Well, I’m no singer, haven’t been since puberty cut my four octave voice to one and a half and that in the wrong key for most popular songs. And as Ricky Nelson knew, it’s difficult to escape one’s past. He might have been happier driving a truck. I wish I had more to give children of this generation but my world was considerably different and I doubt they would understand much of it anyway. Oh, not that is was a very complicated time, no, not that. We didn’t have computers and smart phones and all the ways of this modern world where we seem to lack for nothing, and yet, our children seem to lack for all those things I had. The things in life that so many child psychologists and sociologists tell us children need, and yet we fail to properly provide. It’s really a conundrum, isn’t it? In this modern world we do everything for the children, never let them out of our sight. We protect them from every harm possible, and yet, we fail. We fail as parents and teachers. I know, there will be thousands and millions telling me I don’t know what I am talking about.
Let me ask you these questions. If you took the average child out to some park twenty miles from his home and took away his cellphone, would he or she have any idea of how to get back home without stopping a cop? Could they gather wood for a campfire, light it, and keep themselves warm through the night without setting the park on fire? Do you think they might even be capable of walking five miles in one day? Do they know where their public library is located and could they walk there? Do they know how to use the reference section (meaning books and other printed material)? If let alone for four or five hours without any electronic gadget, cold they figure out how to keep themselves amused? Do they know how to climb a tree and have they ever done so? Could they figure out how to build anything using plain wood, a hammer, and some nails? Can they use a washing machine to do their own laundry? Can they cook a simple breakfast or lunch or dinner? Have they ever walked in the rain and gotten wet and enjoyed it?
You may think these questions stupid. Yet when I was a child my mother could answer in the affirmative. I am in my sixties now. But when I become eight and a member of the fourth grade in public school, I and my male classmates no longer needed the services of our teacher at recess. Yes, recess, that wonderful time of physical education that was physical. Why? We had discovered softball. We worked out in the first few days of the new school year how to organize our class into two teams. Well, that was easier than you young ones might think. The classes were often 30 to 36 pupils to a room per grade. We had two fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes each. We had two baseball fields. Can’t field nine players per side, then the team at bat supplied the catcher. Got a few kids who lack in baseball skills? They played, we made them play and we taught them how. That is how I learned, being coached by the better players and doing. We were tolerant of mistakes. It was playing the game that mattered.
We learned how to climb trees, I mean the big ones, and how to jump out of them. We played war games in the local woods. We walked and bicycled on every street in or neighborhoods. Some of us had paper routes and cut lawns in the neighborhood for pocket money. We learned to do a few odd jobs here and there. We explored housed as they were being built. We watched as the carpenters and brick masons worked. We begged for scrap lumber and picked up nails from those sites so we could build our own little club houses. Those club houses usually traveled from yard to yard by the week as parents ordered us to get rid of them. In the summer we would get kicked out of the house by our homemaker mothers, the ones without a career or pitiful paying job. We might come home for lunch, we might stay out until one could see the stars very plainly. So we caught hell for missing dinner. The only electronics we had were radios, before they became portable, and television with three or maybe five channels (two were vhf and local non affiliated). We couldn’t miss the Mickey Mouse Club after school or American Bandstand. We read books, I had my own private library I paid for out of my earnings from cutting grass and a paper route. My mother hated my choice of reading material. We would go to the local shops and strip malls or plazas by ourselves and look around. We loved building models from kits. We learned how a toothpick made a great detail brush for fine work. We learned inventiveness on our own and with out best friends.
In some ways I was the more fortunate of my own group. My aunt had a farm and it was there at the age of eight I learned how to drive. Give a kid an old Farmall tractor without synchromesh transmission and the kid can figures it out. Later on I learned how to stack hay bales on a trailer. Hard work was picking up fifty or sixty pound bales of hay and getting them up on a trailer whose bed was at least forty-two inches off the ground. Try that when the heat is 110 in the shade. Of course every year my mother planted a small garden in the back yard. So I learned how to grow such things as radishes and tomatoes and carrots while she tended to the other vegetables. My grandparents had close to half an acre in Arlington Virginia in the old suburbs. Man, they grew everything. They grew all manner of roses and other flowers. I never saw so many flowers except at the florist. And they grew their vegetables and did the canning in early and late fall. They had cold frames for the early pre-spring planting. Ask any child or teenager what a cold frame is and what does it do? Ask them if they know what canning is and how does one do it? Ask them how would you go about planting vegetables and when you start? Did you ever hear of the farmer’s almanac?
So we went to camp and church outings and we provided our own entertainment. When was the last time your child and you sat around a campfire without some electronic devise plugged into your ears and sing the old favorites without any accompaniment? Ok, so Queen is a little difficult to do acapella. What folk songs do you know and remember from your youth? Sad, isn’t it, not to have memories of such experiences. You sang because you were part of the group and because it didn’t matter if you couldn’t carry a tune. It was being part of that group at that moment that mattered. I loved hay rides. Sometimes you could find a framer who pulled the wagon with a horse, most of the time you settled for a tractor doing the work. Fall was in the air, the nights were crisp and sharp, and if you were lucky, the moon was full or nearly so.
What have I described? A childhood where we learned independence and to some extent, self reliance. We had few distractions when it came to building character and we certainly had no umbilical chords tied to electronic devices that kept us amused twenty four hours a day. We had freedom and we learned responsibility. Parents and teachers didn’t hover over us pointing out each step of our existence. And yet, like Ricky Nelson, I am singing memories that today’s youth and even their parents will not understand. They have both been robbed of these experiences. And tomorrows child yet unborn? I fear to think what is in store for him or her. I think I’d rather drive a truck.