Friday, July 24, 2015

The Square Peg - Summer Games... Or Where Have All the Children Gone

Summer Games... Or Where Have All the Children Gone
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

I went out and mowed the lawn this morning. Bear in mind, this is summer... and Texas. It isn't exactly cool, nor is it dry. Eight o'clock in the morning and it was already 79 degrees and 80 percent humidity. Humidity makes it feel hotter. Still, it was cloudy and there was a nice breeze blowing from the southeast (which probably explains the humidity since it's coming off the Gulf of Mexico). I usually go out and putz around outside or work in my garage in the morning. It's just what I do... and I've been doing it a long time. One thing I've noticed this summer, though, is that there are no kids playing outside. It isn't that we don't have kids in our neighborhood, there are a whole passel of them.

Now I know when I was a kid older folks used to tell us, "Kids are to be seen and not heard," which I always thought was narrow minded. It didn't work anyway. We were loud. From early in the morning until our moms called us in to go to bed. There was always something to do... things to explore... trouble to get into. It was expected. It was a right of passage. Mornings were reserved for racing about on two wheeled street rockets with playing cards fixed to the forks so it sounded like a real motorcycle... or at least it did to us. When you're a kid, imagination makes up for a lot of deficiencies. The street in front of our house became a drag strip... and there were the inevitable wrecks with tangled handlebars, bent wheels, and skinned knees, much to the delight of the raucous cheering section of little girls who didn't like to skin their knees. Yep, it sounded like an arena filled with mayhem and fans until somebody stuck their head out of a door and yelled, "Keep it down! I'm trying to concentrate." On what, we never knew. Adults were sort of a mystery.

On the other hand, adults were kind of handy to have around. They kept kids supplied with things like badminton  sets, croquet sets, Louisville Sluggers, baseballs and mitts, toy guns, cardboard boxes, scrap wood, wagons, roller skates, and lawn darts, all of which we put to good use, although not always to the purpose for which they were intended. More often than not, the net for the badminton game wound up on the ground and those little feathered shuttlecocks became deadly racquet-launched missiles when we chose up sides and went to war. And those croquet ball grenades hurt if they happened to hit you. And lawn darts... ooh... I can see why those things finally got banned... although I kind of miss them. Those new ones with the blunt ends just aren't as much fun... and they really don't teach you situational awareness and escape speed.

The Louisville Sluggers were responsible for more than one broken window in the neighborhood. You see, we didn't have organized baseball fields and all too often the school yards with their backstops and gravel fields were off limits to us. So, the opposing team's baseball mitts became bases when they were up, as did ours when we were up. I say the Sluggers were responsible because we all were pretty good hitters and it was only the odd duck who couldn't throw a ball straight.

We got pretty inventive with roller skates... they were the steel wheeled gems that clamped onto your shoes. If you wore Ked's or PF Flyers, or some off-brand of high-topped black sneakers, they kind of pinched your toes, which is probably why we took the skates apart and made scooters or "skate boards" out of them. I'm pretty sure the kids in my neighborhood should own a piece of the patent for skateboards, but we didn't have a patent attorney.

Most of us had chores too. You could always tell when somebody had failed in their tasks before hitting the playing fields. The dreaded three name yell from one of the mothers would result in a hung head, slouched shoulders, and a horrible grimace as the offending child dragged his feet through the dirt, leaving a little dust cloud behind as he trudged home. That never happened to me... much. My brother and I had to do the morning dishes, take out the trash, and tend the vegetable garden. And we didn't have things like rototillers when I was a kid. It was all spade and hoe work. That'll get you blisters until they turn into calluses. But, there was fresh lettuce for salads, corn on the cob, radishes, yellow squash, and, come fall, there was fresh chili sauce made from our tomatoes and peppers. Yep... fresh veggies brought to us by Burpee's and the sweat of our brow.

All of this brings me back to my initial question. Where do all the kids in our neighborhood go in the summer? Camp? I don't think so. I think they're all inside in the air conditioning sleeping, watching TV, and playing video games. Every once in a while, one group or another will come outside, jump on a trampoline, have a water fight, or ride a bike for an hour. I figure their parents must have just seen a TV ad for "Play 60," because that's about how long the kids last before they return to their troglodyte's existence in their brick caves. I'm working on a machine that will jam all the WiFi signals on their video devices though... maybe that will drive them out of their houses. I have a few tweaks left before I can test it. I'll let you know if it works.