The Tough Generation Played in Traffic

from APP articleThe apps we had referred to food and were called antipasto and pigs in the blanket. There were no pre-schools, day care or after school programs.  Most of us had parents who both worked so we were on our own to devise games and activities — especially in the summer. We rode our bicycles all over town — without helmets or body armor to meet up with each other.

We were the tough generation.  We walked to school (had to live 2 miles from school for a school bus), played in the streets, used a condemned road that went over a mountain for sledding, skated on the town lake when it froze in the winter, grew up with monkey bars on playgrounds and in parks and built our own forts.

It might have started with picking wildflowers. There was a piece of property on the side of her parents’ property that they never cleared.  It was filled with small trees, bushes, wildflowers, weeds and of course, sticker bushes.  (I have never learned the proper name for them, but you know what I mean if you’ve ever gone walking through wooded areas.)

One day while traipsing through this patch of wilderness we noticed scraps of wood, bricks, cinder blocks and rocks.  Hmm…construction materials.  So we gathered and sorted our findings. Then we started building.  Rocks, bricks and cinder blocks were perfect for a foundation. Then we dry-fitted the wood — watching out for exposed nails — until we had a stable structure.  We jumped up and down on the pile to check for wobbles and the possibility it might collapse under our weight since we didn’t use any glue or nails. (There probably would have been hell to pay if we used her dad’s tools and hardware. Especially if we had to try to put things back exactly the way he kept them.)  We may have used some fallen branches, rocks and packed dirt to fill in gaps.  We didn’t have enough bricks or blocks for steps, which meant we had to jump and climb up, but we were pleased with the result: our secret fort.

We’d have picnics out there. Some days we brought a battery operated radio and had to fiddle with the antenna for reception, but a record player would have entailed stringing multiple extension cords from the house and through sticker bushes.  Some days we just laid out and watched the clouds.

One day one of the boys from our class who lived across from our fort saw us dancing and came over to see what we were doing in the middle of this overgrown untamed area. He was surprised we built our little fort by ourselves.  I’m not sure if he was jealous because he didn’t one of his own or it was because we hadn’t asked a boy to help us. There was no roof or walls and he probably would have been able to help us build them, but we were out of supplies anyway.  Besides, the only time anyone could see us was when we were standing up or dancing. The foliage hid us otherwise.  And we liked it that way.

Then one day we noticed them. Wild blackberry bushes. Ooooh.  And we’d check every day for peak ripeness, anticipating our very own fruit patch.  As soon as they were ripe we’d run to her parents’ kitchen, grab a couple of bowls and the pick the bushes clean of every ripe berry.  Then we’d run back to the house to clean off dirt and bugs and race back to our fort to eat them.

We spent several summers in our fort talking, dancing, singing along with the radio, laughing and eating wild blackberries.  Other days we spent swimming or biking around town or down to Main Street to buy magazines and comic books (which we read at our fort).  Winter was the time to be indoors.  Summer was for being outside, every day, all day — until our parents came home from work and it was time for dinner.

Years later, as an adult I happened to be driving past their old house and saw they had tamed our patch of wilderness.  An additional garage had been built on the land, surrounded by a lawn.  Another sign of suburban sprawl…When I bought a house of my own, I left a treed border around the edges of the property and planted blackberry bushes of my own in the backyard to remember the taste of summer vacations past.

Spending the summer in your own fort and picking wild blackberries: there’s no app for that.