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February, 2017

Childhood Play

by Julia

I am now living in a retirement community. I have a two-bedroom apartment on the first floor. One day my doorbell rang, and I answered the door. There were four young girls in uniform standing behind an older woman. The older lady explained that they were from a community college in Waco and were in training to become nurses' aides. She asked whether I would be willing to be interviewed by one of the girls. I agreed and invited her in to ask her questions. I had thought she would have a few questions which would take a short time. However, I invited her to sit down and for the next hour I answered a whole page of questions. Such as: where was I born, when, where did I go to school, where did I go to college, did I have a best friend, etc.

The question which stirred a lot of memories was what did I play? I explained that it was a time before TV, computers, hand-held phones, air-conditioning or central heat (at least in my neighborhood), and there were only a few cars. We walked everywhere, then, such as to Cameron Park (3.7 miles from our house) to play on very tall swings or in big sand boxes. There too we had water pools to wade in. Near my home on 10th and Clay streets, there was the Cotton Palace Park. It had swings, slides, and sand boxes. At a very early age, I could go alone to this park. During the Depression on Tuesday evenings there was also what we called a free park movie. The movies were shown on an outdoor projector. People sat on the ground, often bringing picnic food to eat while watching.

A 1926 postcard featuring the Texas Cotton Palace Exposition, Waco. Later, the area became Cotton Palace Park, close to where Julia lived. The palace burned down many years ago. (Courtesy Baylor.Edu)

I guess that poor girl must have thought she had opened a spigot as I recalled all the things we had done for play. I lived in a middle class neighborhood of houses owned almost entirely by those living in them. The houses were neat and kept painted. Everyone had a grassy lawn, and most had flowers. In the summer, the children gathered outside, and together we somersaulted, played leap-frog, did endless cartwheels, jumped rope, played hide and seek, skated, played hop-scotch, and on and on. One favorite was called "statue," I think. One person would hold hands with another and spin them 'round and 'round until they were dizzy, then turn loose. The whirled person was then supposed to hold a pose in whatever way he or she landed.

As we gathered together on hot evenings, we would see who could make the silliest faces or who could tell about the most gruesome food combination and still be able to eat while looking at it. We also caught fireflies and looked for frogs and horned toads under the corner street light.

In memory at this distance, it is easy to forget the hordes of flies and mosquitoes, the occasional influx of bedbugs, and the very hot days and nights of summer.

In the winter, we might play dominoes, card games, or, in my case, play with paper dolls. No money was ever spent, but I got out-of-date pattern books from places like Woolworth to cut out my dolls. I had whole families, all dressed most richly of course. I would make houses from card board boxes and doll house furniture from out-of-date sample wallpaper and paint catalogues which the stores would give me. The wallpaper made outstanding sofas, etc. The sofas, chairs, beds, and tables I made looked realistic to my young eyes. I could easily spend hours making up stories about my doll house families.

As soon as I could read, I was allowed walk a mile to the nearest library alone. Also, I walked to Austin Avenue, the main street in Waco, to ask for the various catalogues I needed. I was probably about eight when I stated striking out on my own this way.

My young aspiring nurse's aide spent some time discussing how different life is for a kid now. Are there places in the U.S. where kids can be carefree? From my perspective, it seems we are trapped in our houses with all our gadgets and "things." And yet, I wouldn't want to go back to the world I knew as a child either. I know there are parents who provide trips, outings, and play dates for their children. However, for too many there is no freedom like I knew. Perhaps there are some neighborhoods where children run back and forth with no supervision. Not that I didn't have supervision, though, for the whole neighborhood kept an eye out for us. But most of the mothers were home to do it.

As my visit with the student ended, I had learned more about her life too, as well as she had gotten acquainted with mine. I asked her whether they were trying to interview everyone; she replied that most people said "No."

(Thanks, Julia, for this terrific, entertaining reminiscence! Too bad many of the residents did not take advantage of the opportunity to be interviewed. Seems it was a refreshing and enlightening hour or two for the folks at the center and the young students as well. Larry )

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