Friday, February 20, 2009

Time for a little fun!!

There are days when I wish I could be a kid again. We had it made and of course didn't have a clue. When I was little and my big brother started school I wanted to go too. I couldn't wait for the next year to join him. I can still remember showing up at JY Joyner Elementary School and being given the choice of my first grade teacher. I could pick Leon's teacher (she was covered with the biggest freckles I'd ever seen; even bigger and darker than mine) or Mrs. Hilker, a well coifed, petite little thing who smiled at me so lovingly. Of course Mrs. Hilker won me over right up until she made us sit in rows, alphabetically, and let me tell you, Vinson was always at the back of the room. Even then my vision was poor, so the blackboard seemed much too far away.
Art was always my favorite thing about school. I loved cutting construction paper, folding those large pieces of newsprint into grids to draw in, and I loved paste more than anything. I should go find a tub of paste, just to smell it if nothing else. Can you remember making simple things as a child, like pinwheels? We used straws because you could push a straight pin through the folds of paper and the straw for quick, easy assembly. And that makes me think of those cartons of milk in the cafeteria with paper drinking straws. Remember those? These days it seems they're all plastic. What a loss.

As children we had lots of pets. Our dogs were always named Trixie. We also had turtles that lived in shallow goldfish bowls. And hamsters and guinea pigs, and of course goldfish too. I'm not talking about fancy aquariums that needed cleaning. Nope. Just a simple glass fishbowl with that colorful rock in the bottom. We brought the fish home in plastic bags and carefully poured them into the bowl, sloshing the rocks around. Funny thing, when one would float it was never mine. I was satisfied that it belonged to my sister and mine was still famously alive and well because of the tender care I adminstered.
When I think back to my childhood I remember great times at Pullen Park in Raleigh, riding the carousel (though we called it a merry-go-round at the time), and the train. Now they have paddle boats but back in the old days they had a boat ride that was my favorite. Tiny little boats that went round and round on spider arms in water. Wonder if that's still at the park? We didn't swim at the Pullen Park pool; instead we had memberships to Hayes Barton pool where Daddy would take us each night after work. I can still smell the chlorine and I can see the locker room with those funny keys we clipped to our swimsuits. And learning to swim, diving between daddy's legs in the shallow end of the pool. My specialty was floating on my back and it's what I do even today.

My favorite candies were Sugar Daddies and candy necklaces, BB Bats & Kits, which were tiny little taffy candies, and of course those Safety Suckers on string loops instead of sticks. Mother used to walk us up to Mr. Ben's store on Whitaker Mill Road and I'd buy wax lips, wax crayons filled with colorful liquid, and candy cigarettes. Surely those are no longer PC, but hey, we loved them. And bubble gum cigars! Kids these days eat all these gummy things and don't have a clue what they're missing.

Childhood playtime was surely the best, with simple toys like Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys, both made from real wood. The original Slinky was the best because we had 28 stairs to my bedroom on the second floor and 5 more on the front porch. I did love a slinky til the metal coils got all tangled and couldn't be straightened to spring down the stairs anymore.

Playgrounds were a real favorite, whether at a neighborhood park or at the school. I loved a see-saw the best but I was such a scrawny little kid that I did a lot of bouncing when going up and struggled to bring it back down with a heavier friend on the other end. Sometimes we'd sit 2 on my end for more balance.

Everyone had a sliding board back then. Ours was pretty dreadful and we were constantly running in the house, begging for wax paper to give us an edge on the downhill runs. Do you think kids still do that? Or are all the new playgrounds equipped with plastic slides? Another loss.

I was killer at jump rope, wearing my Keds and dresses. I can remember pedal pushers but not long pants. Just dresses and jumpers (my favorite was denim, sleeveless, with white buttons running from the neckline to the hemline, cinched at the waist with a rope belt).

Every year we'd vacation in Norfolk VA with a great aunt & uncle and their 4 kids. They lived on a culdesac with a lake in the backyard, complete with a brick patio at the water's edge. I can still see the picture window overlooking that water; I'd never seen one before and I was awestruck. Just up the street was the neighborhood park with one of these spinning rides. We'd climb on and one of the boys would run alongside, round and round to get us going, and then jump on with us. I especially loved to lay down with my hair dragging in the dirt and we spun around day after day. I must have had some nasty hair but I don't remember that part at all; just the fun and all the laughter.

March is right around the corner which makes me think of kites. We got a new one every year, always paper with real wooden sticks. Mother would give us old clothes we'd outgrown so we could tear the strips of fabric to tie on the tail of the kite. I'd love to tell you we flew kites successfully, but even my memory's not that bad. We'd go up to Wesley United Methodist on Whitaker Mill Road to fly them because it gave us room to run without overhead power lines. Going to Grandma's was even better because you could run forever in the fields. I remember that running, with my kite bumping along in the dirt behind me. Rare was the day that I got enough wind to get it up and keep it up, but every year I'd get my new kite and give it my all like everybody else. It's just what we did.

Hop scotch was another favorite pasttime. Our driveway wasn't paved so we drew them with chalk in the street in front of our house. The little girls next door to me now draw them out in the culdesac with multicolored chalks that wash away after a rain, to be replaced on another warm sunny morning.

Hula Hoops were another divine invention. I was such a skinny kid with no hips but I could work that thing down to my knees and right back up under my arms. We had plastic ones but Uncle Dee had metal hoops, so on Sunday visits I'd ask a grownup to take them down off the nail on the side of the covered porch so I could play with them, 2 at a time. (Maybe I wouldn't be so chunky today if I still owned a hula hoop!)

Another favorite then and now is blowing bubbles. I've got a huge bottle of it right now under the sink in my studio, with a long double-ended wand. I hated the sticky fingers but loved to blow bubbles. Or better yet, to dip the wand in the bottle and then pull it through the air to create a string of bubbles. These days I use it to make bubble paper, adding ink to the water, but maybe it's time to take it out on the deck and see what the puppies think of chasing bubbles.

Those little girls next door have a swing set in the backyard, though it's nothing like the metal one I grew up with, yet a swing's a swing, right? I used to take my son to the park and while he'd play on the monkey bars, I'd play on the swings. Simple pleasures for simple minds.

Tomorrow I'm determined to hit the road at oh-dark-thirty for my trek to the new IKEA store in Charlotte. That's my idea of fun these days. It's calling my name so loudly as to be a distraction. But Sunday may find me blowing bubbles or swinging with a Sugar Daddy in my hand and a smile on my face.
Here's hoping you find joy in the simple things. Drive to the park and look for a sliding board or a swing set. Ignore the stares of the kids. Show them how it's done. On your next drive, venture outside the city limits and stop at an old country store. I bet you can find BB Bats if you look really hard. And I'm thinking WalMart will have a little fishbowl and some goldfish. What do you think?

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