An Un-enchanted 1960s Childhood

Many people remember their childhood as an enchanted time.  I don’t remember mine that way at all.  I remember childhood as mostly happy, but not magical in any way.  I had my share of fanciful notions.  I believed in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Boogie Man.  I thought the nighttime insect chirpings were the sound the stars made as they shone.  I was afraid of the dark, big dogs, mean teachers and big, mean boys.  But, mostly, my childhood seemed concrete and prosaic.  The predominant feeling was that the world made sense and I could master it.  I was a curious, sensitive, energetic little girl and my childhood was a perfect preparation for a life of action.

Like most children in the 1960s, I spent most of my time outdoors.  From the age of 4, I was allowed the run of our block, and by the time I was 8 I had the run of our neighborhood on my bike.  There were usually other kids to play with, or I would just wander by myself in the woods at the bottom of our hill, feeling like the first person ever to discover the valleys and woodland wildflowers and the little stream.

There were two very large families in our neighborhood and the children of these families dominated and bullied the rest of us.  Social skills were survival skills in that environment, and we learned them pretty quickly.  We learned to decide when to submit, when to fight back, and when to form alliances – and what it felt like both to betray and be betrayed.  I also learned to get on my bike and seek more congenial friends further afield.

We learned co-operation and leadership skills by organizing and playing group games like Red Rover, Statues, Mother May I, Tag, Hide-and-Seek, and Red Light Yellow Light.   We would play until the streetlights came on and we had to report in to our mothers

We were taught at school by dour, no-nonsense, mostly middle-aged, teachers who did not spare the rod.  We learned mostly by rote:  how to spell, how to read, how to do arithmetic, the rules of grammar and later the rules of science.  There was little notion that learning should be fun or entertaining, and group learning would have been considered a form of cheating.  We were well-prepared for a work world that was already rapidly disappearing by the time we reached adulthood: a world where you did what you were told and did the same thing every day for 40 years.

I rarely had trouble sleeping and was hardly ever sick after my tonsils came out.  Middle-class food in the 1960s was pretty plain and unexciting, and I was usually too busy playing to take much time to eat.  So, I wasn’t a big eater, but I was a fast eater.  I didn’t mind being dirty.  It didn’t bother me to go to bed with dust on my legs, dirt under my fingernails, with my arms and legs stinging from cuts and bites.  I was a healthy little animal, nothing enchanted at all, happily fit for a human life.

I’d love to hear from my readers about whether you feel like your childhood felt enchanted.  What era did you grow up in?  How did childhood feel to you.  Leave a reply on the site.

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