As I sat at my parent's house on the Fourth of July during our family's picnic watching my daughter Kathryn and my nephew Evan play "Hide and Seek", I thought about how far I have come from my own childhood and simultaneously marveled at them while realizing that I was now the parent instead of the child. Like many of us I realized how time marches forward and my childhood memories of some things are now just that, memories. Many are pleasant, but some are sad.
I think back to the endless evenings of summer fun playing "Catchers and Freers" over blocks of the town in and out of people's yards. Everywhere was open for hiding and most of the neighbors who didn't have dogs seemed to have no cares as we zipped through yards and hopped fences looking for that ideal hiding spot. There were some yards you just didn't use, but most were open game.
Today, most people sound the alarm at the gate probably because they are wary of children today in their yards, not only afraid of what might happened if they get hurt, but also because many of them are so disrespectful of adults and property that it sometimes is dangerous to you to let them run through a yard.
I thought about how we rode bicycles carefree all over town. One of our biggest adventures each summer was to take our bikes over to the Ginder stadium. Behind the stadium, the borough collected the town's ashes in a large pile. It was probably close to 12 to 15 feet tall or more. We would take turns seeing how far up the pile we could go on our bikes.
Most of the time, we did not get far simply because the ashes were so loose that after four or five feet the bike would sink into the dust. Those of us with dirt bikes fared a little better but none of us could normally make it up the pile. We didn't care. I think our mothers did though when we came home all dusty and dirty, but it was fun. We were successful a few times if we happened to attempt the hill climb after a rain storm when our wheels would pack the ashes instead of sinking into them.
Miller's Wholesale Store was open on the highway and Mrs. Miller had a candy counter during the year even though she also sold wholesale to local stores. In the summer though especially in the weeks prior to July, she augmented the displays with fireworks. Nothing dramatic but smoke bombs, snakes and sparkling novelties. We would buy them by the dozen and they were about ten cents. We would light them in the alleys or our yards and nobody thought twice about it. I don't think you can buy them today as readily and most retailers are probably more cautious to whom they sell them except for your biggest stores like Wal-Mart and Target, but I doubt those stores even carry smoke bombs.
When I was a bit older, my parents decided to buy a swimming pool because of my brother's allergies so we spent many summer afternoons and evenings swimming with our friends in the backyard. We especially enjoyed those rarer nights when you could swim at night. It was amazing how different everything was at night and how hard it was to see underwater unlike the day. We wrestled, played Marco Polo, tag, dodge ball and other games for weeks on end. It was the highlight of the summer.
I remember the last weekend of the summer was Labor Day weekend. The town had a large festival and it took up several blocks of Ludlow Street. Every church and organization would have a booth and there were always plenty of games to play and things to do. It was the event of the summer. In 1978 when disco was popular for a few weeks, I remember the teenagers dancing the "Hustle" on the street while a band played. After the festival ended and the Labor Day Telethon finished, summer was over and school started again. Sadly we said good-bye to shorts and swim trunks, long afternoons and careless days and went back to the books.
I wonder sometimes if that magic of our youth will ever be shared by our daughter. It was a simpler life without the electronic gadgets and gizmos and I think it was one that I am glad to have experienced and I'm sad in a way she will never know. The joy of a life without electronics, the summers of fun and joy just being with friends and using your imagination daily. I hope that we can show her this in some small way and give to her what I think was one of the greatest gifts of childhood-the simple summer.
Til next time …