This article was first published on July 12, 1984:
As I sit at my typewriter wondering what to dabble in for this week I hear the kids going down the street returning home from Welch Field and the swimming pool. I think how fortunate the youngsters of Westfield (and of this generation) are to have an excellent program of summer recreation. Jack Voelker reports that the facilities are being used to capacity this year.
Please allow me to reminisce about when I was a kid and lived on the same street where I now reside. Backman (or Beckman) Avenue’s best crop was always children. There were many vacant lots in this vicinity. Many of them belonged to the Kent family and they never seemed to mind if the neighborhood kids took “squatter’s clam” and set up a ball field, a village of tar paper and junk lumber shacks, an open air theater or any other facility that fitted into the activity of any given day.
A blanket, a slice of bread and butter, a banana and a pitcher of lemonade (the kind you rolled and squeezed the lemon for) made a pretty good picnic on almost any sunny afternoon. Like as not the lemonade was cooked with a chunk of ice begged from the iceman who came around almost daily to fill the family ice boxes. Ice cream was really a treat in those days before it could be stored indefinitely in electric refrigerators. It had to be consumed shortly after it came from the store. Of course the treat of all treats was the home-made variety made in the old crank freezers.
Almost every back yard had fruit trees, berry bushes and a vegetable garden. Often our picnic menus were augmented by some of these agricultural products. Where there is gardening there is always a supply of baskets and boxes. We used old grape crates and planks for seats in our theaters. A specified area would serve as the stage and a clump of bushes the wings. Sometimes one child would serve as playwright, actor and handyman. If rehearsals didn’t end in a fight with someone going home and refusing to play his part, the show might actually be produced with kids from another neighborhood pay two pins for admission.
Most back yards had a swing with a rough board seat hanging from the strongest branch of a tree, but teeter totters and sliding boards were put together by the kinds themselves, with many a tumble and splinter as a result.
On very hot days we were permitted to wear our bathing suits and as I recall they were all alike – either dark blue or black with a white band around the bottom and white binding at the neck. On special occasions we were allowed to go to the swimming hole in the creek or even down to Barcelona to wade or swim. We had no formal swimming lessons with life guards on duty as today’s children have at Welch Field. But we did have fun!
The real fun began in the evening when whole gangs of kids gathered under the street lights for games, more or less organized. Do you remember Kick the Can, Andy-Andy Over, Red Light and of course Hide and Seek? Sometimes a gang of older and bigger kids from another neighborhood would invade our territory and perhaps catch a smaller child and tie him to a tree. Lots of scary excitement but eventually somebody’s mother would call and break it all up for that night. Then perhaps there would be a few minutes of watching the stars or catching lightning bugs or just settling down before climbing the stairs to a hot bedroom perhaps to scratch mosquito bites before falling asleep from sheer exhaustion.
As I look out my window I can see two back yard swimming pools. Whole families, including young children, are enjoying them, but I wonder if the youngsters are any happier than the kids of my day when our swimming pools were wash tubs filled with water and a great deal of imagination.