Neighborhood barbeques and adults gossiping on the patio with cold drinks while surrounded by a mob of shouting, running, laughing children. It was always summer and there was always someone turning the crank on the ice-cream maker. Except on those rare and wonderful occasions when someone decided it was a popcorn or pizza kind of evening.
Sunset started around 8:00 on the plains and it lingered for hours until children, exhausted from too much fun but still protesting, "it's not even dark yet!" were shooed off to bed.
There were Saturday afternoon bandstand concerts, "Art in the Park" weekend for the local amateur, and neighborhoods where everyone knew you, your family, and what time you were expected to be home for lunch.
We had a creek for getting muddy in. A stand of trees just deep enough to be labeled "the forest" by Robin Hood and his faithful, albeit occasionally mutinous, followers.
We had a meadow liberally sprinkled with butterflies, wildflowers, and in the very center, the shade tree so necessary on hot, August days. Sidewalks for chalking, streets for bicycles, wagons, and skateboards, and a corner store with an ice-cream fountain that served the best French fries and the most amazing cherry Cokes in the world.
Then we had Kent State.
The world came into sharp focus when I saw pictures of us, Americans, shooting us, Americans, here in America.
I didn't know that could happen.
I didn't understand how that could happen. No one I asked could explain how that could happen.
Maybe if it happened today, Kent State would barely register on brains coarsened by decades of television and movie violence interspersed with news reports of seemingly endless wars around the world, but back then, it was different. I could have sworn I felt the entire world change.
My understanding of life, the universe, and everything was altered because in one moment I understood that police (the only people I knew who wore uniforms) were shooting kids a lot like me.
And then the television was calling them "bums" or "scum" but I could see the kids on the television screen and they didn't look like bums. They just looked like kids, except they were screaming and running and falling down.
The thing is, as I reasoned out slowly and carefully in my unsophisticated 12 year-old mind, if no one could explain how or why that could happen, then no one could be sure it wouldn't happen again.
Any ordinary, sunny spring day...it could happen again.
When I got older, of course, I understood that the difference in age and maturity between those students and the National Guardsmen was minimal. They weren't "police" they were inexperienced kids panicking in a situation none of them knew how to handle, but that doesn't change the original emotional impact.
Maybe because of that experience, I've never been one of those who thinks that "rights" are something that, once granted, are a permanent gift. I think they have to be guarded. People with guns can be the ones that protect you, but they can also be a danger.
You can't erase all of those barbeques and bowls of home-made ice cream and Saturday afternoons in the park that easily. I still have a belief in the fundamental goodness of human nature. In spite of everything.