Our parents had no problem letting us run free in the neighborhood as long as we were home for meals and bedtime. There was no worry about pedophiles or kidnapping. Our time was not regimented or coached. Depending on our mood and the season, we might form a pickup game of baseball, football, basketball, hide-and-seek or some game we just made up.
We were just recovering from the Great Depression and then World War II started. Even though money was not as short, everything was rationed because it was needed on the war front. People had to be resourceful and use what they had as long as they could.
One night, a bad windstorm blew down a big elm tree in our backyard. The next day, the neighbors and my father started cutting the tree up and took most of it to the dump. But they saved some of the wood, and we had a neighborhood hot dog roast around the bonfire the evening after they hauled away the last of the debris. Folks were used to making lemonade out of every lemon that came their way in those years.
One time, my father was watching from our porch and counted more than 75 boys and girls playing a form of baseball in the street. Obviously, there were not two teams of a certain number of players, we just played where we were and aligned ourselves fairly evenly into two groups.
We had several variations of hide-and-seek. One time, as it was turning dark, a fellow hid by lying down in the alley and was walked on three times before he was "found."
No matter where we were in the neighborhood, there was always an adult who would watch over us. All of the mothers stayed at home and would come to our aid if we needed something. There was no hesitation or worry about going to a house, even if the couple living there were childless, and asking for a drink, a bandage or whatever was needed. By the same token, we would be stopped if we were doing something foolishly dangerous, usually.
We lived within a few blocks of the Union Pacific main line from Topeka to Kansas City. As we grew older and ranged farther from home, the trains were like a magnet. We had all put pennies on the rail to be flattened by a passing train. It never occurred to us that if the penny was not centered on the rail it could become a missile with lethal consequences. This truth was brought home to us when we found the penny embedded in a telegraph pole beside the tracks instead of being flattened on the rail as expected.
Another, even more dangerous sport indulged in by some of the older boys, was to hop on and off the train as it was picking up speed leaving the rail yard. Fortunately, a fellow only lost some fingers when he slipped jumping onto the train. This got our attention and ruined that sport.
I had two experiences that really disturbed my mother. Once I brought home a jar full of pond water and tadpoles. I stuck the jar out of sight on the enclosed back porch and, almost immediately, forgot it and went on to other pursuits. When mother discovered an infestation of small frogs in the house and found their source, I was strongly discouraged from bringing any form of living thing home.
Then I got the bright idea of bringing home the head of a dead bird I found in a neighbor's yard. I thought it would be neat to let the flesh decay and have the skull to show my friends. It too was stashed on the back porch and almost immediately forgotten as I went on to further adventures. Even after Mother started complaining about the rotten smell on our back porch it took me several days to connect the odor with my bird head. Needless to say, my parents were not amused. Thus ended my budding career as a biologist.
Despite some innovative ideas such as these, which were vexatious to our parents, life was much simpler then. Our activities were not scheduled and regimented. It would never have occurred to our parents to act as a taxi service to get us to games, music or dance lessons on time. We were allowed to be children and to find or make our own amusements and "educational activities" suited to our age.
When I see what children are subjected to now, I feel those of us who grew up in the 1930s and '40s were very fortunate.
Delbert Marshall, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.