I have never really understood how different my childhood was until I had a child. Children of the seventies are the last of a way of life that has changed dramatically. As we enter the age of AI, and the ability to connect all over the world from our bedrooms, the memories of a bygone era flash before my eyes.
It was the late seventies and the children from my neighborhood were feral — left on their own until dinner or later. We owned the area, making playgrounds of the woods and construction sites that were expanding as our small city grew. On any given day, there were, at least, 20 kids from 5 to 18 years of age running around my cul-de-sac and the streets surrounding Congress Drive.
We ran in packs like wolf cubs — unsupervised until the porch lights came on. It could have been something like “Lord of the Flies” but, somehow, we took care of one another, wherever we were — at the pool, fort building in the woods, or an evening game of kickball. We saw the same faces every day and even if we were mean or mischievous on occasion, we cared for each other.
There was one house — an older couple with no kids. This home was off-limits and the couple seemed to be rife with chronic bad moods and definitely not enamored with children. They fortified their front yard with trees that kept them hidden, and the man would often lock our toys up if they were to land in his yard. They were the only ‘haters’ on the circle but they were outnumbered.
Outside was the place to be. Barbies went camping in the elements and posed in “Hawaiian” waterfalls created from drainpipes, and went “Dukes of Hazard” in their Barbie cars on ramps made from dirt.
My two favorite Barbie accessories were Evil Knievel’s wind-up motorcycle and parachutes that I could attach to my barbies as I flung them into the air for daredevil adventures. My father stayed annoyed, having to get them down from our trees over and over, but he never complained.
I honestly do not remember any adults being around when we were out. I know they watched through windows, and checked in sometimes, but we were mostly unsupervised for hours on end and went anywhere in the city.
Parents then did not panic and had no problems yelling at any kid who was found misbehaving and needed a boundary set.
My first physical fight was set up by my best friend, Chrissy. She had me fight another girl in the neighborhood to see who would get to play with her that day. I adored Chrissy and was willing to go for it, but Penny was too much for me as she knew how to fight.
We were on the front porch and there were rose bushes on either side. My plan was to use my weight and push her into the bush to inflict the quickest pain as I had no idea how to actually fight someone. My plan failed as her hits landed in sharp pains to my head. I went home crying followed by the laughter of those that chose to watch the “great” match. My mother offered little sympathy and allowed the lesson to be learned on my own.
I graduated from my big wheel to skateboard to bike fairly quickly. Never did I see elbow/knee guards or a helmet anywhere; and I have the scars to prove it. Running around barefoot was common and we just went swimming to sterilize the wounds. I knew that my scab would be off soon if it bubbled from the chlorine and I could have smooth skin back, all pink and new.
Banana seat bikes were best for transporting groups as we headed out to the ballpark across town or the pool. I did not own a lock or chain and just parked and left my bike on the kickstand. We never had lunch packed for our adventures. We had some change from the piggy bank and spent the afternoons loaded on soda and candy. Sunscreen was a rarity, and baby oil was all the rage.
These were the days when you would be dropped off at the skating rink or arcade downtown for hours. Most of the supervisors working these entities were teenagers themselves. We would dress up in Jordache jeans, make badass pom-poms for our skates and show off our skills under flashing lights and loud music.
It was an adventure, and all the kids had one goal; PLAY. •