Tony Vagneur: Kids need to be kids and play, grow, learn on their own |

Tony Vagneur: Kids need to be kids and play, grow, learn on their own

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

At the highest levels of our state government, there’s a bill being introduced that would make it legal for children to be outside alone. That’s a tragedy, the fact that anyone feels such legislation is necessary, but as one legislator said, “There is a portion of our society that is pretty uptight and can’t allow a kid to be a kid.” Only about 18% of calls to social services regarding child abuse or child neglect are substantiated.

Even today, I’m still not sure of the dynamics that allowed me to spend so much time at my grandmother’s house, but whatever they were, I’m thankful that such a situation permitted me to share growing up time with two different places — Woody Creek and Aspen.

In retrospect, Woody Creek was basically aloneness exemplified compared to Aspen, so I’m fairly sure my parents would get a good laugh out of the proposed legislation — even at that, my grandmother and her siblings, with whom I stayed in Aspen, would probably have had the same reaction.

In my younger years, the West End, particularly around 1st and 4th streets, between Main and Francis, might have consisted of what could have been generously called the “West End Marauders.” Kids and wild dog packs. We had to be careful.

With all due respect to the Coe girls, (my God, who wasn’t in love with the Coe girls) whom I’ve written about previously, more than once¸ may I say it was an area of mostly males, balls to the wall personalities who devised more ways to have fun than might have been appreciated, or legal. As individuals, we didn’t play alone all that much, but I don’t remember any adult supervision unless there was a fight¸ but not necessarily even then.

Grandma’s house had a large side yard, where we often gathered for games of tag, Simon Sez, sending toy rocket ships into the air, football or foot races. We were really young in those days, 6, 7, 8. We tromped around on the proverbial dirt streets when, in the spring or after a heavy rain, there would be humongous mud puddles on some of the street corners.

My best male friend at the time was Doug Franklin, who lived down Bleeker a block-and-a-half to the east in a big Victorian house, which of course has since been almost bastardized out of reality by contemporary add-on development. The big danger for me, being outside alone, was the solitary walk I made in the afternoon back to Grandma’s house when it was time to go home. Lou Wille’s Russian Wolfhounds had a hold on my fear and apparently thought I was small enough to chase without consequence. They taught me to run very fast at the first sign they were outside.

Franklin’s house played a role in my early years, as after the Franklins, Bob Lewis the naturalist lived there with his family. His daughter Barbie and I used to meet up some afternoons and developed a friendship that we re-connected with many years later. My cousin Kim Stapleton lived there for a year, or maybe two, and we’d spend some time together on my way to Grandma’s house in the afternoon. Much later, junior high, resident Judy Fitzpatrick tried to teach me how to dance in the living room when her parents weren’t home.

Many times, I’d take the walk, alone, from 2nd and Bleeker to Matthew Drug to pick up something for my grandmother or one of her siblings, or to get some ice cream or candy. Not at all unusual, no one thought, I don’t think.

One of my favorite pastimes was to spend time in Aspen Drug, reading the voluminous number of comic books kept there. There was a remarkable tolerance on the part of management to tolerate such behavior. I’d stay until it got dark outside, well past my curfew, and with a bit of trepidation, head for home.

Part of my self-imposed training at overcoming fear of the dark in town was to walk home to Grandma’s house through the dark alleys; sometimes they’d be almost pitch black. Yes, that taught me a lot about not giving in to panic, to keep a level head, and to remain at a walk, no matter what your instincts were telling you.

The downside if I missed my curfew by too much, as evidenced by the cop car outside the house when I returned, well after dark, was that I was in serious trouble. I’d wait until the cop left before going in the house, but it seems they were always more pleased to see me than they were disposed to making too big of an issue out of it with me or my parents.

Aspen might have been a different town then, but in reality, it might still be similar for young kids.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at