. . . and your mother dresses you funny


Kevin Arnold’s Wonder Years began in 1968. 
You might remember him
So did mine. 
Let me set the scene where I was so you understand why I spent years trying to convince my parents to move back to where we belonged.
This is civilization to me: there are little house, on the hillside, little houses made of aluminum siding and quality wood. They have paved driveways, neat landscaping, young trees and sidewalks. Sidewalks are important.
Yes, much like this
The ice cream man comes by every so often which, after pathetic pleading, my dad and I run out to the curb and he hands me a quarter. The ice cream man is dressed in an immaculate white uniform. He has a cap. I buy a cone and he clicks out 15 cents from the nifty change maker on his belt. 
The sun shines. Next door, the teenager is waxing his ’67 Mustang while his radio plays “Penny Lane.”
I have a pedal-powered red fire engine which I ride up and down the sidewalk. I have friends my age I play with. We come in when the streetlights come on. We continue playing with our springer spaniel in the backyard, which is surrounded by a white picket fence and has a sandbox and a club house my dad built.
Me in my suburban paradise. Note the clothes. More on that later
It was Pleasant Valley Sunday Paradise on Golden Gate Boulevard in Mayfield Heights, Ohio in the spring of 1968.
But not for my dad.
No, he had Oliver Wendell Douglas dreams of his own ‘Green Acres’ in some place east of Eden called Chardon.
For years, I could ruefully imagine him spreading his arms out wide:
Mom was far less glam
Land, spreadin’ out so far and wide,
Keep your sidewalks, just gimme that countryside. . . 
Fine, you want to mow an acre and a half with a push mower, that’s fine. Just leave me out of it.

You are my son
Goodbye suburban fun!
Green Acres we are there. . . 

Yep, we traded sidewalks for this
And so we loaded up the van and moved to Geauga County.
Hills, there was. . . Amish buggies . . .  Ditches . . .  Bugs (I hate bugs).
After a few days of hiding in my new bedroom, mom figured it was time for me to meet the neighbor kids.
She dressed me for the occasion. I looked like Buster Brown. I might as well have been wearing golf knickers.
“They’re outside,” Mon said as she dragged me out the door. “Go over and say hi.”
They were outside all right. 
Careful not to scuff my patent leather shoes, my sister and I cautiously walked down the hill that separated our house from the neighbors. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
These kids were sitting on the grass and they were barefoot and they were poking a real fire in a dugout part of the grass with a stick.
There was a pause that must have been the same kind of pause when the Pilgrims met the Wampanoag. We regarded each other as aliens. I looked sideways at my sister. We were strangers in a strange land. What to do? I had to say something
Proving that my gift to say the wrong thing at the wrong time was something I was born with, I launched an accusation.
“Does your mom know you’re doing this,” I asked in that incredulous way only kids can when they see something that is wrong – just wrong – like playing with matches. Except this time, there was a full blown smoldering fire – next to their garage.
I remember Steve (the oldest) looking at Leslie, Melanie and Audrey with a smirk that said ‘well, well, lookey what we have here . . . some city slickers.’
Actually, he would call us city slickers for years.
“My mom gave us the matches,” Steve said. “We do this all the time.”
“Oh,” was the best thing I could come up with.
I was aware they were staring at us. 
“Does your mom always dress you like that when you go out,” said Leslie.
Uh, yes.
“Uh, no. She just wanted us to dress up to meet you guys,” I said.
That got a round of guffaws.
It was little Audrey’s turn to poke the fire and she did so with vigor. Sparks shot out and I took a quick step back. More laughter.
“Well, we just wanted to say I and. . . I think my mom wants us back in the house, so we’ll see you later,” I said. For once my sister didn’t argue. 
We quick-time marched up the hill.
“Were they nice,” mom asked.
No, no, not like this. They had better teeth
“Um. . . they were kinda weird,” I said. “They’re parents let them play with fire.”
“They’re hillbillies,” my sister blurted out.
“Don’t say such things about the neighbors,” mom said. “They just live a little differently out here in the country.”
I would find out later that not only were they allowed to play with fire, they also took turns driving their 1966 Ford Galaxy wagon around their horseshoe shaped driveway without the benefit of having a bona fide license. Steve also drove his dad’s tractor, raised sheep and generally was in training to be a farmer, which he eventually became. 
And so began the inter-neighborhood struggle between the city slickers and the hillbillies, a feigned polite friendship that would go on for some years. It would be a learning experience for all of us.
Including my dad, who was cheesed off that it now took 90 minutes to cut the grass.
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