Tag Archives: New Jersey

What I Learned at a Harry Chapin Concert and Why I am Thankful For the Lesson

26 Nov

I went to my first concert at Drew University to hear Harry Chapin. I had been to musicals on Broadway, opera performances at the Met, and symphony concerts. I had even been in Central Park in 1973 when Carole King gave a free concert. I along with tens of thousands of people packed the park. I really did not see her, but I remember the sights and the sounds.

And of course, I was close to Woodstock in 1969 since it was held just a mile and a half from our summer home. With the acoustics and the hundreds of thousands of people, Woodstock actually came to me. I could feel the ground shake and the music rock from my bungalow. It really was a memorable experience.

But I had never ever been to a ‘rock’ concert before, where I actually could see the performer up close. The Harry Chapin concert at Drew was my first such experience.

I have never forgotten his concert, even though I have been to many concerts since then and have seen performances by many musicians. I do not know how, but I was able to sit near the front of the room with my friends. I don’t know how we squeezed so far forward. Did we have tickets with seat assignments? Who remembers ? All I know is that we had great seats! If we actually sat. I sort of remember standing most of the time.

I do know that Harry Chapin touched my soul that night. He sang, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” among many other songs. But it was this song that has stayed with me throughout my life. Listening to him sing that song made me happy and thankful that my Dad always paid attention to us. My Dad always found time to be with us and give us attention.

At the end of the song when the son does not have time for his father, I teared up. Even though I was not quite 20, I already felt his angst of not connecting.

Although the words of that song made me sad, I loved Harry Chapin’s voice and I loved the story lyrics of his ballads. I became a forever Harry Chapin fan.

I owned his records, and then when records (or vinyls) became obsolete, I purchased his songs on CD and ripped them onto my computer and cell phone.

When I had my own children, I took to my heart the lyrics of “Cat’s in the Cradle.” I always made sure that my husband and I had time with our children. My husband, as a physician, was busy. But he always had time to be in charge of bath time and to read bedtime stories to our children.

It was a tradition that he hated missing when he was out of town. And our children hated when he was gone. My bedtime reading was never good enough because Dad made every character special with a different voice. When he read the Harry Potter books…. All the Harry Potter books… we would all sit in the bedroom to listen to him read. Yes, he even read to us when our children could read the books by themselves. Our daughter would zoom through the books by herself, but still come in to hear my husband read.

He always stopped after one or two chapters and we would beg for more. “Just a little bit more, please.” Sometimes he would give in and read a bit more. But it really was never enough. He was and is a great Dad.

So when my children say, “I’m gonna be like him,” I know that they mean they will be good parents who spend time with their children. Not distant parents who missed the best times of their children’s lives.

Over the years other concerts have made an impression: Paul Simon; Brian Wilson; James Taylor; Peter, Paul and Mary. My husband and I took our children to see Weird Al Yankovic…twice. Two family outings I do not think we will ever forget. (The third time they wanted to go, they were old enough to go without us!)

In the past year I have been to three concerts by some of my favorite ‘oldies’: James Taylor, Neil Diamond, Diana Ross. All of them have songs that I love. And have meaning for me. James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” reminds me of the summer I was 16. Diana Ross has many songs I love. And Neil Diamond’s songs make me want to dance.

It is a different feeling when I go to see these concerts. Yes for Diana Ross, we were all on our feet almost the entire concert singing and dancing along. I enjoyed the crowds singing along with Neil Diamond at the Sprint Center in Kansas City and at the wonderful concert at the Starlight Theater to listen to James Taylor.

But nothing compares to that first concert at Drew. The excitement I felt walking from the dorms; the anticipation of being with so many people listening to a favorite singer; the joy of being there and seeing him in person: it was fantastic.

A moment I will never forget mainly due to a song that impacted my life. I was so fortunate not to have a far away father who had no time. I have heard this following many times, “You never hear anyone say I wish I had spent more time at work, rather they say, I wish I had more time with my family.”

I am thankful that in my world family came first.

 

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/harrychapin/catsinthecradle.html

The Lighthouses That Made Me Feel Safe

22 Nov

When I was a little girl, my family drove every weekend from North Bergen, New Jersey, into New York City to have dinner with my paternal grandparents and my father’s family. We had to drive over the George Washington Bridge and into the Bronx.

