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A happy childhood

Food For Thought

One of my sisters married a Navy man and lived in California for the first several years of their marriage. Life in Redondo Beach was dramatically different from the life she’d known in Knoxville, where we grew up. For instance, if she wasn’t up early enough in the morning to collect the bottles of milk delivered to her front porch, she couldn’t count on it being there later. Her children couldn’t leave toys in the yard while they ate lunch and expect to find them there afterward. In fact, her children couldn’t play outdoors at all unless she was with them.
During those same years, I was living in Iowa City and didn’t have to worry about someone stealing the milk from the insulated box on my front porch. My children played all over the neighborhood, usually within shouting distance, and their playmates were in and out of our house several times during any given day. The tricycles, scooters, toy trucks, kites and ball bats often remained unmolested for weeks at a time on the lawn and open front porch. Our house was within two blocks of an elementary school, a supermarket, a cemetery and a neighborhood park. There was plenty of foot traffic past our house but, to my knowledge, the only thing ever stolen were a few green apples from the tree in our back yard.
Unlike the neighborhood where I grew up, most of the mothers in our Iowa City neighborhood worked at least part-time and I, being home all day, soon became the go-to person for scraped knees, glasses of Kool-aid, and playground disputes. My spacious attic was often filled with playing children on rainy days and my cookie jar and bathroom generally served extra duty. And, one summer, my front porch was cluttered with dozens of jars holding butterflies, cicadas, grasshoppers and numerous other insects collected by the neighborhood children. Our dog was familiar with every child for several blocks in every direction and my baby daughter enjoyed numerous stroller excursions around the neighborhood, courtesy of pre-teen girls who liked to play nanny.
I suppose because I’d elected to stay home and raise my children myself rather than depend on baby sitters or day-care facilities, my children came close to enjoying the sort of childhood I had known. It’s possible, subconsciously at least, I made that choice for just that reason. More likely, it was just I couldn’t imagine any other sort of childhood than the one I’d known.
My mother believed in work before play. And, she had some fairly rigid rules and routines that assured the work got done. Monday was laundry day, Tuesday was for ironing, Wednesday for mending and sewing, Thursday was for shopping, Friday for dusting and cleaning floors, Saturday for baking or, when needed, doing yard work, and Sunday for visiting relatives or having company for dinner. It was generally accepted, except in urgent situations, the day’s work would be done by noon. If not, then it might wait a week before being continued.
Under certain circumstances (when the garden dictated canning or freezing) whole days and even after-supper hours might be devoted to getting the peas picked, shelled and ready for the freezer, but certain things were considered “special occasions” and might supersede the regularly scheduled chores. These might be such things as picking apples or hunting mushrooms, and were treated more like recreational activities than work. The one thing we could count on, except for very rare instances, was afternoons were for more pleasant activities than work, and we were generally off the hook once lunchtime had passed.
I guess the one feature of my childhood I most cherish and see missing from the lives of today’s children is the freedom we were given. There were no such things as play-dates in those days. Kids just rushed out the back door, rounded up a friend or two, and found something to do. They might ride bikes or play tag, climb trees, or wade in the creek behind the park. On hot summer days, we spent a lot of time lazing on someone’s shady front porch reading comic books or playing Parcheesi or Old Maid. Maybe we would decide to go to the library, see if that goat was still tethered in the vacant lot behind the schoolhouse or walk the three blocks to the locker plant for a frozen dip candy bar. We weren’t kept to a busy schedule of lessons, organized sports, or any other activities dictated or supervised by adults. We might be away from the house for an entire afternoon, but around five o’clock, we’d hear, “Dorothy! Mildred! Betty! Supper!”
We’d head for home with the echoes of other mothers voices around us, “Beverly! Burl! Gladys! Your mother’s calling you. Jackie! Dwayne! Time for supper!”