Gaslight Park

14 01 2009

As a young child my friends were those that were convenient.  Luckily, I lived in a neighborhood that was overpopulated with children.  Playmates were easily accessible.  We whiled away our youths together, exploring the woods behind our houses, swimming at a local pool, playing games at each others houses and doing whatever suited us at the moment.  It was a great childhood.  As we grew older, and moved on to junior high and high school we drifted apart. 

Occasionally, I run into or hear something about one of them and I am taken aback.  In my mind they live on as the friends I had in the 1980’s. 

J was the most beloved to all.  He was a skinny boy with glasses with a penchant for art and a vast knowledge of all things related to skateboarding.  I last saw J at his father’s visitation.  He is still skinny, but not in a healthy way.  Whispers around the neighborhood say that J picked up a bad drug habit when he toured with a semi-known band.  He lost his driver’s license and lives where he can, including at one point in a van.  Knowing this really bothers me.  Even though I haven’t been close to J in more than 15 years, I still dream about him and the childhood fun we had together.  I don’t know why he haunts me in this way.  It really bothers me that his life has turned out this way.  He was so smart and talented and had very kind and supportive parents. 

Recently I learned that another neighborhood kid, B, is married and working as a Realtor.  I think of B as a 5 year old kid who owned a cool leather bomber jacket and loved Star Wars.  It confuses me to think of him as an adult, even though I know he is 29 years old.

L was my closest friend in the neighborhood and the only one I have kept in tenuous touch with.  She was a year younger than me.  We did some crazy things together.  At one point our most beloved hobby was recording the license plate numbers of the vehicles that drove past my parents house.  This was long before the era of personalized license plates.  This must have been a very amusing enterprise as we filled up several spiral notebooks with the crucial information.  We were always trying to make money.  We would set up stands to sell things, like mints and our homemade “perfumes” (one scent was made by adding water to an empty garlic salt bottle).  We explored the woods and discovered spots such as “King Kong Hill”, “Larry’s Fort”, “The Devil’s Fork” and “The Rainbow Tree”.  L is my nail technician now.  Talking about our childhood antics reduces us to tears of amusement. 

Two days ago, another neighborhood girl, E, contacted me on facebook.  We are going to try to get together soon.  E moved away in grade school when her parents got divorced.  I am looking forward to getting together with her soon.  Among other things, E and I made the largest snowball possible every time it snowed.  It would last for months after the other snow was long melted.  E works full time for the National Guard. 

Most of my time as a child was spent outside playing games like Capture the Flag, Statues and Tag.  We rode bikes and hiked in the woods.  We built forts, went swimming, played basketball, baseball, tennis (or our childish versions of these sports).  We caught bugs.  We wrote down license plate numbers.  There were no video games or Internet.  I didn’t care about television.  I played outside until it was almost dark, reluctantly returning home when my mom called me in.

I want to give my (future) children the same kind of childhood.  It truly was wonderful.

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3 responses

15 01 2009
Jersey Girl

I found it interesting that the description of your childhood was quite similar to my own, despite the fact that I was doing all these things in the 60’s. I was thinking about this the other day when I was behind a van on the highway that had a DVD screen for the kids. It was night so I could see the screen clearly and I thought about all the trips my parents took us on. We didn’t have anything like this and my Mom devised all sorts of games for us to keep us from being bored. Identifying license plates was a big one – back then, states only had one kind of plate so on long trips, we got to the point where we knew at a glance what state our neighbors on the highway hailed from.

Our summers were spent at my Grandparents beach home on the Delaware Bay. One of our favorite games was called Protect the Wall. Mom would draw a line outlining the waves on an incoming tide over a designated area. This was our wall. We kids would run up and down the “wall” and redraw the lines every time a wave would break through. Ingenious method for keeping children occupied for long periods of time until the tide would inevitably win. It was great fun.

Like you, we played outside all the time, through all seasons, and pretty much through all weather. We read books. We did watch TV but of course, there were only 3 channels and we weren’t interested in the grown up stuff so we didn’t watch it all that often.

So I was wondering as I was driving behind the van with the DVD in it, do children ever play games like that anymore? I was not fortunate to have children so I don’t have a close association with anyone with children that I see often so I’m curious. I worry about the way children today seem to isolate themselves in their own world. The block out the world with earbuds and listen to IPODs. They play solitary video games. I hope they still play outside and with friends because our society needs people who can interact with others.

I’m happy, by the way, for your future children. I think they’ll have fun.

15 01 2009
Mary

Very good post. I love memories like that of my childhood too. At one time, I didn’t have cable and limited my kids’ e- time. I seem to have lost that battle, it is really difficult. Now outdoor games many times consist of air rifle wars. Ugh. Now I just strive for some balance and have done things like set up a tetherball pole to entice them to play outside and play the things I did as a kid. And I try to play some video games with them, so it still is family time to connect. Balderdash beats any video game any day though, I don’t care what your husband says!

15 01 2009
Sarah

That sounds like a great childhood!

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