Memories of my childhood in the summertime growing up in Columbia were punctuated by the “dinner bell.” Families in our neighborhood had bells mounted by their backdoors to “ring you home” for any number of reasons, but mostly in the early evening for dinner. In the summer months, we were happily barefoot and free until the clang of the bell sounded. Everyone’s bell was different with a unique ring, which we all learned to recognize.
Of course, there were boundaries for roaming, and everyone had different boundaries depending on their age and how strict their parents were. Some of us obeyed those boundaries … and some did not — that’s what made it fun!
Days were long and things were simple; we played multiple kinds of tag, hide-and-seek, kick-the-can, and capture-the-flag. Choosing teams was reserved for the older kids, who always had their favorites and often cheated, but who could argue with them! I have memories of manning lemonade stands, slurping Icees, killing yellow jackets by slapping our hands together very quickly, and eating raw jello.
We rode and raced our bikes, skateboarded on our knees, and pushed one another down the driveway in our wagons. The chain-link fence that divided neighbors was the perfect place to practice balancing and walking, but the danger was leaving destroyed plants if you fell — and we always did. It was best to hide rather than have my mother witness that in her garden. Football could be rough, and more than once in a game we had timeout to retrieve Bactine and Band-Aids.
A few neighbors had pools, but sprinklers and hoses were often more fun, especially surprise spraying whoever was racing by on the zip line. Towels were twisted tightly and used to “rat tail” each other. On long days of freedom, we explored Gills Creek, which was definitely outside of all of our boundaries, wading in the tunnel and under Converse Street all the way to Beltline. If caught, we said we were “catching tadpoles,” but really we were putting dares on one another and looking for someone else’s trash that soon became our treasure.
We had forts in the empty lot next to the Todds’ house on Chicora Street, and it was filled with those treasures. As the boys got older, some of the parents let them camp out overnight — but I can tell you, that was a sure way to get into trouble. Some of the boys dug underground tunnels in the Blencowes’ yard, and we all played with the Bruces’ duck, Frederick.
Cameron Todd drove a Volkswagen bug, and an iconic neighborhood memory I have is of Mr. Todd coming home at the end of the day. He would stop and blow his horn at the mailbox. We would all come running from various directions, anxious to be the first to jump on the running boards for a ride into their driveway and around the backyard in the grass.
In early evening, we would catch lightning bugs, play games with flashlights, and shoot fireworks. Often, parents would cook out hamburgers and hot dogs for the group, and we always had watermelon, which produced a seed-spitting fight. As night closed in, the Walkers’ triangle bell would ring first and Frank would disappear, followed by the Vardells’ deep ring for me, and then the Todds’ jingle. You could hear faint bells ringing in the distance well into the night, urging the older kids to appear, but by that time I was in front of our black-and-white TV watching Jackie Gleason with my dad.