“The summer passed in routine contentment. Routine contentment was: improving our treehouse that rested between giant twin chinaberry trees in the back yard, fussing, running through our list of dramas based on the works of Oliver Optic, Victor Appleton, and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
In this matter we were lucky to have Dill. He played the character parts formerly thrust upon me – the ape in Tarzan, Mr. Crabtree in The Rover Boys, Mr. Damon in Tom Swift. Thus we came to know Dill as a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies.”
– from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
When I look back on seasons past, I think of how much fun the kids of my generation could cook up, none of it costing a dime. We didn’t have computers or computer games, and even television offered little to entice us.
Who would want to give up a game of hide and seek for The Art Linkletter Show? That was for moms to watch while they ironed the clothes we would surely wrinkle up in no time flat.
I wonder sometimes how we survived those endless hours of play, but my parents raised five kids without much of anything that could be considered a trauma: one broken collar bone suffered by my sister Debi while playing with friends on a sliding board, and a few stitches in my arm when I accidentally was knocked to the ground at a family reunion.
Maybe we were tough little critters, but weren’t we all just a little bit tougher then? Endless hours of riding bikes, climbing trees like seasoned monkeys, chasing butterflies through alfalfa fields for the fun of it kept us fit in spite of the highly-sugared Kool-Aid we all seemed to live on back then.
Baseball business. When we got together with the Banks and Moffett kids, we had enough for a real baseball game. Round up some stuff to serve as bases and we were in business.
I remember one time when the Banks boys discovered some old shingles thrown on a burning pile, and we thought we’d really hit the big time. We finally had something that came close to resembling real bases!
We had to hurry up and get the game under way – we were all dairy farm families, and everything had to take place in those few free hours between milkings.
“Hurry up – Dad says we’re starting early tonight!” somebody would holler, and none of us had to ask what they were talking about. Get that first pitch thrown so we could make the most of every minute!
Just each other. Back at home, we didn’t have neighbor kids and sidewalk games – all we had was each other. We made up games to play in the hay mow, or our own version of “Monster in the Well” in the old barn.
Sometimes our imaginations were so vivid and our play so intense that I would find myself too scared to venture out to the barn alone for awhile.
And when my sisters would urge me to “just be yourself!” I sometimes had a hard time figuring out who that was, after we’d played such a wide range of characters in our made-up games.
No measure. We spent so many hours playing hide and seek as well as every version of tag: freeze tag, flashlight tag, king of the mountain tag. Little wars would break out over the dumbest technicalities, and it required cool heads and great patience to work through it all.
Adults didn’t need to worry over us, and we benefited from our fun in ways that can’t be measured. We thrived on fun and freedom in wide open spaces, we learned to negotiate, to state our case, to develop our imaginations and work together.
I can’t help but think that we are all better for it.