Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Amblers and Shiftless Wanderers, Where Have You Gone?

"Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared?
Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear?
Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folk song,
those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another
and bed down under the stars?
Have they vanished along with footpaths,
with grasslands and clearings, with nature?" ~ Milan Kundera

I have taken on too many projects at the present time, and I am feeling the dizzying effects of a whirlwind life. I am desirous of slowness, ambling, loafing, wandering shiftlessly. As a result, I have been thinking about the words "supper" and "dinner" quite a bit these last few weeks. People don't use the word "supper" much any more to denote the evening meal. I still use it quite often. I first got to thinking about it when my grandson was visiting. He's 4 1/2, and when I asked him what he wanted for supper, he wasn't quite sure what I was referring to.

We always said "supper" when I was young. This was to distinguish it from the noon meal on Sundays which we called "Sunday dinner." I don't remember that we ever really had the traditional-after-church-large-meal that was called dinner, but I know that's where this distinction came from. It seems to me that something has been lost as "supper" has gone out of style.

When I drive in the afternoons or in the summer down the streets of the subdivision in which I live, I am struck again and again with how empty they are. There are no children playing in their yards, riding their bikes, sitting under trees throwing pine cones at each other, walking along the side of the road talking . . . no children to be seen anywhere. Day after day. I know what they say: it's the video games, the tv, the computer that keep them inside. I also know that the homework load these days is burdensome. And I know, too, that fear of myriad things, mostly of strangers, keeps them inside as well. It has become a dangerous world. I realize this. Yet, somehow the fact that the children are inside and not out in the wide world perpetuates the danger, I think. I'm not naive enough to think if more children played outside the world would be safe, but our neighborhood would be different. It would be alive. Fear has a tougher time taking root in a place overrun with childhood.

The neighborhoods in which I grew up were well-inhabited with children. With us. We played kickball, Red Rover Red Rover, tag-freeze, tv, cartoon, and other silly forms of the game, hide and seek. We raced our bikes, played make believe - Planet of the Apes, The Yankees Are Coming. Fallen trees became mansions and palaces. Willow trees were curtains or veils. We gathered pokeberries, crushed them into bottles, and tried to market them as inks or paint, succeeding only in staining our clothes. We gently plucked honeysuckle and sipped the nectar that beaded at the end of the stem. We carved paths through the woods around the wild perimeter of the neighborhood, our own private kingdom. We splashed in Beaverdam Creek, watching the water striders skate across the surface, were scolded for coming home with our shoes covered in mud.
There were slow, quiet moments, too. We sat in yards that were not ours, making whistles out of the thick blades of bermuda grass, lying on our backs watching the clouds scuttle overhead. Front porches were prime real estate for sitting on railings, talking about how "Mrs. Jones hid that dog in the coat closet today and wasn't that the coolest thing ever and I'm going to be a third grade teacher just like Mrs. Jones." Or we'd try to figure out mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and the boys we had crushes on. Talking late into the evening, until either the mosquitoes or the chill night air drove us inside.

We always had to be called in for supper, though. Parents would come to their front doors, stand on the porches, cup their hands around their mouths and holler "Supper's ready." Beans and franks. Pork chops and Stove Top Stuffing. Stuffed green peppers that I could barely get down. Or spaghetti that I could have eaten every night. All of us children showing up at the supper table with skinned or dirty knees, grubby pants, hands sticky with pine resin or stained with pokeberry, barefeet black and calloused.

These weren't idyllic times. I remember tears, anger, divorces, grief and loss, along with the more mundane childhood dramas. But something has been lost along with supper time. I am sorry to have it gone. I don't know that we can ever get it back again. The world is a different place. We are a different kind of people living in it. I suppose we have to be. But I wonder if it's not the same thing as the looping connection between fear of strangers and streets empty of childhood. Do we no longer gather for the pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy for the Sunday dinner, no longer call the children in for supper, because the world moves so fast? Or does the world move so fast because we don't have anyone to call inside for supper?

"Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared?
Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear?"


  1. I do know this subject well...I often wonder if we are bombarded with so much stimuli that appears to be attractive that we don't filter out the 99 of what we don't need. Lately I have been putting aside a time for me just to sit in silence for an hour with no computer, TV, or responsibility. Suddenly I find myself picturing the excitement at the old Woolworth's store getting a small white bag of mixed candy for a dime and then walking the creaky wood floors over to the pet corner and falling in love with the monkey in the cage knowing he was out of my reach and family budget. The odor of fresh buttered popcorn at the old Sears stores was enough reason to hurry home for 'Supper".

  2. I really appreciate this Robin. First, I also had to come inside “to supper”, and am guilty of the transition from supper to dinner; and have no idea why or how. With kids 5, 16, and 18, I am at a point in my life where I need to welcome the slowness with which my daughter (5) explores everything, E V E R Y T H I N G, and feel less compelled to rush through it (for whatever reason). I find myself rushing through the day and am making a pledge to ask myself, "Why do we have to hurry?" It seems as though I'm constantly rushing the kids: to school, the store, through dinner, to bed, and waking them with a sense of urgency for them to begin their day...only to rush through the activities all over again. I now look at Logan, who is getting ready to graduate from high school and while he's as handsome as ever, I still see my little Logie Bear, who used to call me his "printheth" as he caressed my cheek, and I'm baffled at where the time went. I would like to slow down, live more fully, and play. I love the memories of activities from “back then”. I remember playing and endlessly exploring my world. I can relate to the dirt and grime, and skinned knees; but the worst was my own disappointment at having to come inside. I loved the outdoors; the seasonal activities became traditions throughout the years: building forts, fishing, climbing, and dodging trains, picking berries, fearfully swimming in the lagoon filled with bullheads, raking leaves and jumping in them, and digging tunnels in the piles of snow, gratefully left behind by the snow plow drivers. Coming inside “to supper” was very hard to do; I was not quite finished with what I was doing (even though there really was no defining end in sight). As I write this, I’m recognizing the same passion for the outdoors in my daughter; she would live outdoors if given the opportunity; often running for me when it’s time to come in “for supper”. So, not quite mother of the year material, I just had an “aha moment”. She isn’t a defiant, stubborn, grumpy five year old; she just simply isn’t willing to be rushed. She also needs a little more time to play with no defining end in sight.
    Coincidentally, this morning Chloe appeared in the kitchen while I was making coffee and wanted to play cards. I usually have to drag her from her bed, dress her while half asleep, all the while gently waking her because she is a sleep monster. So, we RUSHED to get dressed, so we could play a little bit before school. We managed to get in two hands of “Go Tinkerbell” (her adaptation of Go Fish, based on the new deck of Tinkerbell cards she got for her birthday). In my opinion, a perfect start to a perfect day, and a perfect start to living more fully; you have to start somewhere, right?

  3. Ah! The Woolworth's store and the Sears. And the forts, the leaf piles, and the snow . . . I know that some of this is nostalgia, which is sometimes a useless longing for a time that never really was as perfect as we remember it. But I, too, watch my little grandson as he explores this world to which he is still so new. And I know that this time we give our children is precious beyond measure. That is not nostalgic, that is something that is present - here and now. And so vital. Thank you both for igniting even more memories.

  4. Beautifully written tribute to our childhood years. Takes me back to the magic...and gives me something good to chew on, thinking about changes, thinking about how to make a difference anyway. Thank you!