A Sunny Saturday In America ~ Tom Sawyer/Jack Spatafora Style

Saturdays have usually been a good day for kids. To sleep in, to loaf, to play, to waste, to experiment. But as it turns out, American adults know much more about how Tom Sawyer spent his Saturdays than they do mine. We had Mark Twain to record a kid’s Saturday 150 years ago; but 50 years ago, well there aren’t many Mark Twains to report on that.

Because I’m no Mark Twain, I can’t adequately capture it for you in the language of a literary classic. However, I can at least sketch some of the broad outlines of a sunny Saturday in Chicago during the now misty years of the long-ago Thirties and Forties.

If those times interest you, read on. If they don’t, I understand.

You’re 12 and you wake up in [if your city bungalow is big enough] in your own bedroom while Mom is making a fine stick-to-the-ribs spring breakfast which, by today’s standards, is marvelously unhealthy. This is the last time you will see her until the street lights come on at the end of this day, for until then, you and your ragamuffin peers are completely on your own. The city, the streets, and especially the magical alleys all belong to you. Without researched rules or well-intentioned supervisors or even Mr Rogers and the Mickey Mouse Club to guide you [remember, there is no television in the Thirties and Forties, only a few kid shows on radio, plus a world full of imagination].

Where shall we go…? Well, you sorta follow your nose like the other kids do. By foot, by scooter, or by bike. Where do we end up…? Well, wherever our Saturday morning imagination carries us. Could be the local school playground [didn’t have a lot of fancy parks], or the nearby wading pool [no Olympic size diving boards just wading], or the nearest alley of choice, or on some Saturdays the 10-cent el-train pilgrimage from the neighborhood to the splendorous wonders of the great Chicago Loop where everything awaited you from live shows on movie house stages, to world-class emporiums like Marshall Fields and Carsons featuring the fixtures of the world, to an unmapped maze of little hot dog stands and 50-cent luncheonettes.

The ride down here was cheap and the choices around you easily within the range of the three bucks your brought with. Most important of all, it was safe! Yes, that pregnant little word so rarely claimed today:Safe. Safe for any 12-year-old pretty much day or night. Safe from punks, from gangs, from interfering adults, from a world which was so busy fixating on a Depression at home and a War abroad that it counted on kids to find their own fun, follow the rules, stay out of trouble, oh and be sure you’re home by the time the street lights come on……….

There is still that wonderful world of print out there. For those of you who remember it, two of my posts appear in this week’s Chicago Tribune. One today 3/27 in the Health & Family Section and another on Easter Sunday in the general editorial section. For your pleasure…..

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