Now that we’re in the dog days of summer, I’ve been thinking about the long summers of my youth. We had longer summers then. It’s not just an idealized memory. Schools would dismiss us in late May and we wouldn’t return until September 2nd or so, generally the day following Labor Day.
What I remember distinctly about those summers of more than 50 years ago, is that I was a free range kid. My mom opened the gate in the morning for me and my brothers and we’d wander out into the great pastures of our neighborhood and entire town – yes, it was a small town – unsupervised. We’d roam all over with all the other kids, also free range, and play games and sometimes watch TV at other kids’ houses until we were chased out by a stern mom who’d tell us to “get- on-outside and play.”
I say we were unsupervised, but not really. The whole town had its arms around us and made sure we behaved, and were safe.
About noon we’d meander back home and have dinner. That is what we called lunch then. The noon meal was dinner. Then we’d have a nap, with cicadas humming loudly, and go back out until supper time, about seven. We’d eat supper quickly so we could get back out to our friends where we’d play until well after dark, enjoying games like “kick-the-can” and “red light.”
The grown-ups were out there with us, sitting in lawn chairs, making homemade ice cream, listening to baseball games on small transistor radios and gazing up into the stars, marveling at the tech-savvy age they lived in, where they could see NASA satellites passing over.
Yes, as kids, we were quite free. I remember one day me and my brothers were on our bikes with backpacks on, ready to head out and my father said, “Where are you boys going?”
We said, “To the lake.”
He said, “To that one five miles east of town?”
“Yes, sir,” we said.
“That one out there on the FM road with all the 18 wheeler traffic?”
“That one you have to cross the rattlesnake field to get to?”
“Yes, sir,” we admitted.
“All right. Just be back by dark or your momma will worry,” he said.
I like that my Dad would never admit to worrying himself. He just worried about my mom worrying.
He was also big on the idea that boyhood shaped and toughened the man that the boy would become.
Once I asked him for a ride over to my friend Gonzalo’s house.
He said, “It’s only a mile over there. Walk. It’ll do you good.”
I said, “But it’s about 100 degrees right now.”
He said, “Wear a hat.”
Summers sure are different for kids now. The world is no doubt more dangerous now than it was then.
But no matter the reasons I’m grateful for the boyhood I had, rather than these modern ones, with kids so often cooped up inside with high tech games. To be honest, though, I do have a tiny bit of cross-generational tech envy in me. I know that when I was 15 I would have loved to have had an Xbox. Still, I know for sure that I wouldn’t trade my free-range summers for all the terabytes of RAM in the world.