Waxing Nostalgic

“Mom, I’m going outside to play,” I would often say when I was a child. And as soon as I stepped outside our front door, the world was my playground.

I could ride my bike to the center of town where I would meet friends to play a game of baseball, football, kick the can, ghosts in the graveyard or whatever game our imaginations came up with on that particular day. There weren’t any coaches or drills. We made up our own rules and when a conflict arose, we would solve the problem on our own. And yes, every once in a while, the person with the ball would get mad, take their ball, hop on their bike and go home. To which we would just shrug our shoulders and start a new game.

We rode our bikes down to the Shepaug River along Route 67. We would fish, catch minnows, catch frogs and swim. If we were feeling especially daring (especially as we got older), we would swim our way out along the six-foot waterfall and jump off into the raging waters of river below.

We played games in the acres of woods that surrounded our house and we spent hours playing in the rock Quarry across the street. There were long days in the summer, or on a warm Saturday, when we would all meet at the bottom of the hill and walk the paths out to the Mines. If we were lucky, one of the gates that sealed off the tunnels would be open just enough so we could shimmy through the bars and explore the caves. Armed with nothing more than a couple of hand held flashlights, we dodged bats, animals, and bottomless pits that we threw rocks into but never hit solid ground below.

My parents were divorced. And although my Mother lived in the country, my Dad lived in a more suburban town. And yet, I had a similar kind of freedom.

I rode my bike to the beach where my friends and I would play beach games. We took out boats, rafts or any kind of inflatable we could find and set sail on Long Island Sound to explore other places along the shoreline. And when we were bored with the beach, we would head off to the local ball fields, pizza parlor, local stores and ice cream shops.

We were normally pretty broke, so we would scrounge up as much money as we could find and when we finally bought something, we would split it evenly among the group. And as long as I was home by a specified time (normally dinner), there weren’t many restrictions on where I was allowed to go. If my legs could take me there on my bicycle, I would meet my friends and have a great day of adventures.

We told our parents generally where we were going and with whom we were going to be hanging out with but if plans changed, we rolled with the punches. We didn’t have a cell phone to call home to let our parents know about our change in plans.

As long as we weren’t grounded, the world was our oyster. In fact, our parents expected that we would go outside and play unsupervised. It’s just the way it was, the way it had always been and we loved our freedom to explore the world around us on our terms.

We laughed, we joked, we had fun and we got into a little bit of trouble along the way. And through it all, we learned how to deal with tough situations, settle conflicts among ourselves and create a fair, safe place for everyone. We owned our little corner of the world and as each year passed, our corner of the planet grew exponentially bigger…

Why the trip down memory lane?

The world has dramatically evolved over the past twenty to thirty years. We have seen medical advancements, technological advancements and as a society we have moved at mach speed over the past two decades. It is mind boggling to see the advancements that we have made and continue to make as a society. But as I marvel at how far we have come, I am saddened by our biggest mistake over the same period of time: our failure to preserve a safe world of freedom, exploration and possibility for our children.

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8 Responses to Waxing Nostalgic

  1. Andy says:

    Big fan of this one doug! Can’t imagine allowing our kids that freedom today, huh?

  2. angie says:

    I wish children had the freedom we had! I think there is too much media and more people in the same amount of space that is helping to make this new confined world for children…just too bad!

  3. M. B. says:

    I totally agree with you. It’s such a shame that my grandchildren (your children) will not know the world/country as we knew it growing up. Progress comes with a great big price tag, and it’s not always monetary, but far worse.

    God Bless.

  4. Amy says:

    Lovely, such great and familiar memories. On an outing during a visit at my Mom’s, I got lost on the paths around the Mines just this Saturday. It was great.

  5. SC says:

    Hey Doug,

    You bring me back down the good side of this freedom – and yet, I cannot help but also reflect upon what I call the “benign neglect” of our upbringing.

    If you look at the lives of my many friends with such “freedom”, we can see too many broken lives. I am lucky only to be a recovering alcoholic. In the last seven years, three of my close friends from this area have died as a result of their addictions.

    I can count three parents of my friends who ended their own lives.

    I cannot list on two hands the number of my friends suffering from addiction or living in recovery.

    And with this realization comes the other side of that freedom coin – that our parents maybe should have given us more well defined boxes in which to play. I, for one, do not want my children to play in the mines without supervision no matter how cool a place it is!

    I don’t mean to rain on the parade, but just to offer a different perspective – I believe that I escaped the upbringing that I had and am grateful to be living my life a little differently.

    For more on this topic – see the movie Ice Storm, by Ang Lee.

  6. Doug Veeder says:

    Hey SC,

    You are not raining on anyone’s parade. I love hearing the perspective of many people who read my work.

    I am sorry you have had to endure the trials and tribulations that you have had to overcome. For many people, they face those addictions regardless of the parameters that we set up for them as children. And as for the mines, I don’t want my kids in them as well and as much as I fondly remember the times we went, and as scared as we were while we were in them; we learned to be as safe as possible and to look after one another.

    And I want to clarify one thing, I don’t think my parents were neglectful. I had curfews. I had rules. I had parameters. But the point I was trying to make is the world was a much safer place. My parents could, for the most part (as I was still a kid who pushed boundaries), know that even though they weren’t keeping a watchful eye on me 24/7, I was safe while riding to the firehouse to play football, or fishing with friends on the river, or swimming at the falls or playing hockey on one of the ponds, etc.

    And when I got caught doing something dumb (yes, she punished me well when we got caught in the mines one Saturday afternoon), I was grounded. BUT, being allowed to play in my front yard didn’t require intense parental supervision like it does today. Riding bikes wasn’t confined to a 100 yard stretch of pavement that we diligently watch over… And not because we can’t trust our kids but because we can’t trust those who may be lurking in the shadows.

    I pray for your continuity sobriety. Tell you mom I said hello. And thank you for sharing. Every perspective is welcome here.

  7. SC says:

    Thanks Doug.

  8. Since I met you @ 16 & we were at different boarding schools,
    I remember you as a fun free spirited kid & we were friends for years after. We rescued each other from terrible blind dates. As a girl, you made me laugh. We were fast friends. Always just friends. I was comforted to have a boy I could talk to & visit at another school. I was further from home than you. Trust me. It was good to know you were nearby. You were warm, funny, a deep thinker for your age, and you expressed yourself well. It was an honor & joy to know you then, and I feel the same way now. It feels like I have a brother in the world, and while I haven’t seen you in years, I’m thrilld to see you have generously & consistantly shared a piece of you, each time you write in your blog. I remember more than you know & its so nice for me to read this one. I miss you & you are far away now, but your family is lovely & I’m so happy for the family you’ve created & shared. Thank you. You have a sister out there whenever you need one. -Much love, Lace

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