I’m drinking Throat Coat tea this morning. That’s all I want to say about that.
Backslide. To go back to your old ways, relapse, regress, revert…these words have a negative feel to them but perhaps that is a false assumption. What if the old way was a good way and I have taken a wrong path and gotten lost and to return to the old way is the route back to the truth?
I just pictured myself, age ten, sliding backwards on the big tall metal slide at the schoolyard. Backsliding had an air of danger because you couldn’t see where you were going. Speaking of air of danger, playground equipment? Has that ever changed since my youth! Our playgrounds were designed by evil teachers who hated children. They were loaded with injury traps. There were the big flat seated swings on long chains. You would stand up and pump until you were way up in the air, sit down mid-flight to do somersaults flipping 360 degrees and then bail out, flying through the air to land on the gravel below. And teeter-totters…oh,my god, they were the worst. Besides the finger pinching, if your friend was angry with you or saw a swing freed-up they would jump off while you were up in the air and you would come crashing to the ground jarring your spine and rattling your teeth and you better be sure your hands weren’t under the seat. How about the merry-go-round? Flat wooden disk full of splinters on a central metal pole with rollers. We would pile on and then the “runners” would propel the disc until they couldn’t run any faster and jump on board. If you let go you would go flying off. The only safe thing to do on the playground was play marbles. We would draw a circle about two feet in diameter in the dirt with a finger, then each player would put the same number, say ten, marbles inside the circle. When it was your turn you would use your “shooter” to knock a marble out of the circle. Every marble you knocked outside the ring was yours to keep and add to your collection. There were cat-eyes, purees and steelies…also known as “tooth chippers.”
Since I have backslid into the fifties, how about the Saturday Matinee? Every Saturday afternoon, all the kids would be given 35 cents to go spend the afternoon at the movies. First stop was Carl’s Confectionery, where for 10 cents you could walk out with a paper bag full of candy…neccos, red hots, juju beans, sugar babies, licorice, Jr. Mints…a lot of candy. The quarter you had left got you into the theater and there you sucked on sugar while you watched the Lone Ranger or Babes in Toyland on the big screen.
Except for that Saturday afternoon movie event and the time spent in school or church we were outside. We played until we were called in for bed. Kick-the-can and dungeon, variations of hide and seek and tag, were the after-dark games of summer. All the kids in the neighborhood participated and the backyards without fences ran together into one big play-land. During the day we would orchestrate plays, circuses and carnivals. Sheets over the clothesline became tents and Dad would bring home appliance boxes from the store which became forts or buildings. Imaginations replaced the need for fancy toys and games. TV was a boring “adult” activity.
Winters were cold and snow-covered but that didn’t bring us inside except for brief warming periods to thaw out red fingers and toes and drink hot chocolate. We made snow forts, went sledding, ice skated and reveled in the winter wonderland that would last for months. No down jackets or Polartec fabrics for us. We had knitted mittens that would get wet and have little balls of ice stuck to the yarn. My brother and I would pull our sleds to the top of Weber’s hill at the edge of town and sled down. At the bottom we would duck to slide underneath a barbed wire fence. Somehow we survived it all.
Remembering these childhood stories has put a smile on my face this morning. There was something wild and wooly and wonderful about my childhood in Sturgis, South Dakota. It was also paradoxically safe. We kids of the fifties ran free without worry and if our parents were a little neglectful as they worked hard to create the post WWII American Dream, it may have been in part because they knew that the village was holding us.


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