Column, Looking Back

School’s out…let’s play!

By Mary Ellen Shaw

When I was a kid “back in the day” and the school year ended many of us recited the phrase, “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks!” We were free at last. We had been planning how we would spend our summer days long before that last bell sounded.

In my Howard Avenue neighborhood during the 1950s and 1960s there were at least a dozen kids to play with. The number of girls and boys was pretty evenly divided. We were outside from morning to night and were never bored. Parents didn’t have to worry about the safety concerns that exist today. We all looked out for one another and knew that our mothers were home if anything was needed.

The only “hitch” in our play time was the fact that different families ate at different times. Somebody always had to leave in the middle of whatever game we were playing because it was time for lunch or dinner. However, the day ended at the same time for all of us. When the Rutland City whistle sounded from the fire station at 8:50 p.m. we all headed for home. No need for parents to call us… The whistle was the signal to end our day of play.

Our street and those surrounding it had several vacant lots that created all sorts of opportunities to use our imaginations. A huge tree had fallen in one of the lots and we climbed on that for hours on end. A rock on another nearby lot was our picnic spot. As an occasional treat, our mothers would make sandwiches and fill a thermos so we could head to “the rock” for our lunch. Life was simple back then and so were our ways to have fun.

The parents of one of my friends were nice enough to mow the lot they owned so we could play baseball on it. The only mishap was a baseball that went through the garage window of their house. At least we didn’t break a neighbor’s window. That would have been problematic! The window pane was repaired and we managed to not repeat that mishap.

Howard Avenue is just a short distance from the section of Moon Brook that flows through part of Piedmont Drive. Although the water wasn’t normally very deep it tended to get that way after a heavy rain. Seeing the brook at a high level prompted my cousin, Betty, and me to take a wooden drawer from my parents’ kitchen cabinet to use as a raft. We planned to stand in it as we made our way down the brook to an area near her house on Engrem Avenue. That was a bad idea as the drawer sunk immediately when the two of us got in it! Then we had to carry the heavy, wet drawer back to my house. My parents were not happy to learn of our “adventure.” We were around 11 at the time and had been trusted to stay alone for a short period of time. You see how that went!

Neighborhood houses under construction presented a great opportunity to do something very different from our usual antics. My friends and I waited for the workmen to leave at the end of the day. Because there were no doors on the houses at that stage of construction we could walk up to the front entrance on a board leading up to it. We usually checked progress on a daily basis.

We used our creative side when we played our own version of “Clue.” We hid about 10 clues all over the neighborhood and each one that you found told you where the next clue would be. The only prize for getting to the last one was bragging rights. I guess the neighbors didn’t mind us tramping around their property hiding clues in their yards. Well, actually one neighbor told us to stay off their property but every street has a “grouch!”

A quiet day involved a game of jacks. Our back porch was perfect for that on a rainy day. It was definitely a game for young girls as our nails got roughed up trying to grab the correct number of jacks with each turn we took. We were too young to have concerns about ruining manicured nails.

As you can see, we didn’t need a public playground to be entertained. They were available but our gang had too much fun right in our own neighborhood.

I hope you have your own fun memories from your younger days. I still keep in touch with some of my friends from that period in my life and for us looking back at those days never gets old!

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