Looking back: “The neighborhood”

By Mary Ellen Shaw

I have always been a fan of reading about the good ol’ days in The Mountain Times. Josephine Blanchard entertained me for years with her stories and more recently Cindy Phillips has done the same. Each one had her own way of telling what life was like for her. I hope readers will enjoy a stroll down “memory lane” with me as I recall life in the days of yesteryear. Many of the remembrances will involve local places and people as well as activities that went on during that time. I feel honored to share these stories with you.

I have always lived in Rutland. In fact, my husband, Peter, and I live in the house on Howard Avenue that my parents bought when I was a baby. That was 70 years ago! Why not admit my age? After all, there are no secrets with the Internet!

I’d like to begin by telling you about the neighborhood I grew up in.

My youth was a time when most mothers stayed home and families survived with only one car. The mothers seemed very connected with one another. When I was just a few years old, my own mom, along with three others, bundled us children into snowsuits, placed us in sleighs and pushed us around the unplowed streets. No “bare road” policy back then! My mother kept the sleigh and it is now in my back yard with the upright handle and runners still intact. It holds large pots of impatiens each summer. As I aged, I came to appreciate the connection of objects to the people we love. I am so glad that I uncovered the sleigh from the back of the shed and moved it to a prominent place in the yard. Now I can enjoy it all summer.

As us “kids” became old enough to make our own fun, we truly appreciated the empty lots on our street. The Clarks owned one next to their house and it made a great baseball field. Boys and girls gathered there all summer. We never broke anyone’s windows and I don’t recall any arguments among players. That, in itself, is pretty remarkable.

The Goodriches also owned an empty lot next to their home. Every winter Mr. Goodrich was nice enough to make an ice skating rink for us. Our parents knew we were just a few houses away in safe territory. Safe that is, until Allen Myer’s skate connected with Betty Clark’s eyebrow… I walked her home with a trail of blood along the way. Accidents happen but it didn’t stop Betty from going right back!

During my childhood there were at least a dozen kids in our neighborhood, all about the same age. Finding someone to play with was only a doorbell away.

Having open land meant places to slide in the winter. Taft Avenue didn’t exist and with an icy cover to the snow we would end up a block away on Easterly Avenue. In those days lightweight clothing and warmth didn’t go together. Thus, we were bundled in so many layers that it was hard to get on and off the sleds or coasters. It was a mother’s nightmare to get her child all dressed and then be told that a trip to the bathroom was in order!

Howard Avenue had a section of woods behind houses on the north side. That provided us with a place to build a camp. My father, Jim Whalen, must have been one of the handier men on the street because he had all the tools we needed. Hammers and saws didn’t always make it back home so a campsite search was usually necessary to find a tool when he needed it. Building the camp was a learning experience, one of which was finding out that walls and a roof made of old rugs took days to dry out after it rained.

As I look back I realize that we spent hours on end outdoors. There were no computers to lure us inside. We were very imaginative at keeping ourselves occupied. I remember playing a game where clues were hidden in several places. Each one led you to the next clue. The boys hid the clues one day and the girls the next. There were no prizes at the end, just “bragging rights.”

Summer meant picnics at Indian Rock behind the Smiths’ yard on Billings Avenue. It seemed like the biggest rock in the world.  How it got its name remains a mystery. As an adult I would glance at the rock while out walking and wonder how a group of us ever managed to sit on it. If the rock is still there it is now hidden from view.

With all the fun activities we were involved in, nobody wanted to take time for dinner. It didn’t help our games when eating times ranged from 5-7 p.m. We were always short a player. There were no fast food restaurants or microwave meals. Families sat at the table together and ate home cooked meals.

As I look around our neighborhood today outdoor activity seems to be at a minimum. There are not a lot of young children, no wooded areas and no empty lots. Children will still make happy memories but they will be very different from mine. Would I want to trade…just to be younger? Not on your life! Mine memories are too special.

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