Farewell Childhood

FAREWELL CHILDHOOD

My childhood was very different from my son’s! I grew up in the early sixties in the USSR. I had only a bicycle with a curved steering wheel that, from its profile, reminded me of a ram’s horns. On the side of the diagonal bar it had not one, but two nickel short sticks to change the speed. That was the Hi-Tech item of my time, my childhood. My son on the other hand grew up in New York in the late nineties, just six years before the turn of the millennium. His childhood items included a bicycle, a “Razor” scooter, a cell phone, an “Apple” laptop computer, an iPod, a Playstation and an HDTV in his room. As I recall I was nine or ten before we got a telephone. It was ivory colored which in itself was chic because the rest of the USSR had a black phone. And it had a dialing disc!

My outings consisted of going out on my bicycle with other kids from the neighborhood and we would race each other to the nearest park. There we’d play soccer or try to shoot the leaves off the trees with a sling shot. It was there that I had my first exposure to cigarettes, still a habit after forty years. Oleg, the coolest and the oldest among us, told us to eat some berries from the bushes if we did not want our parents to smell the cigarettes. I did! The smell was not neutralized. I was punished by my mom (a belt or a dust whacker was an acceptable tool of punishment) and in addition I puked my guts out from the berries that turned out to be poisonous.

How do you explain to the kids of the Information age, this Hi-Tech generation, that we did not have all that they have and yet we were happy? They don’t get it! One day my wife and I felt nostalgic and put an old Crosby, Stills and Nash record on the dusty record player. Our son, Misha, walked out of his room, looked at this museum relic and vestige from the twentieth century, and asked in confusion: “How do you fast forward with this thing”? Yeah, fast forward meant lifting up the needle, turning the album to side B and carefully placing the needle on a thick groove before the next track. “That is weird!” he exclaimed and went back to his room to flip through the channels on his HDTV with a remote control.

Speaking of innocence, once, when our son was three or four, my wife was telling him a story about herself when she was three or four. He interrupted her and said “You mean when you were Black and White!?” referring to the black and white photographs in the family album that we had showed him so many times. How innocent and naïve is that! No second thoughts, no ambiguity. Just say what you feel! As I mentioned above, my childhood was very different from my son’s and his childhood will be different form his son or daughter‘s, but the innocence of childhood will always remain unspoiled by technology or future advancement.

The following story is recounted from my son as he grows older and remembers his childhood innocence.

II

Every year, in the summer time, it was customary among the families of our social circle, to vacation out of town. The Hamptons was the hottest spot and the New York to Hampton route was one of the busiest transits. Months in advance, people would become “stressed out” looking for a rental. They never missed an opportunity to mention that they were in the Hamptons for the summer and were quick to hand out invitations to join them. They would say that the summers in the city were too intolerable and that they had a place with a swimming pool, that the kids were off to camp and so on and so forth. The Hamptons were considered chic and whether you were in or merely a wanna be you did not want to be excluded from this scene.

We, on the other hand owned a place in the Hamptons. My parents could afford it! They are both in the healthcare field; my mom a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and my dad a physician. I loved going there on the weekends and for summer holidays. My parents would schedule me for horseback riding lessons out in Montauk and private tennis lessons in East Hampton We would go to Georgica Beach during the day and tumble in the Atlantic Ocean waves or later on to see the sunsets. We would eat out and they would also drag me to many local wineries.

I loved the Hamptons in the summer. The side road stands sold fresh watermelon, blueberries and tomatoes collected from local farms. The fresh eggs were often still warm and sometimes had chicken droppings on them. Then there were the petting zoo and country fairs selling thick, aromatic honey cultivated by nearby local hives.

That was the enjoyable part. The non-enjoyable part was eating healthy, socializing with the right people, casual meetings in town, fake smiles and false promises of “let’s get together”.

But yet it was the best way to spend my childhood summers. The nature. The birch trees, maritime pines and majestic oaks with the hammock stretched between them. The velvet blue of the ocean, the leisure of the village pace and the luxuries of the city were all available in the Hamptons. Most of all, I had time to be with kids my own age. And I had all day long to play with them. These kids did not have fake smiles. They did not give compliments because it was proper, but because they really felt it. They were sincere and frank, innocent, not yet committing a sin.

This was the meaning of the Hamptons to me. In my realm there were no ladies complaining of trivial headaches and no promenades in the evenings. I played with kids like me. Tom and Nicole, and Alexandra and Taylor, who just like me, enjoyed making bows and arrows from broken branches and kicking a ball around. We’d cry when we fell off our skateboards or our bikes. Maybe we broke a window or two with a slingshot… This was the next best thing to passing summers and childhood with your cousins in the country at your parent’s house.

I loved going to Turtle Bay with my friends and their parents. It was isolated and full of reeds. There were no waves and our parents were less reluctant to allow us to go into the deep area. After coming out of the water our parents would undress us naked and we dried under the hot summer sun. I knew Nicole had a birth mark right under her left buttock that was hidden by her bathing suit. Anticipating it, I would often ask her to show it to me and she would, without being embarrassed because we were still kids and childishly innocent. And then we’d all go home for an afternoon catnap.

But one summer everything was different. Actually I am lying! Not everything. As a matter of fact everything was actually the same. Same homes, same friends, same people. It seemed that time had crystallized in this slow paced part of the world. And yet something was different. Again we went to Turtle Bay with our parents. Again we were allowed to go to deep area. Only Nicole stayed behind near the reeds. Our joyful tones inviting her to join us were unsuccessful. She stood near the reeds, wearing only her swimsuit bottoms, looking at us with suspicion and hesitation. There was something awkward in her behavior.

After bathing in the bay, I ran towards her telling her to take off the bottom of her bathing suit and show me the birthmark. But she furiously hit me on the hand and ran away.

In the evening we met her parents at a sidewalk restaurant for a light summer dinner, she was there too. I could not talk to her or look at her. Some shame was present in our souls, an unexplainable awkwardness. I didn’t joke or play with her. Somehow we both learned the meaning of sin and lost our innocence. We both said farewell to childhood.