My favorite part of this drive was usually on the way home. Then sometimes my Dad would drive in a round about way so we came to a point where we could see the little red lighthouse under the bridge. We did not always see it, but when we did it made me happy!

We had often read the book by Hildegarde Swift, “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.” It was one of my favorites. I loved the story about the lighthouse being happy till the bridge was built, and then had to realize it was still important. I loved that little lighthouse that lives in Washington Park. So those little excursions to see it filled me with joy.

Rainbow and bridge

Near the bottom of the rainbow stands the little red lighthouse. View from my parents apartment.

Even now, whenever I am back east, I try to get a glimpse of the lighthouse. But it is much harder to see from the roads with all the barriers up, unlike the 60s when it was more open.

When my siblings and I were married, my parents moved into an apartment in Cliffside Park. Their view overlooked the Hudson River. From my parent’s apartment we could look north and see the George Washington Bridge and the New York City skyline. Whenever I was there I would try, perhaps through the trees, with binoculars, to see the little red lighthouse.

I really not see it. But I would imagine it sitting across the river just under the bridge, at the end of a rainbow.   In my mind it was always saving people, even though it had not be used in decades. The lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

I know it is more than just the book and the adorableness of this little red beacon that made me love lighthouses. Our family had its own attachment to the security a lighthouse provides. My maternal grandparents had a lighthouse nightlight that kept us safe at night in the Catskills.

Lighthouse in the Catskills

The lighthouse nightlight in the Catskills house.

Night in Kauneonga Lake is extremely dark. There are no street lights. And when the night comes and the lights go out…it can be scary for children. Well for adults too, if you do not like the dark. And I do not like the dark!

It was this little lighthouse nightlight that made me feel safe.   It was not the usual nightlight. This heavy brass sculpture has a tiny light bulb in the top that can be switched on and off. Throughout my life, well since about 1964, it sat on a table at the bottom of the stairs. And every night that I spent at my grandparents’ and then my parent’s Catskill home, this lighthouse’s small beacon illuminated the scary dark nights. It was a beacon that kept use all safe. I loved that little lighthouse, as did my siblings and all the grandchildren.

The watchtower nightlight

My watchtower nightlight.

So when my children were little, I also bought a ceramic lighthouse/tower/nightlight that I kept it at the bottom of my stairs, in deference and in honor of the lighthouse I so remembered and loved. My nightlight was not really a lighthouse. It is more of watch tower with a dragon guarding it. But it was the idea of it that made me want to own it and use it in my house. It reminded of my grandparent’s nightlight.

Lighthouse

The Catskills lighthouse in my house.

I now have both nightlights.   After my parents passed away, and we divided some of the belongings, I took the lighthouse back to Kansas with me. I have it sitting on a small half table, just as it sat on a small half table in the Catskills. I have it near the bottom of the stairs. But it is not plugged in anymore. The cord is frayed and I am concerned about the chances of sparks. But I see daily, and I remember the glow of its light.

Across from it is the newer nightlight watch tower. The watch tower is plugged in, but with no children at home, I no longer turn it on. Both lights are out now. But in this troubled time, I still l feel a sense of security when I see a lighthouse and my lighthouse night lights.  I imagine sometimes that they nod to each other and whisper, “we kept them safe.”

 

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Red_Lighthouse

A Photo Triggers Driving Memories

7 Oct
AP parking lot photo from Cindy Bottcher

A&P Parking lot, photo from Cindy Bottcher on the Town of North Bergen Facebook group.

The photograph on the North Bergen Facebook group page brought a flood of memories. It showed the parking lot of the A & P grocery store, a store that has been closed for many years. The photo showed the somewhat empty parking lot and to the left, alone by itself, a single light pole. I know that light pole well!!

It was in 1972. I had recently received my driver’s license. Mom and I went to the grocery store together. At that time the parking lot at the A & P was packed. I easily parked the car in the only empty spot by the light pole. Later when we left the store, Mom once again let me be the driver. As I put the car in gear I made a slight error. I went into drive instead of reverse, and I hit the light pole. It made a dent in the front bumper. My first fender-bender.

