This I Believe

Rachael - Southside, Alabama
Entered on April 9, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: change, children

I believe in childhood innocence. Growing up in the South, childhood innocence was much more evident for me than for an inner city kid from New York City. For children today, however, that innocence is lost. I remember when it was simpler, and generations before me had it even better that I did.

I grew up with gang violence, AIDS, and cheap horror films like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. The worst thing to happen at school was a fight in the parking lot or students smoking cigarettes at break. I was lucky. The closest I ever came to drugs was seeing two girls huff paint while we were decorating the homecoming float, and back then, it didn’t have a sophisticated name like huffing. They were just sniffing paint fumes…perfectly innocent, right? Hardly.

My parents weren’t cooking meth amphetamine in the kitchen when I got off the school bus. For me, it was turnip greens in the pressure cooker…the steady pish-pish-pish-pish of the steam humming throughout the house…the only danger was the bad smell.

Nowadays, kids play with guns, or make pipe bombs out of boredom. I used to go to my grandfather’s building and play with the metal shavings from his grinder with a magnet. I would pretend they were tiny people dancing on the table, standing up and lying down when I told them to. I would hammer nails into an old board to let off steam and aggression, not shoot my classmates because one of them looked at me the wrong way.

Whatever happened to childhood innocence? I remember being steeped in it when I was a child. I played tic-tac-toe in the dirt with a stick when I was bored…today, most kids change game CD’s in their PS2’s. Games were much simpler when I was growing up.

Last week in an email, someone asked me: What is your favorite childhood memory? I knew the answer almost before I finished reading it: it was street light game.

My grandfather had an old black glider in his yard. Even now, its original color remains a mystery me. I remember the chips in the paint showed white, green, and red, and on sizzling summer days, I used to wonder why in the world it was painted black. I forgot all about the color when evening arrived.

Everyone would gather in the front yard for the street light game. Now, that I look back, I am amazed at how much a silly game could calm so many children down at once…everyone wanted to win. The silence would finally be broken by someone shouting, “There it is!” Everyone would laugh when it was over, and slowly walk through the lightning bugs to go inside for the night. Only my grandfather could make a game out of waiting for a street light to come on. I’m grateful to him for that game. As a parent, I am trying to bring back that childhood innocence because I believe.