What did you do this weekend? Did you go to the movies, drive to the shore, treat your “significant other” to dinner at his or her favorite restaurant? Perhaps you went to a dance where everyone in Philadelphia society had to go to be seen. Did you hop a train to New York City for dinner and a show, or did you have friends over for a barbeque or a card game?
Whatever you did, it was probably something you had planned for weeks. Then again, it may have been an activity you thought of just a few days ago. Whatever the time frame, it was something that was planned; planned because so much of what we do today is structured. We seem to lack the capacity to just do things in an impromptu manner. Life, for that matter, was not always as we see it today. You may recall that we had a great deal of fun on weekends without much planning, without a need to do something special and spending little, if any, money.
I know those who are not from back in the day have difficulty understanding how anyone could have had fun if it did not involve an activity that was not on your calendar. Having fun without spending money is a difficult concept to comprehend. However, I believe the simple way of life we enjoyed back then had an impact on the way we spent our time. After all, resources were slim. Therefore, we had to be creative and employ ways to survive in our interpersonal relationships despite the fact we had little or nothing in our pockets. But let me warn you that just because times are hard and resources are not what they used to be, do not think that you can go back to our ways of the past to enable your relationships to survive and grow. I believe you will have limited success in impressing a friend, in particular, a date. But let us look at some of those simple things we did that supported wholesome relationships back in the day.
I know many of you recall visits to friends’ homes with nothing specific to do, and the suggestion was made to go for a walk. A walk involving two males can be a serious bonding experience providing an opportunity to get to know one another better. However, I should emphasize that a leisurely walk used to be one of the best dates one could experience. I have serious doubts that the suggestion to go for a walk on a date, particularly a first date, would be well received today. Chances are it would be your first and last date.
One of the major advantages in going for a walk during my teen years was that it cost no money. Furthermore, you were able to do two things you had experience doing: You knew how to walk and talk. Just think, walks generally involve just two people; walks serve as an ideal time for the parties to get to know one another. In agreeing to go for a walk, the two people involved have automatically made a commitment to talk. Walks also have the added advantage of providing exercise. If you grew up in a neighborhood like my West Philadelphia one, you could have taken a long walk out to Fairmount Park to enjoy the scenery. You may have walked to the other side of town, to neighborhoods with impressive homes and lawns. Perhaps your walks included some of the historical sites in and around where your date lived. Your walk could have been to your grandmother’s home so you could introduce your new date. Or, your date could have been to one of my favorite places, the “Avenue” that was in most neighborhoods. These were the strips that contained the stores where a great deal of window-shopping could take place while out for a simple walk. Going for walks provided quiet time that forced asking and answering questions; an experience in which you knew you had made significant progress if you were holding hands as the two of you made your way back home, back in the day.
Automobile rides were extremely popular in the past. They were a way to kill time, spend time with your friends, or get to know a prospective girlfriend or boyfriend. This was particularly true if you or one of your friends were able to borrow an automobile. It was also true if one of your friends had a part-time job and had managed to purchase an automobile. I recall quite well getting together with some neighborhood friends and when unable to decide how to spend the evening or weekend, we went for a ride. In cases where one was going to visit a young lady, one might simply ask, “Do you want to go for a ride?” So, you drove out to Fairmount Park to one of the “lovers’ lanes” along the East River or West River drives. Perhaps you found your way to the famous George’s Hill. Now, I know that you old-school folk recall this area, as it was a popular destination when a date involved something as simple as an automobile ride. Then again, a ride to the airport was popular. The absence of today’s security measures enabled you to sit in your automobile and watch airplanes land and take off. Taking rides to one of these designations may appear to be corny according to today’s dating standards, but these rides enabled us to have a lot of fun without having detailed, pre-plans to go anywhere.
Sitting around on your stoop or porch was another way to have fun, even though it was not regarded as special. It was something to do if you did not enjoy walking or going for an automobile ride with your friends. Coming together with a group of friends or someone very special, just to sit outside, was one of those weekend activities that neatly fell into the definition of not doing anything planned and not doing anything special, but still having special time. It was on the stoop or porch where everyone’s business was told. It may have been a discussion of what new boy or girl had moved into the neighborhood. It usually was the setting in which those new to the neighborhood were introduced to others. You probably learned who was going South for the summer, going off to camp or going away to college. It was in these gatherings that we learned about our friends’ families. We learned where they were born and how they arrived in the neighborhood where they currently lived.
While we may not have been doing anything of significance on the porch or stoop, we took time to plan what we would be doing the next time we came together. You may also recall that these gatherings occasionally led to playing games that are but faint memories for most of us — games like giant steps, dumb school, blind man’s bluff, games that resulted in having significant fun, without any prior planning and spending little or no money. On the other hand, sitting on the stoop or porch, has been a romantic experience for a number of us who were dating or experiencing our first date. Tell me you do not recall those long hours sitting on your parents’ glider where wholesome relationships were born. The porch and the stoop created many relationships that resulted in love and understanding, relationships that eventually led to marriage and enabled many of us to have wholesome families today.
Going for a walk, an automobile ride going nowhere, sitting around on the stoop or porch, playing cards, or playing neighborhood games were enjoyable activities not necessarily encouraged today. As I suggested earlier, these approaches were useful in order to bond with friends or to develop a romantic relationship: approaches that may not bode well in building today’s relationships. While they may simply not work in today’s fast-paced and technological environment, they were useful and effective; great for another era; that era I fondly refer to as back in the day.