I was so upset. I knew my Dad was not going to be very happy about this! I had already had a mishap with the garage door during the summer. My father had told me NOT to attempt to park in the garage when I went driving with my brother in the Catskills. When we return home, I decided to try. My brother did not stop me, so I always sort of blame him. In any case, I misjudged as I entered the garage and off came the car’s side view mirror.

Dad was not happy with me.

So now it was a few months later, and I hit the light pole. My Mom and I looked at the damage. It was not too bad. My Mom was calm. “Better the light pole than another car,” she told me. Then she offered to tell my Dad that she had hit the pole. We agreed that he would be much calmer that way.

So home we went, and my Mom took the responsibility for the accident. The parking lot was busy. She got distracted. She hit the pole. My guilty face probably gave me away. “Who really hit the pole?” My Dad demanded. My Mom kept up the pretense.

A few days later my Dad announced at dinner, that it did not bother him that I hit the pole (ha), but it did bother him that I let my Mom take the blame (This part is true). My Mom still stuck up for me. It was her idea. I just agreed. However, now as an adult I do agree that we should have been truthful…somewhat. My Dad was much calmer a few days later when he actually learned the truth, than he would have been when it happened.

However, I never liked to drive in New Jersey after that. Luckily we had wonderful mass transit. I took buses, trains, subways and taxies wherever I wanted to go.

The following year, when I was a senior in high school, my parents went to India for three weeks. I was in charge of my sister. And I had to drive. We needed groceries. We were invited to friends’ homes for dinner. We had to go to school in the cold winter. I was getting much better and began to lose my fear of driving.

My parents left us with many phone numbers of people who could help in an emergency. Friends and relatives were on call. One of my Mom’s friends called every morning as a back up alarm clock to make sure we got off to school on time. So many people called to invite us for dinner, we never used the meals my Mom had cooked and froze for us.

But for me the most important person was my Dad’s business colleague and friend, Normie P.   One night I took my sister to the movies. We came home, and I forgot to turn the lights off.   The next day the car was dead in the street. We had drained the battery. At the time I did not know that. Normie and his son came and fixed it for us. I will never forget them in their work suits, jump-starting the car. We had to drive to school immediately, but take the long way to recharge the battery.

When I moved to the Midwest for graduate school, I was extremely concerned about driving here. But it was a breeze. The traffic was nothing compared to the traffic in the New York City area and in New Jersey. I drove downtown with ease. I found the perfect place for me to drive. I met my husband, and he let me use his old Buick to do my school assignments. Driving is easy in his opinion.

However, he learned his lessons about New Jersey.  I remember the first time my husband drove in North Bergen and West New York. He continually got stuck behind double-parked cars. I kept telling him to move over.

“What do you mean they are double parked?!” He demanded. “That is illegal.”

“Not here,” I told him.

He thought people in New Jersey were crazy.

We also made him drive into New York City one time. It might have been a bit cruel. But he needed to see what we were talking about.   Growing up in St. Louis, he had never experienced REAL traffic.

For years, when I went home to Jersey, my Dad would drive. As he aged, I had to take over some driving for him. And after my parents passed away, the driving ended as well. My sister or brother do most of the driving for me. I am once again in the passenger seat. I usually do not mind.

To this day, I do not like to drive on the highways of New Jersey. I am fine in the lovely highways of Kansas and Missouri.   I am fine in the local driving of my daily life.

But occasionally I get the urge to drive when I am back East visiting. I decided that Catskill driving is the best for me.   And now I have no problems at all pulling into a garage. It is something I do multiple times a day.

It is amazing what one photo can do for memories. I will always remember that A& P parking lot and light pole.

What I Learned in My High School Typing Class Has Helped Throughout My Life

24 Sep

When I attended North Bergen High School in the 1970s, I took both a typing class and a short hand class. I did not want to. Typing and short hand classes were for the students who were not going on to college. And I knew that I would go to college. But my Mom made me take them.

“You never know when you might take a job that requires typing,” she said, and added: “These are good skills to learn.” I argued back, but obviously I lost.

My MOM insisted. So I took those two classes when I was a freshman in high school. I think one of the teachers was Miss Wirt. It was not the most exciting class for me, but by the end of the semester, I could touch type to the required words per minute without too many errors.  Being in class with good typists was a bit intimidating (As my friend Shashi reminded me). I will remind everyone that typing on a typewriter was much different than typing on a computer keyboard.  First there was the click clack of the keyboard.  You could tell how fast someone was typing by how quickly the clicks and clacks came together.

