Do You Remember: Playing Outdoors?

Back in the dark ages, long before “Pac Man,” before 6-year-olds were playing “Soldier of Fortune” on their tablets, there was a wonderful activity called “playing outdoors.”

It started as soon as school was over for the day and ended when the streetlights came on, except for weekends, of course. The only interruption was the evening family meal. Once dinner was over, children would ask to be excused from the table and tear out of the house to join their friends.

When the streetlights came on, you would hear the cacophony of mothers yelling for their offspring to come home. I still remember that dreaded sound of “CHAHLES EHWERD, (Texas slang) get yohseff home now!” My curfew was extended to the 10 o’clock news by the time I was in Junior High.

In elementary school, such games as “hide and seek,” “tag” and “Red Rover.” The girls in the neighborhood played jump rope, jacks, dolls, and held “tea parties.” We boys did not play with  the girls, because it was generally accepted that girls had “cooties.” 

My buddies and I would drag home refrigerator boxes and furniture boxes and constructed forts out of them. We would have countless battles playing army with toy guns.

Sugarloaf Hill was our neighborhood playground. We would play “King of the Hill,” or slide down the grassy side, ride our bikes down the hill, or look for fossils. That hill kept us entertained for hours.

My friend, Daryl Howard, had a great backyard for having fun. First, there was the magnificent pear tree with an abundance of rotten pears under it. Daryl, Robert, R.L., and I would engage in heated battles involving hurling rotten pears at each other. The sting, the smell, and taste of a rotten pear hitting my face is something I will never forget.

Daryl’s backyard was perfect for his Slip-N-Slide. A few feet from the house, the back yard had a slope that was a couple feet drop from the rest of the yard. This enhanced the experience and made it a true slide going down that grade. This was cool, wet fun on a hot summer day. Climbing trees was not only fun but quite useful. I used to climb to the top of our large pecan trees to shake pecans out of the tree. Then, I scrambled around, picking them up and sold them.

Some of my outdoor experiences did not turn out the way I planned. Kim Stover, who lived across the street, had a small barn in his backyard. I decided to make a small parachute out of my mother’s sheets. I jumped off the roof of this structure. Suffice to say, the laws of physics prevailed, and I plummeted to the ground at 32 feet per second. Fortunately, there was some hay in front of the barn, so I did not break any bones.

I spent a lot of time bicycling. On the whole, I had a lot of fun and safely traversed the highways and byways of our fair town. When we got a little older, Daryl and I would ride to Tulsa on Sundays. It was quite an adventure for a young boy to ride 30 miles or more in one day on his trusted Huffy bike.

Fishing was another outdoor activity that we enjoyed. Many a day during the summer, we would ride out to Sahoma Lake or Middle Dam (located on Old Ozark Trail) to fish and enjoy the outdoors. We would stop at Jones’ Supermarket on West Dewey (next door to Wickham’s) to buy soda pop, crackers, lunch meat, and cheese. My Huffy had a large basket in front of the handlebars so I had rods, reels, tackle box, and, of course, the necessary sustenance to allow us to stay out all day at the lake or creek.

The outdoor adventure that I consider our “pièce de résistance” was the time Daryl, and I were looking at the road construction for Highway 117 (Taft St.) near what is now Kelly Lane Park. We peered into one of the storm water sewer openings that was exposed and wondered how far it went. We gathered flashlights and lanterns and headed into the unknown. We walked and walked, taking note of everything we saw in this subterranean world. Finally, we came to a manhole covers and peered out to see “IOOF” on the front of a building. We reversed our course heading back to our bikes. We then rode downtown looking for that building. It turns out it was on the southwest corner of Park and Dewey. This was among other things, the location of Zale’s Jewelry.

Looking back, some of the things we did may sound a little dangerous, boring, or even silly, but there was virtually no  childhood obesity. We learned how to socially interact with each other and, most importantly, we used our bodies and minds to have an active and imaginative childhood.

About the Author

Long-time Sapulpa resident, Charles Betzler, followed his father, Charlie, into the radio and TV repair business. At age 9, he fixed his first broken radio and his first love is vintage audio equipment. In his 50 + years of technical work, graduation from OSUIT, and years of Continuing Education, Charles, in his capacity as Emergency Management Director of nearby city, designed the Emergency Operations Center, and the radio-activation system for the sirens. In his long career, he has repaired every type of consumer electronics from black-and-white TVs to the latest lap-top.

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