“I’ve been calling, “Hey, hey, Johnnie. Can you come out, can you come out and play?”
— Elton John
Back in the good old days — before the Polar Ice Caps disappeared and people could walk outside after May 15 without melting — there was thing we had called “playing outside.”
If a kid ran through the house creating any kind of ruckus, his or her exasperated mom would yell (say it with me now): “Go play outside!”
Of course, kids of that bygone era were all too happy to oblige. Unlike today’s cellphone generation, young people who are content to sit and stare at a 2-by-3-inch screen for hours and hours on end, living out their lives on devices that were once used to make phone calls, kids of yore wanted more than anything to play outside.
Except for those glorious Saturday mornings spent eating cereal in front of the TV — and, yes, we were admittedly addicted to our own idiot boxes on our one true “off day,” happy to sit through a couple of hours watching the adventures of Huckleberry Hound, Wally Gator, Quick Draw McGraw, Space Ghost, Alvin and the Chipmunks (before they were movie stars), Yogi Bear and others — we couldn’t wait to get outdoors.
And in the summertime, when school was out (and before there was probably even an ozone layer or air pollution or climate change or sunscreen), there was nothing outside a few menial chores (that, yeah, we griped about, too) that kept us from hitting the outdoors. We didn’t need some high-dollar form of entertainment system to occupy our time. We played.
I wouldn’t swear to it, but I would be willing to bet a sizeable chunk of money I don’t have that the word “play” is foreign to American youngsters these days. Kids today need to be entertained. We played.
To play, oh unenlightened young ones, was to come up with your own entertainment. We were fortunate enough in rural Irwin County, circa the 1960s, to have land and imaginations enough to keep us busy throughout a summer’s worth of lazy days. As soon as we got out of bed and had a piece of toast for breakfast (or, of course, cereal on Saturdays), we’d hit the front door full speed, seeking adventure in the woods that surrounded our home.
Unfortunate city kids — neither now nor in the past — typically did not have access to wooded areas, but the parks and recreation areas in most cities more than made up for that loss.
If you were fortunate enough to have other kids living nearby (city kids usually did; not so much in the country), you’d get into all kinds of Stephen King “Stand By Me” (or “It” for the less fortunate) adventures, playing disorganized pickup games of baseball or tag or hide-and-seek or making up your own games.
(Personal aside: One of our favorites was “dirt clod war.” We’d separate into teams with whatever younger cousins were available, and throw clods of dirt from newly plowed fields at one another. Invariably someone (and, with all due respect to the #MeToo movement and the superiority of the female sex, it was usually a girl cousin or our baby sister) would get hit in the eye with a wad of dirt, and we’d have to spend the next half-hour or so washing out the dirt and trying to stop said girl from crying or running to tell a parent. Great game!)
When we got our first bicycles (and, confession time, it took me forever to learn how to ride the damned thing), our days were filled with rides up and down the dirt roads on and adjoining our land.
We’d pedal furiously, building up as much momentum and speed as possible and then at a given point put our feet up on the handlebars and see who could coast the longest distance.
Stuff like that seems simple now when a kid can buy an app that allows him or her to simulate a bike ride whose path is fraught with cyborg creatures from the future that have laser-shooting eyes and have been sent to Earth to steal all the bikes on this planet.
There is, as everyone says, an app for everything now on these amazing bits of technology that everyone seems to have, even those who spend most of their down time standing in lines to get free stuff. Trust me, that time won’t be wasted. It’ll be spent hunkered over — and even sometimes talking on — said cellphone.
Maybe those in my generation who don’t spend all their time wandering about in a daze as they check their latest messages on Facebook every three minutes were just born too soon ... or too late, as the case may be.
But one thing was for certain: We knew how to play.