Author: Faubel, Carolyn


The last day of school! How the summer stretched before us kids. September was unimaginable, the same way that being 100 years old is impossible for a 50 year-old to imagine. Shoes were tossed into the closet, dresses thrown in the hamper and the proper uniform of sun suits and bare feet took over.

We grew up in a little country community on three and a half acres. Orange groves and climbing-hills bordered one side of our place, and a half-dozen neighbors, some with kids our age, bordered the other side of the dirt road that meandered by us. There were no video games, cable tv, cheap long-distance phone service or electronic toys. But we did have our own version of playing the lazy slug, and that was books. We could all just flop around and read all day, but I’m sure it disturbed the grown-ups to see us in that shape too much, so we usually got the boot to go outside.

We ran around all over the place. We would fill our canteens and hike off through the orange grove to the rarely used decomposed granite quarry. That was always exciting because you could never tell if new craters and hills would have been formed since last time. We named it “Sand Dune.” One of the little overlook hills that had been leveled, we called “Flat Top Mountain.” Sometimes we’d climb the short little grassy sides and find an orange field of glory, California poppies covering the table top.

We weren’t afraid to forage. Did you know that the little green heart-shaped seed pods of shepherd’s purse taste peppery? We nibbled on miner’s lettuce and chewed wads of mint. We snagged oranges and grapefruit from the neglected orchard. Wild pomegranates were common and we would bust them over fence posts to open them. One year we even cured a batch of olives from the trees growing in the scrub.

We made up and learned all kinds of outside games. My older sister invented one that was called “Charge.” Everyone would go to a corner of the yard. When the leader yelled “Charge!” we all ran to the center. Bam! Whoever was left standing won the game. I never thought about the perfect sense it made to the oldest and biggest to call for that game! I drank mud tea and kept a close watch out for rattlesnakes, a common threat there. I rode the wagon down the hill from Sand Dune, steering with the handle. I rode my little Sting Ray bicycle a mile and a half the back way to Jean’s Market to buy a Tootsie Pop and a comic book. We perched at the edge of irrigation sump ponds to catch polliwogs.

I loved my childhood. And I would have loved to let my children experience just the same thing. But of course I couldn’t. Not only is the world different today, but we know more. The pond was probably full of pesticides. Orange groves are and were a dangerous place for a kid to wander around in. When we were playing and digging among the freshly mined hills of decomposed granite, the side could have slid down on us.

So what could I offer my children? A place in the country, but not much freedom. Bikes up and down the long driveway, with helmets of course. No neighbor kids to create elaborate scenarios, but several siblings. Occasional long walks, but with the kids close by, especially after we came across a pile of empty pseudoephedrine packets and other trash.

So I worried a little. Did they miss out? And maybe they did, a little. But sometimes I get a glimpse of what their world was and the games and fun that they made up. Not long ago, I found out about “The Christmas Present Game.” My husband and I would wait on Christmas Eve until the children had all gone to bed and then turn the radio to Christmas music and wrap all the presents that were stashed in the closet. Close to midnight, we would get done and retire to bed. My sleepy little kids! I thought. Dozing away until Christmas morning when they would see the splendor under the tree! Hah! Actually, they were biding their time until we went to bed, then they snuck out to see. They would read all the tags and play with the wrapped boxes. They would gather them up and take them outside to play with them. Finally, when the game was over, back they went under the tree, the kids off to bed, and then to wait till morning when they had to fake surprise. I can’t believe I never suspected a thing! They tell me they never opened anything. Hmm.

So even though it’s not the good old days, and never will be again, since that’s always the way of it, it’s still good. Give kids a chance and they’ll have their own rich play and imagination and life. Even though you do have to give them the boot to go outside sometimes.
Posted:  6/23/2010

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