We grew up on the beach. When you get right down to it, the place we grew up couldn’t have been better. We could sit on our front porch in the barber chairs our dad put there(they were awesome!) and watch the sunset over Lake Michigan every night. It was never the same and it never got old. I don’t remember any of us just passing it by. No matter how young. We lived across the street from a playground that took up an entire block. It had one house on one corner. The rest of the block was playground. It had two swing-sets, monkey bars, merry go round, sand box, 2 slides, parallel bars, baseball diamonds, basketball court, blooper-ball field(if you don’t know what blooper ball is, that’s another story altogether), horseshoe pits, shuffleboard courts, tether-ball poles, and last but certainly not least………the greenhouse.
Now the greenhouse was not the kind of greenhouse that you grow plants in. It was literally a green cinderblock building. It had a boys’ and a girls’ bathroom and a storage room. In the storage room was kept tons of board games, craft supplies, balls, gloves, cards, toys. All the things you would need to play at the park. Each summer after school let out the Parks and Recreation Department hired teenagers to staff the neighborhood parks. All the neighborhood kids came and “signed up”, then each day they came and played at the park. There was supervision by the hired teenager plus the older kids always looked after the younger ones. We signed out whatever we were going to use at the time and signed it back in when we were done. There was a break in the middle of the day for lunch, and at the end of the day we went home.
We didn’t tear up the toys and equipment because if we did, we didn’t have anything to play with for the rest of the summer. We didn’t fight with each other because all the kids in the neighborhood played there. If we fought we couldn’t come back and we would end up spending our summer alone. We took care of each other.
Maybe part of it was that the town we grew up in was a tourist town. It was a resort town with a marina. One of those places where back in the day the wealthy would come and spend the summer months in a resort hotel. Vast gingerbread buildings with Caribbean colors sitting on winding streets leading to the creamy sand beaches of Lake Michigan. Water so clear and clean you can stand up to your neck in it and see your toes on the bottom.
And cold! Good God a’mighty! I remember when we used to ride our bikes down to the pier in the morning to see what the water temperature was. They posted the water temp and the flag color on the side of a building near the pier every day. When the temp got up around 74 degrees, we were in heaven! We considered it warm as toast then. Can you imagine? That glacial water, freezing cold. We used to get so cold playing in it that we would have to come out and lay in the sun to warm up, just so we could get back in it again!
The flags told you if it was safe to swim. Green flag was safe, yellow flag meant be careful, and red flag meant there was an undertow. Even when we were very young we never even considered going into the water when the red flag was up. And if it was yellow flag, we just played at the park.
Anyway, strangers were part of our lives. There were always strangers around. So we had to be aware. Not frightened but attentive. Not because strangers were a bad thing, but because strangers were our business. They might need directions, or help or something. We answered questions all day long. Where is the park? Where is the river? Where is the beach? Where is the marina? Where is the pier? Where is the lighthouse?
I’ve never known anyone else in my life who could spend time with Amish kids, German kids, Mexican kids, Danish kids and American kids all at the same time in one afternoon and it be a normal thing. We did that every day of every summer. From the time we could talk, we could talk to anyone.
Within a few blocks of our park there was a Catholic Church, a Baptist Church, a Methodist Church, and a Presbyterian Church. We all played together at the park. We all sang each others songs to jump-rope. We asked each other questions about our religions. The Catholic Priest showed horror movies and Little Rascals for free in the basement of the church on Saturday mornings. I used to love to go to the Nunnery across the street from the Catholic Church and talk to the Sisters there. They always looked so pretty in their habits. We didn’t have anything like that at the Baptist Church.
And bless their hearts, no matter how many times I came knocking on their door asking them questions, they were never rude to me and they never threw me out. Not even the time that I asked Father Berger if his housekeeper was his wife. *giggle* It sure did cause an awful lot of agitation though!
I noticed that the sisters wore wedding bands once and asked them about it. And when they told me that they were married to Jesus, I asked them if I could see that big ol bed they had in there. I figured it must be awful big to hold all those sisters and Jesus too! After that, we talked to each other on the front porch.
At the end of the summer, all of the parks in town would get together at our park for what was called the Penny Carnival. It was an all day event. Each park had several booths that they set up and for a penny you could do whatever was done at each booth. You could go fishing, get a kiss(not very PC these days but back then it was still ok), you could do all kinds of fun things. My favorite was the jewelry booth. Not because I liked the jewelry booth itself, but because I liked going around to all the big houses along the beach road and asking all those nice old ladies if they had any old jewelry they would like to donate to the Penny Carnival. I did it every year. Now that I think about it, I believe that they would go out and buy costume jewelry and save it for me every year, because all those lonely old ladies would keep me at their houses for ages talking and having tea and cookies. I would primp and hold my pinkie up like I saw on TV. If I got a really nice piece of jewelry from one house, I would real quick like put it on before I got to the next house and pretend I was rich or something. I’m pretty sure it was quite entertaining for those ladies to see me coming every year. They probably couldn’t wait to see what was coming next!
The jewelry booth was a big hit every year at the Penny Carnival because it was pure profit. It cost them nothing for me to go out gathering it up, and we sold all of it every year! You could play games and win tickets that you could trade for prizes that were all set up on the bleachers. There were things to eat, games to play, prizes to get! It was all the good things rolled into one! Everyone in town came to the Penny Carnival. It was a combination of all the parks in town. It was HUGE! It was exciting! It was festive!
The only bad thing about it was……it meant the end of summer. It was the last thing we did before the greenhouses closed down.
All that was left was walking on the beach, watching the sunset, spending the last days of summer squeezing every last drop of fun we could out of them. Spinning on the porch in daddy’s barber chairs until midnight. Drinking our homemade sodas that momma got us from the Jewel Tea man. Laughing, picking on each other, singing songs to the eight track, making chalk Z’s on everything in sight with our ever so cool Zorro sword, riding our mini bike at night, climbing trees, jumping off the roof(don’t tell our mom about this one or she’ll whip us good!).
When we talk about these things with each other now, I sometimes think that it’s halfway done to convince ourselves that it was really true. Because it couldn’t possibly be that way now. Nowhere in this world could it be that way now. As Roland of Gilead said…..The world has moved on.