Tim Carroll

Tim Carroll 

Grownups eat slow and they talk too much after dinner! There’s no reason to put it into the kids’ handbook because every kid has already learned that.

I can’t count how many times my social life, even my reputation, depended on Aunt Helen turning down that second cup of coffee. I was rooting for “no thanks, we need to get going,” but the response was often “sure, we have time,” and I would slink back into my seat. Eating politely fast didn’t help. It just meant sitting longer and listening to grownup talk – yuck.

Each summer there was a special neighborhood playtime that started after dinner and ended with the young ones heading home at dusk. If your family ate a late dinner, you risked being chosen last for capture the flag or watching from the sidelines. There was no texting, of course, and calling a friend during dinner was against the grownup rules. So, it was commonly known that the fun started at about 6:30 with whatever neighborhood kids showed up.

Who showed up and how many often determined what the game of choice would be. The big kids got to call the shots and the little ones considered themselves lucky to be included – at least until sundown. Girls rarely mixed with the guys during the day, but everyone was welcome after dinner.

Running bases was the most popular activity for large groups. The big kids would simply play catch while 15 kids ranging from 7-12 years old would run like fools up and down the street. It was good practice for any future cricket stars though.

Hide and seek was the other good choice for large groups. Even though the “rules” stated that no one could leave the front of the houses, the street was a long one and offered many creative hiding places. Inevitably the young ones would become “it” and wander up and down the street yelling “olly, olly in come-free” or the more pure form “olly, olly oxen-free.” Regardless, kids came bursting out of bushes and from under porches swatting mosquitoes that had been munching on them.

Let’s return to the dinner table and Aunt Helen’s second cup of coffee. The privilege of older age allowed me to ask if I could be excused, but there were years when it was clear no one left the table until Mom gave the signal. Aunt Helen was clueless to the harm that second cup of coffee might cause.

Meanwhile, in the distance, kids could be heard playing tag. The only thing more painful was having your mother show up and call you home early in front of the group for some indiscretion.

Once I was officially an older kid, I realized that the fun began after dark, and the early evening games were just an excuse to be excused from the table. There was safety in numbers and five or six teenage guys and gals could have fun just sitting on someone’s porch swatting mosquitoes and talking like grownups do. Go figure.

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