July 29th, 2010

When I thought as a child

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.1 Corinthians 13:11

Children have a lot of time on their hands. In my case, there was a fair amount of solitary time, and I filled it with musings and experiments.

For example, there was lying-down-on-the-grass-and-looking-up-at-the-sky, great for studying floaters and musing on what they might be. Insects trapped in the eye? Single-celled creatures, likewise (close, but no cigar)?

And then there was the eating of dirt, an activity I tried only a few times before I abandoned it as unsatisfactory. But I still remember the taste—gritty and complex. Likewise, sucking on a wet washcloth during down time in the bath, an interesting combination of rough and refreshing.

Shining a flashlight on the fingers to see the red glow was rather nice. Lying in bed at night, waiting for sleep to overtake me, an entertaining feature was to press gently on my eyes with my fists and rub, causing the activation of phosphenes and a bit of a light show (the Greeks had described the phenomenon long before my time, but I was unaware of that and thought I’d invented the activity on my own).

Then there was the repetition of a familiar word until it became strange. This was accomplished by simply saying it aloud over and over to the point where it was leached of its original meaning and devolved to a mere sound. I recall this happening most effectively and dramatically with the word “pink,” but others will do quite nicely.

Many of these explorations took place in my yard, which had some dirt patches where grass stuggled to grow, and in the summer anthills were plentiful there. These were opportunities for some very mild ant torture that involved covering an ant with a bit of fine light sand and watching it emerge after a very short struggle, now temporarily and somehow satisfyingly light-colored rather than dark (did that make me both a budding racist and a PETA offender? Mea culpa!)

Our block—a dead-end street—featured areas that had been patched over with tar, and on hot days these bubbled up in splendid fashion. There was a plentiful supply of rocks in the gutters, the pointiest of which could be used to strike the tar bubbles and cause a pleasant pop, similar but not quite as good as the scented zap! of that same rock used on the dots that lined the paper rolls we otherwise would load into our cap guns as ammunition.

I wonder whether children still have the time and inclination to do these things. If they do, they’re not telling the adults. Nor did we—till now.

79 Responses to “When I thought as a child”

  1. Cameron Wood Says:

    No halcyon days for this child;
    My childhood was wooly ‘n wild:
    With fistfights and dirt,
    Strange stains on my shirt –
    Alas! For I’ve grown old and mild.

    Of course, being old and mild has its good side, but I do miss rolling around on dirt hills and generally roughhousing with my friends as if doing so were the most important thing in the world.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Cameron Hood: rolling down hills—that’s one I left out!

    There’s also spinning around till you get dizzy and fall down.

  3. vanderleun Says:

    Popping tar bubbles and cap guns. There’s an app for those now.

    Cap guns….. licking the metal firing pin to taste the aftertaste of exploded gunpowder. Boom with a tang.

  4. SteveH Says:

    Rolling down hills in cardboard boxes refrigerators came in. Or a big ole truck inner tube would do.

    Putting playing cards or balloons in the spokes of my bike for sound effects. Swapping bluejay and cardinal eggs in nest and watching the birds raise each others offspring anyways. Walking around on hands and knees pretending i was Little Joe Cartwright’s horse. A towel around my neck with a clothespin the first nine years of my life as a superhero.

  5. Scottie Says:

    My version of Superman was to tie an oversized towel around my neck and run through my grandmother’s house.

    Marx Johnny West action figures (they were NOT dolls!).

    Other small pleasures were riding my bike through the cornfields (lived in the country) and my dog Bruno.

    Damn I miss that mutt!

    Likewise enjoyed the cap gun with the red ribbon that never seemed to wind right in the toy cowboy gun – but were very easy to make work in the Daniel Boone cap rifle and pistol.

    OHHHH, Davy Crockett coon skin cap!

    And ah…probably best to leave the playing with matches phase til a later conversation…lol.

  6. spoot Says:

    SteveH I too used to tie a towel around my neck to be a superhero. I also used to be a lion and ran around on all fours, roaring. I loved to lurk under tables and pounce on people as they walked by. The best is when I used to be Superlion, and wear both a towel and a belt tucked into the back waist of my pants. As Superlion I was even stronger than Superman!

    And how much fun it was to be out in the rain with galoshes on, jumping into the gutters and making a big splash.

    I used to capture wooly caterpillars, keep them in a shoebox with holes in the cover and feed them leaves. Most of them died after a couple of days or managed to escape.

    I felt bereft at the onset of puberty and still feel that my childhood was the truest, bestest part of my life.

  7. Tom Says:

    “Phosphene” is a regrettable misnomer, implying a chemically-mediated process. It is just a name pulled out of the air in the early 1800s. Reminds me of a skin disease called mycosis fungoides, literally fungus fungus, although it is a cutaneous lymphoma.

  8. expat Says:

    Oh yes, playing with tar. Walking around my grandmother’s little grove of lilacs and singing. Sitting with my friend on her her grandmother’s porch trying to suck honey from the honeysuckle blossoms. Building tents of old sheets and blankets. Wandering down the railroadtrack to an overgrown place where the vines formed little tents at the base of the trees. Gathering wild blackberries. Catching lightening bugs in the evening. Husking corn and snapping beans for canning and freezing. It was all pretty rich for someone who was probably poor from a financial point of view.

  9. babka Says:

    …and what childhood things have you put away? and what retained? and are you a grownup yet? and what picked up?

  10. SteddieH Says:

    Yep…no video games to veg out on. Outside with the gang hooting and hollering, riding bikes, trike, or conconcting something to pull or push the Red Flyer wagon.

