As I was driving home from work on a recent Sunday afternoon I passed a house where the resident was watering the lawn.
It was one of those long bar-type sprinklers that cast an arc-shaped spray of water first in one direction, then another.
I had the windows down, and I could hear the sound of the water falling like a gentle rain, and smell it on the balmy breeze.
The afternoon was warm, and the day quiet. There was the usual backdrop of noises of children laughing and playing, and people going about their business on a pleasant early autumn afternoon.
In that brief instant, I was back in the yard where I grew up, running through the sprinkler with the neighborhood kids.
I could feel the wet grass under my bare feet, and I could smell and taste the water mixing with a summer breeze. I could see the rainbows dancing above the arcs of spray.
It has been decades since I ran through a sprinkler, but for that brief moment I wondered what it would be like if I stopped the car and gave it a whirl for old times’ sake.
I abandoned the idea on the grounds that a rotund writer leaping about in the spray of their sprinkler had the potential to make the homeowners uncomfortable, if not downright edgy.
I suppose I could buy a hose and a sprinkler, and create my own little oasis on the tiny patch of lawn outside my townhouse, but this might confirm my neighbors’ suspicions that they have an eccentric living among them, and they might not like it.
Besides, running through a sprinkler is one of those activities that is better if one does it with friends.
There are games, and contests, and dares that come with playing under a sprinkler, and they just don’t work as a solo proposition.
One of my first unplanned visits to the doctor came as the result of horsing around with a sprinkler. We were taking turns running through the spray in our backyard, when I hit a muddy patch at the end of my run. I slid and landed on an old piece of landscaping timber near the corner of the old garage. As a result, I found myself with a great ugly splinter of wood impaled in my wrist.
It was large enough that they were afraid to just pull it out without medical attention, so Ma walked me down to the clinic a few blocks away and had the doc pull it out. He even gave it back to me as a souvenir, although what I was going to do with it, I couldn’t imagine.
We spent many happy hours playing in the sprinkler when I was a lad. Contrary to what some people think, it gets plenty hot in Duluth, and sprinklers were a grand way to keep cool on hot afternoons before we were old enough to drive down to Lake Superior.
There were plenty of creeks and rivers in the area for skinny dipping, as well, but when we were very young we mainly stuck to the sprinklers.
Somewhere along the line, we quit running through sprinklers.
That is just one of the pleasant activities many of us enjoy when we are young, but give up when we get older.
Maybe these activities are undignified. Maybe they are just plain silly. But perhaps a bit of silliness is just what we need from time to time.
I’m sure our abandonment of youthful activities comes from conditioning.
I remember watching numerous movies when I was a kid, and many of them included someone telling people to act their age, and cease whatever fun activity they were engaged in.
It was usually some prune-faced old battle axe who looked like she hadn’t had a day of fun in her entire life, which was probably why she didn’t want anyone else to have any fun.
Sometimes, the villain was a stern old man who looked like his face would break if he ever tried to smile.
Even at a young age, it bugged me when these old busybodies tried to whip the fun out of spirited young people.
In a quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) way, I have always rebelled against this kind of oppression.
Life is short. It would be a gloomy existence indeed if we all went around with somber expressions on our mugs and eschewed laughter, just because some cranky old fossil told us that was the proper way to behave.
It seems to me that abandoning our puerile pursuits should not be compulsory. Instead, we should embrace these activities and be ready to have some fun whenever the opportunity presents itself.
This may seem a radical outlook for a dedicated curmudgeon, but it is not incongruous. I have little patience with stupidity and hypocrisy, but I have always been game for a prank.
I would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints any day.
We will all encounter things along life’s journey that will temporarily wipe the smiles off our faces, but that doesn’t have to be a permanent condition.
Laughing is good for us, and we should do it as often as possible.
If being silly and acting like juveniles once in awhile helps us to do so, why fight it? Why should kids have all the fun?
We might even want to run through a sprinkler, climb a tree, swing on a swing, or lie in the grass and watch the clouds drift by now and then to help us remember the simplest things can bring us the most joy.
Who knows? Maybe laughing more and scowling less might even help keep us young.