Freshly cut grass was the smell I most remember from my childhood neighborhood, mowed and manicured by young dimpled boys before and after school, but mostly on weekends in between wide-eyed bike rides and stick ball-playing in the street.
We were considered a Middle Class community not because we had lawns; a few with painted fences and a few without, but because we all knew the care of those small parcels of green-grassed privilege was the revered responsibility of us all.
On any given day you might see Chris, Brent or Phillip wipe sweat from their brows with their youth-calloused hands as they whistled and mowed the lawns of the Anderson family, the Portner's or the Wood bunch, with their sprawling yellow house and seven lapping dogs.
"See you at the Pier after I get done," Chris would yell to Phillip, whom we all called Philly.
Philly would not answer, but only raise up one of his hands as he was a particularly good mower and wanted to earn his two dollars and fifty cents an hour to save up for a new Schwinn bicycle.
These boys were about thirteen and fourteen at most, still not yet men but no longer young-heeled babes who ran tirelessly after the ice cream truck for the cold comforts of childhood.
Whether or not kids were expected to do their fair share was not an idea that occurred to anyone on the streets where we lived.
We all pitched in, some of us more than others; and as kids, we all knew we were part of something larger than ourselves; and that made us feel safe and strong; spirited and calm, and personally empowered, although we did not even know it at the time.
My father often recalled his first job as a paper boy and then as a gas station attendant. He told us there was no greater feeling than working and getting "that first tip", his first paycheck and buying a soda pop or comic book on his own dime.
My mother worked on her family farm beginning at the age of four and picked ripened coffee beans under the vast, widening skies of Hawaii during World War II. She worked with her four siblings while they sang made-up songs about school, their friends and the dreams they shared.
Philly eventually bought that bike and couldn't help but ride it in front of my house at least twice a day while he jumped curbs and mussed up his hair on purpose just to make me look.
Brent was saving up to put himself through college as his father told him that "an education had to be earned if it was to be learned at all."
As for Chris, he spent all of his earnings on a 1969 Blue Dodge Dart as soon as he was allowed to drive. When he got that car, all the girls in the neighborhood lined up each morning to get rides to school. Chris was smart.
No one I knew was given a car because they got good grades, because they behaved, or because 'they simply existed as children.' And we were much happier for it.
We all had chores, were expected to have respect without rewards, and our parents ruled the roost.
This meant that my sisters, brother and I were physically active. When we weren't cutting grass, walking to the corner store to buy a gallon of milk for mom, or taking turns cleaning the bathrooms or sweeping out the shed, we played outside.
We knew it was time for dinner when the sun had nearly set, and that meant setting the table was in tall order as we scurried home sweaty and tired from a couple of hours playing dodge ball, hopscotch, tag and baseball games that we played without cheering by our dads, because all of our dads worked.
All this work and play meant obesity was not a childhood epidemic.
Neither was ADHD, suicides due to bullying over the Internet, or permanently curved spines because of over-texting and over-sexting.
We didn't have time for all that.
On some evenings we played board games like Scrabble, Monopoly, Chinese Checkers and Parcheezi.
On other nights we might have watched shows like Mary Tyler Moore, The Jeffersons, I Love Lucy, Monty Python's Flying Circus, a PBS documentary or two, and on the weekends, Saturday Night Live.
And we watched most of these shows 'together as a family', strange as that may sound.
There were no debates between children and their parents about buying the latest cell phone that parents could not even afford.
We didn't talk back for "fear of our fathers" and we ate dinner each night at the same time, usually with our Black and White rabbit-eared television airing The Evening News with Walter Cronkite.
We didn't have a lot in the way of material things, but we were beter for it.
As a kid, I still remember my annual trip to Sears to get my one pair of 'back-to-school' shoes I was told had to last through the Holidays.
My girlfriends also showed off our two new Marcia Brady dresses we were so proud of each fall, along with ribbons that decorated our braided hair we wore well through the second year of middle school.
Boys used to smirk at us with their striped short-sleeved shirts, corduroy pants, sun-kissed hair and shy-flirted glances.
The kids at my school weren't mean and we weren't angry.
There was a feeling of optimism in the air; a kind of solid and steady cadence that followed us because we allowed it to, and because our parents treated us as their children, not as their friends.
My kids are at that magical age now.
You know . . . that brief and oh-so fleeting time somewhere between childhood and full-blown adolescence.
Their minds are still clear, their curiosity intact, and there is no inkling of apathy or ungrounded angst.
They say they want to work; that they want to do something meaningful when they get older, and that they believe that "almost anything" is possible.
I believe them, and that's the best thing I can do as their parent.
But what's important is that they know they must believe in themselves if anything worthwhile is going to happen.
On the streets where we live now . . . there are not so many lawns to mow, safe streets to play in, or open-ended hours to enjoy the sweat-filled days of youth until dusk.
Somehow, the days of youth are shorter because we have allowed them to. Our new techno-fevered and furious pitch that we have decided is a normal and healthy culture has robbed the living daylights right out of our children.
But however long their childhood lasts, it is theirs, not mine, and I know they will find their own way, just like Chris, Brent and Phillip did; my three siblings and I, and my parents and their parents before them who were part of The Greatest Generation.
The greatest gifts I can give my children is the freedom and learned joys of physical and emotional autonomy, peppered with hard-fought work, personal responsibility and the sweat-filled days that only come with being young, bare-faced and naive.
"Put your phones away, it is time to eat," I said to my daughters one night as the aroma of homemade spaghetti sauce blanketed our senses.
During dinner, sometimes I ask them what they learned in school; if they have any new friends, or if anything particularly interesting had happened they might want to share.
But usually we just sit in each other's company in the quiet and stillness of a family meal, enjoying the fleeting moments that I know they will remember together one day in concerted yearning and sweet melancholy.
As I kissed one daughter on her wind-swept forehead after school yesterday, my heart swelled and my eyes teared as I knew my sleepless parented nights had not been in vain.
"I can't wait until college because I'll be able to choose the classes I want," she said, with her heavy backpack in her arms and shoes naturally untied.
"That will be the best day of my life, and it's only seven years away."
As she continued to go on about college, and all of her innocence-filled life plans, all I could focus on were the words "only seven years away."
Seven years away I thought.
Seven more glorious years to bask in the glow and the magic that is childhood.