A Chilling Wind and Childhood

Wednesday was wet and chilly and glum, at a time of year that is expected to be dry and hot and cheery in our prairie city, and we took a moment in our melancholy to feel sorry for the local children.
Even in our middle age we can well remember how very irksome it was to be homebound by the weather on any day of summer vacation. Those precious days of freedom were meant to be spent on a bicycle, on rides into town or out to the remotest countryside, and the rain that would sometimes fall on the just and the unjust alike was a hated imprisonment. The driveway basketball games could still go on in soaked t-shirts and shorts, except during lightning strikes or hail, but otherwise it meant being confined to the indoors. There were great old movies from the golden black-and-white era of Hollywood showing on the “Dialing for Dollars” afternoon show, and an ample supply of books the folks had stocked, and a chess set that a younger brother also knew how to use, but even these sublime indoors entertainments could not compare to the glorious Huckleberry Finn feeling of being out in the open air and away from adult supervision.
Much good and little harm came to us during those early boyhood forays into the world, or at least that prairie portion of it that could be reached by bicycle and returned from by dinnertime, and we fret that the urchins we encounter on our walks around the neighborhood will never know the same benefits or learn from the same slight scrapes. All of the kids scurrying around the nearby parks and playgrounds always look to be excessively supervised, not only by their omnipresent parents but also by the regulators who have welded the old metal spaceship shut and made all the other public playthings so boringly safe, and in our middle-class and well-educated neighborhood they don’t have much scurrying around time left in between the violin lessons and crafts classes and the rest of highly structured schedules that middle-class and well-educated parents insist on these days. The slightly swarthier kids from the nearby barrio predominate in the local parks, and we’re pleased to note they’re at least allowed to frolic in the modern art fountain near the old zoo on the sultry days, but they also have parents watching over them with a wariness that teaches a fear of even a dry and hot and happy day in a picturesque park on the prairie.
At Reason Magazine we read of a mother who was jailed for her letting her nine-year-old daughter play alone at a nearby park, and we think of the times we climbed three stories up a rusty steel ladder to the top of an abandoned cement factory miles from home at about the same age, and we wonder what’s become of a country that won’t allow reasonable latitude to its children. If it is truly so unsafe for a nine-year-old to wander a few blocks to a public park by herself that her mother should be charged with dereliction of parental duty, the community should insist on a higher standard of public safety. Those afternoon black-and-white movies always featured an “Our Gang” short that documented how kids would wander their worlds even in the dangerous days of the Great Depression, and that ample supply of books on our parents’ shelves included Twain and Dickens and other authors who testified about the unfettered childhoods of even earlier generations, so we conclude this is a modern complaint.
More wet and chilly and glum weather is forecast for today, but we’re hopeful that we’ll eventually some of that global warming that the alarmists have been terrorizing the kids about. When it comes we hope some of the local youngsters will sneak off and do something that hasn’t been scheduled for them. We’ll try to do the same, and will revel in the memory of America’s lost freedoms.

— Bud Norman