Growing up I always thought we were rich. I didn’t know what rich was, exactly, but I never wanted anything I didn’t have. I didn’t want much, that’s for sure. Paper, crayons and books. Food and my room were just givens. You don’t think about things you’ve never been without. I don’t think anyone in our neighborhood was rich but I never thought about it until someone asked me if we were rich or poor. I said we were rich immediately. I found out later that we weren’t rich at all. Not in the least but I grew up never knowing that.
When I was a kid we didn’t ask for things. I think there’s something to be said for that. We were all clean, healthy kids playing baseball, using sewer covers for bases, IN THE STREET, yelling at cars for interrupting our game (adults were used to that and probably had done it themselves). No one was hungry, not that I knew of, but then I wouldn’t know about that, would I. I never once thought of what I had or didn’t have. None of us did. We just lived outside and had fun. If we wanted something we found it, made it, or looked for someone who already had whatever it was we were looking for. If we didn’t get what we wanted, we just turned our attention to something else. No one asked their parents for anything. EVER.
Anyway, my neighborhood was obviously filled with other middle class, kids and families that I thought were wealthy in every way. Most kids had dogs, roller skates and bikes and what else was there? Who could possibly want more than that? I didn’t have a dog and I didn’t get skates, or a bike, as fast as everyone else but Snooky, my best friend in the entire world, was generous and always let me have a turn using her things. I think my mother was terrified that I would get killed on those things but when she saw me on them anyway, she bought me skates and a gorgeous blue bike, with…a basket…and a carrier over the back fender.
Life was a lot more equal and peaceful then. We played in alleys, on the street, in the park (Chicago is full of neighborhood parks), on back porches and in narrow gangways. We went outside empty handed, after breakfast, and didn’t come home until dinner at six, and we were never bored for a second. We stayed out until the street lights went on and then everyone had to go home, unless we sat on the front porch for a little while longer.
No organized games, rituals, schedules, exhaustion, parents, or adults watching us. We literally grew up by ourselves, without any supervision, on the streets of the city and I wouldn’t change that for anything in the entire world. We were free...completely and wonderfully free. We created our days and nights out of our own imaginations. We climbed, built, jumped off of things and just had a blast…and no one ever knew what we were doing, but us. That’s real living. That’s real learning. That’s hands on growing into your own life. That’s learning real lessons, not being TOLD by an adult what the lessons are.
Life was good and we were tan, agile, smart, clever and on our own. I’m so very, very happy that I had that kind of childhood. We never came in out of the rain…we danced between the drops, instead.