Now that I’ve reached the ripe old age of 52, I think I’m qualified to say a few words about the “Old Days.”
When I was a kid, I had a lot of responsibility and a lot of freedom. In general, I was expected to keep an eye on my brothers, help with the household chores, keep my time on the phone and in the bathroom to a minimum and wait my turn to speak when around adults.
I earned the right to a library card when I was able to sign my own name and when I was older, I was given permission to baby-sit for pocket money. My parents generously paid for piano lessons, riding lessons and weekends at my Nana’s house. My Nana would drop me at the local riding stable for a trail ride while she went grocery shopping. I didn’t wear a helmet to ride. When the students fell during a lesson, the teacher told us we “owned” that piece of the arena where we had landed.
On special occasions, I got new clothes. The rest of the time, my clothes came from the Thrift Store. My shoes were always new. I remember being told that I was “hard on my shoes” even though I did my best not to scuff the toes.
My mother didn’t work outside the home. She taught us how to swim in the bay by holding our hands and telling us to kick. No lifeguards, water wings or instructors. Mom often took us walking to visit the neighbors or to explore nature. We walked to the library, to church, to school, and to the grocery store. If we had to go to the doctor, we went by bus and then by subway.
On Sunday, my father drove us the twenty minutes to his mother’s and we’d spend most of the day there. We kids and often Dad and Mom would walk up through the woods on the hill behind her house to the “Sand Pits” to hunt for chocolate colored stones. Nana served meat for Sunday dinner, which was special because we didn’t eat meat every night of the week. In the summer, we’d eat out on the lawn under the plum trees with Grandpa and various aunts, uncles and cousins.
My father worked for NBC while he was getting his doctorate. He bought us a television and the whole family would sit in the living room and watch The Wonderful World of Disney. Mom would let us watch Mr. Wizard while my father was at work because he was one of the stagehands on that program. We kept a sharp eye when Mr. Wizard called for another prop and if we saw someone’s hand on the other end of the beaker or whatever, we would yell – “That’s daddy’s hand!”
Dad loved physical comedy and practical jokes and kept us entertained on the weekends. He would put one of us on each shoulder and parade us around the house. He often took the whole family to the Zoo or the Museum of Natural History.
My brothers and I ran with all the other kids in the neighborhood after school and after the dinner chores until the sun went down. We rode our bikes without helmets. We didn’t carry beepers or cell phones. We ran through the woods, climbed on roofs and played baseball and football in the unfenced back yards. Most of our play was outside and unsupervised.
I named our climbing trees according to their design. From the top of the “Look Out” tree, I could see our school. “The Ship” had a branch that was perpendicular to the ground and wide enough to sit on with my back against the trunk and read while keeping an eye on my brothers below.
Today, it makes me happy when I see a kid climbing a tree or riding their bike down the street without a helmet or playing ball with other children in their back yard. But for the most part, the neighborhoods are eerily deserted. People tell me the kids are inside playing electronic games or watching T.V. Parents tell me it isn’t safe to let their kids run through the neighborhood. A lot has changed since the old days.