We played outside all summer when I was a young kid. We'd wake up, eat some Cap'n Crunch, drink lots of milk, lace up the Keds and go out. I grew up in one of the baby boomer towns on the eastern edge of Queens where it seemed as if everyone on the north side of the Long Island Rail Road tracks went to St. Clare's and had several children per family. We didn't need to ring anyone's doorbell. Kids were out. Playing. Running. Biking. Making up stories and playing out parts. The family on the corner had twelve children so there were always three or four available for Red Rover or Mean Aunt Mary.
Mean Aunt Mary (though I didn't know it at the time) was a way that we kids played out the sometimes confusing dynamics of our large families. There was always the very nice, meek, loving Mother in our little dramas, but Mean Aunt Mary was a permanent resident of this make believe world. We played these parts out in the cellar stairwell in my backyard. Anne, one of the twelve siblings on the corner, and I took turns being the shrieking, punishing Mean Aunt Mary or the loving Mother who coddled us and gave us grape lollipops. We would have denied that either of these two characters had any resemblance to our own family members. It was all make believe. Psycho-therapy at no cost and at its purest.
Digging was another way to pass an hour or so in the summer. Just digging. Seemed as if every yard (except for the yards of the fussy parents) had a bit of space for the necessary act of playing in the mud (worms and all after it rained) or digging to China. No, we did not have child sized garden tools. We had worn down silver plate serving spoons that were a few generations old before they took on the role of spade in the less than perfect lawns of my little town.
Sometimes we'd drag a garden hose over to the plot and make a fine mess. Dirt under the fingernails, seats of shorts covered in grass stains and mud, shirts used in lieu of towels for the excess mess that our little hands created were all part of the sights and scents of childhood. My mother had enough good sense to know that this was important, or at least inevitable. Before supper, she'd just run the tub and soak a few of us with Ivory soap and washcloths till we were ready for some more fun, like catching lightning bugs in baby food jars when the sun went down.
We never did dig all the way to China, but we had fun trying.