What’s missing in Small Town U.S.A.? Where are all the children and teens hanging out now, since public sidewalks, parks, and playgrounds, friendly looking neighborhoods, and bike paths everywhere pose a threat to the security and peace of mind U.S. citizens once took for granted?
Some things don’t change much. Children are still born kids. The same sun still rises every morning (though smog conceals it in many urban areas.) People still say, “Good morning!” and “How yah doin’?” (Well, maybe not as freely.) Most adults still start each day with a morning cup of Joe (only nowadays it’s one of many flavors of something pricey, labeled cappuccino.)
Ask a child what they learned in school on any given day and you’ll likely get the same evasive answer you gave your own parents, “I don’t know” or “nothing.” Back in those cozy, sheltered alcoves of my youth parents would strongly advise the kids, when they were getting underfoot, to “go outside and play!” Funny thing, with much less stuff to play with back then, we seemed to entertain ourselves for hours, unsupervised. My prized, used, one-speed bike was a constant companion.
Summer vacations from school used to be an opportunity for kids of all ages to earn some spending money or to help out at home (for room and board only.) Now working parents are made to feel guilty for being away so much of the time, so they give the kids freedom to do just about anything they want to do, which translates into big bucks, and buy them all the stuff they ask for. Why not work less and cut the spending?
I know that kids still “hang out.” (I hear our granddaughters talk about it.) It’s pretty much the same answer today, when mom or dad asks the young teen what he or she did during all that time they spent together with friends. They still say, “We were just hangin’ out.” Grandpa seems to have a hard time accepting that answer, but Grandma still remembers how cool it was to hang around with gal pals and to rap about the perils of puppy love and other rites of passage.
Nostalgia prompts me to remember the stone wall that wrapped around the corner of Rice and Main in Lewiston, the original Gremelsbach’s corner. Little tykes couldn’t pass it by without balance-walking across the top. It was a neat place to hang out on a steamy day in summer...tanned, bare legs and feet against sun-baked concrete.
It was a “girl thing” to giggle and to chat there, and to wave sheepishly at the neat, older guys with ducktails and packs of cigarettes rolled up in their T- shirt sleeves, as they dragged the gut in their souped-up hotrods, mud flaps waving back as they squealed out, cruising up and down Main.
I recall Lewiston’s many neat hanging out places back in my day, not much different than any other Small Town U.S.A. I taught Pat to roller skate, couples style, in the roller rink above the Recreation Bar and Cafe, which was known as Hruska’s corner. On Main Street, the Cly Mar Bowl and Lewis’ Cafe always welcomed the young people, after ballgames, when dating, and after school.
Kilmer’s Root Beer Stand, on Rice Street and Highway 14, lured young and old alike after sultry days in the beating sun, where yellow light bulbs sizzled with the demise of June bugs and other pests. The rickety, paint-bare playground behind the former 12-grade school provided a secluded hangout when school was not in session.
What’s missing in Small Town U.S.A. today? Consider how holidays like the 4th of July are commemorated. The true meanings of important things in life have been lost to apathy, greed, dishonesty, drug and alcohol use, indifference, racism, criminal abuse, and hangin’ out in the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons.
Independence Day once meant so much more than a day off work and party time. Hangin’ out may no longer be a safe, carefree, and innocent pastime. Have an old-fashioned, family 4th!
Janet Burns still resides in her hometown of Lewiston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.