Monday, February 9, 2009

Secret Hiding Places / Innocence Lost

When I was growing up in the 1950's and 60's kids could freely roam the neighborhood and there was little or no worry about being abducted by strangers. Neighbors watched over all of us and if you happened to do something wrong your parents were called and told about it. Punishment would be swift and appropriate, usually grounded to your own yard.

Things seem to have changed quite a bit now. You very rarely see children out playing. Play dates are arranged and parents drive their kids over to some one's house. In my neighborhood growing up you just walked down the street until you found other kids playing and joined in. Our parents told us to go out and play and that we did. Everyone in the neighborhood knew everyone else and every yard was a playground. My best friend Jane and I used to wander into other people's back yards, play on their swing sets or whatever, and be invited in for cookies and milk by nice old people. We had quite a racket going until we knocked on this one lady's door who had given us some candy one day. She worked nights as a nurse and slept during the day and we woke her up so she had to inform our parents that we were knocking on her door asking for candy and it wasn't Halloween.We were "spoken" to and told to stop knocking on people's doors asking for candy.

Every kid has a secret hiding place. When you grow up in a neighborhood where safety and security are expected as part of an innocent childhood you are free to explore within the boundaries of the area defined by your parents. At the end of our street was a small wooded area where kids were always building forts and clubhouses. It always seemed to be a magnet for playing army man, jungle, and spy games. There was a small hill which we would climb up and slide down on pieces of cardboard boxes when some one's parents purchased a new TV or washing machine. All kinds of schemes were hatched, our plans to find out things we overheard our parents talking about. There was this poor lonely man named Oscar that did nothing to harm anyone but somehow when a kids imagination takes over anything is possible. He apparently worked at one time as a mortician and the kids in the neighborhood believed he had dead bodies in his basement so we were always skulking around trying to peek in his cellar window. We probably terrorized the poor man. We would run and hide when we saw him walking down the street. He had an unfortunate sister who dressed in old fashioned black clothes and carried a large bag, probably to put groceries in, but we had our own theory that she carried her own dead baby in it.

The only toy a kid really needed was a bicycle. We would spend hours playing chicken on our bikes which lead to at least one trip per summer to the emergency room.We would make pretend we were riding horses and have riding competitions.The only thing that would interrupt our play is when we had to run home to go the bathroom. We were expected to show back up at home for lunch and then try to escape our parents list of chores so we could continue whatever game we were playing. You had to be home when the street lights came on at dark and if you were late they would yell your name out the door until you heard it and hurried home.

As we grew older the parameters of our explorations were extended further. There was a very small "secret"military installation on the other side of a causeway road that held endless fascination for all of us. We grew up in the era of fearing Russia was going to attack the United States so there were fenced in missile bunkers hidden in several innocuous locations which just happened to be very close to our neighborhood. The view extended into Boston Harbor so it was of strategic importance in case the Russians tried to sneak in a submarine.(I am not making this up.) Things were very different back then when the Cuban Missile Crisis had occurred. We would hide in the grass watching helicopters land and take off and sometimes a loud whistle would blow and out would come these missiles out of the hidden bunkers. They would test them every few weeks to make sure they still were operational. You can imagine being a kid seeing this. Our parents did not seem overly concerned about this. I guess they felt a certain sense of security. As long as we stayed away from the fence no one seemed to care. Who knows if the military guys were watching us with binoculars and viewing it as benign activity.

I guess childhood was not as innocent as I choose to remember. Maybe the world hasn't really changed that much. Now we have to be vigilant about another group of bad guys.


underOvr (aka The U) said...


I do not envy the parents or children of today. There is far more information available to children, some good and some dangerous. I would be viewed as negligent were I to allow a child to do the things I did.

As a child, my mother could visit the school anytime; today school visits are scheduled. Although I'm sure it occured back in the day, I never heard of a child being molested or abducted. "A child's right to privacy" means a parent is excluded from knowing vital information while others have that privilege.

"The times they are a changing" (Bob Dylan)


MilesPerHour said...

I remember that all my mother had to do was walk one block and look across the playground there to see me playing ball.

I find it sad that playgrounds are wastelands for kids these days.

gaf85 said...

U, Today is definitely a different era. The world is very different now than it once was. Childhood appears rather abbreviated.

Miles,I don't think there are many children who just play outside anymore unless it is some type of organized sport. On the playground you never see the parent very far away in their perceived need for vigilance.

Madame DeFarge said...

I played for hours outside and I'm not sure that I always told my mum exactly where I was, but I don't recall ever feeling particularly worried. She probably was, but didn't show it that often, which I think meant that I grew up reasonably confident.

I agree with U. I wouldn't like to be a child now (and I'm not a parent either). They seem to be free to make so many mistakes without any freedom to relax, enjoy being a child and then enjoy growing up. It all happens so quickly now. I prefer being old.

Michael said...

My father always told me to do whatever I wanted if it made me happy, so as long as I knew I was taking care of myself, so as long as I could stand the consequences of getting into sticky situations.

To most people, when I was younger, I would be termed as a 'bad kid'. I went to my first bar when I was 13, smoked when I was 9, got involved with drugs when I was 14, and I don't even remember when my first shot of Jack Daniel's was.

But I don't smoke or do drugs now. I drink and party to be social. I don't want to have sex before 18. Even though I don't have a curfew, have all the time in the world to expose myself to the dangerous world out there, I've just been able to fend for myself, and keep myself alive.

I don't know, but as a kid, I was never afraid of strangers. Certainly, I easily could've been abducted or harmed, but I don't know, I was sort of proud of being fearless.

I'm sorry I'm going to leave this long comment without much point. I guess I just don't understand. I never had parents who worried. I was never worried and still am not. I guess I'm one of those with a childhood that wasn't that innocent.


gaf85 said...

Madame, I guess it doesn't really matter where you grow up.I think growing up is how we gain our wisdom and then we get old. We can look back at our youthful indiscretion and have a good laugh.

Michael,You seemed to have been allowed the freedom and independence to learn by your own mistakes.I'm not really sure though that there may have been times when your parents did worry.

Anonymous said...

These stories about your childhood are hilarious. Too bad I didn't hear more about these growing up, although Nana used to tell some really great stories about your old neighborhood.