I lived in a suburban neighborhood in Southern California filled with kids. Nearly every house had multiple kids. Every house with kids had a real mom and a real dad living with the children.
Vickie lived on the corner. She had some older brothers, but they were much older—Teenagers. So I don’t know much about them. Next to Vickie lived Emily, Anita, and Johnny. We lived on the other side of them, my older brother, my two little sisters, and I. My best friend Marie lived on our other side. She had a younger brother and sister. Her sister played with my little sisters. Next to Marie lived Sharon. Sharon was an only child. That was weird, but we liked her anyway. Next came Nancy and her little brother, Steven. Finally, there was Sherrie and her little brother. I don’t remember his name. They were Jehovah’s Witness, so they never got to come to our birthday parties. Again, we thought that was weird, but it wasn’t important. They were our friends.
Across the street from Sherrie lived Holly and two younger brothers. Holly’s mom was the only mom whom we called by first name. All the other parents were Mr. and Mrs. I never really had much respect for Holly’s mom. Next to them was Paul. He was my little sisters’ age, and he had an older sister that I don’t remember much about except that she wore too much makeup. A few houses down lived the four Osborn kids, then Kevin and his older sister (who also wore too much makeup). The paved road ended, and where the dirt road began lived the last family of our friends: Steven, Stacie, Reva Jean, and Boyd.
It was a roving circus! We left the house after breakfast and went out to play. We ate lunch wherever we were at lunch time. We did things that would shock today’s parents. At the end of the block was an empty field with a few trees. They were wonderful climbing trees. Even the smallest of us could grab hold of the lowest branches and clamber up into cool green of the leaves. The older the child, the higher we climbed. We tested the limits of our bravery, clinging tightly when we reached the highest point we dared achieve, then waved, yelling, “Look at me!”
In a small thicket of bushes in the field, some shovel-carrying boys once dug a “fort.” We could crawl on our bellies below the low branches and find ourselves in a cool, dark secret place from where we could spy on our friends. Or they could spy on us from the same secret place.
We girls built Barbie villages in our yards. We all owned several Barbies, and Sharon, the only child, owned every Barbie outfit that had ever been made. My Barbie had a British accent.
Here’s where it gets really terrifying. We played in the street. Right in the MIDDLE OF THE STREET! And our moms let us! We played baseball, using rocks or rags for bases. If there weren’t enough kids available for baseball, we played catch. Occasionally some kid would shout, “Car!” and we would all scurry out of the street waiting for the car to pass, and then swarm back to our game.
We played Hide ‘n’ Seek, and every front yard in the neighborhood, on either side of the street, was fair for a hiding place. We played tag and shot each other with sticks and fought and cried and made up and wiped the tears from our dirty faces. Finally, when the streetlights came on, we slowly made our way back to our own homes, our dinner tables, our bathtubs, our beds. To sleep and dream. To wake up and do it all again the next day.
Whatever happened to childhood?