I did use these typing skills when I was on the staff of Paw Prints, the school’s newspaper. We had to type all of the stories into columns for them to be put into the layout and then copied and printed. I learned out to measure the space and fit the letters/words into the space correctly. A skill that came in handy much later in my life.

I have to say that my Mom was right. I will tell you that the skills I learned in the typing class have stayed with me forever. It is almost as if my Mom had telepathy and knew that eventually typing would be a much appreciated and required skill for college students.

Thanks to my typing classes, I excelled in my college and graduate school classes in the sense that my typed papers had very few typos and/or needed corrections. While I had friends who often had to hire someone to type their papers, I was set with my little typewriter.

In fact, only once in all of my undergraduate college career did someone type a paper for me. But there was a reason. My very last college paper at Drew University was due when I had an accident involving one of my eyes. After a long visit in an emergency room, I realized I could not type this paper since I had a large patch over my eye. Luckily for me, I had a great friend, Shari, who lived in the same dorm and was my savior. She typed the entire paper that evening in time for my morning class.

Later when I went on to graduate school, for journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, my parents bought me the most wonderful gift, a self-correcting typewriter. This was the best typewriter available with a second ribbon of white out, so you could just back up, lower the white-out ribbon, and then cover the error and then retype. Amazing what was wonderful in the days before word processors and computers.

My typing class made it possible for me to complete my master’s degree exam in plenty of time. We had to answer four questions and had one hour to write the answer essays. They had to be typed. So as we thought out our answer, we had to actually type instead of write. I came to the exam with my typewriter and ribbons and succeeded.

This typewriter was also an important part of my Master’s Thesis, as I could easily correct mistakes.     Writing a thesis before computers was a nightmare. You had to estimate how much space to leave for footnotes. Getting everything perfect took experience and spatial coordination. As I said earlier, many people had to hire someone to type their thesis. But not me, as I knew how to type and I knew how to make words fit. Thank you Miss Wirt! Thank you Mrs. Whitehouse and my Paw Prints work!

The short hand class taught me the basics of taking quick notes using some symbols. Knowing a few of these symbols came in handy when I did an interview. I could write quickly by not writing all the words and using short hand instead.   Thanks to my Mom insisting that I take this class, my interviews as a grad student in journalism were always accurate. Yes I had a tape recorder as well. But some people did not like to be recorded. So accurate note taking was important.

I will admit that I have forgotten most of these symbols. And when I look at short hand symbols today they look like hieroglyphics. But when I was in graduate school I was so happy that I had an advantage.

Although I do not use the short hand, my touch typing skills are something I use every day for work and for pleasure. I am using those skills as I type and write this blog!

With the advent of computers, everyone needs to know how to use a keyboard.   Today touch typing, or as it is now known – keyboarding — is a skill that children are taught in elementary school. If you cannot type, you cannot use a computer successfully. Although probably in a few years, people will just talk to their computers and to have their thoughts put down, just as we talk to our smart phones to type a short message to someone.

It is amazing what a good teacher can help a student learn. I went into my typing class with a chip on my shoulder, not wanting to take it. I came out with a skill that has been with me for over 40 years. What I learned in typing class has helped me throughout my life.

Stormy Weather Was My Sister’s Worst Nightmare

3 Jun

Ever since I moved to Kansas over 30 years ago I have been amazed by the storms! Where I grew up in the New Jersey/New York area, you never really saw a storm coming. Yes, the sky turned grey; yes it got windy; yes there was lightening and thunder. But you never actually saw an entire anvil thunderstorm cloud or could see the twirling clouds that at times become tornados.

Over the years I grew used to the sound of the sirens being tested the first Wednesday of every month at 11 am, unless there was bad weather. I learned that a bow hook on a radar echo was a very bad sight to see. The sight of pea size, dime size, nickel size, quarter size and baseball size hail taught us to stay indoors! Oh how I hate to be driving my car when hail starts falling!

I taught my children that when the sirens go off, they go to our basement shelter. No discussion, no arguments, just get the cats and go. And they never argued. Tornados are not something to argue about.