    We could play cowboys and Indians, running around the neighborhood with our capguns blazing randomly grabbing our chests, and with great drama and grimacing, fall to the ground sure that our scene was the best by far. Miraculously we’d jump up again, fully alive, to battle again, and again, and yet again.

    Hillsides covered in grass and a refrigerator carton led to hours of (often hair-raising) rides, and fortunately – no broken bones. We often went home with various badges of honor…an assortment of bruises and cuts just to be herded to the bathtub to get scrubbed and cleaned more or less to determine what was dirt and scratches, and what actually might need a little more attention.

    We were heroes, villains, space creatures, or whatever our imagination let us be. We certainly did have imagination and could entertain ourselves endlessly with a button and a loop of string or a fort made out of sticks (or whatever material was available…couch and blankets).

    I tend to think being a kid nowdays is over legislated and removes some of those frequent teaching moments nature provides the young and stupid (reckless).

  11. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    I also used to repeat words over and over until they became nonsensical. “Bridge” was a good one. This still works, as I just discovered. I wonder what exactly is the brain process at work there.

    I was a country kid so the summer mantra was “Go outside and play!” My grandmother showed me how to make hollyhock ladies by picking a bud and a blossom, turning the blossom upside down to make a body with a flowing skirt, and poking the bud onto the blossom stem to make a graceful green head. I denuded many a hollyhock making ladies for gala dance parties in the driveway. My brothers and I made cities in the backyard with buildings constructed from up-ended flowerpots and buckets from the garden shed and canned goods from the pantry. At the right time of year, you could populate the cities with hollyhock ladies. We also used to hold leaf races that involved dropping our leaves side-by-side into the creek and then running along the bank shouting at the top of our lungs as first one leaf pulled ahead, then the other, until one leaf became the winner by default when the other got caught up in a branch or pulled under in a rapid.

    If my brothers weren’t around, or if it was desirable to hide from them, I’d climb up a tree or onto the barn roof with a book. I also used to spend great expanses of time experimenting with different ways of leaping up, over, and off things, searching for the secret method that I was certain would allow me to fly. I learned pretty early not to do this when anybody was looking, but I kept on with the experiment anyway, well past the age when I should have known better. I don’t remember the day when I finally realized it wasn’t going to work and quit trying — but it must have been a sad one.

  12. neo-neocon Says:

    SteddieH: in my neighborhood, we had fights with acorns and horse chestnuts. This was actually dangerous, although fortunately no one got hurt. There were no adults around to tell us it was dangerous, though.

  13. jon baker Says:

    I remember the word thing- saying it over-why did it mean what it meant?

    And the wet rag-I remember that as well.

    Making lean-toos (sp?) out of corn stalks and forts out of piles of pine straw.

    I have a fake coon skin cap now- bought one last year at a store. The real squirrel tails I had hanging in my room as hunting trophies are now long gone.

  14. jon baker Says:

    Those dried corn stalks could really cut!- kinda dangerous around the eyes if the leaves were not stripped off.

  15. PA Cat Says:

    Childhood explorations:

    Some experiments concerned the family cat. One involved talking to kitty in French (I went to a small local school where they started teaching kids French in second grade) or the local Pennsylvania German dialect to see whether she would listen better than she did to English commands/instructions/friendly noises. Kitty either preferred Pennsylfawnish Deitsch or was just messing with the human in return (the more likely explanation).

    Other experiment with the cat involved dressing her in one of the old T-shirts my dad used for yard work (I knew better than to try it with a new one!)– kitty wasn’t real happy but gamely walked into the kitchen so my dad could see this new killer app for his old shirts. He laughed but then gently helped her out of it– he knew (better than I did at the time) that she was starting to go into feline meltdown and there might have been bloodshed in the next few seconds.

    Other experiments: mixing household chemicals to try killing the weeds in the backyard. It was a good thing I took the Clorox and ammonia outside the day I thought they might make a good combination.

    Capturing lightning bugs on a summer night and keeping them in a jar with holes punched in the lid for a few hours to watch them light up– and then letting them out while it was still dark.

    I used to play Superman with the other kids on the block, only they were Superman and his sidekicks while I got to play the Nazi villain. My dad had brought back an old Wehrmacht helmet and belt as war souvenirs and even though they were way too big for a kid (the belt must have belonged to a Sergeant Schultz type), all I had to do was fall down after a couple “shots” (usually just verbal “kapow” noises) from Superman (or Jimmy Olson or even Lois Lane). None of the parents on the block were the least bit concerned about PC in those days. It was interesting later on to discover that it was the Nazis who thought they were supermen, and a shock to see newsreels of the German boys taken prisoner after the Battle of the Bulge– many of them were only a year or two older in 1944-45 than my friends were when we were playing Superman.

    Other summer pleasures: going with my dad to dig up wild spearmint by the creek near our house and fish for minnows while we were at it (we never caught any but it was fun to watch them dart through the water). The mint would be replanted in our back yard and used to flavor iced tea (made from real boiled tea, none of this powdered stuff) for the rest of the summer. As for musings– there was an old stone Pennsylvania Railroad bridge over the creek, and we could usually count on seeing at least one train pass over it while we were watching the minnows. I used to wonder where the train was going, how far it was to Santa Fe, New Haven and Hartford, Erie, and all the other cities whose names were on the box cars, and whether I would ever ride the rails to go see them.

