Not feeling at my peak, but I did up a few pictures in advance. All blue, all July …
The summer of my 13th year, my girlfriends and I discovered that there had once been a swimming pool in the front yard of a neighbors’ house. We immediately decided to clear it out and make it into a swimming pool again.
We collected whatever digging implements we could find and the five of us went forward to commence the project. We tried the various shovels, most of which were really spades designed for garden work and eventually decided to try the bigger shovels to see if we could make more progress that way.
Bigger shovels were in short supply, so I decided to use the big pickax. I think this is when my back problems began because scrawny little me swung the pick backward and I heard a snap accompanied by a sharp pain in my back. Probably that was the first of several vertebrae to bite the big one.
I immediately abandoned the project of building our own swimming hole and hobbled home. I said I’d hurt my back.
No one paid me much attention to it. We were always getting banged up doing something. Also, my mother was of the “old world” opinion that no one calls a doctor (much less goes to the hospital) unless they are near death. Even though I was walking bent over and couldn’t stand up? It would get better. Just another childhood bump.
It did get a little better, but it never got all the way better, so I took up riding horses next. This also didn’t fix the problem and when I fell off, it made the problem worse.
Eventually, when I was 19, surgery was required. I had begun to lose all the sensation in my right leg and most in my left leg. Also, for the first time in years, my back didn’t hurt. It was numb.
Most youngsters damage themselves — often for a lifetime — while playing sports. I’m pretty sure I’m the only girl who did it with a pickax.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how we used to go out to play. Without cell phones, with no communication with home. No one got worried or frantic because a kid went missing for a few hours and I wondered if kids in this country really play anymore.
We bumped into a squadron of boys. Maybe 11 or 12? They all arrived by bicycle, ditched them along the fences, pulled off their outer clothing and jumped in the river. One of them wanted to fish and was distressed that the “no fishing” sign was up and we got into one of those adult-child conversations wherein I tried to explain that this is when the trout are breeding, so they need to protect them so that next year, there will be full-grown trout.
I think the “cycle of life” explanation doesn’t mean a lot to 12-year old boys. They simply haven’t seen that much of life, especially when they live in the Valley.
I didn’t see a single boy with a telephone. I saw them with bikes, fishing rods, baskets to collect whatever they might find in the river. I watched them grimace as they stepped on something (yuk). Gather together to try and figure out what that thing is.
They were sure we were professional photographers come especially to take their pictures. I couldn’t figure out why until I realized they never see people with actual cameras. Everyone they know takes pictures with a telephone.
So, ergo-ipso, we must be professional photographers. After that, it was hard to get them to stop posing. They did want me to make sure to get pictures of them jumping into the river. I did, too. Proving that I haven’t completely lost my reflexes and also proving that this is a very fast camera! Garry got more pictures, from different angles.
As one of them got out shaking, I said: “Cold isn’t it!”
He said: “Wow, yeah, cold!”
It was good to see kids just playing. No phones, no electronic anything, although they sure had nicer bicycles than we did! And they had the river and that’s no small thing. No one had to wait for mom to drive them to the beach … or even older, take the subway to a beach in Brooklyn or Queens. The just got on their bikes and went to the river that had the least current and was pretty shallow. Safe enough.
I guess the answer is that kids still play, just like they used to, but not in cities or suburbs. Here, in the country, they play. I would have given almost anything to have a river a place where we could swim, even if the bottom was gooey with mud and other unspeakable gunk.
When I was growing up … and even when my son was growing up in the 1970s, kids went out to play. Alone. Unsupervised. Unstructured. Disorganized with not a single adult to keep an eye on us. We built “forts” and “clubhouses” out of crates and old boxes and anything we could find that mom wouldn’t miss.
We played stickball with old, pink Spalding balls that were often long past bouncing or even being “round.” You didn’t go and buy a “stickball set.” You found an old broomstick and someone had a ball, or what used to be a ball, or you all chipped in and bought one in the local (!) toy store.
Remember toy stores? Not “Toys R’ Us.”
Local shops where you could buy a ball or a bat or a Ginny doll for a few cents or a few dollars. The shopkeepers were always grumpy old guys (probably a lot younger than we are now), but they had a gleam in their eye. If you don’t like kids, you don’t run a toy store.
We ran around a lot. Playing tag was basic. Even dogs play tag. “Catch me if you can,” you shouted and off you went. If you got tagged, you were O-U-T. But if you could run fast enough, you could grab whatever was “home” and one shouted “Home free all!” and everyone was back in the game.
