August 17, 2012

When I Was A Child I'd Love to....

I had a very pleasant and supportive childhood. At one point before she died I told my mom that I had no bad memories of growing up. I know that made her feel very good about her performance as a parent. I know for an absolute fact that my satisfying retirement is due, in large part, to that upbringing.

I realize that not everyone can make such a statement. In fact, the longer I live and the more people I meet, I realize I was quite blessed. Particularly in my volunteer work with prisoners I hear horror stories of childhood abuse and neglect that pretty much guarantees a flawed adult. Even without serious parental failures, I understand a happy childhood isn't always the case. Even so, I hope what I am writing about today brings back some pleasant memories of things you loved to do when you were so much younger than today.

When I was a young child I'd love to:


Mom & me saluing the flag
at the farm
Go on car trips and vacations with the family. Most summers found us piling into the back of our station wagon for the 7 hour drive from our home near Philadelphia to my grandparent's "farm" north of Pittsburgh. A 32 acre wonderland for kids, there was no running water or electricity in the large, two story house. The bathroom was down the path to the outhouse. Coffee was boiled over a grill in a large speckled pot. Days were spent exploring the woods and fields. Near the end of our two week stay my brothers and I, along with my uncle, would try to walk the 5 miles to the nearest town, Mars, for ice cream cones. The other adults would meet us with the car for the trip back to the farm. To me, those memories defined summer until I started my own family.

Go on picnics and hikes. Weekends in the summer always meant a drive to a local lake or park for some hiking and a blanket-on-the-ground-ants-in-your-food picnic. Eating outside was a time when mom, dad, and the three boys would be together to laugh, complain, share, and run around.

Ride my bike. Every kid in my neighborhood had a bike that became his or her freedom machine. Mine was decorated every 4th of July for the town parade. I put baseball cards in the spokes to create a motor sound. I had fringe on the handle bars, baskets on the back, and a bell that announced my arrival. Getting your first 26" bike was a recognition of your maturity. 


Is there anything better
than Winnie the Pooh?
Read anything I could get my hands on. I came from a family of librarians. My earliest memories are of having Winnie the Pooh read to me. Before TV took over, we would spend our evenings reading books and playing games. My room usually had as many books as toys. That set me up for a lifetime of reading. Even today I have at least three or four books on the nightstand, and another few downstairs next to the "daddy chair." I turn to books for comfort and stimulation.

Build a business. I was an entrepreneur from a very early age. My first money-losing scheme was to publish a neighborhood newspaper. I would write up a few stories that mom would then type, using carbon paper to make copies for me to distribute to neighbors. The only subscriber was my grandmother. She paid 10 cents for a mailed copy.

A few years later I got the idea that I could make money buying postage stamps from other countries, repackaging them, and selling them to stamp collectors. I had a desk filled with small plastic envelopes, a catalog of foreign stamps for sale, and a marker pen for writing the price on each bag. I don't think I actually sold anything, but for a time I was in the exciting world of commerce.   

Like most boys of that era, I had a paper route after school (remember afternoon newspapers?). Unfortunately, my route covered a neighborhood that was down a steep hill and over a mile from my house. That wasn't really a problem except in winter time. Cambridge, Ohio gets a lot of snow. Many a day I would be pushing my bike around my route or back up the hill because the snow was too deep to ride. It was dark and very cold. Today, parents wouldn't let a 12 year old attempt such a job alone. The world has become a much more dangerous place.

I finally decided to become the "boss" by hiring others to deliver my papers for me when the weather was bad. There were serious flaws with that plan. By the time I paid the boy to deliver my papers I lost money that day. My "employee" was less concerned with doing a good job so I usually got a few complaints about customers being skipped or papers thrown on the roof after my fill-in was finished.

Play the clarinet. After a few years of struggling with the piano I switched to the clarinet at 10 years old and later joined the school band. I guess I played well enough; I was selected for two years in a row to play second chair clarinet in the All New England Band. But, I never thought of myself as a musician. The clarinet was more a hobby and a way to be with people I enjoyed.