    Making sand castles on the beach and collecting shells during the annual summer trip to the NJ shore. I also remember finding out that one type of seaweed had small air sacs in its branches that could be popped by squeezing– great for making a noise that scared younger cousins and annoyed the adults.

    Nobody else on this thread had a hula hoop?

  16. Cameron Wood Says:

    There was lots of construction going on around my neighborhood when I was a wee lad, which meant lots of wonderfully dangerous things and terrain and whatnot laying around just begging to played on/around/in/under/over/etc.

    Good, messy times.

  17. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    We used to make wine from poke weed berries, which we’d mash with sticks in empty Coke bottles to make a vivid purple juice. We believed the berries were poisonous — to this day I don’t know if they really were, but that bright purple certainly looked suspicious — and the best part of the game was warning each other, in gory detail, of all the gruesome things that would certainly happen to us if we ever actually drank any of it.

    Jon baker, we made forts too. I don’t remember using corn — we used tree limbs or hay bales or couch cushions (inside) or snow (in the winter) or whatever else came to hand. I remember cutting myself on the sharp edges of saw grass while learning how to hold a blade between my thumbs to make a whistle.

    What we called all of this activity was “nothin’,” as in, “What did you do all day?” “Nothin’.”

  18. expat Says:

    You’ve all awakened other memories for me. Thank heaven I was young when no one expected girls to play on soccer teams. The closest I ever came to sports was being the last pick when the whole neighborhood chose teams for kickball–played I might add in the middle of a street with no Slow Down Kids Playing signs.

  19. jon baker Says:

    Oh, I should have mentioned the poor little crawfish we caught in the wet weather creek by the house. We would keep them overnight then release them- probably caught some of them multilple times in our bacon baited nets.

  20. SteddieH Says:

    Neo: Looking back at the little memory trip you so graciously triggered there are sooooo many things that in remembering them now I wonder how the hell I made it to adulthood – let alone intact and for the most part unmarred. The blessing, and curse, of childhood is the cloak of invincibility most youth feel they’re wrapped in that often times makes for bad decisions. Whether it’s the luck of the draw some of us get out of situations unscathed or other factors could generate an interesting discussion in itself.

  21. Mr. Frank Says:

    A common thread in many of these activities was a lack of close adult supervision and direction. After WWII the world was seen as a safe place, and almost all homes had two parents with moms staying home keeping a distant eye on everyone’s children. Any adult could chew you out, but rarely had to. Kids were allowed to roam far from home without permission. Bicycles were the transportation of choice.

  22. jon baker Says:

    I had a dream not too long ago that I was back at that creek where we used to crawfish. The lot my parents had was only about 3 acres but it seemed larger as a child. In the dream the creek had been subdivided and partly covered over- i was in mourning in that dream when I saw that. Some of this may have been trigered as I have been watching this part of the country’s population explode due in part to the open borders. And if you understand the birthrates of the country to our south, you understand there is no end in sight- its not like a few million will come across and then its over- no it is a continuously resupplied flow.

  23. Joan of Argghh! Says:

    The word put was the word I found to become very strange.

    Words still fascinate!

    I still don’t play with matches or fire. The whuppin’ I got still puts an emotional check on any such thing.

  24. Joan of Argghh! Says:

    The word put was the word I found to become very strange.

    Words still fascinate!

    I still don’t play with matches or fire. The whuppin’ I got still puts an emotional check on any such thing.

  25. JohnC Says:

    My mother would hang washed clothes on a line in our backyard. I sometimes ‘helped’ her gather them when they were dry. Helping in my case was opening and playing between the two halves of a bed sheet. It was particularly special when my mother would grab and tickle me when I was in the middle of a dream in those sheets. Ahhhh .. . the smell of those clean clothes and and, of course, my mother’s face. I was about 3 or 4 at the time. That’s just one of a billion memories. Running around catching fireflies during summer was lots of fun and so too was eating lots and lots of watermelon and riding my bike everywhere.

  26. PA Cat Says:

    Steddie H–

    As I look back on my childhood, I am reminded that in some ways life was safer then, at least in smaller towns and cities. We left our bikes on front porches all the time without fear of theft; never even knew there was such a thing as a bicycle lock. My parents also never worried about predatory adults– I walked alone to choir practice, confirmation class, Scout meetings, and church youth group meetings all the time, even after dark (which came around 4:30 p.m. in the winter). So did my friends, and no one’s parents thought twice about letting their kids walk or bike to school, to meetings, or to sports practice by themselves.

    I also remember that parents didn’t think it was necessary to go along with kids on Halloween or check their goodies afterward for razor blades or other potential problem “treats” from sick adults. We usually went in groups because it was more fun to go trick-or-treating with your friends, and the adults were neighbors who knew all of us anyway and would compliment us on our (mostly homemade) costumes. My dad would carve a Halloween pumpkin and set it on our front porch with a real candle inside (no electric fake candle) and never thought that the pumpkin might be smashed by vandals. The pumpkin usually stayed on the porch for a week or so until it started to “fade” by itself.

    These are little things, maybe, but as I look back, I am startled by how safe I felt then going anywhere outside the house by myself. My chief concern was watching out for cars and otherwise obeying traffic signs and signals rather than looking out for dangerous humans.

  27. JohnC Says:

    Now that I think about it – I must have eaten the equivalent of a swimming pool full of Campbell’s tomato soup during those day, with crushed up saltines floating on top naturally. Sometimes it was chicken noodle though and then my sisters and I had fun sucking up (the macaroni) worms.

