Half Full/Mark Wilcox

A couple of weeks ago I took our middle grandchild, 3-year-old Mia, sledding at Nara Park. It was a pretty simple process. Put child on saucer, send child downhill, walk down hill to retrieve child and sled, repeat. As I was watching her descent, giggling all the way, a thought occurred to me – “At what point do we lose this?” The “this” in question is that unabashed joy in something so simple, so uncomplicated … so inexpensive.

The simple act of letting gravity do its thing brought Mia more joy than any carnival ride, video game or pretty much any other over-priced amusement could. Face it, we’ve all been there … and we’ve all pretty much lost it. At some point many of us start to put a price tag on our fun, and our attention travels from riding a sled downhill, to swiping a finger across a screen.

Our sledding adventure was part of a group outing. And it struck me that it was the youngsters who were doing all the sledding, and consequently having all the fun. While the children played, many of the adults had their phones or other devices out, talking, texting, emailing, etc.

All of us go through the transition of extracting joy out of the simplest things, but eventually letting them go in exchange for something else.

Where and when I grew up, it seemed we hung onto those things a bit longer … mainly because there was really nothing else to grab on to.

I grew up in the little central Upper Peninsula town of Rock. Like many towns of its size in the 1960s, all commerce, except for the two bars and one little restaurant, stopped at 5 p.m. There was no movie theater, no mall, nothing. The closest thing to an arcade in those days was the nickel-pinball machine at Halmioja’s restaurant.

There was no cable TV in Rock when I was young. (I still don’t think there is although most folks have “the dish” as my mom called it.) And of course this was long before computers, video games and even FM radio.

And the funny thing is, I don’t remember ever being board.

I’ve said about my home town, “It’s a great place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit there.” And there is truth to that. If you were just passing through or visiting a relative you’d be bored to tears. But if this place was “yours,” you’d have plenty to keep you busy.

I was talking to my younger brother Dan the other night. And we both found it amazing that, as kids, we could get hours worth of amusement with nothing but a big elm tree and ten yards of rope. Johnson’s had such a tree in their back yard, and there was another one about a quarter mile north of my house right next to the railroad tracks. Jeff Johnson’s dad had a big supply of “tarzan rope” as we called it, and climbing the tree and swinging from a branch was a great way to pass an afternoon during any time of the year.

Walking along the railroad tracks was another favorite pastime. The C&NW trains carried iron ore pellets from the mines in Marquette County to the docks in Escanaba’s Northtown. Pellets would fall from the trains giving us boys the perfect sling shot ammo.

Winter time produced a whole new set of leisure time activities. As we grew older, snowmobiles and other high-priced destractions won us over, but early on we delighted in the simple pleasure gravity would bring. Perry and Ricky Peltonen, Steve Wadeen, Jeff Johnson and a few more of us, would walk down the tracks to the Midland Co-op fuel oil tanks about a half mile out of town. We’d climb up the tanks, sit down and slide off into the deep snow below. Truth be told, it was probably a free fall of about eight feet into three feet of snow, hardly daredevil activity, but to us it was as challenging as the cliffs of Acapulco.

There were other, more forbidden thrills as well. Karl Wallenda had nothing on us when we’d climb the ham radio tower behind Bob Weingartner’s house and jump into the snow. OK, so the ten foot drop was hardly in Evil Knievel territory but that’s as manly as we were going to feel before puberty.

All this takes me back to my initial question. At what point do we lose interest in the simplest forms of entertainment? When does our satisfaction result in direct proportion to a price tag.

I’m not naive enough to think that little Mia and her siblings, Jesse and Anna, will never grow out of this phase of their lives. But I am selfish enough to try and make them hang on to it for as long as they possibly can.