Sprinklers and Sparklers and Mayo, O My!

Long ago and far away, when temperatures were measured with metal feed-store thermometers hung next to mops and buckets on the back stoop and heat indices weren’t yet popular, we had our own ways of calculating summer heat.   Summer meant mirages shimmering above the black-topped roads, imaginary pools of water swirling, receding and evaporating before our eyes as we traveled.  In the heavy, breathless night,  sleep became impossible.  As trees murmured and complained, cots were dragged from houses and we lay beneath the stars, lulled into dozing and then on to dreams by the comfortable chirring of crickets.

Eventually the grass – soft, feathery blades that tickled our feet and stained our clothing – began to crispen in the fullness of summer heat.  Here and there, sprinklers appeared,  four revolving metal arms that whirled ribbons of life-giving water across lawns with a soft, rhythmic schlush.   We ran through them, slid past them, then collapsed giggling into them when we miscalculated and collided with a friend.  As the play grew more exhuberant, knees began to skin and the occasional howl of protest rose over our delighted screams.  Just as protests began to overtake delight, doors flew open and a mother, grandparent or  neighbor would yell, “You kids dry off and go find something else to do!”

There always was something more to do.  Sometimes we hopped on our bikes and headed for the little gas station where glass cases overflowed with penny candy: root beer barrels, tiny wax bottles filled with ghastly syrups,  orange slices and soft, pliable circus peanuts. No one liked the licorice bits with hard pink and white coatings, but we always bought candy necklaces, candy cigarettes with tiny pink “flames” and Necco wafers, bargaining for our favorite flavors with all the savvy and ruthless determination of commodities traders.

Twice each week the BookMobile parked in front of the grade school, and we chose new books to read.  One week was set aside for Vacation Bible School (grape Koolaid and graham crackers with chocolate frosting), another was devoted to Camp Hantesha (night-time raids on other cabins and tin-foil dinners) while a third was reserved for Craft Camp, otherwise known as Popsicle Sticks Run Amok.

In short, summer was a time to explore and try new things.  During the summer, we learned to throw a ball, ride a bicycle  or roller skate.   As we grew older, the challenges of summer became tinged with excitement and anxiety as we set ourselves larger goals: walking with a friend to an uptown movie, daring the high dive, or navigating the stacks of the “big” library on our own. 

If we hesitated, it was our own timidity which held us back, and not that of our parents or caretakers.  The rules were general, and common sense prevailed. Wear your shoes on a bicycle. Be home by dark. Don’t eat all your candy at once. Never swim alone. Don’t fight.   Beyond that, we were on our own.

 The pinnacle of summer was July 4th.  It was the High Holy Day of Play, and everyone took part.  In the morning, the community parade circled the town square.  Afterwards,  parents lolled about on porches or busied themselves in kitchens while we ran to the schoolyard to swing or hopscotched our way around the block.  Boys tossed balls to one another while the girls played jacks or helped set the table for the yearly feast.

When the time for the picnic arrived, no one was picking at arugala or chicken grilled with a nice lemon-tarragon glaze.  The traditional menu never varied: hot dogs and hamburgers on white buns, sweet corn, thick-sliced tomatoes, potato salad with celery, egg and mayonnaise, baked beans, brownies and pies.  We ate our fill, and left the rest for late-comers, snackers or Aunt Janet, notorious for needing “just one more spoonful” of beans or potato salad.   After sitting around on an outdoor table for six hours, there probably was a risk attached to the mayonnaise-laden salads,  but we didn’t think of that any more than we thought about the dangers of our evening’s entertainment – boxes of red, white and blue sparklers that we’d burn before we headed off to watch the town’s display of aerial fireworks.

It was a news spot on a local radio station that released this flood of memories.   A representative of a local hospital was urging the usual pre-Fourth of July caution about fireworks. In the course of her remarks, she commented that no child ever should be allowed to hold a sparkler.  As she said, a sparkler could damage an eye, or burn a hand.  As she didn’t say, but perhaps believes and certainly implied, the thoughtlessness of allowing a child a sparkler might well bring down the whole of Western Civilization.  

Listening to her, I was astonished first, and then appalled.   Living in an area of serious drought, I have no quarrel with restrictions on fireworks, or even their ban.  However accidental, burning down an apartment complex or half a subdivision doesn’t fall into the category of celebration.  But fireworks safety in the absence of rain was not her concern.  Her intent was to discourage every parent, in every circumstance, from allowing their child a traditional pleasure of Independence Day celebrations. 

