A post on Facebook from a college friend about a trip home and seeing old neighborhood friends made me think about my childhood. She had mentioned how lucky she was to have grown up when she did where she did -- and I could not agree more for myself as well.
I grew up in a small Southern town. I think the population finally crept over 3000 when I was in high school.... everyone knew everyone (or at least everyone's "people") and subsequently everyone's business too. My mom grew up here, my dad did not but is from an area within an hour's drive. We lived in the same house that my great-aunt bought for my grandparents and my mom in the late 40s (it's a long story). My mom has lived here 65 years in the same spot, my dad now for 45.
When I grew up here, I knew every neighbor on this block, the one up from us, and the ones around the corners. It was a mix of ages -- quite a few elderly neighbors, and only a few young(er) families. There were only 7 or 8 of us "kids" in the neighborhood, but that didn't really matter ...... in those much different times, during the summers, we were sent out as soon as breakfast was over, and expected to come home at noon for lunch, and dinner/supper whenever it was ready and your mama yelled your name out the door as loudly as possible....... or if she knew exactly where you were, she'd just call. She had the library's number memorized (this was before speed dial, and way before a contacts list she could just scroll through).
This scene was by no means unique to my hometown -- good Lord, I daresay every town for many years had a similar scenario. However, there was one thing very unique to my hometown: we'd already been visited by the idea that children were not necessarily safe. In late 1973, a young lady who lived a block away (yes, one block from my house, on the other side of my church) was kidnapped in early December. They didn't find her body until after the New Year. It was a horrible crime, and even as young as I was, I got the vibe from the talk between my parents and grandmother that what happened with Tammy was a very bad thing. Quite honestly, I am surprised especially that we girls got to gallivant all over town. But we did.
I remember Tee and I walking from our houses (next door neighbors) to the Speedy Mart, about a block and a half away but across a very busy highway -- and right at the railroad tracks, the busiest intersection around. We'd walk to the store, dash very quickly across the highway and take out our hard-earned silver coins or saved pennies and head right for the candy aisle. Or if we were being really adventurous, we'd go the other way, out past the mill, and go the half-mile to Mr. Owen's store for Astro Pops. (Mmmmm. Astro Pops!) My mother thought nothing of me riding my bike over to Em's house, about a half-mile away in the other direction. My brother and I walked uptown at least once a week (if not more often) to the library. I can still remember the cool air rushing out from the Speedy Mart and the smell of the Icee machines churning out that yumminess.
My neighbors -- to them, it wasn't "oh that's THEIR kid" ..... I was THEIR kid too. My neighbor and "third grandma" Granny B would not have thought twice about popping my fanny if I did something inappropriate. But more often than not, all they had to do was say something to invoke guilt and shame in me -- something like "Do you want your mama to know how you're acting out?" Oh my Lord, another childhood saying (do people still use this one): "Act like you've been somewhere before!" meaning, "I do NOT want people thinking you were raised by wolves so straighten up and fly right -- or I'll pop your fanny!"
It was a great childhood. The sad part is that even if I did have kids, I would never be able to give them the awesome experiences I had. I don't know my neighbors -- not many of them anyway -- by name. There are just a few that have been here for more than 5 years. The houses are changing, mostly by additions and remodelings. It's not the same neighborhood. And I would never allow my child to go to any of the places I went to, at least not by himself or herself until he/she was a teen (and even then, on a case basis). Biking around town? Only with me along for the ride.
Never the same. Time marching on, and stomping all over my past.
But it was nice, those days gone by.