I was writing about Mom last week when something intriguing popped into my head. We were talking about the questions I asked Mom. I could only remember a couple of important ones; probably because I’ve forgotten the simple ones all kids ask when they’re young. But while I was thinking about questions it occurred to me that while I may have asked Mom a few; she never asked me the kind of questions some parents ask all the time.
Know what I mean? “Where are you going? When are you coming home? Who are you going with?” Or the reverse set. “Where have you been? What did you do? Who were you with?” Those questions are asked when we are old enough to remember them, so I know she never asked them.
My early days on Staten Island don’t count; I was in the neighborhood playing with the neighborhood kids, so there was nothing to ask. But we moved to New London, Conn. when I was 11, and that’s the age when kids begin extending their range, and questions start being asked.
New London was a small town, not too much larger than Payson. Like Payson, it was edged on some sides by woods, but unlike Payson there were strong attractions right in town. Ocean Beach, with its mile long white sand beach, miniature golf course, merry-go-round, Ferris wheels, swimming pool, canoes, and about a million other things, was just a five-cent three-mile bus ride away. And we had three baseball fields, several parks, eight ponds for swimming or ice skating, the Y, a skating rink, and a half dozen small streams flowing into the Thames River. New London was a teenager’s paradise.
It took me about a year to learn most of the places where a kid could get lost all day, but once I learned them, off I went. At first, I would stick a peanut butter sandwich in a pocket and head out for some lake or stream far out in the woods. But after a while, like the kids who were born there, I knew the places where old stone walls dating back to the 1600s led to once-farmed areas within the forest where there were peach, apple, pear and cherry trees laden with fruit, plus blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and wild grapes. After that I could set out in the morning and eat my way through the day, stopping at a cool sparkling brook to drink my fill.
Here’s the thing that amazes me when I think about it. When I first started learning the lay of New London and the surrounding area I used to tell Mom something like, “I’m going up to Perry’s Pond, Mom.” But later, as I grew into my middle teens, I just went out the door with a casual, “Bye, Mom.” I might be headed anywhere in more than 200 square miles, but the only restriction ever placed on me was that I be back in time for supper. Not a question was I ever asked about where I was going — or where I had been.
I was 14 when I began working at Ocean Beach during summers, and no longer came home for supper. I walked out of the house in the morning and didn’t come home till as late as two or three in the morning. My job at Ocean Beach began at 11 a.m. and ran — with an afternoon break to join in the fun — until people began leaving at night. On Saturday nights, when big bands came from all over the country with singers like Frank Sinatra, that might be four in the morning.
And yet, never a question.
The summer I was 16 I took it in my head to go to New York City, visit the old neighborhood, and do — whatever. I told Mom I wanted to go and she said yes. The only thing she asked me to do was to stop in and say hello to Mary Hein, her old friend. I did. I stayed in New York City at a Y for about a month, had a ball, and came home.
She asked just one question, Johnny. “Did you have a good time?”
Yes, Mom, I did. I had a great time because you allowed me the room to grow so I could learn how to be a responsible adult. Thank you!