"All the summer world was bright and fresh, and sun rose upon a tranquil world, and beamed down like a benediction.” Mark Twain
A popular cliché’ of recent years has been that “it takes a village to raise a child.” I’m not sure if our neighborhood would qualify as a village by itself, but I am comfortable that for the most part it managed the task that a village might be assigned.
The young people I grew around and with were familiar with not just the exterior, but also the “inside” of all thirty-seven homes in our neighborhood world. If we had not spent the night or enjoyed full meal at the table, we had at least shared a light roll or biscuit, or maybe a mullet roe or boiled egg, that had been prepared in the kitchen.
Our playgrounds were the fenced-in yards, along with the spaces around and in between them. Unless we were at the landing or in the sound, we were always within earshot of some grown-ups, as they were with us. Most of the grown-ups, especially the women, assumed at least some parental authority over making sure that we children “behaved.” And even those that didn’t would “tell our mamas” if they thought we had said or done something that we shouldn’t. “Do you want me to tell you Mama …,” was a frequent reminder that we always being watched.
A frequent refrain heard whenever it seemed to an adult that we children were not getting along as we should, or maybe even were just a little too loud or aggressive, was to “play pretty!” We came to accept that “play pretty” meant that we had to change what we were doing, even if it was not immediately evident as to what or how.
In the days before air conditioning, doors and windows were always open so that merely by walking by a home you might hear what was being said, or even smell what was being cooked. But usually, a little before the time for any meal, most children were signaled to head for home by the sound of their mother “hollering” to let them know that dinner or supper was ready. Thinking back, it seems remarkable how far and clear a female voice could ring and echo in our neighborhood. Each mother had a distinctive sound and cadence. Like fledgling birds, we grew to recognize and respond to the pitch and tone of the sounding voice even more than to the words or instructions that were hollered.
In summer months most of the children, boys and girls alike, would spend the largest portion of a day at the landing and in the sound. With almost no parental supervision we took care of each other to the extent that the most serious injuries I can recall were feet cut on oyster shells or the remains of a broken bottle or jar. Besides being a respite from the summer heat and humidity, playing on the shore and in the sound was such strenuous exercise that we children were all “fit a fiddle.”
|Danky's (Willis) Dock, called David's (Yeomans) Dock in my time.|
But even when the weather was not just right for swimming there was always something to do. Try as I may, I cannot recall ever hearing or using the word “bored” to describe anything about life as a child on the Island. In fact, I may have been in high school before I came to understand that there was a homonym for the usual word that made that sound; “board,” you know, then one that I could use interchangeably with “plank.”
The butt end of those planks often became toy boats that we pulled along the shore. Tin cans were filled with sand and dragged by a string along the roadway. Slits of rubber from worn-out tire tubing became “rubber bullets” that were shot from wooden pistols rigged with a clothespin trigger. Smaller pieces of that same rubber were fashioned into slingshots that propelled chaney berry bullets almost as fast as the real thing. Slithers of cloth torn from old clothing were hung as tails on kites that could stream wildly in the southwest breezes that blew constantly on summer afternoons. In short, almost anything that was no longer of any practical use could be made into a toy of some sort for and by us children.
There were no curfews or schedules. It seemed that the setting sun was the primary thing that signaled an end to our daily routines. Sometimes, that alone was insufficient to send us home. But even when the approaching darkness failed to end our games, sooner or later there would begin a chorus of voices calling us home for the evening. Then, early the next morning soon after roosters began to crow and hens started to cackle, the daily routine of our summer would begin again; and not a minute too soon.
Note: Just as a note of interest, using 1962 as a benchmark, and my own memory as a reference, I have tried to estimate the number of children that were of teenage years or younger and who lived in the 37 houses that I have circled into our neighborhood. My count was 43, although it I may have been off by a few who were already past their teens or who had not yet made their presence felt.
(Next: "The Grownups")