Certainly, we live our lives differently than we did in the 1950s.  Many of the changes are a direct result of increased knowledge, better judgement and the desire for healthier and happier lives.  Other changes seem to be no more than an expression of the “Nannie factor” in our society – the desire of self-appointed experts or general busybodies to control the behavior of those around them.  As C.S. Lewis wrote “In Freedom”,

“Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.  It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busy-bodies.  The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Lewis’ “omnipotent moral busy-bodies,”  kind, well-meaning, benevolent folk who would control and repress us “for our own good” are nicely pondered by Ian Chadwick in his essay on Conformity.  As he puts it,

Personal agendae do not benefit liberty: they hinder it.  Pretty soon it’s dictatorship by committee – committees peopled with well-meaning, dedicated but unelected members whose goals are to enforce their own personal vision of utopia. They erect increasingly restrictive rules that slowly squeeze the life out of a community and bleed it until it is colourless.
Those laws and bylaws that hamper and constrict businesses, clamp down on dissent, free speech and free expression are often created to further some publicly stated goal like “beautification.” But they really mean “uniformity.” They strip the living skin off democracy in order to pound all the square pegs in the community into the committee’s round holes.


Such concerns may seem far removed from sparklers, sprinklers and over-the-hill potato salad.  On the other hand, as warnings against “this” product or “that” activity increase on a daily basis, I wonder:  are we in fact becoming a nation of Nannies, Lawrence Durrell’s “old women of both sexes” warning one another away not only from legitimate risk but even from the richness of life?   The nation I love always has been a nation willing to allow its citizens to celebrate and live  as they will – worshipping, parading, remembering, reciting and above all participating in rituals that sparkle and sting like the reality of freedom itself.

As the practical philosopher Erma Bombeck said, “You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4 not with a parade of guns, tanks and soldiers who pass by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die of happiness.”

In a world of sprinklers, sparklers and unrefrigerated mayo, can we slip and fall on the water-slicked grass that bends beneath our feet?  Of course.  Can we over-indulge in over-exposed foods and suffer the consequences? Of course.  Can the sun or the sparklers burn, the bicycle tip, the bone break, the puppy nip or the cat scratch?  Yes, and yes, and yes again to everything that “can” happen in a world that doesn’t take “care”. 

But too much of the wrong kind of care can lead to paralysis and disengagement, particularly when what passes for care is little more than fear.  For those who fear what “might happen”, for those who hunger to control what cannot be controlled and prefer to deny that brokenness, contingency and pain of various sorts always will be a part of life, there never can be enough care.  

“Don’t you care about your children?”, they ask.  “Don’t you care about your health?”  “Don’t you care about security and acceptance and the approval of others?”  Yes, yes, and yes again we say – we do care.  But we care as much for life and freedom, for speaking our own word and celebrating the gifts the world holds for those who love her.

In simple fact,  some of us choose to worry less and participate more and most of the time, for most of us, nothing happens at all.  We run through the sprinkler without slipping.  The sparklers light up the night and the last bit of potato salad gets eaten, just because it’s there.  The children fall asleep, and we tend to them in the darkness while the world sighs everyone home: safe, and sound, and free as the birds that cry through the deep summer night, careless and carefree at once.



Comments are welcome.  To leave a comment or respond, please click below.
And many thanks to Barbara Bieber-Hamby, whose Fourth of July greeting card to me included the quotation from Erma Bombeck and helped to pull this entry together.  As the newest Member of Team Muse, she’ll soon have her very own tee and a link back to this entry on the Team Muse page. 

15 thoughts on “Sprinklers and Sparklers and Mayo, O My!

  1. I swear, I grew up right next to you, even if it was in reality hundreds of miles from your house.

    I wish this entry would be chosen as a Hawt Post. You have serenely written on the very things I tend to rant about.

    Happy 4th weekend! I am now going to make potato salad.


    Every now and then I remember that saying – “It takes a village to raise a child”. Back in the day, our village encompassed a multitude of cities and towns spread across the land, and our growings-up were protected and nurtured in similar ways. We would have recognized each other’s worlds.

    Today, our task isn’t merely the raising of the children, it’s the re-building of the village, and doing so in a way that allows every child to feel at home.
    It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but it has to happen if future generations are to thrive.

    Making potato salad is a perfectly acceptable place to start!


  2. Linda, thank you, thank you. This piece brought on a flood of wonderful memories and lots and lots of smiles.

    I was raised by my great-grandmother. In the summer, unless there was a tornado or some other serious threat, I was encouraged and often ordered to play outside (grandma needed her breaks).

