Ed and I went to dinner last Saturday evening to a fabulous Greek restaurant in Fountain Square which is very near to where I grew up. The area is booming thanks to some efforts at renovation and quaint restaurants and shops. In my childhood there was no Interstate 65 running north and south through the middle of Indianapolis (which was actually the end of the area for many many years...it split the neighborhoods, many homes became rentals as families moved out, and it was dead for years). Before the interstate, there were nice little neighborhoods of middle class families, with dads who went off to work daily and moms who stayed home. My school, Public School #18, also known as Abraham Lincoln School was across the street from the first house we lived in (a rental), and then later (from 3rd grade on) a house just a block away. That home, where my parents still live, is the one and only home my parents ever owned. I believe it cost around $10,000.
I walked to school each morning, came home for lunch which I ate watching Popeye and Janie, and walked back to school, to return home at the 3:15 p.m. bell. Mom and her friends were in the PTO, had garage sales, sat in each other's backyards while their children played, and we all went home in time to sit down for dinner together every evening at 6 p.m. sharp. We then sat in front of the television watching Andy Griffith, Beverly Hillbillies, Carol Burnett, Sonny & Cher, Dick Van Dyke, Petticoat Junction (and those were from 3rd grade on...probably before that were shows even I barely remember...Wagon Train, etc.). It would never have occurred to my parents, or any parents, to complain to a teacher about school issues; and if we got in trouble at school there was no question it was our fault and we were in trouble.
Before Fountain Square is as it is now, it had a Murphy's "dime store." Actually it still may be there, but it can't be the same. I bought a lot of my school dresses there as a child, something like 2/$5. My mom used layaway. I can still smell that place, warm salted nuts, popcorn...and I can hear the sounds...a "ding, ding, ding" in the background...and I still really don't know what that ding was for. There was a soda fountain. There was an area where you could by 45 records....not actually purchase 45 different records, but actual vinyl records that ran at the SPEED 45 on the turntable. They were sold in sleeves, either plain or with the band's picture on the front. When I was 7 and my sister 14, I'd watch her buy the latest greatest release from the Beatles. She had (and later I had one too) a little carrying case for the 45's. You also had to have the little yellow plastic pieces to fit in the hole in the center of the record so it would play smoothly. At Easter you could actually go to Murphy's and buy chicks or ducklings, and I think we owned a duck for awhile. We also once owned a rooster, whose name was Sir Cedric, and he was mean. When my mother would go out the back door to hang the wash (of course) Sir Cedric would chase after her. Yes, we had a rooster in our backyard in Indianapolis. Sir Cedric was soon banished to a farm in southern Indiana.
In those days we also actually went outside to play, if you can imagine. We were outside from the time we got home from school until it got dark out, especially in the summer of course. Our parents didn't worry about where we were. The streets were safe. Of course there was some crime probably, but mothers didn't have to think about their children being abducted or that a child molester lived in the house down the street. You can't tell me that exposure to such things in the entertainment industry and the media hasn't had an impact in the numbers of sick and criminal minds today.
We were very imaginative and adventurous about how we spent our time, using our entire city block at dusk to play a game called Bloody Murder during which we tried to hide from each other. If you were seen, even from a distance, you were considered "murdered" and out of the game. I played jacks on the front porch of a friend for hours on end. We drew Hopscotch on the sidewalk and played, we jumped rope, we went around the neighborhood collecting soda bottles which we could turn in to the corner grocery store (owned by a neighborhood family who lived behind it) for money to buy penny (yes, penny) candy...25 cents equaled 25 pieces of candy. We bought soda from a machine where you put in your money (15 cents) and pulled the bottle out. My mother kept her old shoes, dresses, purses and jewelry...what little she had. It was put in a bag which was called a rag bag (she had one when she was growing up too so that is what we called it) and I played dress up in those things.
My sister and I played pretend games together such as "Queen." If you were the Queen, everything...and I mean EVERYTHING had to be done for you. Like, if I was Queen and had an itch on my nose, my sister the servant had to scratch it for me. We loved horses, so we also pretended that one of us was a horse and the other the horse's owner. Yes, we would go around on all fours and the other one would climb on and put a rope or string around the other's neck to go for a ride.
It was a huge deal for us to go to a fast food restaurant. In fact there really weren't any for a long time, and then the only one was McDonald's and maybe Steak n' Shake (the drive in kind), and White Castle. We just didn't eat out. I think my mother bought the week's groceries for around $20 a week. It never ever would have occurred to me to NOT eat what my mother put in front of me. As a child I ate liver and onions, beans, kale,...absolutely anything she put in front of me. The word finicky didn't exist.
This visit to Fountain Square last weekend really got me thinking about my childhood, and how very little we had in material things, and how great my childhood was probably BECAUSE we didn't have a lot of things. This foundation that was laid for me is what I tried to give my own girls. While Ed and I have so much more than either of our parents, I still knew what was important, and I tried not to give my girls too too much when they were children. While forces outside of a parent's control often feel stronger than the parent's control, I at least tried to instill in them the idea that the simple things are the best. I'm thankful I had so little growing up. I know it wasn't easy for my parents, but it turned out to be a very rich childhood.