August 1, 2013

WILLIAMS: How we used to live


---- — It seems that the older we get, the more closed off from the real world we become. We tend more and more to live in isolated boxes (including house boxes, television boxes, computer boxes).

When I was young, television was a special event. Watching TV was something you did at night when it was too dark to do anything else. Mostly our moms booted us outside. It was a treat when we got to watch a movie in the middle of a rainy day. We lived for weekend mornings when we were allowed to stay in for Fury and Roy Rogers and The Cisco Kid.

When we were outdoors, no one worried about us. My two cousins and I were all within a year of one another in age. We roamed Logansport like 10-year adventurers on our bikes. We ranged down to the river to catch minnows in a coffee can, along the alleys to collect magazines people threw away (as I recall, those alleys were abundant with Hollyhocks and Bachelor Buttons), uptown to the library, out into the country to see horses and cows and lambs, to Dykeman Park to plunge down ravines and across creeks to gather pine cones and snail shells and wildflowers, even to the dump where we once found a packet of love letters that entertained us for a whole romantic afternoon. We only went home when we were driven there by hunger.

We went to the movies by ourselves. We got 20 cents – a nickel for the movie itself, one for a drink, one for a box of candy and one for a bag of popcorn. On especially lucky days, a generous grown up would give us enough extra to stop at the Blue Front Drug Store for a chocolate soda.

There was no air conditioning then. We’d lie in bed, sweating, with all the windows open smelling the fragrance of fresh-cut grass or the smoke of the neighbor’s trash fire (I don’t ever remember anyone cooking out back then). We heard the barking of our own or the next-door dogs. We’d hear my cousins’ older sister being brought home from a date and giggle over how long they sat there kissing before the car door slammed.

In the winter, we’d wake up and huddle under the covers if none of the adults had got up in the night to stoke the furnace. The floors were like walking on ice; the toilet seat was like sitting on a glacier.

That connection with the larger world was maintained even into adulthood. I don’t remember living in a totally air-conditioned house until I was in my middle 20s. As when I was a child, open doors and windows were the norm. Now, of course, even animals are affected by our penchant to live insulated lives. We keep our dogs and cats indoors or tied up and even the livestock - chickens, hogs and dairy cattle - increasingly live in enclosed corporate boxes.

And these years, most of our work spaces include windows designed for decoration rather than ventilation.

People are strange. On Facebook, they constantly complain about their supposed loss of freedom but much of the freedom to experience our world, we have willingly handed over in the name of comfort, convenience and security.

Vicki Williams is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached through the newspaper at