Alonzo Weston

With school out now for the summer, my mind turns to those vacation days of my youth. I live near an elementary school, so I get an up-close look at the machinations of the year. Parking is horrible at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Playground cacophony is the loudest around noon. You get used to the rhythms.

It seems summers are more structured for school kids today than it was for me and kids of my generation.

Soon as the school doors close, the kids are signed up for music lessons, dance classes and other activities. For us, when school was out for the summer we were free to roam, with the only structured activity being a pick-up baseball or Indian ball game.

Streets were safer then and neighborhoods were attentive. Not many places ran kids off unless you were really bad.

I know times have changed and we had to change with them. The rules for kids today are rules for our times. It’s not safe to roam everywhere like it used to be. Our only rule was to be home before the streetlights came on. Before sundown, we could roam anywhere in the city and we did on our bicycles.

Kids today who don’t have enough food at home receive Backpack Buddies meals from Second Harvest Community wFood Bank to fill in the spots where school lunches left off for the summer. It’s a much-needed service and an admirable one. Many kids go hungry in the summer.

We kids back then had to forage for our lunches. I wouldn’t suggest kids today do some of the things we did, like raiding people’s fruit trees and gardens. But some things like selling pop bottles can’t be done today.

Most people grew vegetable gardens and had fruit trees in their yards back then. We knew what fruit was in season and we knew where those trees were to raid them. The homeowners rarely ran us off because they knew we were just hungry. And fruits and vegetables were healthy. How many kids would raid trees and gardens today for food? I don’t recommend it because in a sense it is stealing, but people today may not be so understanding of kids raiding their gardens and fruit trees.

One thing kids today don’t have as a option for food is selling soda pop bottles. Today pop comes in plastic throwaway bottles. Back in the day, it came in glass bottles and when the bottle was empty you could turn them in at the store for a nickel. If you sold enough of them you could buy a hamburger and fries or a cupcake, a comic book and another bottle of soda pop.

Store coupons used to come in the mail on what was called Red Letter Days. You could take those to the store and cash them in for half price and buy food.

Another way we made money for food was by cutting grass and doing odd jobs for our neighbors. Of course, today kids have to compete with lawn services for mowing jobs, so that’s not much of an option.

Families cut their food budgets then by growing vegetable gardens and eating wild game and organ meats. That’s how we ate when I was a kid. We weren’t above eating squirrels and rabbits either. We made roasts out of cow tongues and ate brain sandwiches and liver.

Poor people and poor kids found ways to survive.

Alonzo Weston can be reached


Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.