Commentary: Summer wasted on the young
July 18, 2008
It's hard to believe that figuring out how to fill a summer could ever be a problem.
Look around you. There is so much to do you could never get to it in a dozen summers. It's just a matter of prying your way outside and doing it.
To borrow a cliche, youth is wasted on the young.
That children need to be guided to activities might be the greatest failing we - the parents - have foisted upon them. Doesn't anyone just play anymore'
I look back on the summers of my memory and I can remember endless activity, most of it outdoors. I don't remember much of it having been planned by anyone but me and my buddies.
We played a lot of pick-up sports back then. Most other kids did, too. It was hard to find any sort of baseball field that didn't have a group of young players throwing a ball around. I don't mean organized leagues, with bleachers full of yelling parents, I mean a group of guys - and girls, too - riding their bikes over to the school and picking sides. We figured out ways to play games with four or five on a side (one outfielder - the ball has to be in left field to be considered fair, and the on-deck batter plays catcher for the other team).
We played all sorts of variations (no walks, two strikes and you're out, and on and on). The important thing was that the games went on for hours.
I lived at the edge of town, with miles of fields and woods within reach. We spent endless time roaming what seemed like our own wilderness. We climbed trees to examine the eggs in birds' nests. We took target practice with sling shots firing rocks at hornets' nests - prepared to sprint to safety if we got lucky.
We built "forts" for days (usually more like foxholes, but imagination filled in the necessary battlements), then attacked those fortifications in long wars, armed with pine cones and cap guns.
We rode bikes just to feel the wind in our faces - often with a baseball card clothes-pinned to the frame so it flapped on the spokes and made a great sound as we accelerated down the street.
Walking to the store to buy candy was always a favorite pastime, but that took money. Earning a little ready cash was a frequent obsession.
We had the classic lemonade stands, of course, but there was too little adventure in that. It was more fun to take an empty coffee can to the woods to pick blackberries. We'd return to the neighborhood eventually with a can full of ripe berries, arms scratched from the thorns and hands stained purple (and lips, too; you had to sample your crop). We would run door-to-door to offer our pickings to whomever was at home; a quart of fresh, warm, aromatic heaven for a handful of loose change.
There was one great summer when a university student told my dad he would pay me and my big brother for snakes: 25 cents a foot. That might have been the best vacation ever. We spent days poking through the underbrush looking for slithering reptiles.
I benefited from tolerant parents. Inevitably, some of our captures escaped in the house. I learned a shoe box wasn't the most secure cage for a lively snake intent on freedom. I will never forget lying on the floor in the living room to read a book, only to spot a garter snake staring back at me from under an easy chair. Then there is the image of my dad trying to coax an angry and hissing gopher snake out from behind the oil tank in the garage ...
Did any of you ever spend a hot afternoon catching grasshoppers in a field' Remember the acrid smell and the brown stain of their "tobacco juice" on your hands'
Of course there are a lot of wonderful, safe, well organized and fun activities, both on post and off available for children now. They are often educational, they ease parental worries and they fill the time until school starts again.
But I wonder what sort of memories today's children will have when they look back in 40 or 50 years. Youth is wasted on the young - and maybe it's our fault.
David W. Kuhns Sr. is editor of Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian