Storytelling: Summer in the '60s: when kids grew up simply on their own

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In the 1960s, you got up early because it was too hot to sleep in.

Your breakfast was sugared cereal along with orange juice, with sugar added by both the manufacturer and by you.

You ran outside quickly, hoping to avoid the phrase, "If you don't have anything to do, I'll give you something to do!"

You met your friends at a designated spot: on the corner, by the mailbox, in the woods, etc.

If you were on the swim team you walked to the pool in the pre-dawn, sizzling heat and dove into the freezing cold water whether you wanted to or not.

The coaches were not interested in your comfort or self-esteem. A near-drowning might get you a three-minute reprieve. Your parents were not there -- enough said.

If your mom needed groceries for dinner you walked to the store, hoping not to lose the money she had given you (all change) as you cut through the woods, climbed a tree or played "chicken" -- running across the street with your eyes closed. If there was a dime left you could buy yourself a "cold pop," but that was not the usual scenario.

There was a "lunchtime" every day at noon when you would sit down at the kitchen table with your siblings and eat a sandwich made with Wonder Bread, lunch meat, mayonnaise and drink a glass of whole milk. If you missed it, you didn't eat again until dinner time.

You played military games the rest of the day in the woods -- boys and girls. Your fathers were all veterans, and it was the activity of choice. You brought your own toy gun or rifle, and if you didn't have one you used a stick -- or hit the littlest kid and took his.

If you were a girl, and it was suggested that you be a nurse, you'd shoot the boy who suggested it.

No one was sent out to play with BPA-free water bottles, and no one's mom provided Gatorade to replenish our electrolytes. (Not knowing you even had electrolytes was a plus.) We'd sneak into someone's backyard and drink from a garden hose, or we'd all drink from the tin canteen some lucky kid had gotten for Christmas and refilled with creek water.

If anyone was bleeding profusely, the kid was taken care of by the designated army nurse (the girl who didn't have the guts to shoot the kid who assigned her). She would take the dirty shirt off another kid, wipe the blood away and throw the shirt in the creek. If you cried, you faced the firing squad. No exceptions.

Dinner was a mandatory exercise in precision and self-control. It was served at the exact same time each day -- 10 minutes after your father walked in the door. You washed your face and hands, said grace and spent the rest of the meal trying not to get yourself, or one of your siblings, into trouble by relating too much about your day.

No parent ever asked about our feelings, or our dreams, or about whether or not we had excelled at anything that particular day. Apparently they just looked at our sunburned faces, toned little bodies and ravenous appetites and assumed that they were parenting perfectly -- and quite effortlessly, I might add.

The evenings were spent back in the neighborhood, playing Ollie-Ollie-In-Free, four square or kickball, or riding bikes with no helmets and drinking some more from a neighbor's lead-laden garden hose.

Knock-down fights about almost anything would occur spontaneously, to which not one parent would pay any attention.

When the streetlights came on, everyone went home -- immediately. Some time would be then spent on the porch or patio with your parents -- both of them. (Apparently none of them had classes or meetings back then.)

It was too hot to be inside, so the whole neighborhood would be outside yelling from yard to yard. If you were lucky your mom might appear with a Popsicle to cool you off.

Then it was off to bed with the curtains pulled over dressers or doors, begging for a breeze or two. There were sweet dreams of days in the sun, no school and hand-picked friends.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Those summer days were more instructional than any a kid of today might experience.

We learned how to take care of ourselves, our siblings and our friends. We learned how to stay out of trouble by simply not divulging too much information. We learned that you can, and should, be happy with a Popsicle.

Most of all, we learned that life is good if you keep it simple and pick good friends.

intelligencer

Kate Flaherty Podkul of Murrysville can be reached at irish1015@aol.com. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Storytelling" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to page2@post-gazette.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.


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