After high school my music "career" ended until recently when I started playing the guitar. I have found the basics of reading music and playing survived a 45 year layoff. I missed making music for my own enjoyment.
__________________________

Childhood in the 1950's and early 1960's in suburban America was a great time to be a kid. All the problems of the world were kept at bay. Howdy Doody and his friends made everything OK. Of course, a childhood like that was in many respects artifical. We never experienced, or were even aware of, racial inequities and discrimination or poverty. Most everyone I saw was white and prosperous. A few years later my eyes would be opened to what the real world was like.

But, for awhile, childhood kept all that at bay. I am certainly more aware and troubled by what the real world is like. But, the positive memories and habits formed way back then live on in me today. And, for that I am grateful.

19 comments:

  1. When I was a child in the 50's and 60's I loved to:
    1.Wander in the pine grove behind the house and play near the pond and swing on the grapevines in the woods across the road.
    2.Make up songs
    3.Read
    4.Get together with neighborhood friends...if the weather was good...it was always outside..you were expected to play outside if the weather was at all good
    5.Work on 4-H projects and activities
    6.Go on day outings with my parents...we never stayed overnight...always made it home by late evening. Always packed a lunch...we didn't go out to eat. If you went to the state fair, you took lunch. If you went anywhere other than someone's house, you took your own food.
    7.Played with my cousin's at each grandparents' home.

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    1. I'm just guessing but it sounds as though you grew up in a rural or small town environment and were close to lots of family members. It seems like your memories are good ones!

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    2. Yes, I did grow up in a rural area outside a small town. My parents still live there. Grandparents were within 10 and 30 miles, respectively. Lots of good times were had:)! And reading your account of your youth brought all of these fond memories to mind. Thank you very much. Memory Lane sometimes is not near until someone directs you there for a pleasant visit..how kind of you. I truly enjoy your blog and your writing style.

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  2. I grew up in a city in the Southern Tier of NY. Whole different world then. You could walk all over the city, to all the different ethnic neighborhoods, and not worry (e.g. South side was Irish/Mixed, West side was Irish, North side was Italian, East side was Polish). Delivered newspapers, as did my brothers, for many years (used to love seeing the bank account box grow each time I deposited $). Played sports all year round outdoors, including football during the wintertime (those frozen fields hurt when you hit them). Yeah, there was some racial animosity already creeping in, but we always reached across the aisle so to speak, and vice versa. Read whole sections of books in the library during the formative years - loved it and I still love it today. Good times, Bob. Thanks for the memories, but sad so many are growing up never knowing what it was like to truly be a kid.

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    1. Were you in the Binghamton area? I went to Syracuse University so am quite familiar with that part of the state. Chilly !

      I agree completely that too many kids today don't have the chance to just be kids. The world is moving too fast and there is too much technology for a child to stay a child for very long. That's why I am so excited that my grandkids love to read more than anything in the world, including Winnie The Pooh. There is hope for them!

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    2. Bob, you got it. Born and raised on the south side of Binghamton. Lived there until going away to college, fooling around a few years, before winding up in CO. Back to NY for 30+ years (did the MBA program at Syracuse Univ as well while working) and now settled in TN. Interesting road through life; been fun in many ways.

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  3. Diane in Long Beach, CAFri Aug 17, 11:31:00 AM MST

    I loved laying on my back, watching the clouds float over head. Reading a good book using a flash light under the covers at night because I was suppose to go to sleep. Feeding snails to our chickens (yes we had chickens in suburban Los Angeles). Riding my bike up to the liquor store to cash in all of the empty soda bottles (3 cents a bottle). Mostly, not being too busy to have time to day dream and be lazy on hot days (no air conditioners). Bob- thanks for bringing back some wonderful memories!

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    1. One of the experiences that was beneficial to my development was sitting around with the adults at my grandparent's "farm", listening, and occasionally taking part in their conversations. I learned early on to hold my own in a conversation and, most importantly, to quietly listen and learn.

      Reading with a flashlight at night was common practice...with only kerosene lanterns for lighting, they were too dangerous to have upstairs in a 100 year old wooden farmhouse.

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  4. You really lived the Ozzie and Harriet or Father Knows Best childhood. The happiest part of my childhood was my horse. I would have lived in the barn if I could have. Hot summer afternoons, we'd ride our horses bareback to the pond, strip down to our swimsuits under our clothes and take a swim while the horses grazed in the shade. Great memories.

