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A Stone's Throw: A 'kinder, gentler world'

 

Betty Stone

 

 

They say you know you are growing old when you find yourself saying that young people are not having fun the way you and your contemporaries did when you were young. Well, so be it. I do not think they have our kind of fun any more. 

 

For one thing, they do not have the freedom. It is not their fault, nor is it that of their parents, I think. We just lived in "kinder, gentler" times. 

 

When I was in high school, I knew one person who was reputed to have smoked marijuana once. Other stuff was just something you read about for most folks. 

 

Our world was not fraught with dangers all the time. There was automobile traffic, but not as much. After World War II we were lucky to have a family car. When we dated, we almost always triple-dated; one of the fellows managed to get his daddy's car. Only the very rare teenager had his own wheels. In the Andy Hardy movies, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney whetted our appetites for "a powder blue convertible with red leather seats." 

 

We had bicycles. That was one source of our freedom. We rode all over the town. We did not wear helmets. The wind caused by riding felt wonderful blowing through our hair. 

 

We covered the town on those bicycles during our 'tween years. I do not remember ever being cautioned about boundaries; but we seldom, if ever, rode across the Tombigbee bridge or out to a much smaller East Columbus. 

 

My grandparents had given me a beautiful blue Schwinn. I loved it like a person. We lived on Second Avenue North. One day my mother sent me on an errand to Staggers Bakery, one block away as the crow flies. I was to buy a loaf of bread. It cost 10 cents. I parked my bicycle at the door of the bakery, bought the loaf of bread, and went outside to get back on my bike. Disaster! 

 

Instead of my beautiful blue Schwinn, there stood a rusty, red, ramshackle wreck of a bicycle. A quick thief had made an exchange. The police were called, but they just suggested I keep the old thing. That was all there was to it. That red wreck became my transportation from then on. 

 

Life is not just, but I still had my freedom. One thing was pretty sure; that bicycle was not likely to be stolen. In those days as we transitioned from the Great Depression to World War II, I was not to get a prettier replacement. I still had the means to cover the town with my friends, and we did. 

 

It seemed every year, without any spoken preamble, one day we just parked the bicycles and switched to roller skates. Our territory became a little smaller, but we kept going.  

 

There was no television, but we went to the movies just about every time the feature changed at the Princess Theater. There were no R- or X-rated movies, and we would go home and "play like" we were whichever heroine we currently admired. Most of my friends chose to be Betty Grable, Lana Turner or Rita Hayworth. (Remember the scene from "Gilda" when she sang "Put the Blame on Mame," while stripping off her long, black gloves?) I, with my red hair, always wanted to be one of the brunette beauties, Hedy Lamar or Merle Oberon. 

 

On Saturdays we went to the Varsity to see the serials, usually "Flash Gordon." 

 

The concession stand did not have the lavish variety we do today, but we could buy a few things. Before we became 12 years old, we could go to the movie for 12 cents. My husband, Doug, a few years older than I, once said, "Shoot, when I was12, I could go to the movie for 12 cents, and they gave me an ice cream cone!" 

 

We had the freedom of cycling, skating and movies, but we also went swimming in gravel pits without any supervision. I still cannot understand why my parents allowed me to go. (Maybe they did not know!) In their defense, however, we had all learned to swim, most likely at the YMCA, where our classes progressed from Minnow to Fish to Flying Fish (where we learned to dive) to Shark to Junior and, finally, Senior Life-Saving. Also at the gravel pits, no one seemed concerned about liability. I do not think we were as litigious in those days.  

 

We did not worry about evil lurking around the corner. The Lindbergh kidnapping was one of the few infamous happenings of our day, and I did worry about kidnappers. Childishly I visualized them as big cat-faced monsters (I translated "kid" to "kit") who stuffed children into crocker sacks. I confessed my fears to my father. He soothed my worries by telling me there was no problem; no one would kidnap me because they knew we did not have enough money for a ransom. 

 

Was the world then really a better place, or do I just remember it through the rosiness of childhood? I wonder.

 

Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.

 

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