This is a weird column – read it slowly and if you fail to understand it, don’t feel badly about it, it’s just the changing times. I get nostalgic and moments of loneliness take over about the way things were. If Rip Van Winkle just woke up after sleeping 50 years, he would declare he was in a different country. Even in this post modern age, many good things have come to pass and some great accomplishments have been realized. How I grew up was so very different than it is today.
When we were young, we were both innocent and ignorant. They tend to go together for when you lose one you tend to lose the other. The worst thing that could be done in school was to chew gum in class, or sit with your hat or cap on, run in the hall, try to sneak into the room after the bell had rung or shoot spitballs. Shooting spitballs was an art. It was a skill you learned by experience. The materials needed were simple and few. One rubber band, one bit of paper formed into a ‘U’, a little spit to harden the potential projectile and an enemy on the other side of the room. Your aim had to be accurate which came with practice. Ignorant and innocent – that was us.
We knew little about cigarettes, less about knives or guns or the process of making a pipe bomb. The only bomb we knew was when we flunked a grade or made ‘F’ on a test. The bad kids met behind the gym to smoke or to pass around porno cards at a penny a peek. It was just a small group and we all knew who they were.
I cannot remember ever hearing of a teenager committing suicide. Not one. Why would any kid kill themselves? We had so much to live for back then and life was never boring. Parents backed the teachers and teachers backed the principal. If you got in trouble at school, you had double trouble when you got home. Back then, teachers used the telephone. While the pay was poor, the image of a teacher was one of high integrity. I miss that in my world today. Whatever happened to our education process?
Our neighborhood was our extended family. Back then, most everybody had a Mom and a Dad. Most families had kids in bunches and these bunches melted together into clans. We gathered most every evening (just before dark) for the ongoing ritual of game playing. Since we were all considered poor, we didn’t miss anything that rich kids had. This was before television. We made up our own games, ordained the rules, and honored the various seasons that seem to come on time each year. There was a time to play marbles (generally after Christmas when we all got a fresh bag). When Mother and Dad were absent we ‘played for keeps’. There was round ring, square ring, and we’d pitch for the line to see who shot first. “No hutching”, “No trenching”, “No upings”, “no b-bees”, “no fudging”, “no steelies”, and the super large marbles were never allowed because of their weight and size. One boy at school brought a cigar box with a small hole bored through the top. If you could hold one of your marbles at eye level and drop it through the hole, he would reward you with 5 in return. He ended up the week with 587 marbles and our bags were empty. He knew what Mr. Barnum knew, “There’s a sucker born every minute!” But hey, how do you learn things in life?
To begin games, we ‘counted taters’. Or we would say the little ditty, ‘Innie, meanie, minnie, moe; catch a ‘…..” by the toe, if he hollers, let him go, innie, meanie, Minnie, moe”. We learned bias, prejudice and racism with that little saying, just playing games. We were innocent and ignorant and taught prejudice with a simple rhyme.
Rubber gun season was a biggie. We built our own pistols and rifles and Tommy guns. Old inner tubes were cut up for ammunition. We made one anti- aircraft gun that took a total of 32 rubber rings tied together. It took three guys to load it and it went off accidentally and hit little Freddie and knocked him down. We had real fun back in those days. We built huts, painted our faces, made spears and shields and had fun.
We caught frogs and doodlebugs, lizards and fire flies. Anything that was under us or around us was fair game to capture. We took itching powder and tried to put it down somebody’s shirt or blouse. We had fun every night together and no one was afraid of the dark. We played war with bangadee, bangadee, or stabadee, stabadee, your dead stuff. A new neighbor moved into town and wanted to play. We read him the rules of war. If somebody bangs you or stabs you, you’re dead. He came down the driveway, without cover or camouflage, and we jumped him. Bangedee- bangadee- your dead! He just keeps coming. We said, play by the rules, your dead and he answered in a heavy rumble voice, “Tankedee, tankadee”. He was a tank. We got a good laugh and played on.
Solomon knew for he wrote “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens. A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. Let me hear the conclusion of the whole matter, Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4; 12:13). I only wish that my grandchildren and great grand children could experience and enjoy some of the simple pleasures we had when we were just kids. Changing times!