… go fix it.’ ‘Be home for supper with your hands and face washed. I won’t tell you twice.’
Most of today’s senior citizens were raised by parents who would be charged with child abuse in today’s world. ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ was written on every new mom’s dismissal papers.
When I get nostalgic, it’s for the halcyon days of being free and aimless and un-committed to schedules and formalities; and for stretching the borders of the safety net. In other words… growing up!
The need to balance safety and protection with growth and independence is challenging. My grandchildren and greats won’t have the privilege of growing up ‘free and independent.’ For them and their parents the world is something alien from which they need shielding. In my mind the world that stays in their hands, teaching them to use thumbs and abbreviations and stare at their lap instead of their grandparents is far more frightening than the one I knew.
Who am I to judge? I’m the kid who got lost in Mammoth Cave Kentucky. Actually, it was my host who lost me, but that’s an- other story. Ah, the good old days.