What We Did for Fun
Ten minutes ago, my daughter and I were sitting in the same room together, she on the couch and me on the recliner totally ignoring one another. She was on her laptop and ipod or ipad or whatever the hell they call those things (I call them ipoots) and I was on my computer engrossed in the blogging world that I so easily fall into from time to time. It was just another normal night in the twenty-first century, just a family with enough technology in their hands to live separate from one another – while sitting less than six feet apart.
Then, the most amazing thing happened. I heard this click-clack-click and looked up to see my daughter (gasp) not only her electronic diversions, but piddling away on a chalkboard. She was making up words, engrossed in some game that was all of her own doing. It had nothing to do with the internet or even television. It was something in the writing world we like to call imagination. She was using her imagination to entertain herself.
It reminded me of a childhood that seems not too far away, yet a thousand light years from where I am now. I grew up in a world where electronic devices did not dominate your life, because electronic devices could not dominate your life. My pre-teen and early teen days took place in the days when most of the televisions in my community were still black and white, there was no cable television (only three channels), and, even though eight track tapes and, later, cassette tapes, record players still dominated living rooms. It was a good time to be a kid, but only under two conditions; you could either be satisfied doing very little (watching television, listening to radio) or you had some sort of imagination. In the world I grew up in, imagination was paramount to a healthy childhood. There was so little to do, eventually you had to turn to yourself for entertainment or else, you’d go mad.
Looking at my daughter pounding away on that chalkboard got me to thinking of some of the things that I did as a kid to keep entertained. The first, of course, was playacting, as any child does. Before I turned seven, I was Batman, Superman, Tarzan, Bruce Lee, the Lone Ranger, Daniel Boone and Mingo. Later, I was also John Robinson from Lost in Space. I as grew older and fell in love with writing, I look back and find that I never really quit playacting. I just started making up my own plays in the form of short stories.
Aside from making up characters, either in the form of playacting or writing, I was also a voracious reader. I ate books like some people eat candy. Living in the country with the nearest neighbor a mile away and the nearest friend, three miles away, there were many times when I was alone with my books and my thoughts. The Hardy Boys, The Three Detectives (an Alfred Hitchcock invention), and The Lone Ranger were some of my early favorites. By the time I was eleven, Star Wars was a big deal and I sank myself into everyone of those I could get my hands on (there was an entire series of books about Han Solo).
Reading and writing weren’t the only things I did. I made up card games that I played by myself. I threw darts like they were going out of style. I threw the centers (around the bulls eye) out of more dartboards than I care to remember. At one point, after an episode on Happy Days where there was a coin-snatching contest, I was stacking pennies on my forearm for hours at a time (Thirty without a drop was my personal best. Not bad for eleven).
Of course, it was not always just me that was left alone to make up games. I had a cousin that I practically grew up with and we spent a lot of time engineering games both inside the house and out. Outside was easy. All we needed was a football and we were suddenly Bob Griese and Paul Warfield (huge Dolphins fans). We rode our bikes ten thousand miles before we were in the third grade. We swung from grapevines, just like Tarzan.
Inside, it became a little more difficult, but we managed. We played paper football. We played cards, real games this time. We played football against one another on our knees in my grandmother’s bedroom floor. We fashioned a rim, taped it to the top of a doorway, and played nerf basketball. We threw darts.
There were some things we had, games that were bought for us that bordered on electronic (electric football and…oh, that’s it), but mostly what we had was ourselves to keep us entertained. As I said, especially growing up in the country, outside was easy. I had literally hundreds of acres I was free to run on. I could leave the house and go through a mile or more of pasture and woods without seeing another person. But get stuck inside on a rainy day during the week with three channel to choose from (games shows till noon, local noon time shows till one, and then soap operas the rest of the afternoon) and having fun was something you definitely had to put some thought into.
Did you grow up in the pre-electronic age? What did you do for fun when you had to entertain yourself?