The Years of Privilege
Growing up in inner city Philly my friends and I enjoyed many benefits. You might even say we were privileged. We never had to cut the grass because we had none. We never had to rake leaves because we had no trees. We could make a buck by taking orders at the local A&P or collecting glass bottles and returning them for a few cents each. In the winter we could shovel snow for 25 or 50 cents. This saved our parents from having to give us large allowances.
The biggest privilege was when school ended in June and we didn’t go back until the day after Labor Day. We lived in a summer wonderland finding joy in tossing our worn out gym sneakers up on the electric wires. While some kids had to have their dad’s pay to go to expensive vacations, we had a fantastic fire hydrant close by and we didn’t have to travel. It provided hours of watery fun. For a couple of years the local garage filled a car pit with water and would let kids jump in. So privileged.
Some of the kids that lived on the Main Line or similar places had to pay to go to a gym where they worked out and then got a steam bath. Our gym was the street and our steam bath was our bedroom that remained 90 degrees all night sucking up the heat reflected from the red bricks, asphalt and concrete. It was FREE.
We never had to worry about being stung by bees, bit by snakes or attacked by angry deer. There were none of these things. We just had to learn to live with roaches and the occasional rat, both of which were much smaller than us.
This is neat. We could lift up the phone and listen to our party line partner’s conversations. Those other kids from the suburbs didn’t have that kind of fun.
Tell me how many kids had this kind of privilege? If we ran low of glass bottles to turn in but still need a few pennies for candy we would go to the bank. Outside of the bank was a large iron grate. Sometimes people would drop coins down the grated hole. We would come along with a long piece of wood with chewing gum attached to one end and extract those pennies. Once it was a nickel. I feel sorry for those millionaire kids who did not have that kind of fun.
When we got our driver’s license our parents gave us the privilege of saving our own money until we could afford a car. You would be surprised what $50 or $200 could by. We had the privilege of learning to fix certain things on the car like adding oil or break fluid every day or replacing fan belts. Just to make it easy on us we had a ready supply of batteries, tires and even gasoline parked on all the streets in the neighborhood.
After we graduated high school we had the privilege of getting a job. If we were lucky it would be in a field we could make a career out of such as tool and die working, electrician or plumber. If not there were plenty of factories around that were willing to pay 75 cents or a dollar an hour. Once we had a job our parents gave us the privilege of paying our own way. The going rate was $15 a week for room and board.
Yes those were the years of privilege and while I would not turn in my Smartphone to go back there, I wouldn’t mind a short visit or two.