It was quiet in the newsroom the Monday after Christmas. We older employees got to talking about what it was like growing up in the 1960s.

It was a lot different than it is today.

We walked to and from our friends’ houses in the dark, late at night, never worrying someone might kidnap or kill us.

Our parents left us in the car with the doors unlocked when they went into a store. The thought that someone could steal us was never on their radar.

We didn’t lock our house doors at night and didn’t worry about having to protect ourselves with guns. If we did have any guns, they were for hunting.

Kids didn’t go to school worrying about getting shot. The drills we did were for a potential nuclear bomb attack. We were told to duck under our desks and put our heads down. At the time, I didn’t really understand what it all meant, but dutifully followed instructions.

In the summer, our daily itinerary wasn’t planned unless it was for a holiday or family road trip. We’d get up in the morning and head out the door to whatever adventures we could dream up: roaming the woods and fields, building tree houses, swimming, fishing, playing baseball.

We didn’t watch television during the day and there were no cellphones or computers. We had a party line telephone. If we picked up the receiver to make a call, sometimes neighbors would be talking and we had to hang up and wait until they were done.

We read the newspaper, comic books, novels and whatever else we could find around the house, including my mother’s nursing books which she stored in her bedroom closet. When she was working and we were bored, we’d retrieve those books and scare ourselves out of our wits looking at all the pictures of skin diseases, deformities and other maladies.

We went to the movie theater infrequently. It was a thrill to see “Gone With the Wind” and “The Sound of Music” at the Strand Theater in Skowhegan. Seeing a film was a special treat, not a regular activity.

We collected beer and soda bottles people tossed in the ditch, hauled them to the penny candy store, turned them in and bought fistfuls of bubble gum, hot balls, Turkish taffy, Squirrel Nuts, licorice and root beer barrels stuffed into little brown paper bags.

Sam, our black collie-Newfoundland-mix dog, was our constant companion. We dressed him in a black and orange T-shirt and tied ribbons around his tail to attend football games. He was our team mascot. He wandered all over Skowhegan and everyone knew him.

When the town adopted a leash law, he was delivered to our house in the back seat of a cruiser more than once before he figured out the drill and fled when he saw a police car.

We had a “Tarzan” swing on our property that my brother, Matt, rigged up by tying a thick rope to the middle of a huge tree branch that arched out over a gully. He tied a large knot at the other end of the rope and threw it up to the crotch of the tree.

One by one, we’d climb to the crotch, sit on the rope knot, hold on for dear life and jump out into the gully, swinging back and forth until the rope eventually stopped. Motorists would stop to watch. Sometimes they’d get out of their cars and try the swing themselves.

“I’d give $300 to have that thing in my back yard,” one man said.

My brothers worked on cars in our yard. We had a large field that they drove them around in, over and over, creating a dirt track in the grass. It’s a wonder we didn’t get killed racing those cars, which we managed to tip over, often purposefully.

Speaking of the woods, we built lean-tos with fir branches there, chewed spruce gum and checkerberry leaves, lay down on the moss to sip clear water from streams, and climbed birch trees, much like the boy in Robert Frost’s poem “Birches.” It was exhilarating to ride the tree top to the ground and, escaping as fast as we could, watch it snap back up.

We trekked through the woods to Wesserunsett Stream, stepping carefully along the shore to dig the slippery, wet clay out of the bank, dump it in a bucket and drag it home to sculpt figures.

We rode bikes and horses, shoveled manure for the old man who owned ponies, picked wild raspberries and rhubarb and ate vegetables raw right out of the garden.

In the winter, we dug tunnels under the snow, sailed down the neighborhood hill on sleds and toboggans, skated on ponds and skied at Eaton Mountain, even at night with the trail lights blazing.

It was a different world, all right.

And wouldn’t it be nice to go back there, just for a day.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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