    Since this was the fifties and sixties, and we were poor, my summer play, like that of my friends, was improvised. Baseball (in backyards and the streets) was a major activity as was the building of forts from found materials. I also had inch thick ropes (grandma bought for me) hung from high tree branches from which I would swing while giving my best Tarzan calls. Then there was the annual backyard carnival my friends and I would assemble from old shipping boxes we dragged home from a nearby J.C. Penny store. We’d cut these boxes with a butcher knife my grandma provided for the purpose, and make haunted houses, helicopters–whatever we could think of. Some days we fashioned parachutes from newspapers and clothes lines. We’d climb a plumb tree near our garage, leap a 2 foot gap to the roof, scamper over the peak and down to the eave on the other side. Then yelling “Geronimo” we’d take turns jumping (parachuting) to the ground 7 feet below, doing our best “paratrooper” rolls. Grandma knew we did this, although she pretended not to know.

    I can’t help thinking too many kids today are being cheated out of their childhood by overly cautious parents and so-called experts. Risk is necessary for discovery and growth. Likewise, by being left to improvise a child learns how to be creative and resourceful.

    I hope you had a great 4th of July, and overindulged without regret. I did.

    Hi, Mike,

    I loved hearing your memories – and you’re so right about the importance of improvisation and a willingness to take risk. I was more timid as a child than it sometimes might sound from my writing, and it wasn’t until I quit “the real world” to start my own business that some of those lessons were internalized. I learned plenty about improvising, that’s for sure, and a good bit about resourcefulness.

    I do wonder from time to time who’s meant to benefit from the external demands placed on today’s kids. Driven (in every sense of the word) from one activity to the next, they rarely have the time to just “be”. There are a number of home-schooled kids on boats around the marinas, and it’s very interesting to talk with the ones who’ve left the public school system to try a different way. All seem to share an appreciation for their differently-paced life, not to mention their opportunities for more “hands-on” involvement in their own learning.

    I’ve been trying and trying to remember an African proverb that applies, and I just can’t be sure I’ve got it right. But, it goes something like this ~
    “Fence the goat, then let him roam”. That’s what our folks did with us. We couldn’t cross the boundaries they’d set, but inside those boundaries, we had nearly total freedom.

    Wonderful to have you take a little time from your holiday to stop by. I did my own overindulging, and don’t regret it a bit.


  3. Some time ago I read about an Indian tribe that so respected the freedom of each individual that no one would ever dream of telling anybody what to do, even children. They might say, for example, “that fire is hot,” or, “if you put your hand in the fire it will burn you, and it will hurt,” but never “Don’t put your hand in the fire.” It was an idea that resonated with me, one I try (most of the time) to keep in mind as I watch my daughter go through late adolescence, and one I fear has been completely forgotten in this age of hedge funds, derivatives, insurable everything, and “mitigated risk.” If society bears the cost of any individual’s errors, then I fear we can expect a lot of torment in the name of our own good will.

    As for me, I miss teeter-totters, diving boards, riding my bike without a helmet, and other such dangerous pursuits. And if anybody ever tries to take my parmesan reggiano away because it’s made from unpasteurized milk, it might just turn me into a member of the criminal class: look for me then, living in the hills, boiling water over an open flame, gleefully serving pasta with my ill-gotten cheese.

    Oh, Anno,

    I’m laughing right out loud! For one thing, I’d forgotten that terrible “thwack” of a teeter-totter board hitting the dirt and sending a teeth-shattering vibration up my spine. A nefarious friend once jumped ship and let me get an up-close-and-personal lesson in physics, and it wasn’t pretty.

    Beyond that, your “Give me parmesan reggiano or give me death!” scenario not only is hilarious, it points to something I hear hints of now and then – a growing unwillingness to have our choices in life determined by other people’s preferences. The complexities of balancing individual choice and the common good pop up everywhere – seat belts, bike helmets, second-hand smoke, the wearing of hijab or furs. Some issues seem nearly resolved, while others are filled with conflict. Personally, I’m on the side of encouraging informed choice rather than the elimination of choice – which brings us right back to what your Indian tribe was trying to do.

    Fascinating insights and some chuckles to go with them – thanks for stopping by!


  4. Happy 4th of July weekend Linda,

    If civilization falls this weekend it is all my fault. The ‘Bit ran around with sparklers, poppers and all kinds of hand-held fireworks last night. ;)

    Your post brought back so many memories of kid summers with my oldest brother. (like the day we built a tightrope and trapeze and nearly gave our mom a heart attack)

    The hospital representative you spoke of needs to take off her shoes and run through a sprinkler every now and then.

    Of course now I am hungry – and off to make a tomato or ham sandwich.