  28. PA Cat Says:

    As long as we’re tripping down memory lane, there are a few things I don’t miss from childhood, mostly medical:

    The slower drills that dentists used in those days. Sealants hadn’t been invented yet, and if you had soft teeth like mine, there was usually at least one cavity per visit that needed filling, and the process seemed to take forever. Not to mention that the shot of novocaine hurt almost as much as the drilling.

    Polio shots and other immunizations. My parents were thrilled about the Salk vaccine because it removed a major anxiety that their parents had had. But I hated the pediatrician’s hypodermics– the disposable ones with very thin needles weren’t around then, and my pediatrician used the old non-disposable hypodermics with the glass barrels that had to be sterilized after each use. To a little kid those things looked humongous. I can still remember the cold feel of the alcohol swab on my upper arm and turning my head so I didn’t have to look at Dr. Kurtz while he did his thing. He was a friendly teddy bear kind of guy and his kids went to my school (they were nice kids and fun to play with), but I still dreaded those office visits.

    The other medical bummer was the heavy glass used in kids’ eyeglasses back then. I had to wear glasses from third grade onward and was so nearsighted (20/200 in one eye, 20/180 in the other) that the lenses in my glasses looked like the proverbial Coke bottle bottoms. The invention of lightweight plastic lenses was a godsend!

  29. SteveH Says:

    My dad punching a hole in the bottle cap of a coke somehow made the whole experience exciting. I recall marveling at how he did it with such ease.

    Making a loud whistle with a sliver of monkey grass…. Wondering why it was such a big deal when a grownup fell down….Sisters with their hosiery and crap hanging all over the bathroom…Long distance calls when everyone in the house had to shut up so my parents could hear from so far away.

  30. Occam's Beard Says:

    I made a carbon arc furnace when I was 12, by punching holes in a flower pot and sticking a carbon rod from a dry cell into each hole. Connect the carbon rods to the mains, bring them into contact until they glow, then slowly back them off to strike the arc. Dazzling white light, intense heat that’ll melt anything – and I do mean anything.

    Great fun, but no way you could do that today. Besides the obvious risk of electrocution, there’s blinding yourself from the intense UV emission. And the broadband EM emission would nowadays probably fry every computer and cell phone for blocks around. (I learned this last when considering reprising this experiment as a lecture demonstration, to the horror of a EE guy.)

    But it was damned impressive and great fun, if you avoid the major risks. Then there were chemistry experiments in my garage lab…

  31. betsybounds Says:

    PA Cat, I remember being grateful for that awful novacaine–my first fillings were done before it was available, and there is no way the injection hurt as much as the drilling without it. I–and many others of a similar age, I’m guessing–knew exactly what was happening in the dental-drilling torture of Marathon Man!

    I also remember something I did one summer afternoon after learning something about the parts of a flower. I sat across the street from our house, studying violets. I slowly picked one of the flowers apart, and made up a story to go along with it. It had to do with a race of people who grew strong eating violet eggs, and powerful, and conquered the universe. Now there’s a health food worthy of the name! I was unaware that my mom was watching me through the living room window, and she told me when I came inside that she had gotten quite a laugh, watching me carefully studying the flowers and talking to myself. I’m not even sure I’d remember it if it hadn’t been for her telling me that. Ah, those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.

  32. mizpants Says:

    What a wonderful memoiristic piece of writing by Neo, and what a terrific thread. This is the experience that technology has threatened to swallow — the experience that the state should exist to protect.

  33. betsybounds Says:

    Just perusing all these memories, recorded here, that are so lovely and evocative: PA Cat, where are you from? I’m from near Pittsburgh, and remember some of the same things you do. Of course, a lot of them aren’t location-specific, but still . . . .

    The spearmint memory brought back to me the times my dad used to take us up over the mountain to look for teaberry. In those days you could still buy teaberry gum (I think Adams made it) and everyone knew the flavor. Daddy would help us find the plants with the small berries on them, and we’d pick them off and chew them–wow! Teaberry! And then sometimes Dad would take us over the mountain with our neighbor Mr. Rossi, a great friend of Daddy’s. Mr. Rossi was an older gentleman, an Italian immigrant, whom my dad called “The Boss.” He taught us how to look for mushrooms. We’d find them and bring them to him, and he’d have a look, and decide whether they were edible or not, with a cursory, “At’s-ah-kime,” or “At’s-uh no kime.” Daddy also taught us not to fear thunderstorms. He’d tell us how lightning happened, saying that the charge built up in the clouds like the wooden building blocks we played with, until it became to great–like the pile of blocks getting too high–and then, like the blocks falling, the built-up electricity would discharge, and voila! Lightning! To this day, I love a good storm.

  34. CV Says:

    My sisters and I left the house on summer days and spent most of it riding bikes, playing kickball on our cul-de-sac, and our favorite activity…building “shacks” in the woods. There was a lot of lying around in the grass staring at clouds and a lot of time searching through the grass for 4 leaf clovers. I’m convinced this kind of thing was essential for developing independence and creativity.

    My own kids are in a lot of organized activities and stick close to home when they have free time. You rarely see kids out playing and roaming randomly as we did. I don’t necessarily think it’s less safe these days, but parents (in the city and burbs) just don’t let it happen because they’re afraid “something might happen.” It’s sad, in many ways.

  35. betsybounds Says:

    CV, you’re right. It is sad, and in many ways.

