COLUMN: The day the kids lost their freedom

It was our last day of real freedom. An experience that, years later, all of us would wistfully remember and long for.

I remember it all, clear as day.

I was 11. It was summer, 1982.

We were playing kick-the-can. The old soup can was on the boulevard, and though our street could get pretty busy with traffic, we kids had all fanned out, tucked behind bushes, under parked cars and the bold ones among us found refuge in empty garbage cans and behind the mean old widow’s fence.

I laid down in the bed of a pickup truck parked in a neighbour’s driveway.

I swear I can still remember that last breath of air, sweet and clear. The taste of freedom, is how I see it now.

The silence of hiding children was broke by that first call.

BARB-RA! BAAAARRR-BRA! TIME TO COME IN!

From my vantage point I saw her, crouched behind the Kissicks’ rosebush. Her shoulders sagged, she groaned and stood up.

AND-REW! AAAAN-DREW! DIN-NER! LET’S GO!

The chorus grew as other mothers chimed in, voices blanketing sidewalks and lawns.

When my mom hollered, I dragged my heels. That’s how I remember it.

Wandered through the cedars out front of the Phillips’ house, leaning on one and looking up at the branches, thinking I’d climb it sometime soon.

But I didn’t. See, that was the last day.

The last day we played kick the can, red rover, British Bulldog—or street hockey until 9 p.m. two blocks down.

It was our last day of real freedom. An experience that, years later, all of us would wistfully remember and long for. A kind of feeling that kids who grew up after 1982 would never truly understand.

They would grow up in a helmeted world. Hermetically sealed inside their cars, their TV rooms, their community centres.

For us, the shift that happened that day was about more than just growing up. We lost our innocence, but so too did our world.

Perhaps I should have seen the warning signs a summer earlier, when I was delivering The Province newspaper at 5 a.m. Don’t ask me how I dragged myself out of bed at that age.

I would stumble into my Converse high tops, rugby pants, baggy shirt and strap on my Swatch, wet my hand under the sink and push my bangs off my brow and walk in the gathering gloom up Dempsey, Nottingham and Coleman all the way to my friend’s house on McNair.

I’d go around back to his bedroom and open the sliding glass door, then jump on him with my knees so we could get going, unbundle the papers and wander the neighbourhood with our sacks.

Every once in a while we’d see a little school photo on the cover of the paper.

A little boy, or girl, gone missing. Maybe those pictures were the sign of change to come.

Or perhaps it was that day I went to another friend’s house after school, and watched as his mom locked up the liquor cabinet, pocketed the key, and stood in front of the mirror wearing the new outfit she’d wear to work the next day, her first day on the job in 14 years.

Others followed in her wake, carried by changing times, and for the first time the houses were quiet during the day and the daycares filled up. Within months the Block Watch signs came down and we’d all signed up for piano lessons.

Or was it CNN, which debuted two years earlier and showed us that the world was going to hell, country by country, 24 hours a day, so keep your loved ones close.

It’s a different world now. I see that.

But I’d like to find a way back. Or somewhere completely new, where there’s a little more trust and a little less fear.

Let’s do a pilot project. Even for just one day.

Open up the screen door, give our kids a nudge.

“Go play!”

• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader, and loves to play ‘What time is it, Mr. Wolf?’

 

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