Thursday, July 20, 2017

In the neighborhood...back then

Remembering summer...the way it was then.

So let's make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we're together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?

- from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood with thanks.

by Helen DePrima

Last week I saw a boy, maybe twelve or thirteen, riding a bicycle -- one boy, alone. He was carrying a backpack, maybe on the way to soccer practice or to a friend’s house to play video games.

Growing up at the raggedy margin between farmland and suburbia, I remember packs of boys on bikes riding endlessly after school or from early morning till dusk in the summer. The older kids might mow lawns or deliver newspapers, but mostly they just rode for the joy of the breeze in their faces and the reedy clatter of playing cards clipped to their bike spokes to mimic motor sounds.

Girls didn’t ride bikes. They could, of course, but they weren’t welcome to join the boys’ roving packs. Girls jumped rope or played hopscotch, rough patterns chalked on level driveways or in the middle of quiet streets. We all played croquet, killer games with whoops of glee at sending an opponent’s wooden ball into the neighbor’s yard or under a rose bush.

Cherokee Park - Louisville, KY
We climbed trees and built tree houses, flimsy platforms perfect for reading on a summer afternoon. A trip to Louisville’s Cherokee Park meant wading in Beargrass Creek and catching crawdads as they darted from one submerged limestone ledge to another; nobody warned us about salmonella or other pollutants, and most of us survived. My cousins and I rode our horses through woods and farm lanes, jumped bareback over logs and creeks, fell off and cracked bones and felt ourselves the luckiest kids in Kentucky.

Now the neighborhoods I drive through are too quiet, the streets too empty. I can spy pools in some back yards, securely fenced to prevent tragedy, but I rarely see children running and giggling in games whose rules only they understand. Maybe the notion of playing without scores or points or structure has been programmed out of kids, a sad loss to growing up.
by Liz Flaherty

Growing up on a farm made my experience a little different from Helen's, I guess. We all rode bikes, because that was the only way to hang out with people. The nearest neighbors were a quarter mile away, the nearest kid neighbors anywhere between a half mile and a mile and a half. My bicycle was a hybrid built from pieces and parts of my brothers' and their friends' old ones. It was my link to the life I wanted to live when I was old enough. 

Twenty-some years later, five miles from the farm where I grew up, my kids rode bicycles everywhere. They and their friends lived outside. The boys earned running around money by baling hay and detasseling corn. My daughter babysat. Things hadn't really changed all that much from my own childhood.

But they have now.


Ball Park - Denver, IN
I agree with Helen that neighborhoods are too quiet. Something seems to have been lost with the passage of time. The ball parks and playgrounds near us are still teeming with kids, but there is a major difference between now and then. Now those kids must be watched every minute because violence and drugs are as prevalent here in the cornfields as they are anywhere else and we're all scared to let the young ones we love out of our sight. 

There is, at least in our minds, safety in the technology that has become their playground.

Writing about this makes me grateful for the line of stories we write for. I admit that the neighborhoods in my Heartwarming books lean toward being more Utopian than can be counted on by even the most Pollyanna-ish among us. In my stories, the kids are always safe, being outside after dark is an important part of summer, and board games are the last word in entertainment. It's not that I live in the past (with typewriters and non-defrosting refrigerators? not me!) or even write about it, but I admit there are more parts of it I wish we'd brought into this century with us. Summertime on bicycles goes to the top of that list. Right along with Mr. Rogers.

43 comments:

  1. Great post, ladies! You've summed up the reasons I love to read, perfectly.
    Growing up, we were always out well after dark, catching fireflies or playing flashlight tag...great memories.

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    1. And the batteries always started to fail when I was "it." :-)

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    2. Hi Jill "Out after dark" was a special adventure, wasn't it. In fall, my aunt burned leaves after nightfall to make sure no embers escaped, and we kids stood watching fascinated by the miracle and danger of fire, half-drugged by the perfume of summer going up in smoke.

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  2. Your childhood memories made me smile, but the smile faded as I, too, thought about how much things have changed. About a mile from where we live, there's a public park, complete with tennis courts, a baseball diamond and trails ideal for bicycling. I hadn't thought of this before, but your post made me realize that on the infrequent occasions I see the courts or diamond being used, it's by adults and not kids. Since there are lovely country roads all around us, I frequently see groups of cyclists, but again they're adults in full cycling gear. Even the dogs are walked by adults! Hmmm . . .

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    1. It's worrisome, isn't it? And sad. I remember walking with my daughter-in-law through the subdivision where they lived at the time. I loved the quiet--until I realized why it WAS quiet. :-(

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    2. Hi Kate -- My cousins and I had no parks nearby, but farms predating the Civil War spread out endlessly beyond my grandfather's. We were welcome to ride between the fields of corn as long as we kept our horses from damaging the crops -- amazing the distance we could cover without riding on roadways. Now my grandparents' house is gone, gobbled up by Interstate expansion, and the cornfields are condo complexes and strip malls. I still love visiting family in Kentucky, but I avoid the extended neighborhood that was such a paradise for childhood.

