I just read an autobiography by Dick Van Dyke. Few people know that Van Dyke was an announcer for WSB-TV and had a show on that station in the early 1950s. He and Phil Erickson (who opened a club in the old Henry Grady Hotel) and a lady named Fran were called the “Merry Mutes.” Mutes because their act was mostly lip-syncing parodies of popular songs. Of course Van Dyke went on to do one of the most popular TV shows of all time, “The DickVan Dyke Show” with Mary Tyler Moore and Rose Marie and Mory Amsterdam. That show is attracting new audiences even today because it was, and still is, FUNNY. It was clean, family entertainment. There is very little of that on TV these days.
Van Dyke outlived two wives and is still going at 91 years of age planning a one-man show. One thing in the book that Van Dyke said rang true with me and it was this, and I quote, “When I was young when school let out for the summer, I used to have three months of barefoot time that was mine. I could do whatever I wanted. Now the kids don’t seem to even have an hour by themselves to play and be creative. What’s going to become of that?”
I wonder that myself. At the park where I walk they are now having “baseball playoffs.” From tiny kids playing Little League to older kids every field is full, surrounded by hundreds of parents shouting at their kids. And parents shouting insults at the coaches and at other parents. Every move these kids make is programmed– by adults. As I walk around this organized mayhem I think of my childhood summers. I remember sandlot baseball with a broom stick bat and a tennis ball “baseball.” I remember Hide and Seek. I remember carving pieces of wood into little boats with paper sails and “sailing” then on the pond, I remember swimming in the “Cold Hole” (a wide, deep spot in the creek). I remember lying in the grass and watching the clouds form monsters and dragons. We hunted plums and scuppernongs and swung on the vines playing Tarzan. I remember taking a salt shaker to the truck farm up the road and eating tomatoes as big as softballs, and busting open watermelons and eating the “heart part” and getting all sticky and dirty. We made up our games and pretended to be cowboys or Indians or pirates or – anything.
I paused in my walk today and watched those baseball kids where everything is so organized they even get a trophy just for “showing up.” The kids don’t seem to be happy. They look like little soldiers being ordered to play this game or else. I see no creativity, no make believe. And I’m almost sure that no great artists or writers or craftsmen will come out of this generation. They have no time for anything that isn’t organized to please their parents. They have no time just to play and have fun. And I wonder what kind of adults will come out of this herd mentality?