I didn’t grow up poor, but when I was young, my father’s business was new. Money was tight. It got looser with the years, but by the time he started making serious money, I was gone from the family nest.

stick and ball

As a child, toys were few and far between. I always got one really nice doll every year. Usually for my birthday in March. My mother had exceptional taste in dolls and I have carried on the tradition and passed the taste for (now) antique dolls to my granddaughter.

Other toys, though … we didn’t have much. No one did. Everyone had a bicycle, even the poorest kids. Whether we got them brand new or third-hand, all of them were equally beat up. A shiny bike was a bike nobody rode.

Someone had a badminton set. Someone else had an old swing set. One of the girls had an inflatable pool. Monopoly was ubiquitous. We all had a set and we played it relentlessly for hours on Mary’s front porch on hot summer days.

We had decks of cards and learned to play bridge and poker. Someone could usually scrounge a length of rope for jumping. We built “forts” out of old crates. Otherwise, it was tag, stoop ball, stickball, hide n’ seek. Anything you could do without mom and dad supplying the tools. Because they didn’t. Wouldn’t. We were expected to make our own entertainment.

Creativity was our main weapon against boredom. We weren’t allowed to sit inside when the sun was shining. I wasn’t allowed to watch television at all. Sometimes I got a temporary pass to stay in if I was immersed in a book, but eventually, mom took the book away and told me to go out and get some exercise.


Fresh air and exercise were deemed more important than another book. If given my druthers, I would have spent all my time reading — which was considered unhealthy, so out I went.

The other day in Walmart I saw a boxed “stickball” set. It included a special stick, and a couple of hard rubber balls. And of course, logos. You gotta have the logos, right?

A stickball set? I don’t know why I was shocked, but I was. To me, it signaled the death of youthful invention and imagination. No one would again sneak into the kitchen to try to steal mom’s broomstick. Or resurrect a nearly dead rubber ball for “just one more game.”

Why bother when you can ask your folks to buy a set at Walmart or order it from Amazon? Which doesn’t seem (to me, anyhow) to leave a lot of room for fond childhood memories. I’m glad I’m not growing up now.

The freedom of childhood has been collateral damage in the advance of technology. I don’t think I’d like being a kid now.

28 thoughts on “COLLATERAL DAMAGE

  1. “Stickball set” !!??? Scary. Up here in Canada ‘street hockey’ is a popular/common summer pass-time. No ball? a can is fine. No hockey stick? any stick will do. No goal? those rubber boots we use in the winter work well. Free, cheap, fun.


    • Yes. Way to go! Buying it as a boxed set defeats the whole idea of being McGyver and figuring out how to do it with whatever you have on hand. Buy a stick for anything from $17.99 to $47.00? You can buy a broom handle at a hardware store and hand wrap it with electrical tape for about $5.00. Including sales tax. If you really want to go nuts, you can paint your own logo on it!


  2. Sounds like my childhood! My brother and I never wanted for anything but we made our own games as well. Forts out of stuff lying around, a train out of furniture and so on.
    One of my favourite presents was a fort my dad made, with a working drawbridge and everything.

    I don’t think I’d like to be a kid today either. Growing up with my eyes glued to a screen.


    • Parents have gotten very fearful. I don’t think the world is more dangerous for kids than it ever was. There have always been dangers. We ignored them. Lived, played, enjoyed. Over-protection is producing a generation of weenies. They are scared of EVERYTHING because they’ve never done anything on their own.


  3. More than anything else we had our imagination which allowed us to do anything. Throw in the radio, books, music, the spaulding, the baseball cards and we were rich. The summer days seemed endless til someone said, “Garry, you’re Mom’s calling you.”


  4. I know I can’t believe there is no creativity for kids anymore. I see house show after house show where the kids toys are scattered throughout the house. I can’t imagine the money spent on all the toys, noise in the house, scarcity of floor space. The worse though is no imagination for creating activities or dreaming or experimenting. For you it was stick ball. I had a handball and tennis racket and old bike. I sure could relate. Oh yeah and my lincoln log set when I was younger. Blankets and chairs to make houses and shelters. Yah those where the days. When I was that young I lived on the north shore of Lake Superior so we built snow forts and tunnels.


    • The point was that we had to make what we wanted out of whatever we could scrounge. You can’t build anything when it’s all built for you. I had blocks. My friends had Lincoln Logs (lucky them!). I wanted the erector set but they were expensive. When my son was growing up, it was all about Lego. He could make a whole world with Lego and a few blocks. When he grew up, he built a complete world where electric trains ran … an extrapolation of from the world of Lego 🙂 My only objection to Legos was how bad they felt when I stepped on them with a bare foot. Ouch!

      Sometimes too much stuff is like nothing at all.


    • Yes, it is much harder because as a society, we’ve put our kids on electronic leashes and “play schedules.” The idea of a “play date” makes my head ache. Kids grow up with no freedom at all. We are protecting against ever learning to be themselves, to make their own decisions, create their own ideas. It saddens me. I’m very glad I raised my son way back in those earlier days.


    • I think many of us of similar age had similar experiences. Our home lives may have been very different, but play time was remarkably similar because we were all allowed to be children, not mini adults with cell phones and day runners.


  5. Memories of our childhood play are some of the fondest times of life. We gathered in our next door neighbor’s garage to play cards and board games. Monopoly was a favorite. I still consider myself one of the most vicious players I know because of the frequency that we played. We loved Canasta, Hearts, Spades and Pinochle.

    We were poor but didn’t let us get us down. We made our own stuff including our highly customized bicycles. Everyone in our circle of friends, with one exception, was poor too so we just didn’t pay it any attention. A prized possession was a Duncan glow in the dark yo-yo.


    • There was little difference between the poorest among us and the richest. You couldn’t tell by our clothing or toys and we all went to the same public schools except for the kids who went to the Catholic school, which was (to our mind) just like public school but with nuns and uniforms. Our bikes were universally scratched, bent, and well-used. None of us had money to throw around. We had our own little society and we were not watched like hawks. Whatever was wrong at home — and there was plenty of that — when we were out with our friends, we owned ourselves.


  6. Beautifully expressed, Marilyn, and I so agree. Children these days miss out on so much because everything – except imagination and creativity – is there for them at the press of a button, click of a switch. xxx


    • It really is parents’ fault. Society’s fault. Everyone is so terrified of what MIGHT happen, we’ve made it impossible for kids to just go out and play. Just play. No play dates, no cell phone, no beepers. No camera surveillance. And no constant parental micro management. I’m glad I raised my son before all the nonsense become “mandatory.” HE would have hated it and so would I!


  7. I think that kids today are stuck between being mini adults with electronic gadgets having little or no real freedom with structuered activities and not even being allowed to go to the playground alone. I wouldn’t like it as I resisted anything organised as a child (Girl Guides, clubs, school..)


    • I would have hated it too. My son would have hated it. He’d have thrown the cell phone in the first sewer he passed. How can you march to a different drummer if your ears are blocked with ear buds and you’re wearing an electronic monitor?


  8. We had a game called ‘kick can and hop it’… an empty tin can and a bunch of kids was all that was needed. I do think that a child’s imagination is the best toy to play with.


  9. Thanks. There was a lot to be said for the era where boredom had to be actively resisted without being crushed as now by media. Lot to be said for idle dreaming too! Lovely post. Regards Thom.


    • I think it was a lot healthier all the way around. I am sure I learned to love books because they were an escape — and we were a LOT freer than kids are now. We got to go out and do whatever we wanted. No beepers or cell phones. Kids now are like ex-cons on probation. They are constantly tracked. I’d have hated that.


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