Whenever I’m in conversation with my brother or one of my sisters, almost always never a moment when remembering something from our childhood that one of us doesn’t ask, ‘where were our parents?’
Now before you get concerned that we were being left alone, let me explain. Or should I perhaps first say that we were never left alone. In fact, I have not a single memory of ever being left with a babysitter. We went where our parents went, and they didn’t go to places where there children couldn’t go. Our parents took their role very seriously, almost to the extreme. I remember distinctly leaving the drive-in theatre during the showing of the Don Knott’s classic Love God, because of a scene which implied that he (Don Knotts) and the lead female star had slept together. Truth! As an adult, I have gone to the same great lengths to screen movies I recommend to them. I find it almost humorous that my mother’s favorite movie is Pretty Woman. But that’s another story.
Our parents were strict in some ways, and cursing (or even the thought of cursing) was strictly prohibited. We didn’t talk back (sass) and the words please and thank you were used as a part of any regular conversation, especially those involving adults.
But otherwise, in retrospect, I have to believe that my parents lived a part of their childhood through us.
We lived nearby a junkyard, and during the summer, we spent endless days crawling into abandoned Studebaker’s and Opal GT’s looking for treasure that had been left behind. We carried rings loaded with the keys we were fortunate enough to have salvaged in the process. At one time, I had 66 keys (yep, easy to remember – 66 books of the bible and 66 keys). We walked the sides of the highway (41 which runs from Detroit to Florida) looking for liquor bottles that had been tossed into the weeds. We’d take them home, rinse them out and fill them with colored water. They sat everywhere in our house, and almost every day, we’d carry in a new batch. We’d try to get the labels off, but if we couldn’t, we’d just turn that side to the wall. Even now, I imagine light dancing off of ten or fifteen bottles - different colors - creating a magic not so easily found anymore.
And yet, before you think it, let me say it – I would die if I thought any of my grandchildren, nieces or nephews were spending summers crawling through wrecked vehicles or walking alongside public highways. But, as you know, it was another time – a gentler, safer time.
As I mentioned in another story, we lived in a mobile home (trailer is what it was, but I’m sure mobile home sounds more dignified). Around the time I turned 15, my dad and my uncle bought the park where we lived, which contained about 50 trailers. Now, I feel the need to explain something to those of you who are already turning up your noses. You don’t know anything.
At that time, and in the area where we lived, the people who lived in the park were other families just like us – families where the father worked; the mother cooked, cleaned, and hung clothes on the line to dry. The kids – well they had lots of friends (more than enough for a game of anything). If there were people anywhere who thought we were poor, or that we were trash, we didn’t know about it.
Okay, so back to the story. When my dad and uncle bought the park, it came with a couple of rental trailers. Typically, these would be rented out for long periods of time. There wasn’t a lot of transient business at that time. But every so often, someone would move out and my dad was left with the responsibility for cleaning it up for the next tenant – that is, my dad and his helpers. In retrospect, I’m almost certain we weren’t that much help……..but I was an expert at holding a flashlight! And whether you were patching a floor or unstopping a sewer line, you needed someone to hold the flashlight.
Anyway, on more than one occasion, this housekeeping effort would turn up more than what was bargained for, and certainly more than my dad could explain. Most often, he carried a paper sack with him so that anything ‘we shouldn’t see’ could be easily (and quickly) disposed of. On one such occasion, we found a roll of stickers. Remember those bright yellow smiley face stickers? That’s the ones, except these had ‘smooth as silk’ printed around the edges. The stickers were probably two inches in diameter, and there were lots (and lots) of them. I’m sure at the time; they seemed harmless to my dad.
We lived in that same ‘trailer’ for a long time. In fact, my parents only moved from there about 15 years ago, and for a while, one of my sisters lived there. As an adult, there have been many visits to that trailer, and every single time I entered the bedroom I shared with my two sisters – every time I saw those paneled walls decorated with hundreds of bright yellow ‘smooth as silk’ smiles, I would wonder aloud, ‘where were our parents?’