    – Kit

    Gosh, Kit,

    There are people all over this country who’ve been trying to find someone to blame for the decline and fall… I’ll send them over to Words, Music…
    Expect traffic ;-)

    I have to say I envy so many of you who grew up with sisters and brothers. I always had friends who thought I’d gotten the better end of the deal as an only child, because I got all the presents on birthdays and at Christmas. That was true, and I’m sure sibs can be a pain, but it would have been fun to have someone to roam around with.

    As for the dear lady – you’re exactly right. Of course, behind every spokesperson there’s a committee, and a board of directors, and an institution, and a series of funding sources, and a Federal watch-dog agency….

    I’ll go get some extra hose!


  5. What a wonderful statement – so evocative of my own childhood summer days (Pocatello Idaho, hanging out at the pool near Ross Park, long days on bicycles and reading library books). Same thing: come home when it’s dark.

    My own kids faced real dangers in an urban neighborhood; even so, I don’t know if we overstated the danger to them or not. Partly, my own childhood was a time of wives at home, in large part, so there were adults around, even if they weren’t your own parents. Now, that has changed in many neighborhoods, meaning that children need some kind of (for pay) supervised programming. Thanks for provoking both memories and thought!

    Mary Ellen,

    I’ve been thinking about that rule we both lived with: “Come home when it’s dark”. The problem for many kids today is that it’s “dark” in their neighborhoods all the time, and many don’t have the security of a waiting home. It’s one thing to be timid or shy, and quite another to fear the world around you. The terrible irony is that while some kids’ lives are so tightly structured they hardly can breathe, other kids have been left to roam with no structure or support at all.

    One change in my neighborhood has been the institution this summer of a regular library reading program at the grade school. It’s not merely for checking out books – on Tuesdays and Thursdays the library itself is open for reading, story-telling and projects, four hours per day. I don’t know if it’s staffed by teachers or volunteers, but I should find out. I know it’s fun to see kids leaving the school on their skateboards, books tucked under their arm!

    Lovely to have you stop by – hope your holiday was wonderful!


  6. Oh Linda – a perfect description of my childhood, except I was the one who ate the pink and white coated black licorce (Good and Plenty). I still adore them, and buy myself a box now and then, to hide in the glove compartment for a treat when I am driving.

    As far as sparklers, have you ever heard of anyone being burned by one? In all my life, holding them as a child, and then watching my children hold them, I never, ever heard of anyone being injured. Fireworks are a different story, however, and I wouldn’t touch one with a ten foot pole!

    Sometimes it is hard to know where to draw the line between safety and freedom. I too left the house in the morning, and ran home when I heard my father whistle at 5:25 for dinner. Times have changed, and although my youngest leaves the house at noon for Summerfest and doesn’t come home for twelve hours, I track her with the cell phone so I know she is safe.

    Your comment, “worry less and participate more and most of the time, for most of us, nothing happens at all” says it all. If we don’t take some risks, life would be pretty darn boring. Lucky to live in the time and the place of here and now, it would be criminal of us to not take advantage of what the world has to offer. Like sparklers and potato salad!!

    Thanks for bringing back wonderful memories to grin about – another nice, Sunday evening post.


    Good and Plenty – that’s it. And how wonderful they’re still around for you to enjoy. The “candy counter” is one reason I adore the Vermont Country Store catalog. It’s the perfect combination of nostalgia-tinged products and a nostalgic process. When it arrives in the mail I “read” it like we used to read the Sears catalog, ooh-ing and aah-ing over everything from pine tar soap to the Tigress and Evening in Paris perfumes that used to line the variety store counters. And it never gets thrown away, until the next one comes.

    Like you, I’ve never known of a sparkler incident. The only fireworks accidents I’ve known of personally involved high school toilets and cherry bombs – do kids still do that? Fireworks are quite the thing here for New Year’s, too, and last holiday season a fire department spokesman said accidents are far more common on New Year’s than the 4th, primarily because of a higher alcohol content in the population at large ;-)

    The tension between safety and freedom is one I’m forced to address with my own mom on a nearly daily basis. She may be 91 with a 62-year-old “baby”, but she worries like crazy. If I stop by to take out her trash late in the evening, she often makes pointed references to Jack the Ripper or his ilk, who surely are lurking by the dumpster. Her fears are fueled by local news reports that report every shooting, car-jacking and instance of general mayhem in delicious detail, making it seem as though the world is an unutterably evil and violent place. Reasonable caution is advised – it’s figuring out what that means that’s the trick.

    So glad you enjoyed the post – thanks to you for giving me the right name for that licorice!


  7. What a great post. I have to admit I’m one of those overprotective mothers. Not as bad as some. I do let my kids have sparklers at least! But I don’t let them run around the neighborhood unfettered like I was allowed to as a kid. Of course, my oldest is only 6, so I suppose it won’t be long til he’s running around being more independent.

