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Playing Outside ’til the Stars Filled the Skies

Playing Outside ’til the Stars Filled the Skies
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As I witness our growing childhood obesity epidemic, I remember that many children were not overweight when I was growing up. We didn’t have as many processed and supersized foods, or computers to sit in front of for hours on end. But one thing my generation did master was playing outside till the stars filled the skies.

Yesterday a child came out to wonder, caught a dragonfly inside a jar…

After dinner, we would go back outside, especially in the warmer months, to run around and play games with the neighborhood kids, but always with an early curfew. Red Rover, Hide and Seek, Chinese Jump Rope, Double Dutch, Tag and Freeze kept us amused for hours.  I grew up in a small coal-mining town in PA and we would literally yell our friends’ names in front of their houses when we wanted them to come out to play – a far cry from the text messaging of today. Now in hindsight, I wonder why we didn’t just ring their front doorbells.

In the summer, my sister and I joined our neighborhood friends to build tents in our backyards using clothespins to hang our blankets, which were draped over the clotheslines. We then sat inside these tents for hours on end (I’m guessing it was 90 degrees inside them, which might explain why I’m not a fan of the heat anymore). Who knew we would be creating the original ‘sweat lodge’?!

On summer evenings, we would catch fireflies and rub the sparkles on our arms! Many of us had ‘ant farms’ too. And I remember how I was so fascinated with ladybugs and grasshoppers. Go figure.

‘And the seasons, they go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down…’

We lived near Knoebels, an awesome amusement park that I’m excited to say has been rated one of the best amusement parks for years. The admission was free and it had everything a kid could dream of – carousel, roller coaster, haunted house, endless fun rides, a huge swimming pool, penny arcade, train, Ferris wheel and bumper cars. My bumper car was always stuck in some corner with a bunch of other cars, as I frantically twisted the steering wheel hoping to set myself free.

The snacks at Knoebels were so good – caramel corn, cotton candy, soft ice cream, candy apples and french fries that we would douse with malt vinegar and ketchup and sprinkle with tons of salt.  The fries were served in paper cones and there were always crunchy little fries at the bottom that tasted the best.

‘Then the child moved ten times round the seasons, skated over ten clear frozen streams’

In the winter months, donned with our ice skates and bundled up, we would head down to an outdoor skating rink where we would skate for hours, stopping only to drink hot chocolate, which I remember to be piping hot! After big blizzards (and with the schools closed), we’d stay in our backyards, building igloos or grabbing our red sleds to slide down some hills. Unfortunately, as we got a little older, we were handed shovels to help dig out our buried car.

‘We’re captive on the carousel of time…’

The fun and games continued indoors once a year to celebrate my November birthday. Birthday parties back then were beloved, but very simple. A popular game played was “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” where we would stand blindfolded while one of the parents led us to the door where a poster of a donkey was held up by scotch tape. Many times, our blindfolds would get loosened and even with only one eye to see, we would still have trouble pinning the tail on correctly!

I was always allowed to invite around 10 girlfriends to my birthday parties, and they would gather on my rust-colored couch in the living room and watch me open my presents, one-by-one. Everyone always had on pretty dresses, with tights or knee socks and patent leather shoes or boots. There was always a lot of giggling too.

jill birthdayparty1970

After all the presents were unwrapped, we moved to the dining room table where the real fun began. There was always a huge vanilla cake with pretty decorated icing and everyone got a serving of the tri-flavored ice cream (Neapolitan – a square of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream). Pints of vanilla and chocolate milk, cute matching plates, hats, napkins and cups decorated the table along with little baskets of candy at each place setting. Crepe paper  (usually pink) and balloons were strewn about the room for ‘decorations’.  Often times, my friends’ mothers and my older relatives would stay to help serve refreshments at the party.

‘Take your time, it won’t be long now, till you drag your feet to slow the circles down’

Life seems to be moving by so much more quickly the older I get. When I was young, the hours and days playing with my neighborhood friends seemed endless. The things I wished for when I blew out my birthday candles then are far different from what I wish for now.  Do you remember playing with kids in your neighborhood and the fun birthday parties you attended as a child? We’d love to hear your stories and see your photos too! And remember …

‘… we can’t return we can only look behind from where we came and go round and round and round in the circle game’



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