From her stoop in the center of a sophisticated city, my niece Erin has carved out a delightful little corner of Mayberry.
She and her neighborhood gang enjoy a living-room-forts, frontyard-warter-balloon-fight, Saturday-sleepover, come-home-when-the-streetlights-turn-on kind of childhood, while all around them Chicago hums.
They each have the necessary kind of scheduled activities that keep their parents hopping — piano lessons, school activities, basketball games and the like, But, mostly, they rely on their own vivid imaginations and a luck-of-the-draw geography that landed them all on the same block.
I popped in one Saturday and they let me join the fun.
That day, the big project was a commercial, for which they wrote a script, built a set and made props.
“Will you play the mom?” they asked.
Banking on my nearly 30 years of experience, I naively agreed.
Our eight-year old director, Alex, wanted me off script for shooting, but eventually took pity on me and, in a veteran move, placed the script among the props so I could read it as needed.
Erin and Addie shared top billing as lead actors/producers/writers/agents and all around awesomely bossy pants.
Molly worked the camera.
With all of us concentrating very hard, we wrapped after a mere eight takes. We were all pretty impressed with ourselves as their previous commercial, shot the day before, had required 37 takes due to all the giggling.
And that’s what I’d like to stress about the real benefit of living in their modern-day Mayberry. Those kids weren’t shooting a commercial for a school project, or a contest, or social media stardom.
They shot that commercial for fun. For the same reason, they ran a” sky diving school” in the basement, operated a lemonade stand in the front yard, launched a running club around the block.
Real life and its requisite drama hovers all around their sweet little street. But, isn’t it reassuring for all of us to know that right in the middle of Chicago, there’s a place where kids are celebrating the fine and simple art of being a kid?