Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

“Dem Was Da Days.”

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I had a conversation with a middle aged man in my church who said that one day his son said to him, “Dad you play too much.” He thought this amusing and I chuckled out loud for a long time when I heard this. How refreshing that our children would think that we play too much; that we have the kind of relationship with them that allows us to have a pure, rip roaring good time with them.

I grew up in a time when parents were prison wardens; hard task masters who did not have much time for play. Children were seen and not too much heard. But I am also part of the boomer generation that spent a whole lot of time playing. Fun was our primary vocation and when I look back, I long for those days when we just had pure, open, crazy and innocent fun. Even my son seems a little bit too serious at times. He tells me that my jokes are not funny but occasionally will display a half moon grin when I say or do something real comical.

Do any of you readers remember dem days?  The days of shooting marbles, root the peg and honey bee hunting; da days when an all day sucker actually lasted all day; da days when you had to be in the house by the time the street lights came on and had better not move from the front step until your mama gave you permission.

I used to do something real funny that my friends did not appreciate. When we played hide and go seek I usually went home. There, nobody could find me, as I wolfed down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while occasionally peeking out of my living room window to see if anybody would come to my door looking for me. Some of them never found me out until my friend Irving busted me sneaking out onto the front porch to see if anybody was out there. He said that he would tell the others if I did not make him a sandwich.

Dem was da days; the days when my best friend and I fought for a whole city block because he told me that there was a  job waiting for me at Awry’s Bakery sticking my face in dough making gorilla cookies or the time when I wore my Zorro suit to school-Don Diego was da man, and got caught marking z’s on the school locker with my plastic chalked tipped Zorro Sword. Dem was da days when we played the dozens. Talk about my daddy and that wasn’t too bad. Talk about my mama and we would get it on!

Dem was the da days; da days of Popeye the Sailor Man, Bluto and Olive Oil. Man, I could never see what Popeye saw in Olive. My main man was Wimpy who would “gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger patty today.”

And what about those summer days of playing tag and playing baseball; watching girls jump rope and play jacks and hopscotch; days when parents were so revered and feared that they could look you into silent submission with what I now call the laser stare and make you have an out of body experience.

I remember when my father stared at me for ten minutes straight without blinking after I had done something super stupid. My world nearly came to an end. My mother had this Bela Lugosi, Shock Theater stare, man, that put you in this medieval trance like state where you could have a virtual experience of the “”beating “before you actually got it. The stare was often enough to put you in freeze frame and ruin the rest of your day. You knew that you were finished when they both stared at you bug eyed at the same time from different corners of the same room.

But dem was da days; da days of white lies and play acting; the days where passing gas brought shame and ridicule to your reputation.  I remember when I pooted loudly and unexpectedly in my home room class. My classmates talked about me for what seemed like an eternity: three days and three nights. No longer Carlyle Fielding Stewart III, I was now “Scooter the Pooter.” Nobody wanted to touch  or come near me. It was sad,  I mean totally sad dat dey could do me dis way, but dem was da days.

Dem was da days of two for one penny candy; where a person’s wealth was measured by how many jelly beans , mint julips or wax lips he had in his pockets; where chewing ten or twenty pieces of Bazooka Joe bubble gum at one time was a show of talent; da days of Gunsmoke and Peter Gunn; Howdy Doody and Sky King; da days of Good Humor and Mister Softie, da days of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, the Cisco Kid and Poncho.

As I grew older I still had fun. I hit a stage in my life when I wanted to be Willie Mays. As the center fielder for the Mohawks who played out of the Kronk Recreation Center, I lived, dreamed, ate and slept baseball.  I carried my baseball glove everywhere I went. I had hundreds of baseball cards and got mad at a friend who tried to get me to swap my Willie Mays card for Steve Boros and Clay Darymple.

But dem was the days; da days when you wanted to be somebody. James Brown was another hero that we all wanted to be like. I had a friend who wanted to be James Brown so badly that he looked and dressed and walked and talked like James Brown. He even had concerts in his basement that renditioned all of James’s hits. So enthralled with James was he that when he conversed with you on some days he would only respond to you in the lyrics and titles of James’ songs.  When you asked him how he felt, he shook his leg real quick like James and said, “I feel good!” When you asked him how he was going to recover from a recent set back, he said, “Papas Gotta Brand New Bag and when he got into trouble with his father he said,”Papa Don’t Take No Mess!” One day when I saw him on the way to school, I shouted to him from across  the street “Say it Proud, You’re  Black and You’re Loud!” He chased me  four city blocks and finally catching up with me and laughing uncontrollably, slapped the stingy brim from my big bald head and said, don’t “Try Me!”

But dem was da days; da days of fun and long days in the sun. How I long for dem days. When our children tell us that we play too much, they just don’t know what it means to really play and have some real fun. We could teach them a lesson or two on how to “give it up and turn it loose” with some real slap happy, down home humor. Some kids take life too seriously today. Many of them have no choice. It would be nice if kids today could just loosen up and play without a care in the world. What a blessing to have a father that “plays too much.” But that’s the world we all long, work and live for: da days of innocence and pure joy; da good ole days. Oh how I long for dem.

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