Growing Up in the '50s and '60s
Long, Lazy Summer Days to "Play Like."
Gene King Armstrong Super Arrowhead
I grew up in the country in Arkansas. My sister and I would play all day, every day outside. We had a whole neighborhood to play in. The only thing our mom told us not to do was talk to strangers. There were no strangers. After breakfast, we dressed in corduroy pants and pullover shirts. We had brown lace-up shoes that might have been bought at the secondhand store. It was 1951 and no one had any money and everyone shopped at the secondhand store. We burst out the back door and down the long steep steps after breakfast. When we got a good distance from the house, my 10-year-old sister yelled: "I'm Gene King Armstrong Super Arrowhead! Then I would yell "I'm Gene King Armstrong Super Arrowhead's helper." Then we were off. We rode make believe horses, holding the imaginary reins tightly as we galloped.
Good Triumphed; Serpents Died
Gene King was a combination of the then popular Gene Autry and Sky King. I forget where Armstrong came in, Super was for Superman, Arrow was...and on and on. We wore ourselves out catching bad guys and the number of times we said "play like" was amazing. The scenario was evolving. Every day we picked up from the day before. I remember one day a 5- or 6-year-old neighbor, a little boy, had a run-in with a diamond back rattler during the midst of our games. I recall running home to the safety of the kitchen and looking out the back window and hearing the child's father or some other neighborhood dad tell him: "Freeze." The child froze, the snake's head was promptly blown off and things went back to normal. Just another day in rural Arkansas.
One summer, my male cousins, who were around 10 and 12 decided to make a tunnel. It was an elaborate thing. They spent days working on it. It was 4 feet underground and they had made candle holders in the dirt and pilfered candles from my aunt's kitchen to put in them. It was a long tunnel. I remember everyone daring me to go through and I finally did, terrified every inch of the way. When the tunnel was discovered our parents were livid, kept talking about what if it had collapsed -- we never thought of that, of course. Anyway, the cousins were punished, which was nothing new for them and my sister and I got lectured and told to use to common sense. What five-year-old knows what that is?
One Easter Sunday, my mom was in the hospital. My dad was caring for my sister and me. My sister was old enough to get herself ready, but Daddy had to help me dress. It was extremely cold that Easter, as it occasionally was in Arkansas that time of year. My dad dressed me in wool pants, a long sleeved shirt, my brown lace-up shoes and the thing that thrilled me the most, he let me wear his "airplane jacket," a wonderful thing made of leather with lots of snaps. A few years later I looked back at this scene and felt a little blush of shame. However, at the time, even though everyone else was dressed in pastel dresses with frills and fancy stuff, I was proud of my outfit and clearly remember thinking that I was the only one who wouldn't get cold going home.
More Play Like
When I see children all around me texting and playing games, totally absorbed in another world, I realize it's their answer to "play like." Their imaginations also soar, just in a different way. Many nights my sister would say she was going to visit the fairies. She would say: "When I wiggle my toes, play like I'll be gone." Well, actually even now, I'm not sure she didn't go somewhere. I believed it so vehemently back then that I'd listen for the sound of the fairies' wings while she was gone. She was always more daring than I was and would often lie in the door of our room, reading by the bathroom light that was left on every night, long after I was sound asleep.
My grandfather had a weekend place at a small resort called Lakeside. It was a cabin with a large screened-in porch. My most vivid memories of that place were one summer my mom was making the bed on the porch and uncovered a huge chicken snake. It was an incredibly long snake and took forever to slither its long body off the porch. She was screaming the whole time. I also remember very cold nights when my dad would make a huge fire in the fireplace and we would listen to One Man's Family on the radio. During the day, my sister and I roamed the area near the cabin. In the afternoons, my mom often took us swimming at the clubhouse. We couldn't swim, but she would put us in life jackets and let us try. The time at the cabin went so quickly. We were never ready to go home.
Good Ol' Days
They were good days. I told my grandchildren we didn't have electronics back then. Their question was: What did you do? Well, we made dolls out of pine straw. We played hully-gully how many. We played flying statues. We caught fireflies and put them in jars. We spent many afternoons swinging in the tire swing at Lakeside. We listened to the radio. We read Little Women and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. We "played like" a thousand different scenarios. We got by rather nicely. But times change and who's to say our way was best. Only more time will tell.