    When our kids were little, we lived in one of the (few) very nice parts of Houston, what they refer to as “inside the loop.” We never had to mess with Houston traffic, and it was–heh! in many ways–like raising a family in a small town. Hard to believe of Houston, I know, but nevertheless . . . . During the course of one summer, someone was building a new house across the street from our little bungalow, and there was a big sandpile in front of the construction, out by the street. After dinner, I’d take the kids outside and I’d sit in the front yard and watch them as they went across and played in that sandpile. I used to wonder to myself what memories they were forming of their own childhoods, and I thought that they’d always remember that as “the summer of the sandpile.” And they do.

    Of course, it may be a result of my prompting. But still and all, the memories are there for them.

  36. Artfldgr Says:

    I lived in the inner city in a poor neighborhood that was not very nice… though i remember that you used certain signals to know when to come home. the churchbells, or you would hear a whistle… always reminded me of the prince spagetti commercial “antony!”

  37. Scottie Says:

    Ok, here are a couple of the more…ahem…adventurous exercises undertaken when not under direct adult supervision.

    When we got just a little bit older – old enough to con the parents into letting us get BB guns – they became the weapon of choice in our cowboy and indian shootouts.

    Oddly enough, none of us ever lost an eye….

    Then there were the misadventures involving what we called M80 firecrackers.


    Bottle rockets!

    There was that one game of “Freeze Tag” I was playing when I ended up at the bottom of a pile of kids and came out with a broken arm.

    That summer kind of sucked.

    Oh, and fireflies!

  38. Scottie Says:

    Just out of curiousity, exactly from how early in life does anyone here have memories?

    I described an event to my parents from when I was very young and thought I was about 3 years old.

    My mom corrected me, however.

    I was about 18 months at the time…..

  39. neo-neocon Says:

    The comments on this thread make me think of Citizen Kane and “Rosebud.”

    Although there is a definite skew here towards summer activities rather than winter. But, that said, I suddenly conjure up memories of snow forts galore, and sledding.

  40. neo-neocon Says:

    Scottie: Here’s your answer.

  41. betsybounds Says:

    Wow, neo, you surely do have your fingers on a certain pulse sometimes. I think, while it’s not the only one of course, it’s surely the most basic of the reasons why I love your blog.

    Thanks so much.

  42. jms Says:

    I remember repeating the word “water” until it became meaningless.

    Another thing I used to like to do was look through the wire-reenforced glass windows at my grade school. this is the glass with the grid of thin wires running through it. I used to look at the distant background, then bring the wires into focus. This created an optical illusion that the wires were suspended in space between my eyes and the glass. Then I would push my hand through the “wires” and the illusion would collapse. Anyone else do that?

  43. Caroline Cory Says:

    I love anthills. What super little communities they are: complete with kitchens, nurseries, sick rooms and storage facilities. I also love the ants themselves. When I was four years old, I was lectured by my older brother who walked in on me while I was very carefully lowering seveal ants into my play pool. He mistakenly accused me of drowning them and I looked up and replied “no Duncan, I am giving them swimming lessons”. Oh, the innocence and guilelessness of childhood. Could we or would we want to go back?

  44. PA Cat Says:


    Since you ask– I grew up in Lancaster, but my best friend in college was from Squirrel Hill, so I guess that makes me a yinzer by adoption.

    And yes, I knew better than to wear my Phillies T-shirt in downtown Pittsburgh. And I also remember Adams teaberry gum. At one point the local Turkey Hill dairy experimented with teaberry flavored ice cream, which my aunt said tasted like frozen Pepto-Bismol.

    Yes, those were good times.

  45. SteveH Says:

    Getting baby chicks at Easter in assorted dye colors….The tiny turtles you could get at Woolworths with flowers and such painted on their backs….P.F. Flyer sneakers that came with a decoder ring….Having mutt dogs that never went to the Vet for anything and lived forever…Being reprimanded for crossing my eyes cause they might stick that way.

  46. Gringo Says:

    PA Cat:

    I had eyeglasses from fourth grade on. What I remember about them is how many times I damaged the frames. Active boys and eye glasses do not get along. The nurse at my eye doctor’s office got to laugh whenever she heard my name. I recall only one instance of breaking a lens, during a game of basketball. I was very glad to discover the straps you could use to keep eyeglasses in place.

    Civil engineering projects with rocks and water. We had a lot of ponds and streams around. And swamps.

    I remember a lot of winter. Making snow angels. Snow forts. Walking in the woods. Ice skating was problematic, given varying thickness of the ice, but we figured it out. Seeing green in the dead of winter when there wasn’t any snow, such as creeping jenny and princess pine, was always a delight. Summer had issues, such as wandering woods full of poison ivy or poison sumac. There was a picture of me when I was 10 of eyes swollen up so much from poison sumac that I looked Oriental.

    In junior high I played sports every day at a neighbor’s house. We had 4-5 on a side most days, more on weekends. The sport varied according to season, but we liked football the most. Three inches of snow was not considered an impediment to a game of football. When we got old enough that the momentum of larger bodies led to injury, we switched to touch football. We played in high school, but not as often, and in our 20s we played soccer on weekends.

  47. rickl Says:

    This has been a fascinating thread, and I’ve enjoyed reading the comments.

    I don’t have a lot of adventures to recount. I was a bookworm from the get-go, and my main hobby was building model airplanes, which was also a solitary, indoor activity. I’m still mostly an indoor person to this day.

    But that means that I’m pretty comfortable being alone with my thoughts. There are a couple of people at work who seem to spend the whole day talking. Talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk, mostly about pretty trivial and banal stuff. I just don’t get it.

