Summer is finally here. By now, pretty much all schools are out and the parental mania of planning activities for kids has begun. Over the last week or so, I have seen several people post a link on various social media sites to an article titled “Ten ways to give your kids an honest-to-goodness 1970’s summer.” While I’m sure the idea is meant to be about keeping things simple, it got me thinking about what an “honest-to-goodness 1970’s summer” actually entailed. After all, I lived it so I remember quite clearly and if we’re being honest, I’m not entirely sure I’d want my little kids doing the same things I did back then. Unless the goal is to think of that time as “Survival Camp” because if you can make it out alive, you are a champ. So here is my list of “Honest-but-not-necessarily-goodness 1970’s summer activities.”
1. Every parent told their kid “Just come home when the street lamps come on.” I remember feeling scared at the lack of supervision, yet exhilarated at the lack of supervision. No cell phones to call or text to check in, just go out and come back before it’s too dark. This meant hopping on your bike, riding to a friends’ house to hang out for a bit, eventually getting bored and going back out on bikes to ride all around town and occasionally, even ride to another city. Of course, we’d eat at some point. A quick stop at a 7-11 to load up on all the candy you could carry down the sides of your tube socks or tucked into the front pocket of your corduroy shorts so you could have a free hand to balance the over-sized Slurpee you dumped multiple flavors into that now has a nondescript taste. Before taking off, you’d grab a couple of packages of Wacky Packs and go through the funny cards and stickers with your friends, trading ones you needed with ones you already had, before setting back out to ride. You’d continue to ride while eating and drinking, chucking wrappers into bushes as you passed because there wasn’t a trash can in sight.
2. After all that bike riding, you’d work up quite a sweat. No lifeguard keeping an eye out down at the nearby river or pond, and certainly no supervision when you’d hop the fence of the nearby neighbor who had a pool and was out at work all day. No swimsuit? No problem! Just hop in with your clothes on. They’ll dry before the sun sets so your parents will never know what you did. If you were lucky, a friend would have a Slip-n-Slide set up so you could race down the yard and hurl yourself onto a plastic tarp being sprayed by cold hose water. Occasionally, you’d disconnect that hose and everyone would gather around to drink from it, and then re-connect it. And since parents weren’t around, go ahead and throw some dish soap on that Slip-n-Slide to really make it slippery. Don’t worry about the lawn getting wrecked, it’ll eventually grow back. At least it wasn’t your yard so you wouldn’t get yelled at when your parents came home.
3. Now that you cooled off, this was a good time to collect things to make a sling shot. You’d find the perfect “Y” shaped stick outside, and then rummage through the kitchen junk drawer for rubber bands. You’d collect a pile of tiny rocks to launch at mailboxes or trees, without looking beyond those objects to see you just hit a house window, then take off running because no one saw you do it, so it’s like it didn’t happen. You’d move on to a game of hide-and-seek, which involved catching the person by throwing water balloons at them as hard as possible, always nailing them smack in the back or on the side of their head. Good times.
4. The fireworks stands sold an unlimited supply to any age person who was willing to give them money. If you remembered to ask, they’d even give you a free book of matches so you could get started right away. And since you’re on your own, now is the time to twist those Ground Flowers and Piccolo Pete’s together and light them all at once because that is WAY more fun than lighting them one at a time. And while you’re at it, those metal sparklers make a great light saber duel you and a friend can enjoy, especially if you twist a few together to make one jumbo sparkler!
5. There was always one latch key kid whose parents also happened to be the ones who could afford this new technology called a “microwave.” Since no one was around, this was the best place to see what you could over-cook and explode, melt, or cause sparks to fly inside of. They were also the ones who bought their only child all the junk food your parents wouldn’t buy you, so you’d raid their refrigerator and cupboards and eat as much Otter Pops and Fruit Loops as you could without eating so much that your friend would get in trouble later.
6. The sun is starting to go down and you’re really far from home. Time to put a friend on the handle bars of your bike (no helmets) and pull the other one who’s holding on to the back while riding their metal-wheeled skateboard, and race down that hill without a care (or a traffic precaution) in the world. You get home as the street lamps come on, and all is right with the world.
7. If it’s a weekday, you get to sit down to some sort of casserole mom made for dinner. You have no idea what’s inside of it but you’re happy to eat it because the top is covered in crumbled chips. Sometimes they’re potato chips but tonight, it’s Fritos. If it’s a weekend, your parents are probably going out, so mom is preparing the Swanson TV dinner you picked out at the store earlier in the week. This is your first introduction to Salisbury Steak, and the art of keeping the corn out of the brownie you’re trying to save until the end.
8. It’s time to watch TV. “Solid Gold is on, followed by “The Love Boat.” This week of new passengers still has people who have adventures, are always drinking alcohol, and keep mentioning this “nightcap” thing which you eventually figure out involves even more alcohol and sex with someone they just met on the ship. (We also saw this a lot with people at “The Regal Beagle” on Three’s Company.)
9. You would go to sleep at night with doors unlocked and windows wide open. Sometimes, you’d even sleep out on the back deck. In the morning, you would go to pour a bowl of cereal for breakfast and saw that you were out of milk. No problem! Carnation taught our moms that in a pinch, all you had to do was add water to their powder and it tasted just like milk. This was also when we learned what false advertising was.
10. Before heading out to have another day just like yesterday, you’d spend 4 hours in your pajamas, glued to the TV set as you played your new ATARI 2600. You’ve already mastered “Combat” and “Air-Sea Battle” but now you’ve got “Pong” and “Breakout” to become a pro at. Little did you know, summers were about to get a whole lot better when the 70’s would come to an end, and the 80’s would bring you “Space Invaders”, “Asteroids” and a place to spend all of your allowance in an arcade playing “Pac-Man” and “Donkey Kong.” But first, you’re going to throw on the same clothes you wore yesterday so you can run barefoot down the street to catch the ice cream man as he makes his way around the block because it’s almost noon and you’re ready for a 50/50 bar and some Fun Dip. Another carefree day is underway. Just remember to come home when the street lamps come on!