For some reason, while lying in bed this morning, I thought about the difference between residential property in Germany and where grew up. I have no recall as to what sparked this thought...and it does not matter.
During my youth, I roamed free throughout the neighborhood and beyond. No one’s property was immune from my wandering. Friends and I played games that required much space. Fences were rare and easily surmounted. I do not recall ever being scolded by adults.
Germany is a land of fences and walls. Each plot is meticulously fenced in, many with additional hedge rows. No child is able to wander freely and would be chastised, if he or she set foot on a neighbor’s land. Children are allowed to play in their yard or a friend’s with invitation and at public playground during official opening times. Many open spaces have signs forbidding play.
I see in this a metaphor for comparative life. American children roam free, as did early settlers. German kids suffer the restrictions of a country continually overrun throughout history by invading armies. Freedom vs. protection.
Of course, kids these days in the United States must worry about the proliferations of guns and stand-your-ground laws. If those had been a feature of my young days, I would probably not have survived my youth.
When I was a child, the ultimate punishment was to be sent to my room and not be allowed to play outdoors. An intermediate stage was being restricted to the yard, being able to watch friends roam free in the neighborhood and beyond. The worst I recall was two weeks “incarceration”; the crime, I think, was falling into the swamp and coming home soaked, but only when it became dark.
That form of punishment would not have worked with my children, because each preferred to be in his or her room. The worst for them would have been to send them outdoors to play. We couldn’t have grown up under more different circumstances. I never saw a tree I did not want to climb; my children never climbed a tree.
I couldn’t live without nature; nature was something my children might notice, if glancing out a window. Dirt and water, in the form of streams, ponds, puddles, or swamps, were my preferred elements. Of course, my mother needed to wash a bunch of clothes, but I did not care. Soiled clothes was a badge of honor in my neighborhood.
I noticed a piece about the tooth fairy, with the headline claiming that the days are gone of a quarter under the pillow. Supposedly, US tooth fairies leave an average $3.70 per tooth. I seem to recall receiving a nickel or a dime. The article went on to say “Six percent of tooth fairy representatives—otherwise known as parents—shell out $20 per tooth, while two percent leave an outrageous $50 or more.”
I fall into the outrageous category. At the time of my first child’s first loss of a tooth, I was working for an advertising agency. One of my clients was Royal Canadian Mint, whose only product was the Gold Maple Leaf coin. So, my children found a 1/4 ounce gold coin under the pillow, after placing a tooth underneath. Gold was much cheaper in those days, but the price was still above today’s average for a lost tooth. Those coins now rest in a bank deposit box, forgotten by my children. They are certainly worth more than on the days they were discovered under the pillow, when they had no idea what they were or what they were worth. This is one more example of parents’ wasted effort...
How absurd are distressed jeans for kids? (I believe that's the proper term. The pair below is for a mere 18-month member of the human race, purchased new. I needed months to get my clothe
My mother would have been angry at me for ruining my jeans (called dungarees in those days) and embarrassed to have her child loose on the streets in such a condition...which have become high fashion. (Not unlike the case of plastic sandal, which I first saw on dirty feet of women picking through trash at a city dump in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, and are now worn by the Beautiful People at such garden spots as St. Tropez, France). Of course, such garments were not permitted in schools, but even afternoon play required a certain level of decorum. I recall patches being ironed over the normal wear and tear in my pants’ knees caused by an active child. Only poor kids wore clothes with holes or fraying.
In my childhood, there were two brands of blue jeans (Lee and Levi) for two kinds of people (farmers, ie. Eastern US, and cowboys, ie. west of the Mississippi). Sales territories did not overlap (which I only learned later in life, when brands came to mean something). I do not recall children in the suburbs wearing blue jeans. My mother smuggled in a pair into Massachusetts for my brother and for me from Denver. Airport controls were less rigid. I cannot recall wearing them, but must have. Once they reached a distressed condition, such as in the above photo, I’m certain that my mother spirited them away to prevent me embarrassing her more than I usually did. She would be aghast at what her great grandchild wears in broad daylight and to kindergarten.
I’m not a fashion critic nor a fashion historian. My issue is with the production process. Slave labor in Third World countries is destroying the environment with stone washing and dying denim, so that infants can look like older people. There used to be distinct differences by age group. Now, everyone looks the same...or tries to. And, that costs money.
I read an evocative article in the Atlantic Monthly (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/06/the-wicked-coast/8490/), which made me recall a boyhood trip to Deer Isle, Maine on a long autumn weekend. I must have been 7 or 8 years old. I was invited by the parents of a friend, who was an only child, to accompany the family on a trip to their vacation home. I vaguely remember a long drive (before the days of interstates), a ferry voyage, and arriving late at night at a darkened house in the woods. The father was angry, perhaps tired from the long trip, at a trench in the drive from unfinished work. I recall nothing else about the house, beyond it being on the water and edge of woods.
I do remember a few details of my time on the island. We cooked lobster over a fire on the beach in front of their house in large pot filled with sea water and seaweed: the best I ever tasted. We visited a shack, perhaps of the worker responsible for the shoddy work, at which I saw a dirt floor for the first time. At a farmer’s roadside stand, I was offered a small pumpkin. I turned it down, stating that my parents would buy me “a bigger one”. Not being aware of social graces, I was scolded by my friend’s father for being impolite. The next day, I convinced my less-brave friend to take the row boat out onto the bay. Unable to handle the current, we were driven out to sea, forcing the father to strip down and swim out in the frigid water to save us. I’m sure that he scolded us, but I do not recall his words. Once again, I was lucky to survive childhood. I was never invited for another visit to Maine. Soon after that, we moved to another part of town, and I never saw this childhood friend again.
After reading the article, I had a fleeting thought about visiting Maine and driving along the coast. It is surely just as beautiful, if changed for the worse. Building must have tarnished many spots. My thoughts soon turned to industrial food, strip malls, clogged roads, and too much “progress”. I prefer to recall fond memories of a reality that never was in the land of my birth. I will stay in Europe, explore back roads, and discover traditional, regional cuisines or travel to Asia in the footsteps of Somerset Maugham and immerse myself in exotic cultures.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.