Growing Up In The 60's & 70's - When the Lights Come On
I lived on Elmwood Drive for the first 12 years of my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it could have been Mayberry RFD. It was small town USA, an all-American neighborhood, a wholesome and traditional spot on earth.
Growing up in a neighborhood community like Broadmoor meant we knew all the families around us. We knew which houses had children, which houses had dogs and cats, which houses had a color TV. We knew who had the best carport for hopscotch, who had the largest backyard for kickball, and who had a big brother who had built a fort from discarded wood. That would have been my house.
We roller skated and played jump rope and raced our bikes through empty lots. We caught toads at night, and placed them in paper bags meant for groceries. My next door neighbors, my brother, and I walked around the block, typically towards the boulevard, each of us ready to catch toads that hopped unaware at our feet. We caught as many as we could in a single block. Those of us who had forgotten to double our paper bags often lost our specimens before we got home.
Toads urinate profusely in self defense and thus a large assembly of them could quickly weaken a paper sack. But when we were prepared with a strong and sturdy vessel, we returned home to show our parents the dozens of toads our little team had rounded up. It was good, clean fun, and after our parents sufficiently marveled at our collection, we gently dumped our paper bags into the front yard where the splendid animals did what all toads typically do. They hopped away. They were free -- until, of course, we caught them again the next evening.
Toad gathering was one of the rare activities our parents allowed us to perform at night. Most of our childhood fun was restricted to daylight, and most of us obeyed the same rule: Be home when the lights come on. As we scampered about the neighborhood looking for our friends and an outdoor adventure, we were keenly aware of the street lights, as they signaled that our day outdoors was ending. Once the street lights awakened with illumination, we were all on our way home.
It’s a sweet memory and a simple edict. When the lights come on, be home. It meant that dinner was served, that our fathers were home from work, that we were expected to be inside. I remember riding my bicycle with exceptional speed—when on one occasion, I found myself a few blocks from home when I noticed the street lights. I knew in my gut that I had ventured too far, that I might be reprimanded, that I might be in danger. I realized with clarity, just as my siblings and our friends did, that the rule about being home was all about our safety. How simple life was.
I wish life was still that gentle. I wish life was still so well-defined. I wish life still held such clarity. When the lights come on, be home. Absolutely.
Elizabeth O'Roark Hesterly was born and raised in Lafayette. She is a graduate of Acadiana High School and LSU, is too serious for her own good, admires loyalty and faithfulness, and strives for both.