There was Hide and Seek, another classic. Someone hid, everyone hunted. You had to be careful. If you hid too well, your friends might get bored looking for you and go do something else. But no one’s mother came to complain that you were being bullied. This was stuff you dealt with because there will always be bullies. Unless you were in real danger, it was better (then and now) to cope on your own. Much better than waiting for rescue.
In the real world, rescue is rare, but bullying is not.
Jump rope. There was always an old piece of laundry line somewhere. They actually call it skipping rope in other parts of the country. In the cities, the Black girls played a variation called “double Dutch” using two ropes. We all knew how to do the double Dutch ropes turning, but none of us ever mastered the technique of actually jumping. More like an intricate dance — and I also wasn’t ever much of a dancer.
Klutz that I was and am, I was barely competent on a single line, much less two. I remain in awe of how incredibly graceful, athletic, and coördinated those girls were … and are. There was a feature about them on the news a couple of weeks ago and I am no less awestruck now than I was more than 60 years ago.
Along with jumping rope came chanting. All those weird little ditties we sang as we jumped. They mostly were alphabetic and involved names and places.
“I call my girlfriend … in …” when we were playing in a group. You could gauge your popularity by when and who “called you in” to jump in tandem. Looking back, I think the problem was not unpopularity, but being a washout as an athlete. I was a slow runner, an indifferent jumper, and a terrified tree climber. On the other hand, when it came to derring-do, I was a champ. I could organize games of pretending –pirates and cowboys and outlaws and cat burglars.
We burgled, but we never stole. We weren’t thieves, just little girls trying to prove we could do it.
I don’t see kids playing outdoors these days. Almost never, except as organized groups with one or more adults supervising. Calling the plays with whistles and shouts. Children are not allowed to “go out and play” anymore. Everyone is afraid of something. Bullying, kidnappers, traffic, skinned knees. Unlike we kids who were always covered with scabs from a thousand times falling down on the sidewalk or street.
Come home with a bloody knee today and they’ll call an ambulance. Growing up, unless you appeared to have broken something, a bath was the remedy of choice and usually, beneath the dirt, was an unbroken kid.
It makes me wistful, thinking about it. My family was dysfunctional, but I could escape by going out to play.
“Bye, Ma, I’m going out,” and off you went. It was the best part of being a child. Those months between school and hours after school (much less homework and we still learned more!) contained what seemed unlimited freedom. That was the freest I would ever be in this life.
Once you were out of the house and too far away to hear your mother calling, you could do whatever you liked. You could be whoever you imagined. There was nothing you had to do, no place you needed to be. Until the streetlights came on.
You had to be home when the streetlights came on. It was a fundamental law, the bottom line. Do what you will, but be home when the streetlights come on. In those warm summers of childhood, the days flowed in an endless stream.
Darkness fell late. There was more than enough time.
So I found this question on Facebook and it brought back a deluge of memories.
Hey moms, I’m in desperate need of help. I’m at my wit’s end with my lovely little defiant child. I love him lots, but enough is enough. Every morning, my son wakes up at 3 in the morning and refuses to go back to sleep. He will literally be up for the entire day. I’ve repeatedly tried putting him back in his room. I’ve tried time outs, taking away his privileges. Tried having him do chores. Nothing works. He talks back, makes faces, or just laughs at me. I literally don’t know what to do anymore.
My mother used to tell stories about me as a baby. How I’d be up and wide awake by 3 or 4 in the morning. We lived in a cheap apartment on Rose Street in Freeport. When I got up, she would get up too. She’d put on her overcoat and wait until the heat came up, which wasn’t until around seven.
She eventually figured out that I needed to be busy. Crayons, paint, and lots of paper were big items in my world. I didn’t sleep as much as most kids and when awake, I needed to be doing something. Ultimately, reading took over a lot of that time, but until then, drawing (the three-year-old version of it) and other crafts filled the time. That and running around outside. Knowing me now, it’s hard to imagine what an active kid I was.
Eventually, I learned to read books, write stories, and draw. Life got better.
Even as a toddler, I went to bed hours later than the “official” bedtime for little kids. I never slept as many hours as other kids. Garry recalls being much the same. Of course, these days, there’s no such thing as too much sleep, but we are long past youth, much less childhood.
Defiance is an overused term these days. Any time a child doesn’t want to do what mom or dad wants him or her to do, it’s defiance. My theory is that it’s more like boredom than defiance when a box of crayons and paper can cure it!
