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Parents, Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

Ask a random parent this question today and you’ll probably hear:

 

“Of course! They’re up in their bedrooms playing video games!”

 

“Well, sure. They’re watching YouTube in the family room.”

 

“Do I know where my children are? They’re with me all the time! They play on travel teams. I wish there were times I didn’t know where they were.”

 

If you had asked a random parent this question back in the 60s or 70s, you probably would have heard:

 

“Heck no. I have no clue where the kids are. But I know they’ll be back home when they get hungry.”

 

“No idea. Probably up at Fledgling Field playing football or they might be at the swimming pool.”

 

“Hmmm, no. They left on their bikes this morning around 8:00 a.m. I expect them back at lunch time and then they’ll disappear again.”

 

I grew up in the late 60s in Luverne, Minnesota. It’s a small town off Interstate 90 in the southwest corner of the state, not too far from the South Dakota border. My dad was the pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church. We lived in the parsonage at 735 North Freeman Ave. A black rotary phone hung on the wall of the kitchen with a dangly, stretchy cord that reached into the next room. Our phone number was simply 3 – 4590.  The only time I recall using the phone was when I called my dad at the church office three blocks away to tell him it was time for lunch. There was a detached garage that sat in back of the house next to the alley that ran the entire length of our block. On the back side of the garage my dad had put up a basketball hoop that was 7’ off the ground.



Our neighborhood was filled with kids. Up and down North Freeman Ave. and on neighboring streets, there were always kids out and about. We had the run of the place. For the most part we were unsupervised, uninhibited by parental guidance and uninterested in anything else than making our own fun. The only rules we followed were the rules we made up. Think Lord of the Flies minus the killing.



Right behind our house and across the alley lived Jimmy and Billy Sweeny, a couple of scrawny, disheveled looking brothers. Their dad was our milkman. He would get up at 4:00 a.m. and deliver milk from the back of his white dairy truck. We had an insulated silver box that sat on the steps next to our side door. Every few days Milkman Sweeny would drop off a couple gallons of cold milk and pick up the empties. Jimmy and Billy didn’t participate much in our neighborhood shenanigans. Not sure why, but I do recall hearing a lot of yelling from their house. I think the milkman had a short fuse and kept his boys on a short lease.



Next door there were two little girls named Darla and DeNeal Day. They were too small to run with our group of roughnecks, but they played with my little sister Elisabeth. Dolls and what not.

 

Three houses up from us lived the Ahrendt boys...Mike, Greg, Tim and Tom. Tim was a year older than me and in my sister’s class. He was the defacto leader of most of what transpired up and down the Avenue. They had a big back yard and their dad had poured a concrete slab behind their garage that served as the neighborhood basketball court. We played all manner of games in the Ahrendt’s back yard. Touch football, which usually turned violent and ended in tears...whiffle ball, basketball,  Frisbee 500, Red Rover and the like.



Across the alley from the Ahrendts lived Mr. Tomlinson, a crotchety old guy. Mr. Tomlinson had a big garden surrounded by a white picket fence. He would spend all day out there in his blue striped overalls tending to his vegetables and flowers. When a football or basketball or whiffle ball or frisbee accidentally got kicked, thrown or batted over fence, he would confiscate them. A lot of our playground equipment went missing. One day, my sister Becky finally got up the nerve to go over to the Tomlinson’s to see if we could please get our balls back. She returned with a smile on her face carrying a basketball, a football, a couple of softballs and the wayward frisbee. “He’s actually very nice,” she said as she dumped everything at our feet.

 

Further up the street were the Watts kids, Valerie and Gregg. Valerie was in the same grade as my older sister, Becky. They were both tomboys at that stage of life and would play with the boys whenever possible. When Becky was in 6th grade, she had a big crush on Tim Ahrendt. As far as I could tell, the affection was never reciprocated, nor did I care. But, to her credit, she could play softball with the best of the boys and was as fast as any kid in the neighborhood.

