When Bill Newingham was young, children, he said, worked to create their own fun.

“We had to do something to make us happy,” Newingham said.

These days, children’s summers are filled with endless activities – camps in the morning, swimming pools in the afternoon and video games or television to fill any empty spaces throughout the day.

Newingham was finishing up some strawberry shortcake at the La Vista Community Center recently as he and fellow seniors reminisced about their childhood summers, filled with freedom.

Growing up in Omaha, Newingham described climbing an 80-feet-tall cottonwood tree and later getting in trouble with his father.

“My dad said, ‘Don’t you ever do that again. You’ll break your neck!’ But nothing scared me,” Newingham said while finishing his dessert.

Larry Sell, who grew up on a farm in Arcadia, Neb., laughed along with Newingham from across the table and launched into a tale of how his cousin broke his arm three times in one summer – all from climbing trees.

Marie Morrissey said she spent her summers planting flowers in the “victory garden” of her suburban neighborhood outside of Boston. Morrissey said she won prizes for her radishes and marigolds. She also said she put on puppet shows in her garage.

“I remember the old lady puppet was awful looking,” Morrissey said. “We used an old withered-up potato, and her dress was green with white polka dots.”

Morrissey said children in her neighborhood played hide-and-seek until it was dark. Newingham and Sell echoed the scenario, recalling elaborate games of hide-and-seek that lasted for hours.

Sell said hide-and-seek with his friends often turned into a game of Roy Rogers – an imitation of a cowboy television show from 1951.

“I was too slow, so I always wound up having to be the outlaw,” Sell said. “I would have to show ’em that sometimes the outlaw would win.”

Around the table, it was unanimously agreed that nothing “held back” children in the summertime – nothing except chores Sell pointed out.

Sell said he cleaned the cream separator on his family farm every morning, which felt like it took “half a day” but truly took an hour or two. Sell also said he took care of the baby chickens and other animals.

Newingham had one more story to tell, this one of riding bareback on a horse who had been fed beer, resulting in laughter and skepticism from around the table.

“I got on this horse and I started trotting with him when all of a sudden he picked up the speed,” Newingham said. “I got around the turn and I said, ‘How come this horse won’t stop?’ and the man said, ‘It must be the beer I fed him.’”

As the laughter died down and the table began to empty, Sell smiled.

“We had everything but money,” he said. “And we made our own fun.”

– Claire Redinger is a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and her story was an assignment in a newswriting and reporting class.

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