“You kids get outside and find something to do!” was a classic command from mothers in the 1950s and ’60s.
Out the door we went to find adventure. First, into the ditch behind the house to see if there were any new tadpoles, frogs, crawfish, turtles or snakes. Then, to climb trees and build tree houses. Our father had hung a thick rope with evenly spaced knots from one of the oak trees and also built a trapeze, so we could practice climbing and circus acrobatic skills.
Later, it was off to the nearby city park to swing as high as we could go. The seats were wooden planks, not the safety slings of today that hug your hips. We could jump off, whenever we thought we were low enough or someone dared us. The metal slides and the merry-go-round offered more challenges. Occasional skinned knees and rarely, broken bones. It was exciting, and we were in charge.
Bicycles gave us freedom to go wherever we liked to visit our friends, grandparents, the store and other neighborhoods. The challenge was often, “How far can you ride?” Bike races were standard play, as long as you watched out for cars. There were different ditches and wooded lots to explore, and blackberries to pick in early spring. New home construction sites offered big dirt piles, perfect to play King of the Mountain or to slide down from the top on sheets of old cardboard. Building forts and conducting battles were regular events.
Halloween season brought spooky hide-and-seek games. The dimly lit space under the house was a perfect place to hide. With a flashlight, it also offered science lessons, as we looked for bugs, caterpillars, spider webs and spiders. The cry of “Black widow! Run for your life!”, brought a head bumping dash for daylight. Black widow spiders were rare and none of us ever got bitten, but screaming the warning made for an exciting escape.
Living near the beach meant collecting shells and driftwood, wading at low tide, and crabbing with nets and strings tied to chicken bones scavenged from the trash at the park. My brother harvested oysters off the seawall, then cooked them over an open fire on the beach. (Our mother would have died, if she had known that.) Collecting washed up gray clay to make our own pottery made us artists. Never mind that Mother told us we would catch typhoid from the clay.
We were free range children, living an unsupervised life. As long as we were home in time for supper, we were fine. We learned valuable lessons and developed our curiosity. It was a magic time. Looking back on it today, it’s a wonder we survived.
Rusin lives in Waveland, Mississippi.
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