    Have you heard of the Free-Range Kids blog? You might find it interesting reading over there. Also, did you see the Michael Moore documentary about Columbine where he was talking about the culture of fear? I thought of both of those things as I was reading your post.

    Beautifully done, by the way. Thanks for participating in STSS! :)

    Hi, Wendy,

    I was glad to have something to offer to Small Town Snapshot Sunday, especially on the 4th of July. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Thanks for the link and the reminder about Moore’s documentary, too. Now and then I bump up against efforts to promote a culture of fear, and I try very hard not to participate no matter who’s painting the lurid scenarios.

    Six is pretty young. I suspect you’re protective, rather than over-protective. I was allowed a good bit of freedom to run as I got older, but when I “ran away from home” when I was about two or three, I had a mother in hot pursuit. I ran around the block, as a matter of fact, managing to just keep ahead of her until I got back to the home construction site next to our house. I climbed up on a pile of dirt and proceeded to throw dirt clods at everyone who came close – that only happened once, trust me!

    Thanks so much for the kind words!


  8. I love that potato salad to this day (the only one who still makes it with egg is my mom)! Fess up–did you ever pop tar bubbles with your bare toe? Ride double on those bicycles? So many great memories in this,along with the thought. The nannification of America is upon us, and it started when organized activities became more important than chewing a piece of grass in the hayfield while trying to find animals in the clouds. It grows exponentially because everybody wants their child to be with other children–and where are the other kids?

    You are absolutely right: the simple freedoms are the ones that count the most.

    Thank you.

    Morning, ds,

    Tar bubbles? Don’t know about that, but riding double? You bet! You mean that was dangerous?

    You’re raising again something I thought about a good deal when I was reading Mike’s post – the demands placed on over-scheduled, overly active kids. There are natural rhythms to life, and rhythms of engagement and disengagement that are necessary for creativity to flourish. Those hours of cloud-watching are as crucial to a child’s development as ballet, soccer, advanced math tutoring, play dates and computer labs. All it takes is one trip to a Little League game or summer arts camp performance to realize that, valuable as sports, music, drama and learning in general are for children, there are a good many parents who compete with one another THROUGH their children, who might well prefer to be out in that hayfield.

    If we don’t learn that disengagement, withdrawal and solitude for reflection are important when we’re children and youth, we may never learn it as adults. But it is important. If I’d done the pool-beach-boat-picnic-fireworks-movie bit through the entire holiday weekend, we wouldn’t have this essay ;-)

    Sometimes claiming the freedom we have is the hardest part.


  9. This was a terrific essay – and how appropriate to have the 4th of July birthday post focus on the party-control continuum we’ve come to.

    I’m another one who grew up like you, out all day, home for a quick meal, back out. I wasn’t a risk taker though and am only getting into that now, thank you very much.

    One of the few and very grand memories of joy lavishly dealt by a parent was when my brother and I went to camp for a week over the 4th of July. Our father was frugal to the max (8 kids and all), and only now am I starting to realize how generous my mom was and must have wished to do much more than she was allowed. We each opened our suitcases at camp (separate cabins of course) to see a huge box of 12 separate long narrow boxes of sparklers. We passed them around to our camp-mates on the baseball diamond on the 4th and felt unusually proud and rich.

    Our extended family has decided to end 4th of July fireworks at our family cottage, which we’ve had for years and years as my sister from Atlanta stops in Tennessee and buys the legal ones there with our money. Our oldest sister was just too nervous with the little ones near the bottle rockets, and I can’t say I blame her. So now we can watch our neighbors send theirs off without any competition from us. It is indeed a balancing act to be sensible and safe but not restrictive. We must allow our children and ourselves to FAIL. What if they never learned how to? We also wanted to light sparklers at our farm wedding next month instead of throwing rice. But we can’t risk it for fire. The kid in me balks!

    Oh, and my counter candy at the dime store was a licorice whip or sometimes a box of salty pumpkin seeds. Remember those?

    Good morning, Ruth,

    Your story of the sparklers reminded me of another post of yours that spoke of the importance of the extravagant gesture. There’s a connection somehow between extravagance and freedom that produces joy. After all, none of us just stood and watched our sparklers burn. We swooped and circled with them, burning patterns into the darkness – extravagance made visible. And your mom made it possible for you to experience the joy of the extravagant gesture when you passed out those boxes of sparklers – what a gift!

    I’m no fan of bottle rockets myself, but I do love the sparklers. When I was a kid I thought they were baby fireworks, and that all the splendor we saw in the sky once had been just as tiny and close.

