We were all free range kids during World War II. Well, maybe not the rich, but most ordinary folks. Consider my circumstances. We lived on a rural road outside of Schenectady, New York. We had one car, which my father drove to work. My mother couldn’t have driven me anyplace if whe wanted to.
There were no after school sports, shopping sprees at the mall, voice or drama lessons. There were no television sets, video games, home exercise equipment, computers, the Internet, or mobile telephones. We had one radio in the house. We fought on Saturday afternoons over the opera versus the Lone Ranger. For the most part, the radio was controlled by my father.
Most essentials came to us. Dairy trucks brought eggs, butter and milk (although we got our dairy next door from a Norweigan farm couple). Doctors made house calls. Knife sharpeners, pot menders, and truck farmers with fresh grown vegetables drove by once a week. Door to door salesmen peddled a wide range of household goods.
My mother told me that playing outside built character and endurance. She started pushing me out when I was a toddler, dressed for inclement weather in boots and rubberized pants with a coat and hat when it was raining or galoshes and a snow-suite in winter.
I stayed near the front porch, the front yard, the corner garden, but as I grew older I ranged further and explored the uknown until it was familar. The back yard sloped down to a creek ten feet below in a steep ravine, a place to dam up water and chase tad poles. An old barn with a decrepid loft, off limits of course, was a favorite. The apple orchard across the road.
When I got a bicycle at eight my world quickly expanded. Rosendale Road and the dirt lanes off it led to open fields, woods and sand dunes, a smelly bog with pussy willows and huge frogs, railroad tracks with freight trains that beckoned to unknown places and crushed pennies flat on the tracks.
It was a life with no adult supervision when I was away from home, hours at a time. I learned to fall back on my own resources when I was hurt or bored. I learned to avoid the hobos, talk my way out of being trapped in a culvert. I didn’t have many playmates. My best friends were the cildren of a hardscrabble family about a mile down the road, just past the Grange.
The afternoon Katyhy pulled up her dress to show me how girls were different from boys is still rivited in my mind. She was standing in front of a wood burning stove, bathed in light streaming through the broken screen door, barefoot on curling linoleum speckled with chicken poop. The two kids were about my age. Randy wore blue overalls without a shirt in the summer and Kathy wore a cotton, polka dot dress with nothing underneath. We all became best friends.
We played hard, cowboys and indians or Nazis and resistance fighters. Randy and Kathy were happy to be the Nazis. they had so little chance of being authorities, I suppose. It was my job to out maneuver, out run, and out fight them to achieve some goal. One game sent me home with my first serious concussion and a bloody nose.