We all want our kids to have it better than we did, and I have worked hard to give them the advantages that I didn't have when I was growing up in the Newton County mill village of Porterdale.
My kids have been everywhere and done everything - or so it would seem. But I recently did some serious soul-searching and came to realize that, despite the comparative affluence in which they have been raised, my kids have missed out on an awful lot.
Take outhouses, for instance. You may not have ever used an actual outhouse, but I bet most of our readers are at least familiar with the concept. To my knowledge, my children have never had to use one. I have, though. I want to go on record, however, by denying that I ever substituted a corn cob for toilet paper. Pages torn from the Sears-Roebuck catalog, many times. Corn cobs - never.
But plumbing aside, there are lots of other life experiences my kids have missed out on. I bet they have never chosen up sides in their collective lives. Remember how life used to be, back in the idyllic days of the '50s and '60s - before there was so much meanness around? On a typical summer day I would leave my house shortly after first light and not come back until supper time, except to grab a tomato sandwich for lunch. After supper I would be out the door again and wouldn't return until dark.
We would roam the entire village and make our own fun. We would ride bikes and roller skate - when's the last time you saw a skate key? - and build huts down in the woods. And we'd play baseball. We'd play baseball for hours and hours. We didn't have or need uniforms or official bases or coaches or electric scoreboards.
All we need was a bat and a ball, and we would make our teams by choosing up sides. The best players were chosen first and the worst players were chosen last and the devil with self-esteem. In fact, if you were a real bad player, not only would you be made to play right field, but one of the better players would take your last strike.
Sometimes we would knock the cover off the ball - literally. When that happened we would wrap it with black electrical tape that someone had stolen from his daddy's tool box and keep playing. Black tape was also excellent, by the way, for wrapping up broken bats that had been tacked back together. If we ever fouled the ball into the kudzu, the game was suspended until the ball was found. If we didn't have enough players, you were out if you hit the ball to the opposite field. We learned invaluable lessons about self-reliance and making do during those impromptu baseball games. And we had fun, too.
My kids have played in all sorts of sports leagues - baseball, basketball, softball, soccer - you name it and they have played it. But they haven't learned nearly as much - or had nearly as much fun - as we did choosing up sides, back in the day.
I have been on a crusade over the past six years to take our family to every state in the Union. We have 49 down and North Dakota to go. We have cruised the inside passage of Alaska and danced the hula on Waikiki Beach and watched whales leap from the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine. We have visited the Grand Canyon and ridden the Maid of the Mist to the edge of Niagara Falls and watched Old Faithful erupt right on schedule in Yellowstone National Park.
But they have never experienced the anticipation of a simple journey to Jacksonville Beach - in a 10-year-old used car - leaving in the middle of the night and riding with the windows down because the car didn't have air-conditioning. They have never floated in the ocean on patched up inner-tubes or stayed in a hole-in-the-wall boarding house three blocks from the beach or eaten mayonnaise sandwiches three straight days to save enough money to visit the Boardwalk on the last night in town.
They have been to Disney World umpteen times, not to mention Disneyland and Dollywood and Six Flags over just about every state you can think of. But they've never been to a county fair. They've never scoured the neighborhood for Coca-Cola bottles to trade in for the deposit so they'd have enough money for an extra ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl or an extra cone of cotton candy when the James H. Drew exhibition came to town. They've never gotten sick from riding the Octopus too soon after chasing a corn dog with a candy apple or wasted their last quarter to see Emmet the Dog Boy in the side show.
And they probably don't know how many Vienna sausages come in a can, either. I'm sure they don't know how good Viennas taste with a slice of fresh Vidalia onion.
Now I know what you're thinking. You're wondering if I, as I wax nostalgic over the bygone days of my youth, would trade places with my own kids.
Well, heck yeah I would! You think I'm crazy? My kids have got it made!
Darrell Huckaby is a Newton County native and the author of six books. He lives in Rockdale County, where he teaches high school history. E-mail him at DHuck08@bellsouth.net .