I was reading a blog earlier today by Jeff Goins. He told how his daughter started making a fort at the playground, which inspired others to join her. At first, it was a single fort, but then the children branched out and made their own versions of what they thought one should look like. There was a little tussling, but they all got along well.
“… I can’t help but wonder if what our world needs more of right now is a little less consumption or contention and a little more creativity.”Jeff Goins
There was no date on his blog, but I suspect it was before social distancing began and the fear of COVID-19 invaded all we do. To say that 2020 has ushered in an era of separation would be an understatement. How long will we have to ‘self-isolate’ before we can return to some semblance of ‘normalcy?’ I feel privileged to have known the world differently than today’s children and young people, and that I lived through the years before computers and television and travel to the moon.
I believe that play is not something that we are born knowing how to do; others need to show us how to free up our imaginations and prime the pump of creativity. Give a child a lump of clay and he or she will roll endless worms and round shapes, but show them what can be done, and they will spend a whole day happily creating animals and things that were always in their mind’s eye waiting to be rediscovered.
Jeff’s blog made me remember the first day of school vacation some time in the 1950s. I don’t know the exact year, but I was probably nine or ten. The long, hot summer stretched out in front of us, and we were excited to be allowed to stay out until dark.
We already knew how to play hopscotch, tag and jump rope, but that night, my Dad became the Pied Piper of 41st Street by teaching us ‘city kids how to play.’ Dad grew up in Brooklyn in the 1920s, when many ‘stoop games’ were invented and improvised upon. There were no fishing holes to swim in, no squirrels to shoot, no trees to climb. Counting cars on street corners was the most exciting thing to do!
He showed us Statues/Red-Light-Green-Light, Box Ball, Red-Rover (Let me come over), (I declare) War, and a game similar to Twister, but played on the large squares marked off on concrete sidewalks. Every few evenings, he taught us a new card game and things to do with bottle caps, popsicle sticks, Yo-Yo’s and handballs. I looked forward to his homecoming, and so did the other children in our little corner of the world. He was my hero.
Few people had air conditioning in the 1950s, at least not in our neighborhood of Sunnyside, New York. Adults would bring kitchen or folding chairs outside to escape heat trapped apartments and to sit in the small slices of shade created by tall buildings.
My mother was a champion paddleball player. We would have competitions to see who could hit the ball the longest, and she usually won. (She also excelled at Jacks and Pickup Sticks, board games like Checkers and my favorite, Fox & Hounds.) Tables were set up and young and old would play together.
Neighbors took turns bringing ice water to share. One might treat us to a plate of homemade cookies or a bottle of soda pop. Another might bring the day’s newspaper and section it out, or put a radio near an open window.
I don’t remember anyone smoking cigarettes or drinking beer or wine or even coffee, but that is not to say they didn’t. No one swore, but I recall sometimes hearing a woman say, “not in front of the children!” Decorum was strict.
It was a local, American version of a practice that has taken place in small towns and large city squares for hundreds of years when people of many generations come together for companionship and sociability. In warmer climates, walking after supper, sitting in parks, on the steps of buildings and around fountains was an everyday occurrence, and an extension of the Living Room.
The point was that the little babies, school children, young and old married couples, the singles, and the elderly formed a community of caring.
Of course, there was always the corner pub where a man could have a pint and talk about the old days with his friends. Women might sit together and catch up on local happenings while watching the children at play in the park. Church events required people to work together on planning, organizing, decorating and cooking. People with similar interests could usually find others to spend time with enjoying hobbies ranging from stamp collecting to armchair travel and bird watching. These things could be done alone, but it was much more fun in the company of others.
It seems to me that we have been practicing seclusion for a very long time — even before our lock downs began. Our singular lives have deprived us of a rich heritage which has nothing to do with being in a family or a circle of friends. We sit in front of screens, talk to them, play with them, write letters and exchange pictures with them, give virtual hugs and emoticon kisses.
So now, before the curve is flattened, while the numbers climb and our freedom is curtailed, we should consider how we’d like things to be when we emerge from our ‘caves.’ We’ve been discovering since March what’s really important to us, and learned new skills that we might not have tried if we didn’t face long stretches of time.
Some of the last children conceived before COVID-19 are being born now. What kind of world will they find? The Great Generation is thinning out and although Boomers are still here, our memories of how the world was before technology will fade and one day be lost, too.
Jeff Goins said in his blog that he “can’t help but wonder if what our world needs now is a little less consumption or contention and a little more creativity.”
We all need to think more creatively and come up with fresh, novel ways to ‘build our fort.’
This is the first blog of a series entitled, Growing Up in the 1950s.
I welcome your comments and memories as I try to weave the past and the present to come up with ideas for a future we can all be proud of!