816 North

May 21, 2013

Modern life has crushed the relaxed spirit of seasons past

In the days before things like “stranger danger” and Amber Alerts, the seasons were distinct and seemed to last forever. Spring arrived gradually and made itself at home, settling in for what seemed like an eternity. Now seasons seem to have sped up and lost their distinct characters, and time at least seemed to move more slowly when we were young.

I used to ride around my neighborhood in Eastchester, N.Y., on a trusty, one-speed 20-inch bike, with my baseball mitt on the handlebars.

If I felt sporty, I attached baseball cards to the spokes with clothespins so the bike would go “putt, putt, putt.” According to the fashion of the day, it was how a 10-year-old magically transformed his bike into a hot rod with a make-believe exhaust.

All I needed was freckles, a fishing pole and a frog in my pocket and my name could’ve been Opie.

In those days, before things like “stranger danger” and Amber Alerts, the seasons were distinct and seemed to last forever. Spring arrived gradually and made itself at home, settling in for what seemed like an eternity.

The temperature rose slowly, the days stayed lighter longer — maybe a minute or two a day — and gradually shedding sweaters, sweatshirts and light jackets, a kid could go “putt, putt, putt” on his bike forever, or at least until his mother sent out the bloodhounds to find him.

Then spring morphed slowly into summer, with the days getting even longer, until school finally let its captive bands go and time slowed to a crawl.

Summer days stretched to the horizon, which seemed farther away in those days, and the months of June, July and August became monolithic, but each with a distinct personality and no rush, whatsoever, to end.

If you’ll remember, this was a time when school clocks had those black hands that seemed to lurch forward, as if to accentuate the slow motion by which time passed. The pace of life was so different that a nine-inning baseball game roughly seemed the equivalent to an entire day, even a week, in today’s time.

I’ve asked several people if the seasons seem to have sped up and lost their distinct characters, and most agree they have, and that time at least seemed to move more slowly when they were young.

It’s largely how kids, unburdened by responsibility and the scheduled pressure of adult life, perceived things, but it’s also an element that can be attributed to life’s faster, more electronic pace in 2013.

I’d venture to say most 10-year-olds, still largely free of adult constraints, are unlikely to think time flies. But as they’re hauled from karate to the math tutor to scouts in an SUV with 24-hour movies and satellite radio, you’d think time is at least perceived differently than it was in the slow-paced seasons of yesteryear.

It’s a natural consequence of getting older to reminisce, even nostalgically romanticize the past. I’d guess that most of us are familiar with Facebook pages whose sole purpose is calling up memories with such titles “You must be from Liberty if ….”

People who contribute posts or comments to these pages invariably mention a soft-serve ice cream drive-in with “the best dipped cones ever,” a drug store with a soda fountain or a candy store that sold Beeman’s, Teaberry and Black Jack gum, each, of course, for a nickel or dime a pack.

One of these pages has begun to get on my nerves, largely because I didn’t grow up there, but even more because people so absorbed by the past seem to have surrendered or at least tacitly admitted their best days are behind them.

I miss the Westerns of my youth, my baseball heroes and soda-fountain Cokes, but what I’d like most to have back is the long, slow seasons of my youth, when spring came on gradually and deliberately, summer stretched out almost infinitely and winter wasn’t so much a season as an epoch.

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