    Anyway. My family moved a couple of times during my childhood, which tended to interfere with my forming lifelong friendships. For about 2 1/2 years, from age 8-10, we lived in a pretty rural part of western New York state. That was mostly when I remember things like climbing trees and tobogganing. One of my best friends was a girl named Julie. I’ve often thought that if my family hadn’t moved away when I was 10, that friendship might have blossomed into something much more significant.

    On the other hand, since she was such a tomboy, she might have turned out to be a lesbian. But even so, I think we would have been friends for life. Either way, I think my life would have been radically different if we had stayed there and not moved.

  48. JohnC Says:

    There wasn’t much to build snow forts with in Texas. Instead, I remember the warm sunny, sunny long days even into December. We had occasional snowfalls, but they were 4 to 6 inches at the most. We built forts though usually by digging deep foxholes in our backyard and covering them with large cardboard boxes taped together. We also built ramshackle tree houses with pull up ladders that automatically became private places for us only.

  49. PA Cat Says:


    since she was such a tomboy, she might have turned out to be a lesbian.

    Looking back, I think that gender stereotyping was another less pleasant aspect of the ’50s and early ’60s. You mention being a bookworm; so was I, and I suffered acutely from stereotypes of bookish girls as either sexless or unlovable. If I had a nickel for every time someone quoted Dorothy Parker’s two-liner about ‘Men never make passes/At girls who wear glasses’ to me, I’d be– well, maybe not rich, but somewhat better off financially. To make it worse, all my bookish interests were not exactly “feminine” subjects– at various points, I wanted to be an astronomer, an archaeologist, a chemist, a military historian, a theologian. Neither of my parents had gone to college, but they made sure I had the opportunity, and it was a real liberation– particularly having female as well as male professors in the fields that interested me.

    I know what you mean about workplace jabber and chatter; I’m more comfortable with my own thoughts too. I guess being an only child is great “basic training” for that.

  50. LAG Says:

    Neo, are you related to Ray Bradbury? That was a wonderful piece of writing.

    I remember playing kick-the-can and hide-and-seek at dusk. And stealing a smooch now and again from a freckled blond girl.

    I recall trapping lightening bugs in a Mason jar, too. I was surprised to hear my wife tell me recently that she never saw them as a kid. I think that’s a deprived childhood.

  51. Charles Says:

    Flashlight tag, until I ran into a tree one night and ended up with a VERY black eye.

    Oh wait, that only put me out of the game for a couple of weekends. Then we all went at it again.

    Our fathers (yes, they were around) always complained about those batteries that didn’t seem to last as long. Although, looking back as an adult I believe that our fathers really did know why the batteries were always dead when they needed the flashlights.

  52. rickl Says:

    PA Cat:
    I don’t think I was stereotyping there. From what I’ve read, girls who are tomboys (i.e., enjoy rough-and-tumble physical activity) often grow up to be lesbians; likewise, boys who are “sensitive” or artistic often grow up to be gay. There’s not a 100% correlation, of course, but it happens often enough. There may be a genetic factor involved; I don’t know.

    (The foregoing has nothing to do with bookworms of either sex.)

    P.S.: To continue our recent Belmont Club thread, Reggie is doing great. He had his follow-up visit at the vet tonight, and had his third consecutive normal blood test. And he seems like his usual self again. But the vet is very disturbed by the fact that she doesn’t know what caused his sudden kidney failure in the first place.

  53. ck Says:

    Now days most 10 year old kids have a 50 year old single mother that chases them around with hand sanitizer. Unsupervised time? Maybe when the kid reaches 25(only because mom’s in a rest home). Not to mention kids now days don’t have siblings or cousins.

  54. PA Cat Says:


    Very glad to hear Reggie is doing better. No one knows quite why, but FWIW, male cats are more susceptible to kidney failure than females. I have a friend in the UK who lost an eight-year-old male tuxie to kidney failure. I hope Reggie will continue to thrive– I’m presently waiting to hear from my friend who maintains a feral colony a few blocks away. Her ginger boy is fading away; will probably not last through the night, and it looks like kidney failure again. Marmalade is about 10, which is a good long life for a feral, but it still hurts to lose a beloved cat at whatever age. Anyway, here’s to Reggie, and many more good years for him (and you).

  55. expat Says:

    I loved Teaberry gum and the horehound drops I stole (rarely and only one at a time) from my grandmother’s china cupboard. And then their was the sassafras tea my grandfather gave us along with slippery elm goo to treat the poison ivy I got every summer. BTW, the slippery elm didn’t help, but it was the thought that counted. One aunt had a yearly apple butter making day. I was too young to do anything productive, but I was delighted by the huge copper kettle over the wood fire outside and the very long wooden paddles used to stir it. The only spanking I can remember was in response to a temper tantrum I threw when our homemade apple butter ran out and I refused to eat the terrible store-bought substitute offered to go with the pon haus. (PA Cat: did you do ponhaus and puddin or scrapple? I always found scrapple to be a rather citified term used by Philadelphians.)

    I remember family trips with cousins to swimming holes in various area “cricks” and riding with cousins in the back of my dad’s very old pickup–no seats, much less seat belts.

    The biggest yearly event was the butchering at my grandfather’s on Thanksgiving. Besides the family, various men from the area showed up to help. There were three seatings at the meal: men, kids, and women. I remember the sausage stuffers and big pots of fat being cooked down into lard. I had a coming of age moment when my aunts allowed me to help scrape and clean the store-bought sausage casings. I was probably only five or six, but I felt so grown up sitting in the little outbuilding in a circle with my aunts and being trusted not to break the skins.

