These days suburban culture in America is synonymous with a fashion faux pas. You’re not supposed to admit that you like it and even worse, don’t advocate bringing it back any time soon. I’ve been thinking a lot about my suburban childhood lately, and regardless of what the critics say, it was a pretty great place to grow up.
In 1966, when I was six years old we moved into a brand new development in the north part of Spokane County called Pine River Park. It was walking distance from the Little Spokane River and a county park that featured a swimming hole, makeshift beach, and a rustic picnic area. There was approximately two blocks of housing that was developed as move-in ready which meant that you had a ½ acre of unlandscaped property, a house with a finished upstairs and an unfinished basement. You had the option to cover the standard hardwood floors with the latest wall-to-wall shag carpeting, and the kitchen appliances offered the modern choices of harvest gold, burnt orange, avocado green and tobacco brown. Beyond the modern conveniences of an automatic dishwasher and an enclosed two-car garage, it seemed the neighborhood was teeming with kids all around the same age and loads of empty building lots to double as our playground. It wasn’t long after moving in that we discovered that the house up the street had three kids the same age as we were. For the next six years, we would pair off and explore our evolving environment as more houses were built and birthdays were celebrated. We learned how to ride bikes, develop school girl crushes, and wile away luxurious summers.
I can’t remember a time when any of our parents stepped in to give us something to do or suggested how to spend our time. For that matter, I don’t remember ever saying the words, “I’m bored.” We were kids much ahead of our time. We created garage bands (I played the Quaker oats drum), held séances by candle light in the dark of the bathroom, and mooned over Teen Magazine. We were fashion designers as we drew the next mod trend and sent it into Seventeen Magazine to win a trip to New York City. Long before the Twilight series, my older sister and her friend wrote plays with vampires and werewolves that we would stage in our backyard or basement. We didn’t know that we were on the cusp of a multi-media empire. When the family moved in next door, the twins Rusty and Ricky and their daughter Robin introduced us to the game of football. We learned how to throw a spiral and were told that the Green Bay Packers were the greatest football team in the world one day, and the next we discovered a nest of baby rattlesnakes in the window cell to the basement. Those were exciting times. Their house also became the infirmary when the Hong Kong flu came ravishing through the neighborhood and working parents needed a school-day quarantine. The neighborhood grew, the streets extended, the park was eventually gated and an admission charge levied, and the annual haul for Halloween was legendary.
As we grew older, we spent more time gawking at the neighborhood boys riding their ten speeds through the now-paved neighborhood and less time dressing up Barbie and Ken. We learned all the words to the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, climbed trees, stole washers out of my dad’s toolbox (they were the same size as a quarter) to make prank calls from the park pay phone to the boys we had a crush on. In the summer we would traverse the river in inner tubes or a captured canoe. Our tanned bodies were in vogue, the transistor radio was a must-have and we never worried about the after effects of a thinning ozone layer. Our neighborhood friends were the first to have the latest games: “Mystery Date,” “Twister,” “Clue,” and we watched the newest TV shows like “The Dating Game” and voted for Bachelor number one, two, or three.
We learned to drive on the streets that were still being developed and offered fields where you could high center the family car without hitting any neighborhood children. We mugged in the mirror, pretending to be the latest Breck Girl, we became the neighborhood babysitters, and that tree in the front yard towered above us and eventually provided shade protecting us from the ever growing hole in the ozone layer.
People moved in, families moved on, yet when I think back on it, suburban living wasn’t that bad. In fact the world outside our front door was the utopia we needed to balance the starker reality that was waiting on the other side. From my perspective, suburbia was a good thing; a really good thing. And that's worth remembering.