Brown as Berries

When I was in second grade my friend, Danny, lived across the street and was in 10th grade. He often was outside doing yard work and I would help him. I remember one day sitting on his steps and comparing my second grade self to his 10th grade self, eight years. It was an eternity. Danny was the youngest of five. He collected butterflies and we often went to vacant lots to collect them. He taught me how to catch, identify and preserve them. He also played the piano and I would often go over to his house to play the piano with him. He taught the bottom part of some duets to me and we would play songs together for an evening. Today, people would look askance on that friendship as “inappropriate”, but I just did what all kids did back then, met their world, played with it and learned from it.

There was a large fishpond in our neighborhood in a yard down the street. We kids spent hours catching pollywogs, which we put in jars and took home to watch them turn into frogs. We also caught them in mud puddles after a rain. Where did they come from? And when it rained, we would go home and put on our swimsuits and go out and play in that tropical sunshine. Often on a rainy afternoon, I would disappear into my tree house and read for hours. No one ever looked for me. The only time we were inside is when we ate or slept.

One time we formed a Rainbow Bat Club. We all went home and got old skirts from our mothers, cut them apart and made capes for ourselves. I don’t remember any meetings, but every night at sunset, we would start at one end of the neighborhood and run to the other spreading our capes and screeching. With about 15 of us, all ages, we were probably a noisy sight to behold. Today we would probably all be in counseling.

We had Circus Mornings. We would make up acts using our swing set, beg our mothers to come and then charge them 10 cents. We had acrobats and clowns and whatever pets we could coerce into doing animal acts.

Often during summers, we would ask my Mom if we could have a Hotdog Party. My Mom would send me to the store for potato chips or hot dog rolls or whatever else she needed. She would boil the hot dogs for us in a large pot and we would sit on our screened porch and all eat lunch together. We didn’t know or care what was in hot dogs then. We know now, but still indulge occasionally anyway.

On the “Fourth of July”, it seemed the whole town lined up their cars on The Boulevard across the water from Stock Island, where the American Legion Hall was. We sat on the backs of our cars to watch the fireworks and lit sparklers and ran around in the dark. My parents used to put us on the concrete porch out front with hammers and rolled up toy gun caps. Well, that’s all gone now. No toy guns, no caps.

On my friend’s porch we played “War” (card game) and Monopoly for hours. No one ever won, we just soon drifted off to something else. We Played Amazon Jungle in the vacant and overgrown lot on the corner. We made costumes from palm fronds, which were accessible and plentiful.. We sucked nectar from Hibiscus, ate Barbados cherries and climbed the trees for Spanish Limes, which our Moms hated because the juice stained our clothes horribly.

In the summers we made the rounds of all the church Vacation Bible Schools, usually a week at each, all different denominations. No one seemed to mind, kept us urchins off the streets. We went to the movies on Saturday afternoons. My father gave my brother Richard and me 50 cents, 35 for the movie, 10 for popcorn and a nickel for gum. My favorite was Juicy-Fruit.

We spent hours at the beach. We were “brown as berries.” We ruined our skins. We made fun of my Aunt Rose who never went outside without a parasol over her head. She would often say, “I can’t believe your mothers are letting you ruin your skins that way.” She was right. We have paid the price for all that fun in the sun. She had beautiful skin into her nineties.

Our play in those days was free. We made our own amusements, played games with no adult supervision, stated our own rules, had fights, fell down, went crying home to Mom who put Iodine on our skinned knees, which burned like the dickens and made us howl even more. My Mom used to tell me that it would get better before I got married, which didn’t help and only made it worse.

When a little older, I would go over to the tennis courts and hit balls against the practice wall. One day one of the boys I knew from school stopped by on his bicycle and was talking to me. My father must have seen us, and when I got home told me that if I wanted to talk to boys, I could invite them to my home. I said WHAT? But I knew then that my freewheeling and carefree childhood was over.



5 thoughts on “Brown as Berries”

  1. Juicy Fruit…and Beemans Gum. And our Mom rang us in after dark with a cowbell! Thanks for the trip down memory lane & keep ’em comin’!

  2. Those were the days! I do remember a similar summers in RI and VA. Thanks for posting Joanne, you made me smile!

  3. What fun! What memories! We used to go outside in the rain and splash in the puddles and run through the soaking wet grass. I don’t remember how Mom dealt with lightning and thunder, but maybe we weren’t allowed to go out then. When I was a new bride, and Al and I were at PG School, I always wanted to walk in the rain. Al “convinced” me not to do it because of the fallout from the A-bomb tests. To this day, I love to walk in the rain on a warm summer day. Habits die hard.
    Love your stories.

  4. Amazing that we all grew into adulthood in spite of all this. 🙂
    Those were the days of: “go outside and play and be home by dark.” End of parental directions…

  5. So, here we are again. What great memories you have. You wrote about playing in the rain. Shortly after we were married Joan and I travelled to Titusville, FL to spend Christmas with Joan’s brother and family. Our luggage had missed connections so was delivered late at night. It was raining and I was a bit cautious about going out in the rain. Being from Wyoming, at 5200 ft. altitude and a dry climate, rain that we experienced was always very cold. It was surreal to feel “warm” rain. We still talk about the “warm” rain we experienced in Florida.

    Your description of all the fun and games you experienced brings back many memories of playing when my siblings and I were pre-teen. My mother had small whistle that broke off a plastic fife. That thing could be heard a mile away, I’m sure. She’d stand on the front porch and plug her ears and blow. When we heard that, we’d drop everything and head for home no matter what we were doing or where we were.

    It is sometimes a bit troubling to me that our world has changed so that our kids never were able to experience that kind of freedom. But, I expect when they talk to their kids about their memories there will probably be the same kind of regretful feelings.

    Thanks again for keeping this going. Looking forward to the next installment.

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