Seeing those fireflies got me thinking about summer when I was a child. That was in the 1950’s, just to give you a point of reference, and I have to say that it both seems like yesterday and another lifetime.
My father was a big fan of books like Penrod and Sam by Booth Tarkington. If you aren’t familiar with it, think Tom Sawyer without the danger. Or Little House on the Prairie without the hardship and the locusts. I read them all and the idyllic life they portrayed seemed so wonderful.
The funny thing is that our life wasn’t that different. We lived in a time when we could – and did – leave the house unlocked almost all the time. My parents sent us out in the morning, confident that the neighborhood was safe and if we needed anything, we could knock on almost any door for help.
We had one TV and three channels. My dad was the one who got to choose the programs but, honestly, there wasn’t much difference between Gunsmoke and Cheyenne, Red Skelton or Milton Berle, I Love Lucy or I Married Joan.
We did things together as a family, like playing cards or board games. Cards were a way to learn your numbers and do math in your head. Board games helped you count or read. No one said these things to us but they were true. My father never let us win, so when we beat him at something, it felt like an achievement.
I was fascinated with the badge requirements in the Girl Scout handbook and was always trying to do the assignments. I can clearly remember starting a little campfire and trying to make stew. Patience was not my strong suit and 30 minutes was about all the time I could wait. The potatoes were raw and disgusting.
Of course, I was doing it by myself. There were only two girls close to my age in the neighborhood. Kathy and her family had moved by the time I tackled the campfire stew and Leslie and I just never hit it off. I liked her mother a lot, though, and often went to visit with her.
(My actual experience in the Girl Scouts wasn’t memorable. In general, it seemed like too much regimentation and not enough fun. Did I mention that I have often been accused of not working well with others?)
My sisters were both more gregarious and more willing to play sports. Badminton was about as athletic as I ever got. The appeal of running around and getting sweaty eluded me as a child and I never changed my mind.
So I would wander off alone, exploring the creeks and wooded areas that still existed near where we lived. I would sit with a book under a tree or spend hours coloring the paper doll clothes I had designed for my sisters to play with.
I learned to sit quietly and listen to the adults talk. I read adult books. And I dreamed of growing up and doing what I wanted. Not that I had any clear idea of what that was, but happily ever after had a nice ring to it.
My mother didn’t drive until I was almost 15 years old, so we weren’t shuttled around to a lot of activities. Really, no one lived that kind of life in the 50’s. I guess Little League ball must have been around, but none of the kids in our neighborhood were players.
It was just the long, hot, endless time of getting to know yourself, doing what you wanted (within reason) and just being a kid. I tried to give my own children that experience when they came along. In the 70’s and early 80’s, computers had not taken over our lives. But now? I listen to what children do with their time and wonder if someday, they won’t wonder what happened to their childhood?
Which kind of childhood summer did you have?