    They would be a great addition to the wedding, but as you say – caution’s needed sometimes. Maybe just the bride and groom could light them…
    (And for anyone stopping by who’s thinking, “Rice? I thought that was bad for the birds and should be replaced with birdseed or confetti – it’s ok. The birds won’t eat the rice and explode. It’s another of those famous myths.)

    I do remember the licorice whips – black and red. I never ate the pumpkin seeds, though. It’s funny… On my “About Me” page, I posed some basic life choices, and came down on the side of salty in the sweet/salty category. As a kid, it always was sweet – I’ve changed!

    Thanks for your lovely story about your mom and the camp sparklers – it says a good bit about a side of her that perhaps wasn’t allowed full expression.


  10. Linda – what a beautifully, well written piece! Of course I’m biased, I think all your writing is stupendous!

    I make potato salad every July 4th, mayo, eggs, celery, pickles and bacon! Love it!

    When I was growing up we always hosted the July 4th gathering as we had a pool in our backyard. Since I grew up in the 50-60s, TV was not a big deal (even though that’s where my dad made his living!). When it did become a big deal, my mom restricted us (she was a woman before her time). We were always outside in the pool anyway. She’d have to call us in to eat and go to bed! We’d always have a July 4th fireworks show in our own backyard and the highlight was when all the kids got to hold a sparkler! They are illegal in many parts of California now – because too many are irresponsible.

    Actually, I think it is the irresponsibility of a few (and the ensuing lawsuits) that have lead to so many of the warnings on items we purchase today.

    I digress……

    When my kids were younger (they grew up in the 80s mostly) a lot of my friends thought I was too loose with them. I let my daughters wander downtown when they entered middle school (6th grade – about 11-12) and head to the beach on their own. Granted we live in a pretty small town, and it’s a close town too, but I let them spread their wings and learn early on about this great big world. I kept their activities to a minimum, allowing a good portion of time every week to ‘do nothing’. They are both pretty well rounded young women today. Matter of fact, my favorite quote is: The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.

    Well, I just read back and I have flip-flopped all over the place….guess I’m just not that worried about my words flowing today :-)


    You pointed to something I think about all the time – our towns were closer, then. We weren’t a tiny town – maybe 15,000 – but in the neighborhoods and downtown, everyone knew everyone else. And it isn’t just that we knew each other by name. It was assumed that if Mrs. Johnson from down the street saw my friends and I doing something dangerous or out of line, they would correct us, and then call our parents, who would back them up without question.

    It was the same at school. The teachers and principals were gods, and their word was the last word. If we misbehaved, they would send a note home to our parents, who would take over where the teacher left off. What’s most amazing is to remember that we were the ones charged with carrying those notes home, and we did it! I guess we knew if one disappeared, things would go even worse for us.

    And how true it is that television and all that came after wasn’t impacting our lives in the same way. It’s astonishing to remember our first television, with the tiny screen, one station and those crazy test patterns that we all sat around and watched. We were like primitive peoples watching the spaceship land – awed and fascinated and totally unaware of what was about to happen to our world. Television wasn’t a babysitter then – it was something the family did together, at specified times. And sometimes, as for the coronation of Elizabeth II, mom would even let me stay home from school to see the broadcast – and then write a note to the teacher saying, “Please excuse Linda’s absence. I allowed her to watch (whatever) on television today.”

    It WAS another world!

    Glad your Fourth was so nice, and thanks so much for stopping by. It’s always a treat!


  11. Linda,

    A Happy Belated July 4th to you! Your description of your American childhood is almost dreamlike, stirring up in me different memories but mainly admiration. For where I grew up, nobody had a ‘yard’ to play in, or places to ‘explore’, trees to climb, or lakes to jump in. Yes, that’s my childhood days in Hong Kong. So, how did we survive? On weekends I’d join my cousins to seek out new patches of greens or just empty space where us kids could play soccer, me the only girl among my male cousins and flattered to be treated as an ‘equal’. In the summer we’d go to the beach miles away from our highrise apartment, by taking buses and the ferry, and spent the whole day there. I was surprised my parents would let us go on our own, we kids no older than 12 or 13.

    So in a way, yes, I was given some freedom to roam, although in a very limited sense. There weren’t any sprinklers but there were sparklers, at Chinese New Year. But that was banned together with firecrackers after a major and deadly riot instigated by the communists. During that difficult period I experienced government enforced curfews, I saw tanks on the streets looking down from my bedroom window. When I walked to school in the morning, I was told by my Mom not to kick any ‘shoeboxes’ on the roadside, for they could be homemade bombs in disguise. That brought home to me, even as a child, that we lived in a precarious political world. And that sparked the idea of emmigration for many, my parents among them.