For three years my nephew, my sister’s son, lived in Kansas while he studied at the University of Kansas for his master’s degree. I was not sure how my sister would deal with the stormy weather. You see, my sister is petrified of storms.

It dates back to a storm in the Catskills when she was very young. She insists that I was not there when it happened. But since I remember it just as well, I think she is wrong. And I am 3 ½ years older. So I believe I was there,at least for one storm. The one I remember was frightening enough.

It was in our grandparents’ home in Kauneonga Lake, the big house, which was an all season house, not just a bungalow.   There was a storm going on outside. It might have been the hurricane that came up the coast in the early 1960s. In any case we were watching television and a bolt of lightening hit the house and shot from the television into the refrigerator. It went right past me in the family room. This is what I remember.

My sister has a slightly different memory. But since I am the one blogging, I will go with my memory.

However, being a good sister, I will give her side. She says she was in the kitchen and saw lightening hit the stove as it went past her. “It was right after the kitchen was remodeled, and the lightening broke the clock on the oven.  As you may recall it never worked again.”

“The thing that cemented my terror,” my sister said, “was the power went out (no surprise there) and Grandma took a candle and went all through the house looking for fires from the lightening.” She was “petrified being alone in the dark with just a candle and still seeing the afterimage of the lightening and smelling the burnt insulation from the stove.”

It was absolutely terrifying. To this day, I cannot watch television when there is lightening and thunder. I go around the house turning off computers and televisions. I have a wonderful weather radio I listen to during storms. And with modern technology, I now have a weather ap on my phone to let me know tornado and thunder storm warnings and watches, as well as the radar.

For my sister, who was about four, the memory was paralyzing.   She became absolutely terrified of storms. When thunder and lightening occurred she would cry and need to be held. And since I shared a room, I often shared my bed with her during a nighttime storm.

As we aged, I have to admit, I was not always pleasant about her fears. I remember one storm in particular. She was in middle school, and I was in high school. I woke up during one of the worst thunderstorms I ever heard in the Catskills.. But I kept quiet and did not move. I knew if I said anything, my sister would crawl into bed with me, and I was not in the mood. After a few minutes of listening to the storm, the door opened. My mother was standing there.

“Are you okay?” She asked my sister, who then began to cry. I spoke up. “I knew she would do that,” I whispered.

I got in so much trouble!!! My Mom started yelling at me. “You were awake and you did not help your sister!!!”

Next thing I knew my sister was in my twin bed with me, where she spent the rest of the night. I was doomed from that point on to always share my bed during a storm. I guess it was great practice for years later when I had children.

So flash forward 35 years, and my nephew is now in the land of thunderstorms and tornadoes. My sister was not totally happy about the choice of Kansas as a place to live; although she tried to stay calm about it. She said, “Once my children were born, I made a concerted effort not to show my fear to either of them, and they didn’t know until they were teenagers that I was afraid of storms.”

The only thing that helped my sister at all is that he lived in a basement apartment, so he basically lived in a storm shelter.

I am honestly glad that my sister has never been here for a severe thunderstorm when the rotation starts and we have had to seek shelter. The swirl of the winds, the roar of the thunder, the sudden flashes of lightening make storms furious and intense in Kansas.  Living in Kansas through spring and autumn storms has taught me to be wary and keep aware of changing weather.  I am not sure that my sister would do well living through her worst nightmare.

Shopping at the New Jersey Clothing Factories Led to a Life of Power Shopping

26 May

My sister and I can be power shoppers. We can go to a sales rack in most stores and find something wonderful. Others are sometimes amazed by our accurate determination of what would look good even when it is on the hanger. It is a talent we inherited from our Mom, the queen of power shoppers.

When we grew up in New Jersey, there were no true outlet stores or factory outlet stores to be exact. But there were major clothing factories nearby. And as a perk to New Jersey teachers, several times each year, the teachers were presented special cards that allowed them to shop in the factory stores. These stores were usually reserved for employees and were filled with items that were not quite perfect.

For my sister and I, it was like magic shopping at the factories with our Mom. Our two favorites were Trousers Up and Evan Picone.