    There was also a summer family reunion highlighted by the milk cans full of homemade lemonade.

    Here is a site for all you country kids who might need equipment to relive a childhood memory:


    I’ll throw in two less pleasant memories: outhouses and houses poorly heated by cookstoves in the kichen and only floor vents allowing some heat to drift to upstairs bedrooms. You really needed that stack of quilts.

  56. betsybounds Says:

    An honorary yinzer! By golly! Yinz gunna go dahntahn, watch a’ Stillers? Go see duh Buccos?

  57. Janet Says:

    Coming late to the party here, but what an enjoyable thread!

    Neo, I did everything you did and I suppose most of the readers have too. That’s fascinating to me, all that common experience. I grew up in Chicago about a mile from the city limits so we had both city and forest preserve areas to play in.

    We literally left the house on our bikes after breakfast and didn’t come home until lunch or sometimes supper – we’d bring lunch with us some days or go to a friend’s house. Having done that while growing up really dates you.

    We played all of the standard games – freeze tag, dodgeball, nighthawks, etc. but I vividly remember playing WWII. The boys took turns being GIs and Germans and the girls were nurses of course. And we had children of both American and German veterans on our block. I never heard a word of prejudice spoken but I did hear adults talk about the immigrants sometimes with compassion about what they had gone through. Pretty understanding for a blue collar neighborhood, I think.

  58. physicsguy Says:


    My evenings lately are full so I also get to Neo’s party at a “fashionable hour”.

    Your comment of getting on the bike after breakfast and not returning until dinner describes things for me perfectly.

    One of my best memories growing up on the west side of Denver: The front range and the foothills were only 3-5 miles away…. nothing for a 12 year old with a bike. There’s an area known as the Hogback which is an uplifted beach area of the 65 million year old ocean. In the rising plains just to the east were long arroyos which were about 10 feet deep. We would ride our bikes up to the arroyos, dump them, (no thought of anyone stealing them), and walk our way up the arroyo with the hammer taken from Dad’s workshop. The arroyos exposed sub surface rock. Take the hammer and randomly break the rocks. The TREASURE inside was fossils, fossils and more fossils. Plants, bones, etc. I still have some.

    Those arroyos? Now filled in and covered over with large houses on 1/4 acre lots. Everytime I visit out there I think about the kids living in those houses and the treasure that is now hidden away from them forever just under their feet.

    OB: I also did many “experiements” with electrical devices and chemicals. Had an interesting one where I wanted to see the glow of gases by connecting a stoppered glass test tube to electric outlet. My gas of choice was propane…I was lucky with that one 🙂 Seems our life paths were set fairly early.

  59. Sloan Says:

    Thanks for the memories, many of which I share. How about rollerskating on sidewalks or basement floors until the very fibers in our legs vibrated? Playing outside in snow until our feet were numb? Yelling “Bombs over Tokyo!” as we threw dirt clods at each other? Having to go fetch a switch from the yard for Mama to “discipline” us? (If the switch wasn’t big enough in diameter, I had to go back and get a bigger one.) No remote control toys, nothing that talked to us, or flashed lights, or made obnoxious noises…

  60. Scottie Says:

    Living in the coastal area of the South, we never had much snow….bummer. You guys seemed to all have great memories of the stuff, but we rarely had any.

    On the other hand, since I lived in a very rural area, you could see a billion brilliant stars at night (still can in that area, as a matter of fact).

    I kind of miss that living in a suburb now.

  61. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Coming back from the beach to the cottage on asphalt roads in bare feet. We had to walk on the white lines to avoid scorching our soles.
    Grew up in one of the post-war subdivisions full of starter homes for young guys. Meant practically every adult male was a vet.
    Sitting around in the evenings listening to them talk about WW II.
    Turned out, years later, that it was a joint effort–not a conspiracy–to toughen us up for our turn. They, being fathers, couldn’t beat us up, or make us run to collapse, but by talking about such things, they hoped to prepare us mentally.

  62. Judith L Says:

    I think of my parents a being very strict. Lots of rules. But I had loads of unstructured time. No fear about walking down to the “Avenue” to go to the library, stop by the Five and Dime–all on my own–in the City of San Francisco! I sometimes wonder if all the adolescent “adults” we have now is related to an absence of that kind of autonomy growing up.

    ps Thank you for quoting the King James Version of the Bible, Neo. I rarely hear it any more, but if I manage to recall any Bible verses, I always remember them in the King James Version.

  63. Art Says:

    We lived in a large old three story house with several peaks. It resembled in my mind the Matterhorn. After my brother and I watched the movie of that name, we decided to tie ourselves together with a sheet and scale the “Matterhorn”, in the winter during a snowstorm, in our underwear. Needless to say, we got caught by Mom, and our backsides were rendered a red hue by Dad….but boy was that fun!

  64. SteveH Says:

    I came across a throwback scene not too long ago in a less than affluent neighborhood i was driving in. A little girl probably no more than four holding the hand of an even younger boy in diapers as they both crossed a busy four lane street. The weird thing was the scene really didn’t make me fear for their safety. They both looked both ways intently before crossing as if it was done on a regular basis.

  65. br549 Says:

    Wow. A flood of memories.

    Americana, eh?

    Damned glad I grew up here.

  66. neo-neocon Says:

    Judith L: I always quote the King James version. Here’s why.

