I see part of my childhood through a sort of gauze. When I really think about it, it was probably a cloud of cigarette smoke. Childhood was spent in the company of adult gatherings. We were guests in their world and were expected to roam and behave with adult rules. Cocktail parties and holidays at my Aunt’s “Big House” was a world created for adults. No child could roam without shoes or in casual wear. Booze, cigarettes, and sharp objects were all accessible,but we were trusted or just expected not to. The expectation was of mini cocktail guests with appropriate clothing and behavior. We weren’t allowed to run or chase among adults whose drinks could spill or cigarette ash drop. We held our plastic cups of virgin drinks (Shirley Temples were my poison) and said polite hellos and yes sirs, and no ma’ams. We had other rooms that we could gather, but it wasn’t like it is now. The room had some games and coloring books and maybe a TV, but there was no party budget for child entertainment, and no game room that was just our domain.
No, we experienced jokes, food, life and mingling among the adults. We were seen and not heard. I personally liked eavesdropping on conversations and listening to my Aunt direct people in the kitchen and tell different children to take this or that out. Take Uncle so and so his drink. So of course a game would start of which kid could take out the most drinks and take sips without being noticed.
Another party favor was tip$. Many adults would give kids tips to fetch food, drink, or find someone. An industrious kid could make a good haul. The nights of “we have to go the kids are tired” didn’t exist at the Big House. Near the so called end of the evening, all of the children were invited to play the quiet game. We were finally center stage and shoes were allowed to come off. We lolled on the ground with parents taking bets on whose kids would win. Slowly but surely, sleep fell on most kids and those of us who were “out” were given a quarter and told to sit quietly which soon led to sleep anyway. The kids were taken to sleep rooms with pallets on the floor and beds filled. When the adults were ready to leave, they searched through piles of coats, bags, and kids to haul back the car.
When I look back, I don’t feel we were necessarily neglected. We were expected to be independent and adapt to our surroundings, not the surroundings adapting to us. We were influenced by a set of Aunts (6 sisters) who had lived through the depression and made careers in a man’s world. Whining that it needed to made easier wasn’t going to be received with any sympathy, and I love that now more than ever.