Washington is a small town east of Peoria Illinois, and most people haven’t even heard of Peoria. But I loved growing up in Washington in the late 1970’s. It was safe. Even at 8 years old with an overprotective mother, I could roam free. Flashlight tag in the cemetery, trick or treating any street we wanted, freezer pops to be had on every porch…Washington was a kid’s domain.
I remember being the furthest one “out” from the school, a little under a mile away. I’d start out about 45 minutes early, and when the kids saw me coming down the street, they knew it was time to start walking too. Every day when the weather wasn’t wholly inclement, I was like the Grand Marshall of a kiddie parade, wending our way through streets named after presidents and trees, headed for the grade school.
The main thing I remember was the faulty power grid. One too many AC units plugged in to quell the summer heat, and whole neighborhoods lost power a night or two a week. Sometimes the electric company would fix it quickly, and there would only be a few minutes until everything flashed back on; air conditioners chugging and dripping at previously darkened windows, TV’s and lights blaring away. But if it seemed we were in for a power-less night, the best thing in the world would happen: Blackout Party! Adults would drag lawn chairs into the middle of the road to catch the breezes and to talk, smoke, and drink. And us? We’d run and play throughout the neighborhood until way past bedtime. Then slowly the adults would peel off and head home, yelling out various names to follow along and the magic would burn out just as quickly as the lights had a few hours earlier.
I want to move back and expose my children to some of that magic, but Washington’s good schools and neighborly charm have raised home values to well out of my range. Fireflies and Red Rover will have to stay locked in my memory. I’ve been priced out of my childhood.