    Politics aside, just yesterday on the news I heard about this little girl being lured by a male adult in a park, just a short distance away from her Mom. Lucky she found out soon enough and confronted the guy who quickly ran off. I’m hearing this kind of news too often now. It’s hard to be a parent today, balancing freedom and safety. But your post did bring out some of the good and ideals we ought to cherish and strive for. Thanks again!

    Hi, Arti,

    It strikes me that learning to balance freedom and safety is something we need to begin learning as children, because it’s going to be a concern for the rest of our lives. Whether it’s someone in Tehran deciding whether to go into the streets to protest or an urban shopper in the US deciding to avoid a certain shopping mall during the holiday season, we’re constantly making those decisions. The trick is developing appropriate caution without giving way to pathological fear, especially important for the kids.

    The media’s no help, of course. My poor mother is certain she’s living in the midst of the most dangerous place on earth because she watches the local news like a hawk and sees the murders and drug deals on a daily basis. I try to explain that Houston has two million people – nearly six in the metro area – and there’s bound to be crime. Since we’re not running drugs, transporting illegal aliens, running up debt through illegal gambling or frequenting after-hours clubs, we’re probably going to be ok ;-) I’ve been mugged once (Houston), scared off someone breaking into my house (Berkeley) and had to deal with one peeping Tom (also Berkeley) but that’s not much for six decades of life.

    One thing I did learn when I began spending time in New York City is that there’s another kind of urban life that’s just as appealing as the spread of a green suburbia. There were plenty of candy counters and hopskotch there, too, along with those new-fangled skateboards and such. I was in NYC for the ’77 blackout, and still can see and hear every detail of joining the neighborhood down at the fire hydrant the morning after for a little face-washing and tooth-brushing. It was nearly as good as a sprinkler!


  12. Oh, Oh! I must send this url to Rick. It represents so much of what we’ve spoken about — all those warnings! Worry less, participate more — what good words those are to remember! How I love this walk down memory lane to the High Holy Days of Play. Bravo!


    “Worry less, participate more”… some of my words to live by, for sure. If we really put our minds to it, we could worry ourselves right into a corner and never do a thing. It’s a fact that I could have ended up in a ditch with my throat slit when I went to Mississippi, but it’s also a fact that I could be jumped tomorrow afternoon buying a gatorade at the local convenience store, so there you are. We can’t predict the future, and we can’t protect ourselves against all threats and if we spend all our time trying to predict and protect there’s no time for play.

    So! Reasonable caution, prudent preparation, a note to let folks know where we’re off to – and let the living begin. We’ll cope with the aggravations when they arise and enjoy the rest.

    I’ve really been enjoying your account of your Paris trip, by the way. Tonight, I’ll see Giverny!


  13. Since I’m Ruth’s sister, I can add that one of the main concerns about the family time was also the sparklers because there were so MANY kids running around, twirling their firey wands around so closely next to each other. It scared the bejesus out of all of us watching. BUT…can’t we just say “Stop a minute”…make a few statements about safety and then carry on?!

    For me, my favorite candy store treat was the cinnamon toothpicks! I could suck on them for hours, it seemed, till every last cell of cinnamon was gone! :)

    Anyway, your post should be a syndicated column throughout the USA this week after the 4th. I love it!


    An amazing co-incidence (synchronicity? serendipity?) here. My dad’s favorite was cinnamon toothpicks, and it was my dad who was so good at slowing us down in just the way you suggest. I can remember him sitting down with all of us cousins, or me and my group of school chums, and spending time helping us figure out how we should behave. What was most interesting about it was that he’d raise an issue, like running wild with sparklers, and then ask US to tell HIM what the problem was! For example, he might ask, “Why do you think I worry about the way you run with sparklers?” And then we’d start to sort it out. We were a little older, of course – this started in maybe 3rd grade – but we’d sit there and mull it over until we were coming up with things like, “Well, somebody could get hurt.” And after we had it sorted out to his satisfaction, we were free to go play again.

    Obviously with the little ones direct intervention is needed more often! But kids can “get it” more often than adults sometimes realize.

    Gosh – I do thank you for those kind words about the piece. I do like it, a lot. Maybe I’ll spiff it up and try and do something with it next year before the 4th. Who knows?


  14. Oh those wonderful memories. I was just bemoaning a lack of sparklers this Fouth of July and became involved in a debate about “safety”. My best argument was “Why should the laws of natural selection be bubble-wrapped and entombed with some worry wart’s rules, when it interferes with the rest of us having fun?”