These expeditions were a women event only. Dad and my brother would stay home. My sister, Mom and I would venture out on our journey to the New Jersey highway system. This was a major event. My Mom hated to drive on the highway. Due to a childhood accident, she was blind in one eye. So to take us out to the factories was a big deal. And we knew it. We were instructed to help find the right streets.

We would spend hours out there going from one factory to another and stocking up on clothes. I loved when we returned home and told our Dad how much money we saved him. His response was always the same, “I don’t care how much you three saved. I want to know how much you spent!” We never told him that number, we gave that responsibility to Mom.

My all time favorite memory was shopping for my trousseau. My Mom was a traditionalist. I was getting married and I needed to have new clothes for my honeymoon and my life. I especially needed a special outfit to wear to travel the morning after I married.

My sister, mom and I were on a mission that day. And it was a day I will never forget. I can still see some of the clothing that was purchased even today, over 35 years later. I remember the dusty blue short overalls from Trousers Up. And I remember the electric blue and white striped top with blue skirt my Mom purchased for me to wear on the plane. It was a knit Evan Picone outfit.

To be honest I kept it for years, until my daughter forced me to clean the closets one day. She informed me that I would never fit into that outfit again, and someone else could wear it. She had no emotional attachment to it, but I did. However, she was right. So about 5 years ago, I finally parted with my honeymoon ensemble.

By the time my sister married, five years later, the factory shopping expeditions were no longer available. Factory outlets were opened to shopping for everyone. And my sister had a favorite outlet, Harve Bernard. I owned two suits by this wonderful company, but my sister could live in this outlet. (My daughter made me get rid of these suits as well. They also hung in my closet for many years.)

Do you like these jackets?

Do you like these jackets?

I can still hear my Mom telling us to try something on. “Try it on,” she would say, as we shook our head looking at an item on the hanger. “You don’t know what it will look like until you put it on. You never know. It might look wonderful!”

And often it did. We learned to always try it on. A sentiment we taught to our daughters.

Why is it that some of the most important experiences between a mother and daughter and even granddaughter occur while shopping? I think because so many lessons are shared during these moments:

Always treat people with respect in the dressing room and at in the store.

Hang up your clothes after you try them on. (Cleaning as you go along makes the chore easier.)

Encourage the people you are with, but be honest on how they look.

Don’t buy something you will never wear, (do not waste money).

Never buy shoes that hurt, if your feet hurt your whole body hurts.

I loved shopping with my Mom. And in later years, I loved shopping with my daughter. And the best times were shopping with my Mom, my sister, and our two girls as well as our niece. We had many shopping bonding times. During our times shopping, we passed along our important lessons.

It's a mother's job to hold the purchases.

It’s a mother’s job to hold the purchases.

But the love of shopping is not just important on my side of the family. My sister in law and I, along with our daughters, also had wonderful times on girl weekends.   My daughter and I would drive to St. Louis to be with my sister in law and niece. We would have a great time shopping, going out to eat and visiting. Even though my daughter could not be there, I went to St. Louis to go bridal gown shopping with them. My niece now has her own daughter. I look forward to shopping with her one day as well!

For a while my cousin’s daughter was in college at Washington University in St. Louis. Of course we would pick her up for a dining and shopping treat.

And it is a treat. Sometimes we do not even buy anything. We just browse. We try on. We examine the newest styles. We guess the prices on expensive looking items. My young cousin likes shoes and boots. So we would always tried to browse through a shoe store. With all of these women I have shared laughter and joy as we shopped.

As well as excitement when we find a special treasure: a dress or shoes we were not expecting to find, but there they were calling one of our names; a bargain that cannot be passed by. These bring out the ‘power’ shopper in us.

Take me to a sales rack in any store and I will have a wonderful time. I do not care if I do not find anything for me. My sister just told me about a power shopping she had with her sister in law, who needed a certain color brown slacks. My sister led her to the sales rack in Bloomingdales. And there among the many items were the perfect pants, on sale and special sale and then 40 percent off!

What more could a shopper desire?

My daughter is now engaged. As we plan the wedding, we have discussed the wedding gown shopping experience. She wants her aunts and cousins to come with us if they can. Who better to tell her the truth and share the joy? The most glorious of shopping experiences!

