As I think back on the town I grew up in, I realize that it was, at least to my childhood memory, just about perfect.
We lived in a three bedroom mobile home trailer which inside was a rather tight space for our family however the trailer was on its own piece of property in a neighborhood. This meant we actually had a front yard, back yard and a huge side yard. My paternal grandparents lived behind us so of course we had access to all of that space as well.
Our town was small back then, though I couldn’t tell you the exact population. I just know that to me it felt like I knew almost everyone and if I didn’t my parents or grandparents certainly did. I knew every family on my street to be sure, all the way to the lake which was at the far end, probably sixteen blocks or so at least.
If I was hurt or in trouble anywhere on the street, I could safely go knock on the nearest door and ask for help, even if it was something as simple as using the restroom.
I could probably still give you the names of those families and some of them I’ve been in touch with in recent years. Several of those families were present at my grandparents’ funerals.
Most kids in the neighborhood were on a first name basis with the family who owned the corner store and the gas station at the end of the street as well. If it was your birthday you could be sure that whatever you bought in the store that day would be “on the house” because the owner somehow just knew it was your special day.
When it rained really hard and fast, the big treat of the day was to put on a bathing suit and tramp and swim in the ditches on the side of the road. Now wait parents cause I can hear you screaming at this. As a parent today I would freak out if I saw children swimming in a ditch because of dangers from traffic, glass, trash, bacteria, etc. but we did it repeatedly every summer until I was about twelve and here I am. It wasn’t just a different time back then, it truly was a completely different world.
We headed outside right after school during the week, would race home for dinner and then go back outside. The primary rule in good weather was “be home before it gets dark.” Weekend mornings there was an unwritten rule which kept us inside until after morning cartoons (about 11am usually) but then we’d be off to meet up with friends. This gave us plenty of time to ride bikes, climb trees and whatever else our young minds could devise. Many times on weekends, our house was the place everyone headed for just before dark, with permission first from parents of course to stay out later, and there were games of flashlight tag, ghost in the graveyard and hide and seek.
To say I was in a gang probably would be overdoing it, but our street had a core group of kids that were just about inseparable with a few others thrown in here and there. Sometimes we’d be joined by an occasional younger sibling at the “request” of our parents. We setup a kool-aid stand in our big side yard and cars would stop and no one thought anything of it then. Course we drank up a lot of the inventory too on hot days. Several of us had pairs of tall stilts made from 2×2’s and we’d hold a circus event or stilt races in the side yard.
But what I remember most about the town where I grew up is that everyone knew everyone else. We had to behave most of the time because the whole neighborhood was full of eyes. If a neighbor saw us doing something we shouldn’t be doing, they’d quickly come out, give us a lecture and send us home. By the time we got home, at least one parent would be waiting on the doorstep because “Mrs. Smith” called each house to let them know what had gone on.
Maybe that’s why kids are in so much trouble today. Neighbors not only don’t know one another but they are actually afraid to get involved in any way even verbally. So the next time another parent or a neighbor approaches you about something your child did wrong, think about the intent behind their actions. Even if they didn’t handle the situation in the same way you might have, be appreciative that they cared enough about your child to step in and to notify you so you could be more aware of your child’s world.
When the community stands together in raising children, it can create a much more effective and nurturing environment for everyone. Let’s get back to that world again. I know it can be done if enough people care.