Thursday, August 13, 2009
Everyone seems to be in the midst of back to school preparation. Some have already returned to school. Children waiting at bus stops in their new clothes with empty backpacks that will soon be carrying loads heavier than the children whose backs they hang from.
I am from the older generation that truly had a summer vacation. School was dismissed the first week of June and we did not set foot through those doors again until the day after Labor Day. The whole wonderful, warm summer stretched in front of us. Lazy days to ride bikes, go to the beach (Lake Michigan), read books, lay under a shade tree to stay cool, no one had air conditioning, and play baseball in the street. After dinner walks to the drug store to buy a Popsicle and then a stop at the park to swing finished the day light hours.
When darkness fell, the games began. The neighborhood was filled with the sounds of kids playing kick the can.
Empty jars, clutched in our hands, were the receptacles for the fire flies we caught.
The only things that spoiled our night time excursions were the mosquitoes and the calls coming from mothers that it was time to come in.
The empty lot on our block became a neighborhood, in itself, as trees began to be dotted with tree houses constructed by teams of kids. Each had their own design, no cookie cutter houses here.
We didn’t have sports practices to hurry off to, or camp, just neighborhood fun.
Every family of kids spent part of the summer collecting wood, wheels, and rope to construct go-carts. Each planned carefully trying to make theirs the best looking and best working. The power behind the cart was another child pushing. Wonder if we could use them for the Cash for Clunkers program?
Our neighborhood invented the garage sale for kids. At least once during the summer we would each go through our toys and decide what we were ready to part with. Tables set in front of each house carefully displayed what we had to offer. We excitedly searched other tables looking for something from our friends cast offs that we couldn’t live without, great recycling plan.
We played “dress up” and acted out weddings and family situations, dad coming home from work, mom home with the kids, trying to discipline the unruly ones.
Several summers we put our talents out there for the world to see. Our neighbor’s garage became a theater. The blanket hung from a rope extended across the garage opening was our curtain to the world of entertainment. There was music, very amateurishly performed, no America’s Got Talent candidates here. A small play was presented, homemade costumes and all. We set up chairs in the driveway and invited all the moms to attend. Lemonade and cookies were served, we knew our talent wasn’t going to draw them so we thought, give them food.
We were just being kids having fun, no schedules, no responsibilities. We had no idea that in all our play time we were learning. We were learning physics as we assembled our go-carts. The base had to be wide enough that you didn’t turn over when you made turns. The front axel (a piece of wood) had to be able to rotate to make the turns. The rope that was used for steering had to be the right length so you could control the direction of the cart. The brake, (another piece of wood) had to be positioned on the back, at the right angle, so you could reach back with your left hand and pull it. If you placed it right, it would rub against the back wheel, sending the cart into a spin, and hopefully stopping it. You may be wondering where we got our wood. We had a source three blocks from the house at the grocery store, orange crates. We would pull them apart and they provided most of what we needed, we would raid our garages for the rest of the wood. Wagons lost their wheels for our more sophisticated transportation.
We learned about life skills in our play acting of home life, and games required team skills and cooperation. Our toy sales demonstrated our entrepreneurial skills.
We had our share of fights with the other kids but our parents knew how to handle them, we had to come into the house for a cooling off period. Soon all was forgiven and we were thinking of new adventures together.
I guess those children standing at the bus stops had their ways of having fun during their school break but I can’t help but wish they could have some of the magic that we experienced.