The best thing I had growing up was……nothing! Of course, dummy me thought that I was the most deprived kid on earth. You don’t count family, health, scores of playmates and/or the safety of the surroundings when you are six.
Mostly you wished you had a brand new baseball, shiny white with no broken stitches and no black electrician tape holding it together. Or shucks, a Roy Rodgers’ gun and holster set with real caps would have been nice. I sent in the required labels from the Ovaltine boxes TWICE but I never did receive my Captain Midnight decoder ring. You can see quickly how disadvantaged I was!
A new Western Flyer would have made me the richest kid north of Cherry Street but Santa apparently couldn’t get it down the chimney.
We had to go out in the back yard and make up things to do. I won the 1956 Olympics 100 yard dash the summer I turned nine. I also set the world record in the discus throw. I waded ashore at Guadalcanal and was the first guy off the boat at Omaha Beach. I hit fifty homeruns in the World Series and pulled Jane out of the quicksand a hundred times while Tarzan was off chasing ivory hunters.
We learned to walk on our hands, juggle rocks and keep our balance while running full speed down a single railroad track because we didn’t have nothing else to do. We spent every day in the summer outside because we had no air conditioner. We walked, or ran, to town because Dad wasn’t big on “joy riding”. We cut our own firewood, worked like crazy in that little garden out back Mom was so proud of and wrestled each other for entertainment. Our good health was more of a byproduct of living than any doctoring or total gym machines.
And we really didn’t complain much. Oh, we might kick about being bored or it would be nice to have a giant Erector Set but then Leon would throw a rope around my neck or Dave would attack me from behind….. We didn’t dwell on what we didn’t have, we were too busy defending life and limb!
In some twisted, off handed sort of way, having very little made you truly appreciate everything that did come your way. I still remember that first pair of real baseball cleats. You can’t believe how good that new leather smelled…… And I full well realized that someone in our house had sacrificed for me to have them! Listen, we would celebrate if Mom brought home a Hostess Twinkie or Baby Ruth for us.
You may think simple or plain, or maybe stupid. But I believe it prepared us for life like nothing else could have done. My two brothers would fight you if you messed up their hair. They would fight you if you stuck out your tongue at them. They would fight you if you called them a sissy. Sometimes they would fight you if you were just standing there. But they would not fight you over “things”. Neither of them had a selfish bone in their body. Leon would give you the shirt off his back. AND HE DID! It was usually about two years before I could grow into it…..
We appreciated a simple trip to town. I loved the Ben Franklin Store with all the toys and bins of candy. You could explore all day through the two hardware stores “just off the square”. Robert Hall would greet you with a smile and a laugh at the Western Auto even if you were “just looking”. We played cops and robbers in the alley behind the U’Tote’Em Grocery Store. We climbed the steps in front of the McKenzie Banner and “spied” on the whole town. And we never took for granted the fifteen cents Dad would give us to go to the Saturday matinees at the Park Theatre.
We were thankful that every vacant lot, side yard and less traveled street was at our disposal. A kick-the-can game could break out in a heartbeat. If no one was looking you could ping a few rocks off the L&N rail cars as the 2:15 to Memphis came high balling past. We could make a game out of rolling a used-up tire down a steep hill.
Most every kid in town shared our “hard” times. And no matter the circumstances, we never thought poor. And we weren’t! We didn’t have any money but we were keeping score by who could hold their breath the longest down at Roe Alexander’s Twin Pools; who could run the fastest on the elementary play ground; who could spit nearest the crack on the sidewalk outside Gene’s Barber Shop; or who could skip a rock the most times across Carroll Lake.
That “deprived” thing is mostly in the eye of the beholder.
I am so thankful today that we weren’t held back by copious amounts of money and “trinkets”. Can you imagine being saddled with the responsibility of a cell phone, ipad or any other wi fi fed electronic device. Even as youngsters, we didn’t need a GPS to tell us we were standing in front of the Golden Rule or Covington’s Drugstore. And I bet it is hard to hit a home run in the World Series while you are downloading the latest Justin Bieber warble.
Nothing doesn’t sound like a lot…….until you add it all up!