Shopping at the factory outlets on the New Jersey highways brought my sister, Mom and I laughter and fun. But it also led us to a life of power shopping and a lifetime of memories with our daughters, sisters, sisters-in-law and nieces, along with many moments of joy.

Happily Playing Stickball In the Middle of the Street

21 May

Today’s Moms tell their children constantly, “Don’t play in the street.” But where I grew up in North Bergen, New Jersey, in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s, we almost always played in the streets. It is not that our Moms said, “Go play in the street.” It was more, “Get outside and play!” And the street was the place to go.

It was a common event to see a group of children racing the bases in a heated game of stickball, running in the street. We often had ten or more involved in the game.

On our block, 78th Street between Boulevard East and Park Avenue, we had an upward battle to our game as we lived on a hill. So playing stickball was even more difficult. Hitting the ball and running uphill was a challenge. But we had fun.

I cannot tell you how many windows were broken over the years, but I remember at least two. When a window was smashed, we all went running. Eventually the truth came out.

But I can tell you that our mothers never told us to get out of the street. It was the cars that had to be careful, not the children. People expected the streets to be teeming with activity.

Stickball was played with a broomstick and a pink rubber ball (Spaulding High Flyer, my brother says), or whatever ball happened to be available. We had designated bases that changed each day we played depending on who parked where. A certain car, a telephone pole, a manhole cover, all of these could be named designated bases.

But besides stickball, the street was also the site of football, hide and seek, hopscotch, and any other game that needs a space to run.

I have to say that my favorite ‘street’ story of all concerns my brother. I know he was in high school, because he was already tall. He grew to about six feet. And that is what caused his problem. If he had been shorter, he probably would not have been hurt.

We were playing in the street My brother and his friend were playing football.  Tossing a ball back and forth across the street, in the street on the sidewalk.  But not just tossing, throwing it hard.   My brother caught the ball and turn to run, unbeknownst to him, a volkswagen had parked right where he turned to run.  Usually that car went into the garage, but this time it just was on the sidewalk.

My brother says, “So Jack throws me the ball and I spin to run, never expecting a car to be in the driveway and slam right into the car. Volkswagen’s at that time had a rain guard over the door that was steel. I hit my lip right into this and it split. Spilling lots of blood and needing two stitches.”

There was blood; lots of blood. I have since learned, as a parent, that the face bleeds much more that any part of the body. And my brother’s face was filled with blood, as was the street and the Volkswagen.

Luckily that day a parent was home. I do not say this sarcastically. We would come home from school by ourselves. Make a snack by ourselves and go out to play by ourselves. It was the same way for almost all the kids on the block.

Many other accidents occurred over the years.   I remember many of them, like when my brother’s friend got his hand caught in between a bunch of nails on a piece of wood.  Yes he did. It was a weird accident. My parents took him to the hospital, as his parents were not home.  He was holding the wood on his lap all the way and into the emergency room.

There was one grandma who lived on the block, and she was often the one to wipe away the blood and check to make sure the injured child would survive. She was there the day my sister’s front teeth were knocked out and took care of my sister till my Mom got home. We had some adult supervision. But with so many children on the block, any parent who was home took care of any issues that occurred…issues sometimes being arguments or sometimes being injuries! No one ever argued if a parent disciplined someone else’s children or took care of them.

But I digress. One this day, our parents were home. And my brother was taken to the emergency room at North Hudson Hospital. I was not there, but I have heard that the conversation went something like this:

“How did you get hurt?” The doctor asks.

“I ran into a car,” my brother responds.

“You mean a car ran into you. You got hit by a car,” the doctor says.

“NO, I mean I ran into a car playing stickball,” my brother was honest. “The car was parked. The car did not hit me. I hit the car.”

The doctor then had to laugh. I believe he even said something like, I have never had to stitch a kid who hit a car before.

My brother was fine. He had to get stitches in his face. But that was nothing new for him. He had had stitches before from when he played Superman off the front stoop when we lived on Third Avenue in North Bergen, and another time when a wooden train piece hit him in the head.

He came home with a great story to tell. We all heard about the doctor who thought he got hit by a car!

The next day my brother was back at playing stick ball and other games in the street. Games did not end because of one minor injury. We continued to happily play stickball in the middle of the street for years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stickball