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The Newcomer

Whatever happened to the long days of childhood?

Time is such an illusive gift. In childhood, the days stretched ahead in an endless string of minutes that we filled with our imaginations.

An orange crate gave us cupboards for our mudpies and desks for the classroom we set up before we were old enough to go to a real school. Nail a pair of roller skates to the end of the crate and we had a scooter.

We also put old rubber inner tubes to use, patching them up so they'd hold air to give us a float at a swimming hole or, if too far gone, cutting them into strips that became slingshots.

A couple of two by fours became a pair of stilts that lifted us off the ground, when it was our turn to use them, and made us feel like kings and queens as we overcame gravity to tower over our playmates.

Hours were spent on hands and knees alongside a little creek, trying to be quick enough to scoop out crawdads who rewarded us with pinches. And then there were the meanderings we took through alleys, just looking for whatever was there to look at. Long after I was married, I kept my sewing in a basket a cousin had rescued from an alley when we were still in grade school.

We girls made dolls out of hollyhocks that lent themselves to tight buds for the heads and the full blossom for big pink skirts. We collected rose petals, soaked them in water in an old enameled pan (found in an alley) and squeezed out perfume with which we liberally anointed ourselves.

The boys gently pulled open the red hearts of the bleeding heart plant and laughed lewedly at the 'naked lady' you could see in a 'bathtub' in the middle of the blossom. Behind the garage they smoked cigarette butts (also found in alleys). They threw rocks at the neighbor kids, and sucked on hot cinnamon toothpicks they made by soaking them in cinnamon oil they bought at the drugstore.

And, after all that, it wasn't even time for dinner.

The only times I can recall adult interference was when we stopped by the kitchen door to pick up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or scavaged through the old Singer sewing machine drawers for pennies to spend on jawbreakers or licorice whips at the corner store.

When we got tired, we threw ourselves into the grass, closed our eyes and listened to the drone of honey bees as they bumbled overhead in the apricot tree.

For the boys there was mumbletypeg played with sharp pocket knives, and for the girls jacks. For both, there were furious games of marbles that usually ended in a squabble we had to settle for ourselves.

When dusk settled over our outdoor kingdom, we knew it was time to go in. The wooden screen doors would begin to bang along the block and the streets would soon be empty while we bellied up to the kitchen table for chicken and dumplings.

When it was really dark, then the games of hide-and-seek would start and we didn't go in until we each heard our own mother's call. And the streets would grow quiet once again.

The hours of our childhood were endless strings of minutes-and no one was ever bored.

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