City Kids

December 3, 1972

The winter of ’72 was a busy time for me as a street photographer in South Baltimore. In the Mid-Atlantic region we have fairly mild winters, some warm days even through December, January and February, and of which city kids can be counted upon to take full advantage. We certainly did when I was growing up in the neighborhood during the ‘40s and ‘50s. (Judging from my ‘70s photos it was still true then.) City streets and sidewalks absorb and retain heat from the sun, and when you add to that windblocking buildings, urban areas are usually at least ten degrees warmer in winter than otherwise would be the case, which of course means that we kids had that much more outdoor play time. On any warm sunshiny day—even some pretty cold ones—we spent as much time as possible exploiting the vast concrete and tar-paved playgrounds that began a few steps outside our doors.

I spotted these ’70s kids on South Hanover Street in my old neighborhood and was attracted to their play-acting antics, which reminded me of my own “pretend” exploits twenty-five or thirty-five years earlier. (For some of us, at least some of the time, nostalgia can drive creativity.) After giving me permission to shoot, and while I snapped a few frames, they “shot” back at me with their toy guns. Throughout the session we exchanged tough guy military movie dialogue; and we stayed “in character” the whole time. What I find interesting these days is the startled reaction of some (actually most) adults viewing these images for the first time. I guess the fact that the boys are brandishing toy guns makes them uneasy; but it’s understandable since they weren’t there to witness the playful context. Understandable, but somewhat sad. And usually, until I point it out, these same adults fail to notice that the lad on the right is wearing a boy scout patch on his shoulder. (Click images for larger views.)

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.

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2 Responses to City Kids

  1. Jacquie Roland says:

    I always love seeing a post that includes your “kid photos” of the 70’s. Again, these do not disappoint. I’m wondering if the didymous nature of these specific photos has a deeper meaning? (Two kids, two guns, two locks)

    I have to admit, boy scout uniform aside, that I’m one of those who finds the guns disturbing, but then I’m viewing these photos at a remove of 30 years, and the world has changed since then.

    I was a city street urchin in the late 40’s, early 50’s and thought nothing of playing “jungle’, stripped down to my cotton undies, with a few flowered hankies jauntily pinned to the front and back. I’d climb the grey oil drum in the back yard of my apartment building (my trusty elephant) happily spearing, or shooting all my similarly dressed friends with my homemade bow and arrows. A photo of THAT happy time, shown today, out of context, would surely have that grubby, dirty, little girl (and her family) looked into by the authorities in 2008.

    To be honest, we were only able to play the “queen of the jungle” game once a year… when the city came by to cut tree branches away from the electric lines. The first crew would come in and cut, leaving the branches to be picked up by another crew. Before they could get to them, they were appropriated by green starved children in the neighborhood, who would tie them to the wooden board fences which lined our alleys. For days, and days, we lived in a jungle of our own making, not the urban one which returned with a vengeance when our make believe jungle finally gave up the ghost. We hated to see the jungle go… within a week or so the rat killing would begin… and for the following weeks our alleys would be filled with hundreds of the dead and dying vermin, until they, too, were swept up and carted away. Until that occurred, the only thing we could play in the alley was “Plague” and “Pied Piper”. We tied those same cotton hankies, (remember them?) over our mouths and went out to “count coup”… on rats bigger than our cats… or so I remember.

  2. Jim says:

    Thanks for your generous comments on my post, Jacquie.

    And I loved your descriptions of some of your own experiences as a “city kid” back in the day. As I mentioned in a recent e-mail, I really do think you should write a memoir of that time, from a child’s point of view with her (limited, funny, insightful, sad) understanding or lack thereof of the nitty gritty situation she finds herself in. Oprah would relate, and love it, and promote it.

    BTW, I had to look up the word “didymous.”

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