Commentary: What We Had as Kids

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – If “Gunsmoke,” a Western series that ran 20 years on television, is at all accurate, cowboys sure spent a great deal of time playing checkers.

The character played by actor Ken Curtis, Festus, is forever challenging fellow cowboys to a game of checkers. Even Doc Adams, played by Milburn Stone, is continually urging folks to play a game or two.

This apparent fascination with the game could be a fantasy of the writers of the show. Or it could be genuine research that proves the cowboys’ love of the game.

When I was a kid, rainy days that interrupted outdoor ball games and fishing excursions meant several of us playing checkers on my front porch. Even Chinese checkers held our attention for a while.

Like most folks of a certain generation, I loved to be outdoors playing what everyone played: games of hopscotch, kick the can, hide and seek and tag stand out in memory as being important parts of outdoor fun each summer.

The point that I am trying to make is the human beings of my generation may be the last to experience outdoor games like marbles, hide and seek, red rover and even jacks or jump rope.

Back then, we thought of jacks or jump rope as activities associated with girls and marbles or kick the can as being more masculine.

In retrospect, such categorizing seems silly.

Not having ever played a video game it is difficult for me to understand the appeal of electronic games that confine people to the indoors when they should be outside breathing fresh air, running around and chasing each other playing tag.

Another topic that bugs me (as we used to say) is the information screens in most new cars. The letters and numbers are so small that one should never try to read most of the categories, whether mileage or tire pressure.

I have to believe that one cause of automobile wrecks revolves around the tiny letters and numbers that drivers have a heck of a time reading. There must be a better way to provide the driver information without that illuminated screen.

Also, most of what is presented is not pertinent while one drives the car. How about just the basics, gas level, radio and disc player, volume, heater and air. Other info can be provided while the car is safe in your driveway.

Do you remember when cartoonists were predicting cars of the future that would fly above the rooftops on the way to the supermarket? That is right. Back then, they predicted flying cars by the year 2000.

While some predictions were right on target, others never came to pass.

Electric cars, however, were predicted. Frankly, I never thought that electric cars were in our future. No longer. My son-in-law still believes that electric cars are not here as he discusses lack of plug-in stations or the occasional explosion these electric automobiles bring on.

One of the most interesting television programs of the past that predicted our future was hosted by Walter Cronkite. You might recall that the program included scientists that looked into the future on topics such as transportation, medicine, architecture and the like. While the show did not predict flying cars, it did predict various forms of travel such as bullet trains that could travel 300 mph.

Remember the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City that predicted individual cars running on tracks and that were fairly round so they would be more aerodynamic?

I remember that the Disney Pavilion presented automobiles powered by sunlight. The designer of that pavilion also presented a computer that could print out information in just a few minutes.

I do not remember seeing laptops or cellphones being presented. I do remember that art of the future would be motorized, electric laser pieces and artworks made of titanium.

Holograms or three-dimensional photos were the hit of the fair. Three-dimensional printers were not even predicted.

Getting back to games after discussing the cars of today and tomorrow: The futuristic games cannot be as much fun as a great game of marbles with my favorite cat eye, puree, or steelie bringing the most fun.

The games we played under the streetlight, like kick the can, were so much fun that just recalling the fun carries me back through the decades to that streetlight that illuminated our games on Center Street back in the 1950s.

We also played a game back then called “kick the wicket” that was like baseball but kicking a stick to advance the wicket. The word wicket is no doubt a Britishism that causes me to think that “kick the wicket” came from the old country.

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