Honesty, I wish I knew when it hit me – that moment when I truly realized that I had a pretty decent childhood and a great upbringing. I think it was probably when I was 19 years old and left home for the first time. I ended up smack dab in the middle of Navy Boot Camp in Orlando, Florida. I was surrounded by people from all walks of life, from various backgrounds, ages and areas of the country. That’s when it really sunk in – that I had a great upbringing, in a great “small town Jersey” back in the 60’s and 70’s.
Oh yeah, our family was indeed NOT the “Brady Bunch” but then again, whose family is? But, we had it good. I grew up in a fun-loving, caring-but -strict Catholic Italian-American home. We had a close-knit family, good friends and a great neighborhood. The grownups had “cocktail hour”, and us kids – we ran through the neighborhood until dark playing baseball, kick-the-can and tag. Everything was focused around good mouth-watering spaghetti & meatballs, Nana’s amazing manicotti, wonderful holiday gatherings and neighborhood parties.
And we were outdoor kids – back then, we had no cell phones, no text messaging and, no video games. Those were the days! We played all day throughout the neighborhood, woods, brooks and stream. Our moms were not worried where we were, because they knew we were safe. In fact, I don’t even think our moms gave it a second thought. We ran through the brooks trying to catch tadpoles, and we built tree houses in our backyard. When we fell out of a tree (which happened quite frequently), we just ran home long enough to get a band-aid before running back out to find the rest of the gang. We stayed out until our Mom rang the dinner bell – she would holler all our names in order of age, “Carol, Joseph, John and … BIG HESITATION AS IF SHE FORGOT MY NAME…. Claaaarreeeeeee”!!!! (You can guess by now I am the youngest.)
Wintertime, we would go ice skating at the neighbor’s pond, and one year our buddy, Sharon, fell in – but thankfully we scooped her out. We would go sleigh riding down “The Path” – a very steep path that went straight down the hill through the woods. We would throw snowballs at cars, and then run and hop on our sleds and go flying down “The Path” to escape. I remember “defrosting” my toes in front of the fire when I got home.
I mean, I don’t MISS snow anymore and am glad I live in sunny Florida, but I sure miss those “snow days”. When it snowed piles and piles – we would swing open our front door at 7:00 a.m., and wait for the glorious sound of our Fire Department’s siren. When it sounded, that meant a snow day!!! Yeah, a day free from school!
Summertime was my favorite time! Swimming in the Allocco’s and Hanlon’s pools (our neighbors) and my sister, Carol, would win the treading water contest – she treaded water for 60 minutes!! And the joke was, my mom and Mrs. Allocco would be our lifeguards, but neither one of them knew how to swim!
At our own home, we had a circular above ground pool. We would often load so many kids in the pool and run around the sides and make such a strong whirlpool that once or twice I would get carried under – thankfully someone would scoop me back up.
Our house hosted the annual summer “Lobster Party” in our backyard. It was supposed to be just for “grownups”, but if we behaved ourselves we could sneak out back and get a taste of lobster drenched in butter!
And let’s certainly not forget the Good Humor truck where we got our favorite ice cream for 25 cents! We would hunt that truck down like a dog. Once or twice, I would cry like a baby because I didn’t have money, and my big sister, Carol, would give me a quarter just to shut me up!
And may I never forget the finer memories of surviving Catholic school (they liked to call it P-A-R-O-C-H-I-A-L school back then). Often times, when we made the nuns mad – which seemed to be quite often – they slung us from one side of the room to the other by that tender spot under our chins (ouch – that hurts), or even by our ears. Sometimes they would get the boys by their hair. Nuns can be some of the scariest people on the planet for being such holy people. Us kids would say in later years, you don’t need someone trained to torture terrorists … bring in a couple of nuns from the old days, that will do the trick!
When our parents occasionally went out some evenings, our Aunt Irene would babysit all four of us at the same time. Aunt Irene spoiled us, and most of the time gave us our own way. As soon as we watched our parents drive out of the driveway, all four of us would start jumping up and down on the couch, and Aunt Irene would holler, “Fight nicely, kids, fight nicely.”!! Sometimes our dad would sneak back in the house, like he was a psychic or something, and catch us carrying on…. and it wasn’t pretty!
Well, obviously our neighborhood was much like many others during this era, and I wasn’t alone. A few interesting notes that Brain Candy at www.corsinet.com shared:
- We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.
- We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.
- No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.
- We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.
- We rode bikes or walked to a friend’s house and knocked on the door or range the bell, or just walked in and talked to them!
- We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!
And… I especially love this one:
- This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever.
Those who missed this era – you don’t know what you missed! Oh, while the kids of this generation will be on their I-Pads, texting each other, watching TV and playing video games, I will have refreshing memories of a childhood playing outdoors all day, with fresh air and sunshine.
I had a dream the other night….it was 7:00 a.m. and the town fire department’s siren went off! Snow day – no school!
The end result? Childhood really was simpler then… and it really was “the good ol’ days”!