It's Happening: Backyard Kiddos of the '80s and '90s

By Julie Perine on April 03, 2017 from It’s Happening via

I recently heard a comedian base a joke on the fact that kids don’t play outside anymore. I know some still do, but granted, there aren’t as many as there used to be. My mind drifted back 25 years ago to when backyards here in the East Olive Street/Cole Avenue area were full of kids. During spring and summer breaks – and Christmas break if the weather was decent - kids indeed came out of the woodwork.
For many years, our family and the neighbors took turns providing the neighborhood trampoline. By the hours, kids would jump, flip, seat drop, knee drop and master their toe touches. Usually, kids would line the outer circle of the trampoline while the designated jumper took the center and did his or her thing. Sometimes, they’d all be up on their feet, all but one with their eyes closed playing a creative version of Marco Polo.
The trampoline was also somewhat of a headquarters – a meeting place. Sometimes I’d look out there after dark and see kids seated around that same outer circle, planning their next activity.  If it was evening, that activity was usually spotlight. Off they would scatter- many to our backdoor - to get flashlights. I’d rustle through drawers and shelves to find as many as I could find. Then off they would go and be entertained for hours. If I happened to go outside to take out trash or feed the cats, kids would be huddled behind bushes and shrubs, cars or anyplace else they could hide out until the right moment to make a dash to a utility pole or other designated base. When the players got real serious, they would go home first so they could dress in dark clothes. I remember one particular time when my son and his buddy even painted their faces black. All you could see was the whites of their little eyes.
The driveway was either used as a basketball court or a BMX bicycle course. Bike jumps, kept in our garage, would be drug out and strategically placed after which I’d see kids on bikes flying through the air. Sometimes, they’d just ride those bicycles around the neighborhood. Our youngest daughter often took a kitty along for the ride, placing the feline in her little bicycle basket.
Periodically, the kiddos would pop indoors to get a sherbet push-up, ice cream sandwich - or whatever freezer treats we had recently purchased from Gordy the Schwan man. Other neighborhood houses had their own snacks. Sometimes you could tell which house the kids were in because the front yard was full of bicycles – or our family’s collie who ran house to house with them. She would be patiently waiting on the front porch.
Backyard football or baseball was always another option; that same dog often in the outfield or making an interception. Climbing trees and sidewalk chalk art were other summertime favorite activities. In the fall, they would rake leaves, scatter them by jumping into the pile - then rake them again.
If it was raining, the crew had a favorite indoor activity – wrestling. We’d let them move all the furniture in the family room and they would take turns competing in matches, being eliminated if they got pinned by their opponent. Our oldest daughter was always a favorite for the championship.
It was before cell phones or even the internet was widespread. Yeah, they had video games. Mario Brothers and Tetris cartridges were popped into the Nintendo from time to time.
This went on for several years. And I still love the memory of it all. 
This blog is dedicated to our backyard regulars of the '80s and '90s Alan Robbins, Aaron Horne, David Gray, Lindsay Gum, Ryan Walker, Michael Walker, Thomas Izzo, Joey Elam, Jeremy Gum, Stephanie Wanstreet, Emily Bernard and, of course, Deanna, Brittany and Jeffrey.
Julie Perine can be reached at 304-848-7200, ext. 2, or follow @JuliePerine on Twitter.
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