Nowadays I hear a lot about childhood obesity. I am sure it a serious problem. From what I can learn, the causes seem to be too much fattening food and too little exercise. This epidemic causes me to contemplate my childhood.
I didn’t know many fat kids. EJ. Ovella was heavy, but his parents owned an Italian restaurant, so I suppose he could not help his condition.
There were not many E.J.s around. None of the girls I grew up with were obese. Jane and Estelle stayed trim by chasing us boys. The other girls in school stayed fit by playing as hard as we boys played.
Even after moving to New Orleans, the city where food is a religion, and eating a moral obligation rather than a necessity, the kids I hung out with were skinny. I attribute two reason for this: 1) no fast food joints, and 2) we stayed in perpetual motion.
We ate what our mothers’ spent hours cooking, not what some teenager at a fast food joint pulled from a freezer and popped into a deep fat fryer. We ate everything that we found on our plates.
“I don’t care if you don’t like it. You have to eat at least a bite of it before you can have anything else or any dessert. Clean that plate off boy. Don’t you know there are kids starving in China,” Mother would admonish.
Thus we learned to eat heathy foods, like it on not.
We walked the half-mile to school–rain or shine. At the time It seemed like two miles, but Google Map tells me it was only a half mile. We had to. The Parish (County for those not lucky enough to live in Louisiana) provided no transportation. In my case The Catholic Church provided no ride to school. Even if our parents had a car, they would not waste gas driving a perfectly health youngun to school.
Schools had no air conditioning. We sweated a lot In the South when we played games at recess and after school. Houses had no air conditioning. We sweated like pigs when we played outside all day and night long in the summer. And play outside you must. No sitting in the house watching television, because there was no television. The one radio could be heard through the screen doors and windows, which were locked to keep you outside except to eat.
“But I am thirsty. I need a drink.” you might implore, only to be told, “Drink out of the garden hose.” I guess surviving the bacteria in a garden hose made us strong and skinny. A Coke that came in a bottle, which you could get a nickel for when you returned it to the store, was a rare treat. No opening throwaway can after throwaway can to take a few cold sips from, then abandon the drink as it gets warm. Nowadays, to deprive grandkids of refrigerated water in plastic bottles or a canned, cold soft drinks at their every whim might constitute child abuse.
Play outside, especially during the summer, was not a time-limited or organized activity. It went on from the time you were ejected from the house in the morning until you could run no more late at night. You were sent outside early in the morning and received a sandwich for lunch, to be eaten under the shade of a tree, while you played marbles or the card game we called “Battle”. You were allowed inside only long enough to eat dinner, then you were banished again to the dark and played under dim street lights.
We kids did not require expensive toys. Even if they were available, we children of The Great Depression had no money to buy them them anyway. We built skate boards and skate-mobiles from an old pairs of skates and pieces of scrap lumber. With a “Y” shaped branch of a tree, future hunters fashioned sling shots that could actually kill a bird or at least stunn him. When we assembled rubber guns, we only required pieces of tires and a straight piece of barrel length wood. A wooden clothes pens held the rubber bands in place when they were cocked and served as a triggers.
We constructed pop guns from hollered out cane. A piece of straight willow limb, skinned down, served as a plunger. The best ammunition for pop guns were china berries. I can verify that one could hit a man in a car fifty feet away from a china ball tree. If the man chased you around and around the American Legion hall in his car, that would be good exercise too.
When you were finally allowed to come inside at night, You were ordered to bathe all the grime off our sweaty body before you could sleep on clean sheets your mother had spent many hours washing, drying on a close line in the sun and wind and ironing with a new steam iron she received for Christmas. While an attic fan sucked damp, cool air from opened, screened windows and doors across your sweaty body, deep sleep came quickly.
When we visited our country cousins in the summer and at holidays, new outdoor adventures awaited. Swimming nude at secluded creeks and breaking into watermelon patches required a long, barefoot walk down hot railroad tracks.When walking on Rail Road tracks, kids had to make critical decisions to preserve their bare feet. Do I walk on the hot steel rails? Is it better to walk on the hot, sharp granite rock of the track bed? Would I be better off stepping from one hot, creosote oozing crosstie to the next? Should I walk on the cool grass next to the tracks that is full of nasty stickers? Most of us used a combination of strategies to complete our journeys.
No kid could get fat riding a bicycle the distances we did each day. Our old, many-time-refurbished, multi-colored machines served us well for play and work. Some of us had paper routes we rode on our primitive bikes. Since customers were few and far between, a paperboy could ride many miles a day delivering his papers.
We kids didn’t think about times being tough. Times were just what they were. Everybody was in the same pickle.
These may not have been the fabled “Good Old Days”, but with few exceptions, our daily vigorous outdoor activities and the nutritious food provided by our parents enabled us to avoid the modern plague of childhood obesity.