    Bored with the debate I wandered off to see if some of the kids would give me a few of their Snap-n-Pops to throw. Still brooding I wondered how long before this fond memory gets banned. Then with a big smile I wondered what would happen if you unwrapped a whole box of them, poured all the little popping crystals together and made one BIG Snap-n-Pop…..Hmmmm some civic killjoy would probably ban them then.

    I predict in another 30 years, all our fireworks will be digital. And I pity the poor young “kids” who are the attendants at my nursing home when I’m really old, crotchety and it’s the Fourth of July, because I will probably find a way to show them fireworks in analog…bwwaahahaha.

    Anyhow, that was a great piece of evocative writing bringing forth all the great memories as well as making me think about how to make the here and now just as fond a memory too. Thanks :)


    I didn’t even realize there were digital fireworks. Sigh. I’ve got to get out more. I had to smile at your nursing home vision, though. I often ponder what it’s going to be like when we’re all lined up across the front porch, rocking out – and rocking – to the Doors and the Rolling Stones.

    Your point about today’s celebrations being tomorrow’s memories is so important, though. If we don’t keep participating, we’ll have nothing to share with others as the years go by. One of the saddest things I ever heard was a comment by a woman in her nineties (not my mom) who said, “Nobody remembers anything I remember any more”. If you live only in the past, and live long enough, isolation is a sure result.

    Make new memories!


  15. I never got to partake in the joys of running through a lawn sprinkler. Until my 12th birthday we spent the entire summer at Nickerson State Park in Brewster, MA, out on Cape Cod. I slept in a tent with my brothers maybe a couple of dozen feet away from Flax Pond.

    When I was 12 we moved full-time to the next town eastwards from Brewster, Orleans, and our house was less than a 10 minute walk to Cape Cod Bay. The tidal range there is about 15 feet and at dead low tide the water is nearly a mile away, but on those days we’d just walk a little ways down the beach to Skaket Creek which always had pools left at low tide that were big enough and deep enough to swim in.

    My July 4ths were different from most people’s, too. My family ran the only place to eat at Nauset Beach on the ocean side of Orleans so the 4th was a work day for us and from age 12 when we became conscripted labor at the restaurant I worked every 4th. And the 4th was always a busy day that started early. I played first flute in the town band (not the high school band…Town Band made up of high school students and adults who played an instrument and wanted not to give it up). So it was up early, into the band costume, march in the parade, down to the beach to work all day and into the evening, then change back into the band uniform for the hour it took for the band to do our concert and I’d get to show off a little with the obligato of Stars and Stripes Forever on the piccolo and then back to the restaurant to clean up while the rest of the town got to enjoy the fireworks.

    The Nanny Society. . . as soon as I can find someone to buy the Boston Whaler Revenge I own I’m off to live in Panama. I received my Pensionado Visa in May which means I am a legal resident of the Republic. The Nanny Society hasn’t reached Panama yet. A couple of blocks away from the hostel where I stay in Panama City there’s a rather small park on Via Argentina. It is complete with swing sets, jungle gyms, teeter-totters and those kid-powered merry-go-rounds, and beneath each amusement is sand filled with rocks, just like they were when we were of an age to use these delights. Kids swing, whirl around, go up and down and climb and hang by their knees. Sometimes they fall, skin their knees or bang their heads and go running to mom who works her magic that instantly whisks away all hurts and they return to actually having fun. I LOVE Panama.


    So we have a commonality other than boats – I was in one of those town bands, myself. I played clarinet, but I always envied that piccolo player! I can still hear the obligato – we played so much Sousa I’ll probably remember it all to the grave. We never had to march in parades (that was for the high school bands) but we gave summer concerts in a bandshell at the park every Saturday night during the summer. In the winter, we practiced in a room in the basement of the courthouse. The old guys were nice to us kids – I try to do the same, now that I’m old ;-)

    I have a number of friends who’ve headed south for various reasons, but the Nanny State certainly plays a part. Costa Rica, Rio Dulce, the Bay Islands – never knew anyone to move to Panama, though. I do have friends who started circumnavigating more than a decade ago. I believe they’ve transited the Canal twice now. They made it around the world once, got back to Venezuela and couldn’t stand to come home. They’re still out there somewhere.

    As for the Nanny State: my current dream is to have the opportunity to sneeze directly onto a bureaucrat or politician some day. For decades I listen to parents, teachers and assorted concerned adults instruct me in the proper use of disposable tissues, only to have the Sec’y of Health and Human Services tell me to sneeze into my elbow? That’s just uncouth. My mother would have killed me.


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