Can you come out to play?

I was a farm kid, content with my own company and the company of my siblings.
But play often was solitary—building secret hideouts in the haymow, or finding the perfect tree for a fort and then lugging lumber to build something in the tree using more nails than I could count.
Catching frogs was a favourite pastime, in the ditches that lined our long lane, and lots of exploring—exploring the deep woods on our farm.
And sometimes just lying on the hillside and studying the clouds for certain shapes was fun enough.
I climbed trees and pretended to fish in the creeks. I feasted on wild crab apples and honeysuckles, pretending I was lost in the wilderness.
Yet amidst all of the perfection of my childhood was a longing—a longing to hear a knock on the door, followed by a self-assured voice asking if Wendi could come out to play.
Though it may seem silly and a small notion, it was an envious ache that never really went away. That curse of wanting what you don’t have, and that wanting settled down in one place and one place only because I lacked for nothing else.
Town kids had friends within reach; to meet at the merry-go-round for an impromptu game of tag or hide-and-seek. And I suppose, as kids got older, they also had the means to get into mischief on the group plan.
Sometimes I saw kids stand on the sidewalk in front of a friend’s house and just holler for them; no need to even knock on the door.
I often visited friends who lived in town and had many a sleepover. One friend of mine had a string and tin can telephone that stretched from her bedroom window to the kid’s bedroom in the house next door.
They didn’t play together during the day all that often, but they did try to have conversations at night when sleep eluded them.
I have no recall if the string tin can telephone actually worked but the whole thing was magical to me; to have a friend that close—close enough to almost touch.
We visited my mother’s family in Winnipeg on a regular basis and we always stayed with one particular aunt whose family home was on Parkview Street not far from a large furniture store.
And where there is a furniture store, there are big boxes to be disposed of. All the kids in the neighbourhood waited in line for box disposal day and that meant construction of some of the finest forts known to children.
My cousins had contests with other kids on their street that shared the same back alley and though I participated, I often watched in amazement at the co-operative play that erupted, as well as the competition.
There were no parents running interference and making sure everyone was included and treated properly; these kids worked that out for themselves. There may have been a “big kid” causing trouble every now and then, but the safety in numbers concept usually saved the day.
I’m a solitary creature now; could become a hermit with very little effort (though I try to take reasonable measures to prevent that from happening). But it makes me realize the differences between people, and the roots of our behaviour, and those who are comfortable in crowds and those who are not.
For children growing up in the country, co-operative play is not automatically learned and I think they tend to rely on themselves for problem-solving. This isn’t a bad thing, just a curious one.
I didn’t play a lot of team sports, though I blamed it on my height, and group school projects were awkward. My four farm-raised daughters are the same, so there must be something to it.
My neighbour and I walk our dogs together on occasion. She is the instigator and when she calls me on the phone, and I answer, her response is always the same.
And I must say that I smile down to my very toes when she says, “Can Wendi come out to play?”
wendistewart@live.ca

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