My sister and me at the Grand Canyon, 1971
When I was a boy, I was into yo-yos and bike rides, not Xbox and Nintendo DS.
Duncan yo-yos were all the rage for a while, I remember. I became pretty good at making my Butterfly yo-yo loop and walk the dog and do the sleeper.
My little sister, Jenny, and I used to fill a canteen with water and make bologna sandwiches and head out on our Schwinn bikes with the banana seats from our house in Royal Oak to Madison Heights and Troy and Berkley and Ferndale and Huntington Woods and even Warren. We would leave in the morning and not return until in mid-afternoon, our muscles twitching from the activity, our arms and noses sunburned.
One time we tied a rope ladder to a branch of the tree adjacent to our driveway, between our house and the neighbor’s, and used it to climb up the tree then out onto the neighbor’s roof which I remember was really scary because there was the little matter of getting back down. Another time we put on a talent show for the neighborhood kids in that same driveway, but my dad came home early, saw me dancing in a dress, and killed my entertainment career right then and there.
My mom took me to the Boy’s Club of Royal Oak a few times – it was just for boys back then – and I played with slot cars and learned to use a lathe. She also paid for guitar lessons for a while and sent me to a YMCA camp in northern lower Michigan where I canoed down the Au Sable river and swam in Lake Van Ettan and put on another talent show – my dad was out of the picture by then – and charred marshmallows in a campfire and drank bug juice in a mess hall.
Later, after we moved into a condominium in Birmingham, Jenny and I got in trouble one time, real trouble, when some crotchety old neighbor found it necessary to call the police just because we were climbing up on the garage and jumping off onto people’s cars. That’s when I learned what “malicious destruction of property” means.
We didn’t have Wii or belong to the Michigan Athletic Club, with its pool and gyms and restaurant and exercise equipment and tennis courts. We didn’t worry about pedophiles and child killers – at least not until March of 1977, when 11-year-old Timmy King went missing in Birmingham and was found dead in a ditch in Livonia six days later – and we were fine with the fact that we were latchkey kids, even though we didn’t know the term, ‘cause it meant we could play for hours every day as long as we looked busy and well-behaved when our mom’s car pulled into the driveway.
I remember having a carefree childhood. I wanted more friends, as I recall, and I missed my dad, but I didn’t see a counselor every week. I wasn’t prescribed any medications and don’t remember suffering because there was no such thing as cable television or giant inflatable water slides or cell phones or DVDs. No one chauffeured me to school in inclement weather; I walked almost a mile down Woodward Avenue and almost a mile back home, every day. I remember enjoying having that time to myself.
I guess it’s true that less can be more.