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    1. My wife, Betty, spent her happiest times with her horse, Gentle D. Her home life wasn't all that positive so she went to the stable as often as possible. Finally, it was costing her more to board the horse than she was spending on college, so it had to go.

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  5. Oh wow! Where to begin. We had a horse - Rocky, of course. I'd have to steal him away from my older brother for a bareback ride through the woods. Some days I'd take my diary and sit for a while, writing secrets. We had a Volkswagen Bug and my Mom and her Aunt would pile 7 kids into it and take us to the a spring fed pond to swim several times per week in during summer. Vacations were always to Mexico Beach, FL where we rented a house. Our parents let each of us (4 kids) bring a friend so the house was always full and loud and fun. I loved raking leaves in the fall with my Dad and baking with my Mom. During the school year I always had 4-H projects, AWANA at church and doing odd jobs to earn money to buy fabric or 45's. I loved to sew and made most of my own clothes. We were dirt poor but life was glorious! Oh, that life could be so simple again...

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    1. Gee, I didn't realize how many folks owned a horse while growing up. We had several dogs, but nothing you could ride!

      Ours was a very small family. We had no relatives nearby so that trip to Pittsburgh was the only time I saw grandparents. There were no cousins that we ever saw..just mom & dad, three boys and one set of grandparents. For reasons I still don't understand my dad never had any interactions with his two brothers and their families. I have relatives I have never met.

      Try to explain a 45 record to anyone under 50 and see what kind of looks you get.

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  6. Playing cars in our driveway; learning to whistle using the top of an acorn; visiting my cousin and swimming in the river behind his house; hanging out with my older brother; racing with my sister; playing kickball in the street; reading the newspaper with my dad. And then . . . came high school.

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    1. I never mastered that acorn trick! In my neighborhood we were more likely to play stickball than kickball..a Philly thing.

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  7. Enjoyed reading your post of growing up in the 50's and 60's. That's pretty much how it was for me also... carefree, fun, and full of love. We lived in New Orleans and enjoyed the ambiance and good food. We weren't rich, but we weren't poor either. Mama would take us on the street car to downtown. And we spent our summers either at my Uncle's farm in Mississippi (where we rode Buttons,an old mule) or at my Cousin Rita's place in Waveland... on the Gulf coast. No one had a lot of money, but no one seemed to notice either.

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    1. See..another horse story (OK, mule but close enough).

      Growing up in New Orleans must have quite an experience, It is a fascinating city that took a body blow from Katrina but is still standing.

      Just looked at your blog, Older but better...? Looks like a good read. Thanks for visiting, Rian.

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    2. Actually it IS another horse story. I fell in love with that old mule, later horses in general. I rode every chance I got, my daughter had horses as a child, and now my grand daughter has 3. They get into your blood...

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  8. My childhood memories - spending the whole summer either barefoot, in my roller skates, or in our 4 foot deep Doughboy swimming pool with all the kids in the neighborhood making swirl-pools. (Swirl-pools are what you get when everyone swims around and around as fast as they can in the same direction.) Playing dodgeball in our cul-de-sac until dusk. Gynormous water fights when everyone in the cul-de-sac dragged their front yard hoses out onto the street. Water skiing at the lake with my cousins, getting to sleep outside on tarps in the open air each night because it was so hot.

    It's sad to me that the world has become a more dangerous place in our minds since then because of the information overload of technology. I just looked up the stats on homicide rates, and they are virtually unchanged from the 1950's. Violent and property crime rates today are about where they were in 1969/1970. Sure doesn't feel that way does it? Which is why increasingly I get my news selectively and sparingly.

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    1. You make a very good point. Crime statistics do show most cities and areas are either safer or no more dangerous. But, that doesn't make the news as often as the "blood leads" stories. Plus, as parents, any crime against a child terrifies us and causes a gut reaction probably out of proportion to the actual risk.

      All that being said, kids today lead such a different childhood. The types of activities you enjoyed are just not part of a "normal" youngster's experiences. Would they enjoy it as much as we did if given the chance? Tough question.

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