Smart kids need challenging activities and they can be hard for caretakers. Especially hard for working mothers who are already tired by the time they get home.
Don’t label your children. Smart kids hear what you say and figure out what you mean. Just because he or she doesn’t “behave” doesn’t make him or her defiant. These days, with so many mothers working and convinced that “outside” await predators waiting to snatch your kid, every minute of the kid’s time is programmed.
I shudder imagining growing up like that
There on the rocky outcropping of the tiny island in the middle of the great waters, the two young ladies sat upon the shore. They had labored long and hard to create the great raft that would carry them to land. To civilization and a new world.
“Are you ready?” asked Carol.
“I’m ready,” declared her determined companion.
Dressed in filthy rags that mere hours ago had been clean, pressed play clothing, they pushed the raft into the waters — when they heard the fateful calling.
“Oh no!” cried Carol. But there was no mistaking it. It was Mom. “It must be lunchtime,” she moaned. “Now we’ll NEVER get it launched.”
Thus the launching of the craft was left for yet one more day. All they could do was hope the water in the deepest puddle in the neighborhood would remain one more day lest they have to add wheels to the … well … whatever it was.
Raft, flotation device, or something else. They had built it from scraps and pieces of old crates. Somehow, it had held together, but they doubted it would hold together very long. Lunch might be too long for all they knew.
But the call had come and they had to go. You had to heed that call or dreadful things might happen. Dreadful things that might last well into the dark of evening!
And so homeward they trudged. Another hard day’s work lost to the calling of home. Their bold yet makeshift traveling device set aside for one more day …
This tune has been running through my head all morning. Why? Maybe it was trying to get the birds to hold still for me? But I can’t get it out of my head, so TUNE is the perfect word for my morning.
You CAN fly!
But, Peter, how do we get to Never Land?
Fly, of course!
It’s easy! All you have to do is to is to is to
Huh That’s funny!
What’s the matter?
Don’t you know?
Oh sure, it’s, it’s just that I never thought about it before
Say, that’s it! You think of a wonderful thought!
Any happy little thought?
Like toys at Christmas? Sleigh bells? Snow?
Yep! Watch me nowhere I go! It’s easier than pie!
He can fly! He can fly! He flew!
Now, you try
I’ll think of a mermaid lagoon
Oh underneath a magic moon
I’ll think I’m in a pirate’s cave
I’ll think I’ll be an Indian brave
Now, everybody try one, two, three!
We can fly! We can fly! We can fly!
This won’t do what’s the matter with you?
All it takes is faith and trust oh!
And something I forgot Dust!
Yep! Just a little bit of pixie dust
Now, think of the happiest things
It’s the same as having wings
Let’s all try it, just once more
Look! We’re rising off the floor
Jiminy! Oh my! We can fly!
You can fly! We can fly!
Come on, everybody, here we go!
Off to Never Land!
Think of a wonderful thought
Any merry little thought
Think of Christmas, think of snow
Think of sleigh bells off you go!
Like a reindeer in the sky
You can fly! You can fly! You can fly!
Think of the happiest things
It’s the same as having wings
Take the path that moonbeams make
If the moon is still awake
You’ll see him wink his eye
You can fly! You can fly! You can fly!
Up you go with a heigh and ho
To the stars beyond the blue
There’s a Never Land waiting for you
Where all your happy dreams come true
Every dream that you dream will come true
When there’s a smile in your heart
There’s no better time to start
Think of all the joy you’ll find
When you leave the world behind
And bid your cares goodbye
You can fly! You can fly! You can fly!
There it is, Wendy, second star to the right
And straight on ’til morning
Songwriters: Sammy Cahn / Sammy Fain
You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly! lyrics © Walt Disney Music Company
I was almost six when this movie was released. It was the year my sister was born and it was playing everywhere. My Aunt Ethel and Uncle Herman took me to see the movie at Radio City Music Hall. It was the only time I was there and I loved the movie. Of course, I was 5, so you’d figure I’d love it. But then, my Aunt Kate took me to see it. Then my Aunt Yetta took me to see it too. Overall, I think I saw it at least five times in less than two weeks. So unlike other Disney movies, all of which I saw (Mom was a Disney fan), this one really lodged firmly in my brain.
There are some pretty racist sections in it about Natives and I can’t watch it anymore. There are sections like that in all the early animations and that’s no doubt why they are redoing almost all of those movies. That being said, I swear I can see every frame of this original movie.
I also had the book with the 45 rpm records that told you when to turn the page in the book with the sound of Hook’s clock ticking.