When We Didn’t Need Adult Supervision (or so we thought)
I remember the days…
If for any reason I was still inside the house at 8AM my mom would kindly suggest that I go out and play. Or she’d take my temperature to make sure that I was not sick. We were expected to leave, and not return until lunch or sundown (depending on whether there was a parent at home). It’s not as if we had a hundred different things to do. But somehow we found something.
We lived reasonably close to an elementary school. This is where we played baseball, if the security guard did not show up for work that day, which was the default mode. A new baseball cost 75 cents. No one had that kind of money. If anyone had received a baseball for his birthday, or Christmas, or Three Kings Day we used it until the seams began to pull apart. Then we covered the seams with black duct tape. After several rounds of peeling the duct tape off and putting new layers down the leather developed holes in it. Twine began to show. It was not unusual, after a particularly solid hit, to see string coming off the baseball during its flight. It was time to give it a decent burial.
Some kids were reluctant to donate their new baseball so that we could play. We made fun of them. Do you want it to sit on top of a chest at home and look at it, we would ask. If they did not give in they were ostracized. Not allowed to play with the duct taped ball. Soon they gave in.
No umpires. No uniforms. Not enough gloves to go around. There would be five or six kids on the field. When they got three outs they came in to bat, and they gave their gloves to the kids who went out. One day one of the wealthier kids (a very relative term, meaning one of the parents was regularly employed) got a first baseman’s mitt for his birthday. Shiny new orangeish leather. We almost went down on our knees to worship. We would spend a half hour arguing safe or out calls, but we always settled it without a fight, or the help of an adult. Every day we had different teams, and we never kept track of who had won or what our batting average was. All of us knew who the good players were. They got picked first.
There was the day when my best friend tried to score from second on a single. One of the kids was a bit older; he lifted weights and he had by far the best arm. His throw from left field hit my friend square in the back of the head. Did I forget to say we had no helmets? He dropped as if he had been shot.
Most of the guys began to cry and wring their hands. “He’s dead!” they screamed. I walked up to him; I needed more information before I joined in the mourning. I knelt next to him and tried to feel for a pulse. After a minute or so he woke up. He seemed to be OK. Then we spent a half hour arguing about whether he was safe or out. He played the rest of the game. He did not tell his parents what had happened. He did well; he became a prominent tax attorney.
There were some abandoned railroad tracks next to my apartment building. Some surveyors were doing work, trying to look into paving the area for a street. They cleared some brush. After they left we found a short cliff, no more than a thirty foot drop, that ended in a concrete fence; the college dorm was on the other side. Somebody thought it would be a good idea to glide down that very steep incline. We procured boxes from the grocery store, tore them into cardboard sheets, and used them as sleds. It was a bit tricky to slide off the cardboard before we hit the fence, but that did not deter us. There were numerous scrapes and bruises. Our parents never asked why we were so battered. Our sport ended when we had completely killed the grass that grew on the cliff; the solid earth was not slippery enough.
We played marbles. A dozen different ways that you can compete using these objects, and none of them was Chinese Checkers. Our marbles were our gold. We traded them for favors, or for baseballs. We played for keeps. We lived very close to a low income neighborhood. Sometimes some of the “bad” kids would push us out of the way and take some of our marbles. Never took them all; they could have. No one called the police; our parents never knew.
There was an eight story apartment building a few yards down from hours. Two of our friends lived there. We used to have competitions to see who could run down the steps the fastest. Some of the kids learned to jump down eight steps at once. They could descend one flight in two jumps. I never dared to take on more than five. Numerous sprained ankles and skinned knees. We healed on our own.
My wife was raised in Black Jack. A very rural community in those days. One of her neighbors owned a horse; he was boarded at a nearby farm. Her friends used to walk to the farm, saddle the horse, and ride the horse down the street to her neighborhood. No helmets; no gear. No cars tried to run them off the road. No neighbors complained about the intrusion.
She had three sisters. She was the smallest. Which is the reason that they packed her inside the clothes dryer, to see if it could be done. They also tried to throw her down the dirty clothes chute, to see if she would fit. She still likes her sisters, and they get along well.
My patients often bring along a child or two to their appointments. More often than not they are clutching a hand held electronic device. They spend the length of the visit playing with the gadget. They never look up to see what’s going on. They resent it when I engage them in conversation. I’m pretty sure that they have never played with marbles, or risked their life sliding on a box down a steep hill. They never have to negotiate arguments with their peers.
It doesn’t seem right to me. Maybe I’m being an old fart; I don’t know. I sure as ___ would like for all of them to walk into the office with muddy shoes and skinned knees. But these are different times…