  67. Jenna Says:

    Ditto and many thanks, Neo. And a few more idyllic unsupervised activities for the summer:

    Advising my playmates to just snip their boogers onto the rug

    Crawling out onto a long thick willow branch that extended very low over Monona Bay

    Opening the ends of Maple seeds and attaching them to the ends of our noses, Cyrano like.

    Inviting every kid on the block into our living room to watch a five-minute episode of Crusader Rabbit on our new TV

    Crouching under the overhang of a neighbor’s basement window to get out from under a sudden summer shower

    Reaching high up on tip toe to grap my dad’s pinky as we walked to Jim’s Whitefront Grocery to get an ice cream cone.

    Walking the neighborhood arm in arm with my best friend singing at top voice every song we could remember from the latest Doris Day flick.

  68. betsybounds Says:


    “Opening the ends of Maple seeds and attaching them to the ends of our noses, Cyrano like.”

    Oh yes! I have done it!

  69. Judith L Says:

    Somehow, I had missed your posting on the King James Version of the Bible, Neo. I cannot tell you how much I agree with you. I’ve never been much good at memorizing chapters and verses, but I have a fairly large memory bank of passages from the King James Bible. I mourn society’s loss of it. And, as an Anglican, I mourn the loss of the proper Book of Common Prayer. All the poetry is gone.

  70. Promethea Says:

    Wonderful post and comments. Did any of you put catalpa blossoms on your nose?

  71. waltj Says:

    Late to the party, but I see comments are still being added to the thread, so here goes.

    Compared to kids today, I had very little structured time. School, yes, but other than that, my friends and I were on our own. Sometimes, my dad or one of the other dads would pitch for us in baseball, but that was about as close as we came to ever having adult supervision. My first exposure to “organized” sports was at age 11 in Little League. I found it easy, since I already had the baseball skills that I’d acquired from our spontaneous, but highly competitive, neighborhood pickup games.

    While I don’t have kids myself, what I’ve seen with my now-grown nephew and others his age and younger is a real lack of spontaneity, or an ability to improvise on the fly. In anything.

    As an example, I’m in an occupation where how you structure your workday is essentially your own choice, as long as the job-critical tasks, which often change without notice, get done. Recently, I was assigned to mentor a new, young employee, who had all the right credentials from all the right schools. While freedom to do the job my way was a real selling point for me, he had difficulties with the lack of a detailed, point-by-point schedule. He wanted to be told what he had to do hour-by-hour, like he was still in school. I eventually sat down with him and we wrote a daily work plan together, but I had to step in and modify this as well, because he was slavishly following it, even when requirements and priorities changed. He’s basically a good, hardworking kid, and I want him to succeed, but he’s never had to be creative or spontaneous in his own life. From what I’ve come to know about his background, he was always getting shuttled from school to soccer to baseball to debate club to summer camp to whatever when he was a child, and this continued through his teen years. He was never able to just kick back, be a kid with his buddies, and go off and ride bikes or play tackle football (without gear), or trick-or-treat without a parent hovering over his shoulder. Is he the exception or the rule for his generation? My sample size is admittedly pretty small, but he seems to be the rule.

  72. Janet Says:


    Oh yes, rollerskating in the basement! Our house was the rainy day default place. We had a large cement floor basement with a support pole that we would catch and swing around until we got dizzy. One of the gang sort of missed his mark one day and fell and cracked his head – he even blacked out momentarily. Thank God there was a laundry sink so we could get some cold water to throw on his face and wake him up.

    No adult ever knew this happened – the same as the cherry bomb fiasco that resulted in my brother’s Ban-Lon shirt being melted on his back. Again, through the intercession of Divine Providence, he had another in the same color so Mom never found out.

    I guess these memories are the reason that the helicopter Mom generation was born!!

  73. rickl Says:

    That young person you described frightens me. People like that will be only too willing to submit to government regimentation of their lives. In fact, they may genuinely believe that they need it.

  74. Barbara B. Says:

    Making “perfume” with rose petals in water. Trying to find 4-leaf clovers. Lying in the grass watching the clouds. Playing Hide n Seek, Tag, Statuemaker, Mother May I, Red Light, Dodgeball, Hopscotch.

    Sitting on my swing and making up songs. Twirling the swingg around and then spinning fast. Playing with paper dolls and making clothes for them. Riding my bike all over, being gone all day, no one worried. Oh, the freedom. Running in sprinklers.

    Watching The Little Rascals and Mickey Mouse Club. Picking up stuff at construction sites. Going camping with my family. Making tents all the time, both inside and out in the yard. Fireflies. Dressing puppies in doll clothes. Holding puppy races. Going to birthday parties in dressup clothes. Listening to my child records.

    Playing school, cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, having cap guns, and those wood paddles with little balls attached. Gum, licorice, suckers, whatever candy could be obtained. Sticking a candy cane in a lemon and sucking the juice through. Playing Candyland, Uncle Wiggly, and later on Clue and Monopoly. Pretending to be people from TV or movies, like Hayley Mills or Annette Funicello. Oh, the memories! Life was really nice then.

  75. will Says:

    Fifty plus acres in New England to wander, unleashed dogs, spring water bubbling up out of the ground, blueberries and blackberries in summer, sleeping on the porch, three channel black and white television, (that was watched only when the parents decided) old libraries (quiet!)with old librarians, eh, I could go on and on. Sometimes it makes me sad to see what’s become of it all, really.

  76. Bob from Virginia Says:

    Obama ruined my childhood.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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