Summer play has changed
In the 1940s, World War II occupied thoughts and affected everyday lives. Gas rationing kept folks close to home. Food rationing inspired creative recipes for the family table. Grandpa refused to eat that newfangled oleomargarine. It was white, with a yellow color packet to stir in so that it looked like butter (sort of). And then came Spam.
Kids, though, could tune out the news coming from overseas that parents seemed constantly to discuss and find something fun to do.
Even saving tinfoil gum wrappers for the war effort was a game of who could grow the biggest pile?
Los Angeles in August can be hot and humid. The possibility of getting infantile paralysis kept a lot of us from going to the Bimini “plunge” at the beach. A swirling sprinkler in the backyard had to do.
Air conditioning was unknown. The house was kept shuttered and curtained to keep cool air in and hot air out. In the evening, doors and windows were thrown open, screens in place to keep the bugs out, and the house soon was cool enough for sleeping. L.A.’s evening gift was a cool, ocean breeze blowing inland.
Our neighborhood was only a mile from Exposition Park and the natural history and art museums. We boasted a Carnegie Library in Vermont Square Park. The children’s department downstairs found plenty of business in the summer. We even talked about books we had read and acted out our favorite characters in impromptu plays.
There was no TV to keep us glued to the carpet. We longed to be outside when it was not too hot. Packing a sack lunch and grudging over to the museum was common. We walked through the rose garden, ate a peanut butter sandwich in the park and strolled through the cool, quiet museums. The mummies were a special attraction, mysterious and creepy. We held our breath near them in case there was a curse floating around.
All ages enjoyed the animal exhibits, behind glass, posed in their natural habitats. Some of the animals looked so alive, I was sure they could run away if they wanted to. The neighborhood kids spent hours in the place. We knew where the caretakers went to maintain the exhibits. Doors were hidden in wooden panels around the rooms.
A couple of the boys decided to give the visitors a thrill one day. Armed with a length of string, they sneaked through a door beside a display of gazelles. Tying string around the tail of one of the animals, they waited until an admiring group stood in front of the window. A couple of gentle tugs on the string produced some consternation and exclamations of disbelief. Children in the group squealed and laughed with delight. The boys managed to get out before anyone found them, later regaling the neighborhood girls with their escapade.
Summer evenings were spent playing street games like Kick the Can, Dodge Ball, Hide and Seek, whatever spent a lot of energy so that young bodies would sleep well through the warm nights. If it was unusually warm there was always a front porch game of Gin Rummy, War, Monopoly, jacks, even craps that one of the older boys learned from his uncle in the Navy. We played for Monopoly money, of course.
Someone had a Ping-Pong table in their driveway and there was always a spot of bare earth somewhere for a game of Cut the Pie or Mumbledy Peg. Pocket knives were not considered too dangerous for kids in those days. I still have mine.
If forced to stay indoors due to unbearable heat or a case of summer sniffles, we girls played school or made clothes for our favorite movie character paper dolls. Sometimes we cut characters from our comic books. They stuck to the nubby, upholstered furniture and we made up our own scenarios. Had I realized that my original “Superman” would be worth what it is today ” well, who knew?
Some of my grandchildren and their friends don’t need an extremely hot day to stay inside. They regularly plunk down in front of a TV screen to play video games, or at the computer, ears assailed by all manner of explosions. They rarely interact and have only spare communication.
There is little creativity and almost no physical activity except to walk down to the video store or, worse, to the refrigerator. Too stimulated or not tired enough, they’re awake half the night. Whatever happened to real summer play?
Gloria Thiele is a resident of Grass Valley.
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