Imagine with me a small green neighborhood where Norman Rockwell lived many years ago. I’m not thinking of his official home in New England, but his unofficial home on the far westside of Chicago during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the War of the 1940s, and postwar America of the 1950s. Where we children of the Greatest Generation lived, laughed and aged.
If you’re still holding my hand, notice a remarkably different America. Almost exactly as he used to paint it. Take just one simple adolescent scene that played out here, summer day after summer day.
You got up in the morning and rushed through a Wheaties breakfast…hopped on your Schwinn bike…pedaled down side streets crowded with overhanging Elms and Maples, that smelled of fresh-mowed lawns, and a concerto of approximately a million July birds. Along the way you meet some of the horse drawn milk trucks…notice neighbors putting white sheets out to dry on their laundry lines…finally reach your Huckleberry friend’s house: “Hey, Johnny, whattaya want do do today?”
Which meant we were going to ad lib life together between now and dinnertime. The core idea was to squeeze this gorgeous day out like an over-ripe orange. Without organized games. supervised swimming. iPads, smartphones, day camps, or corner drug deals. Rather, with pumping hard down side streets, pausing on occasion to climb that trees, or maybe just lie on your back staring under it into a blazing blue sky, or possibly a pick-up ballgame at one of your favorite prairies [aka, vacant lots]. Then after a Baby Ruth Bar lunch, the nearby ten-cent, all-day-movies-with- cartoons.
Later, but only later, your parental-DNA kicked in, and you knew it was getting on to dinner time. You see here’s the thing. It was a simpler less sophisticated America for kids. Yeah, we were far less connected with the world. But dreaming back, so much more connected with our small piece of it. No one is saying “go back to what was;” what was is no more. On the other hand, some of the best of what was is like the cargo in your life. You need to carry it with you…
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