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  3. I see a lot of the "old neighborhood" vibe at the lake--our little community welcomes kid and there are bikes and kids everywhere, but also kids in golf carts, which gets scary. And kids down on the dock without life jackets, which is a major no-no...life is simpler there though.

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    1. Simpler here, too, but every single day, we remember what happened at Delphi and are reminded. In truth, I know things happened "back then," too, but it was different.

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    2. Liz is right; life back then wasn't as idyllic as we'd like to recall. Children died or were crippled with polio and other diseases that can now be cured or prevented, the Cold War cast its shadow, but somehow even the threats were understandable.

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  4. Thanks for the nostalgia. Yes, the old days included much naivete. I often wonder how we survived with all the unsupervised things we did. LOL No seat belts. Bicycling out in the fields with wild cows and bulls and rattlesnakes. Climbing cliffs and trees. Crawling into caves. Oh my. My guardian angel was very busy. LOL

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    1. I know what you mean! I still get chills when my kids divulge some of the adventures they had that I knew nothing of, but I'm glad they had those adventures.

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    2. Hi Sandra -- Oh yeah, and the more daring, the more fun. We copied the stunts we saw on TV cowboy shows, swinging off our horses onto tree limbs. I cracked my arm and it healed on its own because I didn't want to tell my grandfather what we were doing. Years later a doctor picked up the old fracture on an X-ray; the truth came out at age 60.

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  5. Lucky for us people like to read Heartwarming stories for the same reason we like to write them. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. We are lucky, aren't we, T.R. Thanks for coming by.

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    2. My books don't draw much on nostalgia except as sensory memories; all that I write is set hard in realistic here-and-now. I like to set myself the challenge of offering hope and redemption in often heartbreaking situations.

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  6. I could totally relate to this, Helen and Liz. I remember those long summer days of my childhood when, even in a small city residential area, we played outside all day long. My mother used to say to come home when the streetlights came on! So much play time - games, plays and yes, we got in trouble at times too. But I'm ever grateful for the experiences. Thanks for this wonderful trip down memory lane!

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    1. I lived in the country, so some memories are different, but I miss loving the darkness. It was such fun to ride or walk when it was cool and quiet.

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    2. Glad you enjoyed our ramblings, Janice. Before I started my first novel, set in Kentucky, I tried to write a memoir of growing up on a small Kentucky farm/riding academy. It just didn't work, so I turned it into a what-if story about our family heroine.

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  7. I live in a bit of a throwback neighborhood. There are 7 boys within rock throwing distance and they do go outdoors. I've had a giant hole dug in my backyard just for the fun of it. And, it's scooters that are preferred over bikes. Oh, they love their video games too - though. The media has terrified parents, but then, parents have changed too. My husband and I get out and play with our son and his friends.

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    1. My kids do that, too, Pam, and there's frequently a yardful at my daughter's house. I think I'd like your neighborhood. :-)

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    2. Your neighborhood sounds wonderful. There are enclaves like that in my hometown, a suburb of Louisville. "Progess" has flowed on around them, leaving them pretty much unchanged since the homes were built between the wars.

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  8. Bikes and summer. Biking on a gravelled road, vibrating and twisting through newly gravel and weeks later, humming along the narrow, worn-down strip. Biking across the pasture to the saskatoon patch, dodging gopher holes and bearing down hard on the pedals to climb the hills. By the way, who knows what saskatoons are?

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    1. You got me on saskatoons. New gravel was hard to ride on, wasn't it? You'd get up to a good speed then take a knee-eating slider across the rocks!

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    2. I got a bike one Christmas. I think I rode it once -- no contest between an inert machine and a horse. On days it might be too rainy to ride, we'd sit in the barn to clean tack and wonder about our future. I always wanted to be a writer, but by way of moving out West and marrying a rancher's son. Instead I married a vet student from NJ and spent the next 40-some years in NH. Life's funny like that.

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  9. As kids in Chicago we sure had freedom--we took trains and buses downtown and virtually all over the city, even as preteens. I started riding the subway downtown for dancing lessons as an 11-year-old. My teenage kids had a fair amount of freedom in the city after stints in smaller places, and I think I felt safe and they did, too, because so many people were out and about and on the street The kids weren't isolated in the parks along the lake or on the train. I'm glad I'm finally seeing more kids around me here in Green Bay out on their bikes on the trails and roaming, like Helen said, for the joy of it. I hope they can hang on to their sense of place and the urge to explore. I recall my son and his friends riding the bus and trains to the end of the line--one end of Chicago to the other just because they hadn't been there before. They had jobs, too, but they liked to explore, too. I think it's the urge for the adventure that I hope today's kids retain. Seems like most of us remember fondly a sense of freedom in childhood and seeing where it would take us. Thanks for the post--got me thinking about things, past and present.

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    1. I remember once when my eldest and the others on his 7th grade basketball team were walking downtown in the "larger" town near us (large is relative) from the gym where they were playing a weekend tournament. We let him go, were happy to, really, but when we were on our way home to wait out the time between games, it occurred to me Chris had probably never been taught how to cross the street when there was actual traffic. I don't see kids retaining the kind of freedom preceding generations had--that's been taken from them by too many things--but adventure? You bet.

