Monday, June 05, 2017

All the world’s a playhouse?

The other day, my sister Kath sent me a link to an article in the WSJ about a well-to-do family in Sioux Falls, SD, that has turned their 13,000 square foot home into a “vast playland.”

From a kid’s perspective, what’s not to like? They’ve got a skeeball game. A stage for their performances. A lofted playhouse.
“…a large swimming pool and a play set that includes a climbing wall, firehouse pole and zip line…a sleepover room with privacy curtains, lots of plugs for electronics, and a custom-cut Tempur-Pedic mattress on the floor that can sleep eight. The custom-built curly slide gets more use than the stairs.” (Source, since, as a non-subscriber, I couldn’t access the WSJ article when I linked to it for a second time: MansionGlobal)
While this certainly sounds like kiddy paradise, I couldn’t help but think of how all this ready-made funhouse doesn’t deprive kids of being able to exercise their imagination muscles.

I hardly grew up in the little house on the prairie, with a corncob for a doll and a log for a toy train. I’m a Boomer, and, while I didn’t grow up in a crap-accumulation culture that’s anywhere near equivalent to what’s out there now, we had plenty of stuff. Especially when compared to the stuff of our parents’ childhoods. For her 10th birthday, my mother got a violin case. (Fortunately she already had the violin.) I don’t recall my father ever mentioning a toy. His childhood adventures were largely outdoors and/or sports related, and his tales of growing up were often Huck Finn-esque. (Without having traveled down the Mississippi on a raft with a slave.)

But, in terms of the ratio between store-bought and do-it-yourself, I’d say the bigger number is on the DIY side.

The best thing, of course, was an appliance box, which you could use as a playhouse. Better yet, you could stuff a couple of kids into it, and push it down a steep bank. Wheee!!!! Speaking of stuffing kids, if you had, say, an old baby buggy – one that was so hand-me-down and decrepit that even your very own parents wouldn’t use it for the new baby who was something of a surprise – you could load that up with kids and push them down a street with a reasonable incline. I don’t remember anyone ever getting hurt, at least not to the degree (blood, broken bone) that would send someone running home. Maybe that’s because we had so many kids in there that we buffered each other.

Another excellent source of amusement was a tree that had fallen down.

There was a field near us where, one fine day, some ancient and honorable (and mostly dead) tree toppled over. Before someone came in to saw it into pieces and haul it away, we had a few weeks with our answer to Adventureland. We called it Dino the Dinosaur, but mostly we clambered all over it,bouncing up and down on the branches. A few years later, a hurricane took down a tree at the corner of our yard. Yes! Another free jungle jim!

In the woods next to our house, there was a big old boulder that could be used as a house, a ship (sometimes to bring immigrants over – we were all the grand- or great-grandchildren of immigrants, sometimes as a warship), a Conestoga wagon…Have boulder, will imagine.

It goes without saying that construction sites were golden. As were the odd burned down buildings. (We weren’t just exploring these things on our own. One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is of my father taking us into a burnt out house. There was one thrilling moment when he opened a door, only to find that the floor in the room we were about to enter had collapsed into the basement. Did my worry-wart mother – she of the violin case – have a clue what her Huck Finn husband was doing with her kids on those Sunday walks while she was relaxing with an Ellery Queen mystery or the crossword puzzle?)

And, of course, there were the giant water pipes near the abandoned reservoir. Is there anything more fun than running through a giant cast iron pipe, yelling your fool head off?

We weren’t generally encouraged to yell our fool heads off, of course. Nonetheless, when one of our weekly family rides took us through a the Lincoln Tunnel in downtown Worcester, we were allowed to roll the windows down and scream out Babalu-y in tribute to Ricky Ricardo of I Love Lucy fame.

Somewhere recently I saw a reference to a child playing with a 400-piece kitchen set. I’m assuming that came with all sorts of plastic pork chops and apples. Wasn’t it more fun to use acorns, leaves, pignuts, mud, rocks, and those bitter little red berries (whatever they were) to make fake food?

Most of our adventures took place out of the house. Then again, the house I grew up in was more like 1,300 square feet than 13,000. And this was an era when your mother kicked you out first thing in the day and locked the door after you.

But even in the house – especially in the cellar – there was plenty to do. Who needed a stage? We could perform our plays, most notably a murder story – “Oh, Martina, will you marry me?” – that involved a death by rubber knife, which we performed for with no audience (we were all in it) on the plane old basement floor whenever we needed a bit of amusement.

Hey, I would have loved having that corkscrew slide in the house that the Sioux City kiddoes have. And I know that the older you get the more likely you are to fall into grumpy old fart nostalgia. Still, I think that the more opportunities kids have to use their imaginations and make their own good times, the better off they are in the long run.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

That boulder was the best!