The street lights consisted of four small incandescent lights along the business district. By the time we moved to Woodstock in 1965, street lights were accepted as the norm on Main Street and on some side streets.
Our house was built in 1966, before Dobbs Estates was developed, and at some point a street light was installed inches from our driveway.
Our girls could play outside long after sundown. We took that for granted, just another Brownie point for life in Woodstock.
Then, as now, though, I often think back to my own childhood summers and that magical twilight time in the country.
Supper was finished, the kitchen was clean but still stifling hot from cooking. The windows all over the house were open in case there was a breeze.
It was hotter in the house than it was outdoors. The lights were on in the living room (houses didn’t have “dens” then), where Papa was reading the Atlanta Journal.
There might be some cousins from next door playing in the front yard. Mama would bring a quilt or two from inside, making pallets with old, ragged quilts. (There were always new quilts in the making.)
Enough light spilled out from the house for us to see each other … and to cast shadows that could scare up a ghost story or two. No city lights marred our view of the heavens.
We would lie on our backs on the pallets and try to count stars. Sometimes we could identify the Big Dipper, or what we thought to be Venus or Mercury.
On moonlit nights we would beg to play longer. The lightning bugs beckoned, and we filled “fruit jars” with their blinking lights and squashed their glowing bodies onto our shirts and toenails.
If there were extra visitors, unexpected company, it was even more fun. Cousin Tommy Cox could wiggle his ears while keeping a straight face and we spent hours in attempts to learn his magic abilities.
Sometimes we sang, a cappela, and occasionally a few cousins would put together a little “production.”
Grandma often sat on the porch watching our shenanigans, especially when there were other adults visiting. The steady hum of night creatures was background for all activity.
When a car went by on the dusty road, an unlikely occurrence after sundown, we would stop whatever we were doing to see which neighbor was out and about.
We would resume our play after the dust cloud settled. The road was not paved, and there was the constant frustration with having to leave windows open because of the heat, but then having to dust the furniture every day.
The most welcome noise during the usual summer drought was the rumble of the county’s oil truck which spread the used motor oil from the county’s vehicles on the country roads.
It kept the dust in check for a few days. Then it would finally rain, and the dust turned to mud.
Those summer evenings wrapped up long summer days, and eventually our energy was gone and we would give up and go inside where the heat was unbearable.
We weren’t allowed to go to bed until we washed our feet, the soles toughened and grimy from a busy day unless we had been wading in Uncle John Richardson’s branch.
Baths were not daily but feet had to be clean before bedtime.
In our innocence we didn’t know that we were making precious memories. We couldn’t look ahead to a time when our grandchildren and great-grandchildren would live in cooled houses, wear sandals and sneakers all day, take a bath or two daily, and have access to insect repellant.
We didn’t realize that our little ones would probably not have the luxury of a free unfettered view of the wonders of astronomy, and would be taken to planetariums for their education.
And we certainly never imagined that our descendants would have the option of staying indoors at twilight time to watch television programs or play video games, terms we didn’t even hear until a decade had passed.
We can’t re-capture that long-lost atmosphere, that “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy” goose-bump experience.
Progress has taken away the magic.
Shooting out street lights won’t bring back the past, but the hoodlums might see a few stars when caught.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.