June 9th, 2006

ozarque figure

In the olden days....

Elizabeth Barrette sent me (off-LJ) a batch of articles about what childhood is like today. In one article a teenage boy asks his father how come it was so much more fun when the father was a kid, and when asked to explain says, "Well, you're always talking about your woods and tree houses, and how you used to ride that horse down near the swamp." And the father writes that it's true, when he was a boy "I knew my woods and my fields, every bend in the creek and every dip in the beaten dirt paths. I wandered those woods even in my dreams." In another article a suburban father says, "I want to know where my kid is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I want to know where that kid is. Which house. Which square foot. Which telephone number."

It got me thinking about my own childhood, and what a different world it was. When I was nine and my brother was eight, living in a tiny population-700 town in Missouri, our weekend days and summer days began with packing ourselves a lunch in a paper bag, and then we took off for the day. We were expected to be home in time for supper, and for any pre-supper chores, but other than that we were on our own. We spent the days fishing in the rivers, swimming in the rivers, floating around on innertubes and logs and patched-together rafts in rivers and creeks and sloughs, wandering around in the woods, climbing trees (and reading books high up in trees), building treehouses and building forts, and having a wonderful time. [My brother and I didn't do this together, by the way; he went off with his buddies and I went off with mine. But our agendas were the same.] Nobody checked up on us; cell phones hadn't been invented yet. We were expected not to drown, not to get snake-bitten, not to step on nails, and not to fall out of the trees. Those were the rules.

I'd been free to do woods-wandering even before then, when we lived in a larger Missouri town in a house that bordered a patch of woods with a creek running through it. I was only seven, but I'd get up early and go into the woods and sit for hours (singing) on a little stone arch where the creek ran through, and go wading in the creek, and spend time collecting rocks I fancied, and picking up acorns and acorn tops to make sets of doll dishes. And climbing trees and lying up in the trees reading books. Same rules: Don't get snake-bitten; don't drown in the creek; don't step on nails; don't fall out of the trees; be home in time for supper and any pre-supper chores.

And at night? I can't imagine a child today -- especialy a girlchild -- being allowed to do what I was allowed to do at night. There was a band concert on the grounds of the courthouse in town on Saturday nights, in that tiny town I mentioned before, and everybody except my parents went to the band concert, including all the kids. (There weren't many kids in a town of only 700, so we all hung out together, whatever our ages.) We raced around playing games in the dark, we dunked each other in the horse troughs around the square; we had fun. Wednesday nights, the movie at the theater changed to a new feature and there was a talent show before the picture, with a basket of groceries for the winner; we kids all went to that. Every night but Sunday there was a dance (using the term very loosely) at the Capitol Cafe downtown, where there was a jukebox on the second floor; when there wasn't a band concert or a picture show (which was what we called films in those days), we went to the dances and fooled around there for hours.

The rule at night was that I had to start for home at nine o'clock. That meant walking home by myself, which was a litte more than a mile and a half down streets where only the first block or two had streetlights. Much of the year, I did that walk long after dark, and nobody thought a thing of it.

The only time I ever got into any difficulty walking home at night was one night when it was so bitterly cold that my mother had let me wear her fur coat -- muskrat, not mink. As I was walking past a concrete wall, a pack of wild dogs jumped me, and that fur coat saved me. It was so much too big for me that it came down to the tops of my shoes and almost completely covered my hands, and although the dogs knocked me down and were all over me, they couldn't bite through that coat; I got one small bite on the palm of one hand before my screaming brought grownups running from a nearby house to run the dogs off with ballbats and shotguns. Nobody felt obliged to take me home afterward, or call 911 (there wasn't any 911 to call yet); once they'd scattered the dogs and brushed me off, I walked on home. And I didn't tell my mother what had happened, because I was scared that if I did she wouldn't let me wear the muskrat coat again. The idea that she might not let me walk home alone in the dark again never entered my head; it wasn't even in the realm of possibility.

I loved the woods and the rivers and creeks and the sloughs. I especially loved a huge weeping willow tree in a wooded patch on the other side of a wheatfield behind our house, because in the wintertime it would be covered with ice and all the iced branches would bow down to the ground, making a playhouse that was like a high-ceilinged round room of crystal. When the sun shone through that willow tree, it was the most spectacular display of rainbows you ever saw, flashing in the wind, and I'd spend hours and hours playing there, totally blissed out.

None or our parents in those days, so far as I know, ever said, ""I want to know where my kid is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I want to know where that kid is. Which house. Which square foot. Which telephone number." Not if we got home in time for supper and the pre-supper chores.

Very different times; very different world.
ozarque figure

Recommended link -- about the working class....

Recommended: "Jane Slaughter's interview with Michael Zweig, titled "Don't be charitable to the poor... Arrange it so that they have power," at http://thewitness.org/archive/oct2001/zweiginterview.html . Sample:

Michael Zweig: "When people talk about 'middle class workers,' what they mean is workers who have a house and a decent life, who aren't living in adject poverty. ... But if we look at class just in terms of income or lifestyle, we miss what class is really about, which is power."