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    2. Hi Virginia -- like you, my same-age cousin and I rode the bus to downtown Louisville to spend our allowance on tuna salad sandwiched and lime rickies at the Woolworth lunch counter, then a matinee at a movie theater elegant as a palace to our eyes. And then home in time to feed the horses.

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    3. We loved those Woolworth lunch counters! That was part of the fun of being downtown. It sounds so great to think you got home in time feed your horses. Great image.

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  10. Sadly, our contemporary world is far, far removed from those lovely summer nights of my childhood, catching fireflies on the golf course and running up and down our street (where I still live) until at least ten o'clock at night. Those quiet suburbs, however, are havens for human trafficking and drug dealers, I have discovered in my research for my Heartwarming stories. My town of Indian Lake, used to be real. Now, it's as mythical as they come.
    As for the bike riding, it's true. In my town, they're all the adults...the same adults who rode in packs back when I was a kid.
    I am aware that parents these days have GPS's on their kids, their cars, their bikes, their everything. Quite frankly, I don't blame them.
    Fabulous post, ladies, I enjoyed every minute of returning to yesteryear with you!

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    1. Hi Catherine -- So happy you liked our subject this month. I so enjoy reading other's memories, some similar to mine, some very different.

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    2. My kids track my grandkids by their phones if they feel the necessity. I don't blame them, either, but I so regret that they need to. I remember dating with a dime in my purse (no other money, probably) to call home if I needed to.

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  11. I grew up in Memphis when it was safe for a preteen to ride the bus or a bicycle in our East Memphis neighborhood. On Saturdays I'd catch the 57 Lamar bus and ride downtown, get my photo taken at the Blue Light studio, watch a movie then grab a hamburger and fries before swinging by the Blue Light to pick up my photo. Sometimes I didn't get home until ten o'clock and no one worried. I do miss those days, but not the non-selfdefrosting fridge or typewriter!

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    1. Great, another Southern gal! I do believe that the South yields experiences and attitudes unlike any other region. You take care now, you hear?

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    2. My dh grew up in Louisville. He talks about riding the bus down to Fountain Ferry and about walking to Wyandotte Pool with his towel and his 50 cents and spending the DAY. I don't know if the differences are so much regional as urban/suburban/rural.

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  12. I grew up in a small town at a time when few mom's worked and every mother parented all the kids in the neighborhood. We all rode bikes, skated with out-door skates, built forts and played kick the can by moonlight. Now it's as if people are afraid to let their children out of the yard. Or they're in day-care, or they're inside with video games. Times they are a changing. Loved the post.

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  13. I remember being out from morning until the lights came on at night. We waited patiently each day for Mr. Softee to come round and bring us ice cream cones. We rode bikes and skipped rope and played jax. Now it seems the sun is so hot it melts your skin off unless you bathe in sunblock, and no one dare go to creepy guy in the ice cream truck to buy anything. I almost never see girls skipping rope—definitely not playing jax. That's why I love those Heartwarming books, where folks are safe in amusement parks, and kids can run around in backyards safely (ahem....most kids, right Kate James?). Like Liz Flaherty, I wish some of the things in the past would have made their way into our present. And not to get religious here, but it brings to mind a Bible verse that says "the scene of this world is changing." Now who can argue with that? Nice post.

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    1. Welcome, Laurie -- BTW,love your garden photos on FB. Your springtime comes considerably before our in NH, so your flowers give me something to look forward to.
      We didn't have an ice cream truck, but we rode to the small grocery store for ice cream and candy, hitching our horses to the handrail outside the door. All gone now -- what seemed a magic kingdom to us then is now an intersection on I-264.

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    2. You're right about things changing, Laurie. I remember the ice cream truck at friends' houses. Fun!

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  14. Thanks for sharing your memories, Liz and Helen. I grew up on a farm as well, with no near neighbors or siblings close in age, so I spent a lot of time alone with my dog, my books, and my imagination. I remember once rigging up a travois and harness for my dog after reading about it. My children's childhood was just the opposite. I think there were twelve boys and three girls close to their age on our cul-de-sac, and they played outside together constantly, roaming up and down the street and the sledding hill in the park at the end of the street. Now I see two little girls playing outside at the house on the corner, but they're not allowed to roam, and can only ride their scooters when their parents are outside to watch. There's a playground in the park, so we hear lots of children laughing, but we also know there are drug deals happening in that same park. It's a scary world.

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    1. It is scary. Honesty makes me admit I used to fear for my kids, too. I drove around the neighborhood more than once in search of a boy on a bicycle, but it was a different kind of thing then. Thanks, Beth!

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  15. I'm glad I and then my kids grew up before realistic fears limited their childhood.

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  16. Loved this post, ladies. This is why, when my kids were still little, I decided to move further out into the country. I wanted them to enjoy the outdoors and walks/playing in a small town/safe environment. Times really have changed...and I grew up watching Mr. Rogers!:)

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    1. I know--that was a large part of what moved us so far outside city limits, too.

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