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Commentary: Miss those summer days so long ago

I hate to be the "When I was a kid" guy, but here I go.

When I was a kid… we played outside all summer with little supervision, made our own fun and we ran in neighborhood packs.

Driving around towns these days I don’t see the same activity I recall as a kid. The days of vacant lot pick-up football and baseball games, the hallmark of my youth, are gone.

Most of us look back fondly at the things we did in the good old days, each generation snubbing their nose a little at the next. The generation before is tougher and did more with less.

I was a town kid who grew up without lakes. Lake life is different with a different set of rules. We had public swimming pools where we spent summer days without sunscreen. We were pre-teen punk kids who ran where we weren’t supposed to run and tested the resolve of high school lifeguards, ignoring multiple warnings.

We had a high-dive. It was a time before over-regulation and liability concerns all but killed public swimming pools. The high dive was dangerous, but a rite of passage.

The cool older kids did back flips, front flips and bottom-bouncers. I tried a high dive cannonball once. I didn’t tuck my knees tight enough and for the rest of the day talked in a little higher pitch than what was normal for a 10-year-old boy.

I have three brothers and my parents found the money for season passes to the public pools. Getting us out of the house was by design, I suspect.

After a day of swimming we walked with a belly-full of chlorinated water to the Dairy Queen for a 25-cent Dilly Bar, followed by a 25-cent strawberry soda pop at the local pit stop on the journey home.

Later in the day, the neighborhood boys met up at the church yard to play football or baseball. Rough play that oftentimes led to a scrap. A bloody nose or two and hurt pride were common, but we were all still friends the next day.

Parents didn’t intervene, and there were no peer conflict mediators wearing orange vests stepping in to resolve issues. We were all conflict mediators. If someone got beat up, you helped him to his feet and continued the game.

Scrapes, bloody knees, dirty snot noses, sprained ankles, maybe a broken arm here and there. Those were our afternoons; no watches, we just knew to make it home for supper. If we were late dad whistled from the front porch and it was time to get home.

We were shirtless, barefoot and dirty all summer.

We rode our bicycles to get to where we were going; or just to kill time. Our bikes were often pieced together with parts from other bikes. We had to save up money from odd jobs to buy a new inner tube.

Back to the church yard in the evening for classic games like "Kick the Can", full contact "Tag", or we made up our own games which were usually some variation of gang-tackling.

Someone always got hurt but we all survived.

Neighborhoods were neighborhoods, each with its own legends. We were town kids at the edge of development. We ventured to unexplored areas, places I wouldn’t let my kids go to today; acres of trees with dirt trails spider webbing throughout. Dare not enter the urban forest alone or you’ll get caught by the creepy guy who hangs out in the "Hippie Hole."

As we grew older into the teen years we got bold and innovative with all the free time that comes from living a life void of smart phones and game systems.

We didn’t bargain with our parents for "screen time." We watched TV on a television set with three channels and a broken knob. We turned the channel with pliers and smacked the side for better reception. Dad let us know when  our "screen time" was up.

"Turn off the damn TV and get outside," was the only motivation we needed. There was no bargaining.

We caused trouble and found mischief at night. I learned early on cops have spotlights on their cars.

I miss those summers. Time goes by too quickly.

Here’s to summers of scraped knees, dirty elbows, bloody knuckles, high dives and Kool-Aid mustaches.