Winters in my native Washington, D.C. were damp and cold with those occasional record setting blizzards that sometimes shut down the area for days. I emerged into the world amid a rare mid-March snow event that paralyzed D.C. in 1956. The unusual Nor’easter was quite the winter storm that adversely affected the Mid-Atlantic and New England. Didn’t affect me any. I was amid amniotic bliss and evicted into the bright lights of a delivery room kicking and screaming and have been doing that ever since. Can’t say that I remember this storm at all. However, my mother did. Every “the day you were born…” story I ever heard from my mother included a blizzard report and that snowy trip in labor to the Columbia Hospital for Women and so it went.
When I think of winter weather events when I was a kid, I get a rush of euphoria. Don’t you? I was sitting in a warm house while my father tried to steer the family car into the driveway with great frustration. No matter how badly I wanted to shape and shovel snow my father always had alternative plans. I was told to stay in the house.
Hip-deep snowstorms when I was a kid gave us plenty to do once the snow stopped and our parents said we could go out and play. Snow challenged our creativity. Building a simple four-ball snowman didn’t impress anyone and we were out of coal and carrots. Too easy for a bully to walk up and knock over by the way. Kids in my neighborhood had other more productive plans. Protocol in my neighborhood was erecting a huge snow fort by a neighborhood full of kids eager to shape snow and pile it on thick and indestructible. If necessary, you could always cop snow from a neighbor’s yard.
It was refreshing sitting inside a frozen snow fort listening to the changing acoustics of the quiet snowfall outside. Have you ever noticed how quiet it is during a snowstorm? Snowflakes absorb sound soaking up the roar of traffic and the dull roar of screaming kids on the block. Snowfall is a comforting quiet. If a snowstorm was followed by extreme cold, your handcrafted snow fort got a stay of execution. Confound it the timing of that dreaded snow melt, which was always consistent with having to go back to school. Of course, there were kids my neighborhood who had sleds. I wasn’t one of those. I had a sled—sort of—if there was a large cardboard box left in the garage I could flatten out and use as low-buck transportation.
Those first crisp days of Autumn were always a rush for me. The richness of woodsmoke in the air meant Halloween and the holidays were coming. Although I’ve never followed professional and college football, I always loved the sound of football games on the TV along with my father and uncle yelling at the screen. There was the gentle sweetness of Thanksgiving being prepared in the kitchen. And, come early December, the smell of a fresh Scotch Pine Christmas tree coming through the front door. My mother enlisted me to string the lights and fill the stand with water. She and my sisters would handle the decorations and gift wrapping.
Maryland springtime was euphoric for those of us wrestling with cabin fever. It was time to bust loose. Sometimes, January would yield unseasonably mild weather with temperatures in the seventies before Mother Nature got back to the business of miserably cold wintertime. I was always delusional enough as a child to believe spring was here even though it was the middle of January. I’d step outside hoping for warm weather only to feel the harsh sting of a cold north wind. Ground Hog Day rolled around at the usual time. Of course, I was naïve enough to believe spring was actually six weeks away.
Springtime meant hauling my bicycle out, blowing the dust off, airing up the tires, and pedaling off to freedom. Those first mild days offered up the sweet aroma of honeysuckle and fresh clover that seemed to grow sweeter in the cool night air. Then, the sound of power lawnmowers and edgers. That incredible aroma brought a youthful springtime high—the rush of approaching summer. Warm weather was finally here and I could go cruising away from my mother’s watchful eye.
I’ve watched my 11 year-old son’s passion for video games, YouTube, and online friends wondering whatever happened to the humble bicycle, scooter, or a pair of roller skates. When did reality become “virtual” reality? I prefer reality. Skinned knees versus repetitive motion arthritis and eye troubles. Being stung by a bee versus watching Spiderman. Deafness from headphones versus deafness from the roar of loud music.
Honestly, I’ve never been into virtual reality driving and Uber. When I was my son’s age, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license and actually drive an automobile. Wanderlust made me crazy. I wanted to hit the road with no particular destination in mind. I just wanted to circle the Earth.
When we were kids, we played Kickball, Softball, Dodge Ball, and Hide and Go Seek. We played until dark and even after dark as long as the parents knew where we were. Coming home for the evening was timed with streetlights and even some neighbors ringing bells or blowing whistles. Those sounds meant kids were to come home.
Dodge ball appears to fallen from grace because the perception is it is a game of persecution…with victims. Are you kidding me? Dodge ball was about being fast on your feet – quick – a competitive event. When did it become a game of self pity?
And what about the playground equipment we had – monkey bars, the teeter-tauter, sliding boards, merry-go-rounds, the jungle gym, swings and rope climbing. We swung through the air and had a ball amid such a simple childhood concept – having fun. Today’s playgrounds are so watered down with legalities that it becomes impossible for a kid to actually have fun. Municipalities are so concerned about being sued by parents with skinned knees or a concussion that playgrounds have become extinct. There’s no joy in any of it anymore for kid who looks at it and thinks “what the heck am I supposed to do with this?” As a result, playgrounds are virtually abandoned today. Children still have the same passions and desires we had a half century ago. They would accept the risks given having something exciting to play on. Instead, all they have are electronic devices and the illusion of reality. What the hell is that?
Back in the day, we didn’t have the electronics kids have today where imagination is done for them. They don’t even have to make stuff up. It is made up for them. In the mid-20th Century, we had our imaginations and that was enough. Although my logic may be dated, I believe imagination is important to child development and being a more creative adult. And what about daydreaming? When did that become politically incorrect? Some of the best times I ever had as a child were escaping to the world of imagination in the privacy of my bedroom. I could be anything I wanted to be—an airline pilot, an architect, a policeman, a parent – you name the fantasy.
When did the lease expire on Make Believe?
When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be grown up and in charge of my own life. Ironic, isn’t it? I find myself longing to be a kid deep in the seclusion of my own imagination. Seems whatever our dreams are, they always manage to outdistance us.