Footloose summers a thing of the past | Mark Larson

We interrupt this issue for an important update from the hammock.

Summer’s here and with all the busy schedules of the season, it’s important to recharge personal batteries with occasional relaxation—but with a purpose.

Full disclosure: I’m not really in a hammock right now. I don’t even own one anymore. The last one I had caused more visits to the chiropractor. But I can still find tranquil places to enjoy the same effect.

Nothing beats my childhood memories of vacations at Eagle River, Wisconsin. Happiness was being tucked into a canvas hammock hung between birch trees. If my mind wandered away from the pages of a book, there was all creation above me, a natural cathedral. I could also keep an eye on what other family members were doing so I wouldn’t miss a beat. It was enjoyable and yes, refreshing.

Reading allowed my imagination to soar, especially when learning about real people and bold explorers who fearlessly traveled the world. The process also helped me to develop speed-reading and comprehension skills, without realizing it at the time. Lesson: The more a person reads for fun, the easier it is to do.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, summers were all about kids just “getting out there.” Politicians didn’t need to lecture us to grab a book, create our own fun or to explore the unknown.

We certainly didn’t need public service announcements telling us to move off the couch and play for an hour a day.

When school was out for the season, our generation had a pretty simple to-do list, enforced by parents. Here it is:

Clean up your room, and do any other chores. Then go outside! Do something! (Anything legal.) We’ll call you for dinner when it’s time.

That’s it. We were not cocooned in bubble wrap or other protective devices. No one hauled us off to non-stop planned activities like today, often organized by parents who mean well but never give kids time to breathe in the busy schedule. We were allowed to create our own fun, within certain boundaries.

When it was time for evening dinner, the yards and alleys were filled with loud voices of neighborhood moms, calling us all by first names. It was time to go home and report on what we were up to, including details on what we learned.

Hours outside kept us from piling on the pounds, too. We ran, jumped, climbed trees, fell out of trees, got bitten by bugs the size of birds and explored all kinds of other things that worked our guardian angels overtime.

The only really structured time was when we could afford to go to camp. Trips to the YMCA also allowed swimming pool use and even learning how to use a firearm, though not at the same time.

Our best excursion was going off for a week to Camp Willabay in Williams Bay in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Yes, they had a hammock or two. And trampolines and a swimming pool with its very high diving boards. Water slip-and-slide mats, too. And horses, campfires, horseshoe tossing and archery. All the things often frowned upon in today’s world, with no pile of legal paperwork to fill out first.

The various buildings at Willabay had proud Native American tribal names. One cabin was “Chippewa,” another “Apache”, then “Seminole” and so forth. Someone with a non-PC sense of humor designated the building where the boys and girls restrooms were as “Potawatomi.” This allowed us all to laugh about “needing to go to the Potawatomi.” Now that name is emblazoned on an area casino. Really.

Reading the fine print
And of course there was plenty of time to read, in a hammock or not, including eagerly learning about the outdoor life, including life in Indian tribes. Inspired by the names on camp buildings, we found those stories fascinating, and wanted to be warriors, too.

There was zero sensitivity training or over-the-top worries about a kid skinning a knee while attempting something semi-heroic.

Recently I drove past the old site of Camp Willabay. Long ago the facility I loved closed and relocated. The land was too valuable for recreational use. Now the place is covered with wall-to-wall higher-end condos.

I’m guessing many of those homes are now occupied by risk-avoiding attorneys, who would have been very nervous about our outside activities on the same site “back in the day.”

They would not approve of many things we experienced, especially climbing into a dangerous hammock, unsupervised, without wearing a helmet.

Mark Larson


— by Mark Larson

Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. His voice is heard on KPRZ 1210AM, and his weekday talkshow airs 6-9 a.m. on KCBQ 1170AM. Learn more at

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