I feel sorry for kids today. My son won’t let his daughter play outside alone, and they live in what most would consider a very safe neighborhood. It wasn’t like that back in the fifties, sixties and even later into the seventies. We came home from school, changed clothes, and disappeared into the neighborhood. Our parents never knew where we were, and we were never in any danger, except to ourselves, because of some of the stupid things we did. We sometimes stepped on a nail—tetanus shot. Cut a foot or hand on a piece of metal—tetanus shot. Burned a finger with a match or firecracker—tetanus shot. Fell in the ditch—tetanus shot. My dad dispensed so many tetanus shots and penicillin shots we were probably immune to every disease known to man. We lived through it, even thrived, and we certainly had fun, and our parents worried very little.
We never had any formal playgrounds. The whole world was our playground. Unless it was raining, we were outside. And we stayed outside, until it either got dark, or we were somehow rounded up by a parent.
Our homes had fairly large yards, but only rarely were they large enough to contain our activities. We needed and sought more room and more varied topography to play in—and, in Old Kenner back then, there was plenty of variety.
For organized sports, like football or baseball, we had at least two immediate choices. There was an open field on the corner of Sixth Street and Minor Street. It was plenty large enough for us to use for baseball and football until we grew old enough and strong enough that it became too confining and we risked putting a baseball through Mr. Giammalva’s window. No problem—when we needed larger, we had a whole city block to play in. Our Lady of Perpetual Help School now occupies that block. When we were growing up in Kenner, it was completely unoccupied by any permanent structure.
Kids love the woods, and we had plenty of wooded lots to choose from. When we were really young, we had Joe Lorio’s wooded lot between my grandmother’s house and the Manard’s house. It was small but large enough we could hide from parents and do kid stuff in it.
After that we had the Manard’s key lot behind the double belonging to the Manards and the Legasses. It was only lightly wooded but remote enough to be a wonderful playground. Next door was a huge (to us) wooded lot facing Williams Street. When we were old enough to be allowed machetes and hatchets we chopped down small trees in that lot and built forts in the Manard’s key lot.
On that aforementioned wooded lot on Williams, one year they went in and bulldozed most of the trees and pushed them into big piles and left them there like gracious gifts for us kids to play in. We scampered over those piles of trees with our hatchets and machetes and built even bigger forts to play army in.
Every summer the Lagasses would bring in a load of spillway dirt and dump it in their key lot, and they “allowed” us kids to level and distribute it for them. That process started with “dirt wars.” There was enough clay in the dirt we could make balls and throw them at each other like snowballs. And they hurt! Then we dug small tunnels and built little villages in it to play with our toy trucks and cars. At dusk, we all went home covered with river sand and tracked it into our respective houses. My mother hated those dirt piles! (I am still trying to figure out how they got that dump truck back there?)
On Minor Street near the IC tracks, two blocks from my home, was another wooded lot. Beside it was the closest thing we had to a creek in our little world, a nice deep ditch with flowing clear water containing small fish and crawfish.
In the summer our “uniform of choice” was shorts—period—no shoes, no shirts. That was from the end of school in May until it started again in September. At the beginning of summer our feet were tender and very sensitive from a year confined to shoes, and our skin was pale white. By the end of summer our feet were so calloused we could run across the clamshell-covered streets and feel no pain, and we were nearly as dark as some of the African Americans in Kenner.
Doors were not locked unless you were leaving your house for an extended period of time. We slept with our windows open and an attic fan roaring in the hall drawing the “cool” night air in through the open windows.
We had no TV. The elderly Manards were the first to get a TV in our part of Kenner. (Why them, I have no idea?) We had one or two stations broadcasting only a few hours a day. It was a novelty for us kids, but outside was far more interesting.
People lived their leisure lives outside or at least semi-outside on screened porches. The Manards and Legasses living across the street were always on their front porch or in their small patio behind the house. My grandparents had a screened back porch and they spent as much time as they could out there in rocking chairs.
Life was so different back then (1950s-1960s), so much less stressful, and much more interesting for kids than playing on an iPad.