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A Lesson in Diversity

September 20, 2012

‘You kids go outside and play now…go meet the neighbor kids.’ Mom said as she unpacked another box of dishes. ‘Supper’s at five…don’t be late.’

The three of us happily skipped out the door. The boys ran off down the alley at warp speed. I was a shy child and decided to play in the yard by myself.

As I played hopscotch on the sidewalk, Jody, the neighbor girl approached. ‘Can I play, too?’

‘Yeah. I guess so,’ I replied.

Jody was in second grade and I was in fourth. She was one of the few girls here in my new neighborhood. With her four brothers and my two, we became fast friends. We didn’t have one sister between the two of us. We needed to stick together.

My brothers soon had many friends. Back in the sixties, kids made friends first, then the parents came into the picture. And we never called anyone’s parents by their first names…it was always Mr. or Mrs. A matter of respect.

And, if we messed up at our friend’s house, we got in trouble with their parents first. And then they talked to our parents, and we caught it again when we got home. No one ever asked our side of the story…if an adult said we screwed up, our parents believed them. Period. And we paid. Sometimes we had to do extra chores. And sometimes, we were grounded and all we could do was watch out the window while the other kids played Tag, Hide and Seek, or caught fireflies in pickle jars after dark.

Grounding wasn’t a punishment my parents dished out very often. And when they did, they didn’t enforce it for more than a day or two. My folks liked their quiet time. The quiet time they got when we played outside.

This new neighborhood fairly crawled with kids. But most of them were boys. And the girls were either younger or older than I was. No one was my age…not even the boys. So, I played with the younger girls because the older ones chased me away.

While we played, we learned about each other…which schools our friends went to, what grades they were in, what subjects they liked and disliked, and which churches they attended. Most were Catholic. We were Lutheran. And I knew mom was going to have a problem with that…

She didn’t understand the Catholics…and said we couldn’t play with them because they worshipped the Virgin Mary instead of God.

I’m not sure what my brothers thought about that, but I sure didn’t understand it.

These kids seemed like regular kids to me…looked like us, played the same games, and went to the same school. I didn’t understand it at all.  I just wanted to play, not debate theology.

So when my new friends said they were Catholics, I thought ’Oh, no! Mom’s not going to like this’.

But, to avoid trouble, I listened to mom.

Which made for a whole lot of awkward.

So, I told my new friends that I had to go home. And I ran all the way and burst into the house, and breathlessly told mom.

Before long before my brothers were home with the same story.

I remember mom having that ‘deer in the headlights look‘. And she and dad had quite the discussion after supper. And their decision stood. We could not play with Catholic kids. We could play with mom tomorrow. And I was skeptical…mom was not a play-with-the-kids kind of mom.  She was more the clean-the-house-and-fix-supper type.

We were allowed to play in our yard, alone. No Catholic kids allowed…and there weren’t any other kind in the neighborhood. So when the neighborhood kids came to play, we went inside.

It wasn’t much fun playing with my brothers…they ganged up on me. Two against one. Not fair. I really wanted a girl to play with.

And we stayed inside…and as most kids do when they’re bored silly, we bickered loudly with each another. A lot.

And that really frustrated mom. She yelled at us so much her voice was hoarse by mid-afternoon. Now, I don’t think she was much of a ‘kid’ person to begin with. And after that day, I was sure of it. We were told, repeatedly, to go play.

‘Play what,’ I thought.

‘Children should be seen and not heard,’ she told us over and over.

But we couldn’t be quiet. Not like she wanted, anyway. We were kids. We had energy to burn. Just like any other kids.

Mom and dad had another of those after supper discussions that night. A very long discussion.

Apparently, we were pretty tough on mom because they reversed their decision. The ban was lifted…we could play with Catholic kids after all.

Like I said, my folks liked their quiet time. And three kids cooped up inside was only quiet when we were sleeping. And we were all too old for naps.

The move wasn’t so bad, after I adjusted to playing with younger girls and we worked out the religious differences.

I learned that Catholics weren’t so bad; they were good people; they went to church, didn’t lie, cheat or steal. And their kids were allowed to play with us Lutherans. That said something…

I wonder how it would have played out if we moved to a non-Christian neighborhood…

  1. As one of those “Catholic” children who even went to a Catholic school, I never ran into anyone who had anything against me because of my religion. In the tiny neighborhood I grew up in there was only two religions I knew of.. Catholic and Protestant (spelling?). When I left the Catholic school in 8th grade and attended the public school we added Serbians to the mix!

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