With apologies to Mr King (I edited the tense and changed the year)
“All the same, the past feels very close just now. Maybe it’s just the golden cast of the declining summer light, which has always struck me as slightly supernatural. It’s as if 1970 were still right here, only hidden beneath a flimsy film of intervening years”. ~ Stephen King, 11/22/63
Perhaps it’s because we were both born and reside in New England, albeit different generations, but I “get” Stephen King. His writing just lingers in my brain, mulling around – until I come out with some seemingly random quote that makes sense to absolutely no one but me. The quote above fits my feelings, thoughts and mood PERFECTLY today. It’s certainly because I am on holiday from my job this week! And lastly, perhaps it’s also because my children are now officially on their summer break – which of course makes me nostalgic for my own childhood summers. So, you lucky folks get to read about that today.
1970 – We’d moved up from Westfield the previous July – over the weekend of the 19/20th to be exact. I remember watching Neil Armstrong take that historic giant leap for mankind on a 19 inch Sony black and white which had been placed upon a stack of moving boxes in our new dining room. My dad’s mother, who lived with us until 1973, remarked several times how she’d never thought to see the day. Born in 1887, she went from outhouses, lanterns and horse drawn carriages to indoor plumbing, dishwashers, refrigerators, and men landing on the moon. Who’d’a thunk it, right? Or so she said…. 1970 marked the first full official summer in the hilltown of Blandford, MA.
So what’s a (then) city girl like me to do during a small town summer in the southern Berkshire hills? Pull up a chair and lemme tell ya about it….
We had a 2 story cape on 2 acres of partially wooded land on a hillside, with a useable barn on the property. Due to spring runoff, some seriously ingenious person finagled the cellar so that the runoff cascaded down one built up side and was directed into a man made channel that bisected the cement cellar floor and then down and out the other side of the foundation. How many people can say that they have a brook running through their cellar? I always thought that was pretty cool. The system worked extremely well, and the runoff eventually made it to a roadside spring on the edge of our driveway. Man was that water ever cold, and it tasted wonderful! Bikers, hikers, and riders often stopped to fill their canteens in passing. The spring usually dried up in September. The cellar never flooded while we lived there. I happened to meet the current owner of the property recently and he told me that the cellar always floods in the spring nowadays because an owner in between us dammed up the spring, and cemented over the runoff channel in the cellar.
Childhood summers are timeless, the days blend together until the one day your mother has to take you school shopping (a half hour drive down to the city to go to Grants, Newberrys and Steigers for clothes and supplies). If the day was gonna be a “scorcher” you could always tell because the “jar flies” would be loudly buzzing. The morning sky, a bright steely grey and maybe only a breathy whisper of a breeze. Plans for such a day usually included using a bicycle or “shank’s mare”. Either way, we had to be careful because we lived on the main road to a popular summer tourist destination (Otis Reservoir) – and there was always quite a large volume of summer traffic starting Memorial Day Weekend and running through mid- September. Mom would make her grandmother’s famous lemonade iced tea (see prior post for recipe) and put some in thermoses for us. We were usually off exploring by 9:30 or 10 am.
No cell phones or iPods mind you. If we wanted music, we took a battery operated transistor radio that usually only operated on AM frequency. Here’s my 1970 playlist:
We either had to be back to have lunch, or if Mom had packed us one, we had to be back before supper. Possessions ended up in a knapsack or placed in the carryall basket on the handlebars of the bike. My bike was THE Coolest. Turquoise blue with a “banana” seat. Plastic wicker basket with cheesy plastic flowers on it. I pumped the pedals backwards to brake. And we (my sister and me) were off. Some days we went down to the old mica quarry/swamp next door and caught pollywogs or built forts on the “islands”. (I have another story about the mica quarry for another day) Other days we ranged farther afield and rode down to the dairy farm, wandering through the fields looking for a place to picnic, and trying unsuccessfully to “scare” the cows. They’d just look at us as if to say “Are you serious?” Or we’d ride to Cobble Mt Reservoir and fly kites off the spillway. After 9/11 the reservoir is closed off but when I was a teenager we’d go up there to make out with our boyfriends (braving an encounter with the “Cobble Mountain Critter“), and take illicit pleasure from peeing in Springfield’s drinking water... I was SUCH a rebel, wasn’t I? 😉
Sometimes we’d just hang out on our own property. Someone built a platform up in one of the white pines at the top of our hill and it was a great place to view the world from -provided you could stand the “pincher bugs” that seemed to infest the dang tree. Further back from that were the “Ponderosa” Pines. These were easy to climb and there were many days you could have found me high up in the limbs. You could hear quite a bit up there- lawnmowers, chain saws and the distant hum of the traffic from the turnpike down the valley aways. There were times were I actually fell asleep up there, dreamily watching the clouds and the world go by – don’t tell my mother! 😉 We also had permission to use a tree fort on the property of a summer home on top of the hill on Sunset Road. We’d play cards and eat our picnic lunches while listening to the dj on the transistor talk over/right through the beginning of the songs. (Didn’t you just HATE that? you could never tape a song back then…)
I mentioned the barn earlier. It was red, of course. That first full summer we were there we had not yet converted it to farm use. So the horse stall became our play house. We had a “Easy-Bake” oven up there and painted the inside of the stall to look like a kitchen. It was also a spot to jump in the hay pile, as we kept the hillside scythed, dried the hay, and gave it to our neighbors who had livestock at the time. We’d launch’ from the open second story of the barn, down into the stall itself. I miscalcuated once and knocked myself out, freaking out my sister and cousins who were visiting. I woke up alone a few minutes later and started wandering down to the house – only to see the adults swarming out the back door to come to my assistance. I still have a flat spot on the left side of my head where it hit the stall wall. This would explain much in terms of my personality, would it not? (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). We’d also use the barn to play “Hogan’s Heroes” if there were enough kids – and try to “escape”. We had NO idea it was not PC to do this at the time…..
Mom had a VERY loud whistle which she used to good effect to call us home. It had a range of a least a mile or so. The tune was “Me-Do” Supper was always between 5 and 5:30. It was expected that we’d come home in time to set the table and wash up. Conversation was expected at the table. Our day could never just be “good”. We were expected to have details about what we did that day, and to share them during dinner. We also had to ask to be excused from the table when we were finished, then help clean up and do dishes. After that, we were free to go back outside and play. Generally we’d arrange with our friends to play “hide and seek” and get ready to chase the fireflies at dusk; or play flashlight tag.
The world started to turn pinky- gold by 6:30/7pm. Twilight magic time. It lasted quite awhile in those long ago summers. The jar flies stopped buzzing, and as soon as the sun dropped behind the hill it cooled off by at least 10 degrees. You could hear the sound of kids playing throughout the neighborhood. The sound coming to you as if down a tunnel – drowsily. Like listening to a conversation as you’re falling asleep. Folks would come out to sit on their front porches in their rockers, comfy chairs or porch swings . Calling hello across the street to the neighbors, enjoying the sunset and the cool evening breeze. No one locked their doors, ever. No need. Everybody knew everybody, and you can bet your sweet bippy if you did something wrong one of the neighbors would tell your parents. On the other hand – you could also go to your neighbors if you needed something and your parents weren’t home. True community living.
I hope you enjoyed this trip down the backroads of my mind. In the “Wayback Machine” – 42 summers ago. It was fun – let’s do it again, soon!