 

Across the street from us lived the Harrelsons. They had three or four kids, but only Greg and Bruce played with the neighborhood gang. Bruce was a crazy looking little nipper due to an accident in their kitchen. When he was three years old, he had reached up on the stove and pulled a pan of hot grease down on top of himself. It had burned his scalp leaving him half bald with scars on his face and neck. He was a bit of a wild child, which turned out good for some things. If a ball or frisbee ever got stuck up in a tree his brother would say, “Hey, Brucey, climb up and get that!” Without a second thought, he would shimmy up as high as necessary to retrieve whatever had been stuck.



Right across the street from us lived a family with one boy named Todd. I don’t recall their last name, but in our eyes they were the ‘rich’ neighbors. One summer, we neighborhood kids were stunned to see some excavators in their backyard digging a hole for an in-ground swimming pool. Who could even imagine such a luxury? At Christmas time, instead of one Christmas tree, they had two fully decorated trees in their front window with mountains of presents under both. (A quick search on Google Earth shows the pool is still there some 56 years later.)



Down at the end of that same block lived the Harms family. My mom said they were from the wrong side of the tracks. I didn’t know what that meant, but all the kids kept their distance from the three older Harms brothers. They had formed a rock n’ roll band of sorts and would practice in their garage. I can still remember listening to them play. They had one, and only one, song in their repertoire. It was the song made famous by Iron Butterfly called In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, a monotonous, repetitious number that ran on for 17 minutes. I never heard them play anything else.



During the school year, all the kids from our neighborhood would either walk or ride their bikes five blocks to the elementary school. There were bike racks set up on each corner of the block. Bike locks were unheard of, yet I don’t recall anybody ever having their bike stolen.

 

When the school year ended, we kids were gifted with what seemed like an eternity of freedom. The shackles of formal education were broken and we stared three months of glorious summer fun right in the eyes. There was no end to the variety of activities we conjured up. One day we were down in the Ahrendt’s basement listening to Mike’s record player. It was the first time I heard songs by Three Dog Night (Joy to the World) and the Beatles (Maxwell’s Silver Hammer). To accompany the songs, we cut fake guitars out of an old cardboard box and turned a couple of plastic pails upside for drums. Paul and Ringo would have been proud.

 

One summer we formed a secret club called the Freeman Demons. Probably not the best name, given that my dad was a Lutheran minister, but we didn't pursue nefarious activities. We pulled away a section of the lattice work that covered up the area under the Ahrendt’s front porch and then gathered under there for our meetings. We boys had learned how to play chess so we competed against each other like some grubby Bobby Fischers. We’d make plans for other covert operations, very few which ever came to fruition. Our attention spans were short, and we usually came crawling out from underneath the porch when the dust and spiders became annoying.

 


After lunch on many a warm day, we would each get a dime from our parents and tuck it in our shoes, wrap a towel around our necks and ride our bikes across town to the city swimming pool. We’d fly down the final hill before locking up our brakes and skidding to a stop by the bike racks. We’d slap our dimes on the counter in front of the lifeguard on duty, slip and slide through the locker room and spend the afternoon frolicking in the chilly water. We’d do rally jumps off the high dive when the lifeguards weren’t looking and warm ourselves on the concrete deck when we needed to rest.

 

When supper was ready, my mom would stand out on the back steps and ring an old school bell. Like Pavlov’s dogs, when we heard that bell, our glands would begin salivating and we would find our way home as quickly as possible. After supper, we would head back outside for games of ghost in the graveyard and kick the can. I’m sure we came home filthy most nights, but we didn’t take baths until Saturday. Then, Mom would take me and my brother out on to the back steps, put a dish towel around our necks and give us each a buzz cut. She’d toss us in the tub and we’d scrub ourselves clean. We didn’t have a TV until the summer of 1969, and only then because my mom won a Zenith color TV in a street naming contest. After haircuts and baths, occasionally she would let us watch a bit of Lawrence Welk...wonnerful, wonnerful, wonnerful. Then off to bed we’d go.



I had a blissful childhood for the most part. I know things are different today with parenting, public safety, etc., but occasionally I wax nostalgic for the days of yesteryear. The freedom we enjoyed; the fun we had; the memories we made. I hope our kids can look back and feel the same way about their childhood years. As to the current generation? Only time will tell.

 

Children, do you know where your parents are? Yup. Thinking about the good ol’ days!

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