If you can remember your childhood even slightly, I’ll bet I can tell you something you said almost every day, sometime between five and seven in the evening.
“Aw, Ma! Do I have to come in for supper so soon?”
I know I said it. Almost every day. It always seemed to me that the time between lunch and supper went in a flash.
And the time between a wolfed down breakfast and lunch? About 37 seconds.
I got thinking about that the other day when I heard somebody say that the youngsters in Payson have “nothing to do.”
Up here in the Rim Country?
Hold that thought for a minute while we rewind back to the days when you and I were youngsters. What did you do when you were a kid?
Hm-m-m-m. Let’s see-e-e. What did it take to get up a game? Oh, yeah. I remember, two kids and ball.
Any kind of ball. Football, baseball, softball, basketball, tennis ball, golf ball, soccer ball, pingpong ball or moth ball.
Didn’t make much difference what it was. It was there. To be tossed, kicked, hit with a bat or a racket or a stick, bounced off a wall, rolled, chased, kept from the other guy, or whatever.
If you couldn’t play a regular game with it, you made up one. I can remember kids playing three-o-cat with a broomstick, a tennis ball, and some reasonably logical rules, like into the sewer is out. And some outrageous ones too, like hit a home run that goes too far and you’re also out.
In my teen years, I remember spending entire afternoons after school during football season, kicking a football back and forth with Joey Miller, trying hour after hour to get just a little more loft, a little more distance, a tiny bit more accuracy.
I remember six or eight kids standing on a side street next to a tall brick building, one kid standing close to the wall and throwing a tennis ball so that it bounced off the sidewalk, up against the building, and back toward the other kids, who tried to catch it. The idea was to put every kind of crazy twist and spin on that ball you could, so that no one could catch it. The longer you kept the other kids from catching the ball, the longer you got to throw it.
When somebody caught it, it was his turn to throw the ball and you went back into the crowd of would-be catchers.
In summer we skated. In winter we ice skated.
In summer we fished. In winter we ice fished.
In summer we loaded a wagon with kids, sometimes a handmade wagon, and ran it down a hill. In winter we sledded the same hill.
In summer we made an endless series of forts, and clubhouses, and whatnot, some of them nothing more grandiose than a big old cardboard box gotten from the back of a furniture store.
In winter we built snow forts, usually two of them, piled in behind them, and threw half the snow in town at each other.
We made slingshots, rough and ready bows and arrows, spears, frog gigs. And rock launchers that looked like some kind of medieval war machine. All of them worked.
If it rained we tossed off our clothes except for our pants and ran around wet and happy sailing little boats in the runoff.
If it didn’t rain we went to a pond or lake or stream and sailed larger boats, none of which looked much different from the flat boards they were made of, or were radio controlled, or had a sail made of anything fancier than a piece of thin cardboard or a section of window shade.
But they sailed. I remember one of them that we watched through a pair of cheap binoculars as it sailed so far out in the river a regular steamship ran it down.
That was fun, yelling, “Look out!” until we were hoarse.
We used to go to the movies and come home and play act them.
I can remember us doing “Beau Geste,” “King Kong,” “Custer’s Last Stand,” and “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
We refought every war since the fall of Troy, especially all the ones that involved cowboys, Indians, cavalry, John Wayne, or the British walking in straight lines while we mowed them down from behind the grass and trees and everywhere.
Sometimes we got hungry or thirsty. Then we would go get a wagon or two and collect newspapers or scrap metal to sell.
Lemon ice from Lombardi’s grocery, bought with money you made sweating collecting papers all afternoon, was cooler, more thirst quenching, and far more delicious than anything I’ve tasted since.
And when the folks up the street were roasting a whole side of beef over an open pit, letting it slow roast for two or three days while the smell of beef got more luscious every minute it wafted around the neighborhood ... well, that was the time to REALLY get out there and collect newspapers.
Thirty cents for three rich, thick, dripping slabs of barbecued beef between two big old slices of homemade bread?
“Come on, Ma. I’m not hungry tonight. Lemme stay out.”
And then there were the card games.
At times they went on for days and days. And then they just vanished for months until somebody said, “Hey! I know what let’s do! Let’s play Fish!”
“Yeah! Or casino.”
We collected everything there is to collect: leaves, baseball cards, little bugs, big bugs, fossils, crystals, comic books, stamps, tinfoil, plain old rocks ... you name it. And especially two dozen fireflies to keep in a jar all evening and let go when you went in so you could collect them again tomorrow.
We biked, we walked, we climbed, we dug, we wriggled through every crack and crevice in town. We ... uh-oh, running out of space.
And we did all that in New York City. Think of what kids can do up here, compared to the world’s largest pile of concrete.
Nothing to do? Sure. Nothing except to have a glorious time being a kid. I wouldn’t mind trying that again. Do they allow reruns?