Summer mornings my childhood friend Monica would ride over early on her bicycle- around 8 am. I always knew when she rolled into the driveway because the dogs started barking. That was my cue to go join her. I suppose her mom booted her out of the house with the admonition to "go play" or something similar; that's how it was when I was a kid, in the '50's, '60's and even in to the '70's. Moms told kids to leave and not come home till dinner. (Who knows what the moms were doing? Mine always seemed to be watching "The Merv Griffin Show" while ironing. Monica used to say her mom sat around the house, smoking, looking like Greta Garbo:"I want to be alone.....") Moms didn't feel guilty about this; they regarded it as the natural way of things. There were no pre-arranged play dates. No baby monitors, moms, dads, or nannies at the playground. No endless schedule of activities, lessons, summer camps or events to attend for self improvement. Summer was just one long glorious expanse of time to be filled, mostly by dawdling. Adventures were self-generated, daydreaming was encouraged. This free expanse of time- unheard of in the modern world of parenting- was seen as a form of self-improvement, all unto itself. It was a time to put away hard shoes and indoor toys and get outside and explore. Parents told their kids to leave the house, "go outside and play" often as early as 5 or 6 years of age. Small children would hang around the alley, playing kick-the-can or hopscotch or running lemonade stands. By the time one was 8 or so, the world opened up; every kid had a bike. You could tell who was anywhere by recognizing their wheels parked nearby. We could and did ride anywhere, as far as our legs pumping in the hot summer sun would take us.
Monica and I had a fairly set routine: we'd ride north and west until the subdivision thinned out, and then for miles out into the countryside along increasingly narrower dusty roads. Our dual purposes were seeing what was out there - developing a mental map of how the roads went and what was there, and hanging around a creek we had found, exploring its many nooks and crannies. The creek had a rope swing someone had tied from a bent old tree that swung out into a pool of water. The water was often stagnant, drying up to a bare trickle by late summer, but in early summer it was flush and cool and lovely. There was also a stable nearby, and we took apples and carrots from home to feed the horses. Somewhere around noontime we'd start heading home, and often stopped by a Dairy Queen we knew about on the way. From an assortment of coins we scavenged from various places (under the driver's seat in the car, the junk drawer in the kitchen, by returning coke bottles to the grocery store) we scraped up enough change to buy a drink or an ice cream. At this point in the day the sun was at its zenith; the blistering heat of a Texas summer made it just miserable to be outdoors anywhere. We'd sit for hours in the DQ just talking, occasionally reading comic books from the 7-11 if we had any. There was a shopping center nearby that had a toy store, and we'd often pop in and re-arrange the shelves - not stealing anything, not buying anything, just tidying up, organizing and straightening the shelves and everything in the store. I know it sounds weird but the store was run by really old ladies who were too feeble to every clean or organize it, and it drove us crazy. ( All those years of our moms forcing us to clean our rooms!) We'd just pop in, straighten up, then leave. It was weird, but a compulsion we couldn't stop.
I often look back on those summers and think about all that unfilled time- what a luxury it was. My life as an adult is so driven by schedule, bells, needing to be in two places at once. Multi-tasking because there isn't enough time to do all the things I need to do. The stress, the craziness of this sort of life. I was talking to a gf yesterday and she made the comment : "This is as good as it gets ! The whole summer stretching out before us, unfilled, all that time ! What will we do with it ? "