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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Can Johnny Come out and Play?

Can Johnny Come out and Play?

Not that Johnny!
“Can Johnny come out and play?” If you are over 40, you know this question.  Kids used to go to their friend’s home whether across the street or blocks away, knock on the door and when the mom opened the door, little Billy would ask, “Can Johnny come out and play?”

He would then either be told, “Johnny has to go to confession” or “Johnny has to finish his homework” or “Johnny is being punished, maybe tomorrow.” In which case Billy would go to another friends house and ask the same question.


Mom would yell, “Johnny, Billy is here” and the two friends would find something to do without any adult supervision until the sun went down.

I’m not sure when or why this tradition went away.  Maybe as both parents worked, children were never home.  They were at Grandma’s or had some arranged, organized after-school activity. 

Of course, today, cell phones would eliminate the house visit.  Maybe kids just chat and text instead of playing.  My youngest just missed the “everyone has a cell phone” era.

We never arranged “play dates” for my first three children.  Mostly we just asked them where they were going and told them when to be home.

My youngest, who now is months away from graduating from college, was in the “play date” generation.  He had soccer, basketball or flag football practice, or he had guitar lessons, or he had stupid amounts of homework after school.  Sometimes there were arranged “play dates” but I think they were more for the moms to get together and share a bottle of wine.

Summers for this “play date” generation friends scattered with the wind.  They had summer homes, or summer camps, or clubs to go to…no one it seemed was ever actually home.

One summer, when Spencer was nine, he was moping around “Bored!” I think he was expecting me to start making calls and find a “play date.” I told him, “Why don’t you go across the street and see if Little John wants to play.”

Little John was a year younger than Spencer, but they played several sports together.  We called him Little John because his neighbor was an ex-professional basketball player (European Leagues) who was 6’8” also John, hence Big John.

Anyway, Spencer looked at me like I had two heads.

“What, just go over and ring the bell?”

“Yes, it used to be done all the time.”

He must have been really bored because he did just that; went across the street and rang the bell.

Little John was home.  They, swam, Little John had a pool, and or played ball the rest of the day.  I was somewhat concerned that LJ’s mom would be upset that we didn’t call and make a “play date”, instead she said Spencer coming over was great.  Little John was starting to get on her nerves with his “Boredom.”

That summer the two played often, without a parent making arrangements for a “play date.”

Its how it always used to be, the way it should be, the way it will probably never be again.


  1. Yep. That’s pretty much how er did it. We lived in a small community so my friends could usually see me when I we outside and visa versa.
    In the summer it was not uncommon for us to play until dusk.

  2. They really were the good ol’ days.
    I miss how carefree we were then.

  3. That is how it was when I was growing up we played outside swam in the creek with out worry we would be kidnapped. My children did the same, sad times has changed now every kid that's old enough to read has a cell phone.

  4. Yes. We left home in the morning, made our rounds of the neighborhood, and knew to be home for supper. Friends might show up during supper, theirs already finished, pressing their face between their hands to peer in the screen door and ask if we could come out. It was GREAT!

  5. I'm still best friends with the girl who moved next door to me in 1968 and rang our doorbell all summer long!

    My kids had one or two doorbell friends, but our neighborhood was older and the majority were original owners, so not a lot of kids.

  6. It was easy here, most of the kids in the neighborhood just hung out at our house or at the pool club across the street. They all knew they were welcome.

    1. Same at my house during school holidays when my kids were young, we had a smallish wading pool and a swing set and all the neighbourhood kids came and went from our backyard. I think the biggest drawcard was the baby, he got carted everywhere by everyone.

  7. I remember those days! Hop on the bike, ride across town and ask "is Elaine home?" and we'd play all afternoon with not a single adult in sight. or I'd head to the beach, on my own, aged only 8 or 9 and dozens of kids would be there and we'd all play until dark then head our separate ways home. Half the time I didn't even know the names of the kids I played with.

  8. reading this revived some happy memories from long, long ago. Yes, I played out with other kids, oh happy days.

  9. We had to play outside because our house was so small that even the mice were hunchbacked.

    God bless.

  10. Think you are right and that pleasure of knocking on a door to engage a friend is no longer endangered bot extinct. Sigh.

  11. I spent much of my elementary school years in a large housing development with lots of military families (Dad was in the Air Force). We just went out and rang the bell, or they came and rang the bell. More often, kids would be outside anyway, and we would just join them. Kids today spend too much time inside and on electronics.

    1. I too was a military brat. Things were as in the post in Alaska and Louisiana; changed when in Italy ( because all the American kids lived so far away from each other, only saw each other at school or one at a time ), resumed in upstate New York. Good times to be a kid.

      Thanks for the post.
      Paul L. Quandt

  12. You're right, Joe. It will probably never be that way again.

  13. Sadly, I suspect you are right.. It never will be again.

  14. this one reminded me days when back in village my cousins and girlfriends used to come and ask if we sister were free to play :)

    those were special days of life when there was no technology and no ego to stop us from visiting each other and dragging friends out to play with
    now when i visit to my native town everything seems to change but i cannot say for better only