Saturday, July 21, 2007

Memories

I had an article printed in the Logansport Pharos-Tribune last week. It was motivated by Cass County being one of the counties I cover in my job. Going to Logansport was a journey back through time for me. I lived there in the 1950's and attended a couple years of elementary school and then the 7th grade before moving to California.

I spent part of one afternoon driving around Logansport to see the various landmarks of my youth there - the houses we'd lived in, the schools I went to, the library, the parks, downtown. The most significant quality that stands out from those years was the freedom children of that era had. My two cousins and I are all within one year of each other in age. We had bikes which we named Red Bullet, Green Bullet and Blue Bullet (we were nothing if not creative!) During summer vacations, we would be up early and off on adventures on the Bullets. We ranged far and wide - to the parks and down to the river, through the alleys and across town to the library.

Parents of our mothers and father's generation didn't believe it was their responsibility to entertain their children so we were mostly left to our own devices. We owned a television set and sometimes at night, we sat around with the adults and watched (although the only program that comes to mind is The Hit Parade) but what kid would want to be stuck inside watching t.v. during the day with the great world of adventure outdoors?

We were actually quite interested in science in an unsupervised kind of way. One corner of the wide front porch was dedicated to our science projects. It held various shapes and sizes of jars containing various and sundry specimens. For instance, we were curious about all the stages of caterpillar metamorphosis. Some jars held the caterpillars themselves - different and interestingly colored, which we hoped to watch spin their cocoons. Some jars had just the cocoons, waiting to hatch into butterflies. We had bowls of tadpole and pollywogs which we monitored faithfully, counting the new little legs, until the full-blown frogs and toads emerged. We had ant farms and jars of lightning bugs and pails of minnows and crawdads.

Sometimes we lost interest and our specimens died and the porch got to looking (and smelling) so junky that our mothers emptied out the buckets and bowls of dead minnows and fireflies. I realize that kids today have access to the marvels of television. On the nature channels, through the miracle of time-lapse photography, children can see the life of a butterfly from start to finish. They can watch as tadpoles evolve in a matter of minutes. All of that is much more efficient in terms of learning than our frequently-failed real life experiments. But, still, I wonder if there isn't something more awe-inspiring about the hands-on approach. I can see us now, three little girls, crowded around a container on a wide, over-hanging porch watching the slow development of a tadpole into a frog, a pollywog into a toad.

We collected other things too. We loved the cinder alleys in Logansport (cinder because most of the homes then were heated by coal, as ours were). We loved those alleys because they contained trash and what is trash to adults can certainly be treasure to children. For example, we snagged up old magazines to cut out pictures for our scrapbooks. (These scrapbooks were voluminous chronicles of the lives we hoped to live someday and were filled with lovely homes and gorgeous furniture, handsome husbands and beautiful wives (us) and precious children and adorable dogs and cats). Once, I remember, we were lucky enough to find a cache of love letters, from which we read the juicy parts aloud to one another, giggling all the while. Other times, we found fish bowls or (slightly chipped) teapots or an old rug for our garage clubhouse (furnished with two old automobile seats). Back then, as I recall, the flowers most frequently seen along the alleys were Hollyhocks and Bachelor Buttons.

We rode to the library and came home with bike baskets full of books. Reading, we would while away long summer afternoons on the front porch. The library gave out small orange-covered notebooks in which we wrote short book reports. At the end of the summer, we got stars and certificates for reading a certain number. My cousins and I were voracious readers and always read far more books than the required amount.

We went poking around down at the river and clambered up and down the ravines and scrambled across the creek at the far-away Dykeman's Park. We were fascinated by all aspects of our world, constantly on the look-out for slimy snails and sparkly rocks, odd-shaped sticks and bright-red cardinal feathers. (Would pre-teen girls today be interested in such things?)

Lacking chalk, we scratched out hopscotch games on the sidewalk with jagged rocks. On Saturdays, the folks gave us a quarter a piece to go to the movies. Ten cents to get in and a nickel a piece for a Coke, a bag of popcorn and a box of Good 'n' Plenty. If we were very lucky, they gave us enough extra for a chocolate soda at the Blue Front Drug Store afterwards. If one of the adults gave us a dime, we'd walk down to the corner store but instead of buying a 10 cent ice cream cone, we'd buy two 5 cent ones so we'd get two cones! At that same store, we could get a flavored Coke for a nickel - cherry for Shirley, vanilla for Reenie and chocolate for me. Flavored cokes disappeared for a long while about the time I got out of high school but I notice they're all the rage again now.

We would wander through the cemetery where I would tell my cousins long, drawn-out stories about the people under the interesting tombstones. It was never hard for me to close my eyes and imagine all details of the lives that matched each name.

I don't remember anyone asking us where we were going or when we would be coming home. I guess they figured we'd show up when we were hungry. It never seemed to occur to them that some predator might nab us (and why would they think that when they'd never heard of such a thing?) They also never seemed to worry that we'd get hit by a car or drown in the river. Those were idyllic years to be young and free. I feel sorry for today's children who must guarded and kept involved in supervised activities to keep them safe.