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updated: 7/18/2012 11:11 AM

Why do kids no longer play in Arlington Hts. streets?

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It could be a hundred years ago: two people sitting outside on a dreamy July evening, luxuriating in the balminess after the heat of the day, listening to faint night noises filtered through heavy hedges.

A siren. An occasional thrump of a mourning dove call. A soft chorus of locusts. Far off, the squeak of someone's brakes.

What we don't hear this July evening in 2012 is the sound of children's voices. Where are the children enjoying what a young poet once called "the nightly bliss of 'kick the can?'"

When I wrote last month about my late neighbor Loraine Japp, I especially noted her recollection of nightly games of kick the can in front of her home on Hawthorne Street. By day, she and her friends played softball or "Peggy-bounce-out" in the street. But eventide demanded a game of shadows, of hiddenness, of lurk and strike.

I suppose everyone in town would have a different candidate for biggest change in Arlington Heights in the last century, say, since Loraine Japp was born. Change is the game of life in our time.

Someone would note that we now have running water in our kitchens. Others that the streets no longer run with mud: they are paved. The population increase would impress some people.

But when I hear children's voices in chorus unexpectedly, or see lots of people on the street at the Fourth of July parade or coming and going from Frontier Days and then face the next-day certainty of streets empty except for cars, I know what I miss the most: children playing in the street. Children's voices raised in the joy of physical activity.

My companion in backyard reflection time suggests that what he remembers -- and misses -- is a meadowlark on every fence.

"Ah, yes," I agree, "but now there are no fences. There used to be farms all about."

When I think of my longing for the voices of children, I recall Abie Deal, the heroine of a favorite book of my youth, "A Lantern in Her Hand" by Bess Streeter Aldrich.

At the end of the story, this stalwart pioneer woman, her husband dead, her children off leading useful lives, stands at her kitchen window. She is listening to the voices of children playing in her backyard.

There are no children there, of course, any more than there are children playing on Hawthorne as I sit with my husband in our yard. The voices are only in her head.

But the reader knows they are real to her. They are what Abie Deal hears when she listens to her last days of life.

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