"Cool kids never have the time"
We lived on a street (my house was here!) with a bunch of families with younger kids, so it was kind of a paradise. Behind me lived my best friends, Frank and Dave Alvaro, who are twins and are a few months younger than I am (and yes, it's the same Dave whose wedding I missed a few years ago; it became moot that I missed it last year, when he split up with his wife), but on my street we had a bunch of other kids. They were all about the same age, too - at eight, I was about in the middle of the bunch, age-wise. Down the street were the oldest kids around, and they might have been 11. Our next-door neighbors had a younger daughter who was probably six. We had about 15 kids living either on the street or on the street behind us, where Frank and Dave lived. It was kind of the perfect storm for fun, and we took advantage.
All summer we played with each other. This was, of course, in the era before hundreds of channels on television, and it was summer anyway, so nothing was on. It was also before video games went nuts, so nobody was playing those. We watched a few cartoons (I'm not sure if Star Blazers had hit the United States yet, because that was one for which Frank, David, and I stopped everything to watch), but nothing really distracted us too much from enjoying the outdoors. I had brought a giant ball back from Germany. It was about waist-high on us kids, and it was painted like a soccer ball. We decided we were going to play "Kick the Can" all day, every day. Of course, we didn't use a can. We used my giant ball.
I don't know if you've ever played "Kick the Can," but here it is: Someone is "It," and someone else kicks the ball as far as they can. We kicked it up the street, because our street was on a slight incline and kicking it down the street would have meant it would have rolled forever. Once the ball is kicked, everyone else ran and hid while the person who's "It" went and got the ball. Then the "It" person would place the ball at a set place (this was a lamp post on our front yard, because our house was centrally located) and start looking for the others. When the "It" person caught one person, he or she would escort that person back to "jail," which is where the ball is, usually. When they caught everyone, someone else would be "It." Yay!
Of course, there's a catch. At any time, a person who hasn't been caught yet can run to the ball and kick it, thereby freeing all the prisoners and making the "It" person start all over again. In our neighborhood, this was ridiculously easy, and therefore the "It" person could remain "It" for many, many hours. Why we kept playing remains a mystery. Perhaps it was the great many places to hide in our neighborhood.
We had a blast playing "Kick the Can." Back then, very few people had fences in their yards, so the kids could easily move through back yards to various hiding places (upon reflection, this may have been why some people started putting up fences, but we were kids - what did we care?). We had to make boundaries for where you could hide, too, because otherwise someone might end up on a different street altogether. For three months, we played "Kick the Can" almost every day. It really was a wonderful time, because all the kids were at an age when they still liked to play together. By the next summer, some of the kids were 12 and beginning to hang out with the older kids and didn't want to be seen with 9-year-olds. And, of course, as we got older, we didn't want to hang out with the kids who were a few years younger than we were (even though my next-door neighbor grew up to be a hottie - but that was a decade later). At night we would play "Flashlight Tag" or "Ghost in the Graveyard," two more hiding and seeking games. None of us were old enough for jobs, so we had no place to be and nothing to do except have fun. And we did.
It's very odd how this era came to an end, because it was almost poetic and something you might see in a sepia-toned movie about the loss of childhood innocence. We all went back to school in the autumn of 1979, me to third grade (where I was the first teacher who had a real positive influence on me in terms of making learning fun; before that I enjoyed school, but I didn't really think it was that important) and the others to their various grades. One day my soccer ball, which I left out at night, ended up in a neighbor's yard a few doors down, where their dog popped it somehow. I found it and wept (okay, not really, but I was kind of sad). It signaled the end of the summer, somehow, and the next summer, we didn't even try to recreate the magic from the year before. That's not to say I didn't have a wonderful time, but it wasn't the same. As I mentioned, some of the kids grew up just enough that they didn't want to hang out with us, and I also made some other friends from my school who lived near me, so Frank and Dave and I played with them. (I never stopped hanging out with Frank and Dave, who remain some of my best friends to this day. I mean, they lived behind me, for crying out loud, and were three months younger than I was. And they're awesome. What was I going to do, stop hanging out with them?) We played different games, watched more television than we should have (still not as much as some kids), and I started riding my bicycle a lot more to more distant places (not too far away, of course - I wasn't even a teenager yet) and I started reading more, going well on my way down the path to nerdiness. I had a wonderful childhood and adolescence (much better than a lot of people, I guess, as I've heard their stories over the years), but I always look back at that summer, 30 years ago, and wonder how I got so lucky to have such a golden time. I've spoken to other people who were there in the intervening years, and they agree with me, so it wasn't just me viewing it through rose-colored glasses.
I just find it strange that it was 30 years ago. The oddest thing about growing older is not the way you feel, because I still feel fairly young (and I am, I know, but I'm not as young as I used to be), but that you can remember things that happened decades ago. Not just years, whole ten-year bunches. I remember when I graduated from high school and thought about the ten years that had passed since I moved back to the U. S. and thought that was a long time. Ah, how foolish I was.
Anyway, I just thought it would be fun to share a nice memory with you. Take it as you will.