Once upon a time… |
…there was a tranquil, pristine, middle-class town in Northwest Ohio that was a picture of the American dream. The downtown resembled Main Street at Disneyland. It really did. There were two five-and-dimes, malt shops, men’s and women’s clothing stores, banks, bakeries, hardware stores, restaurants, taverns, barber shops, shoe stores, and even a youth center. Humming neon signs abounded. When people parked downtown, car doors were seldom locked; and more often than not keys were left in the ignition.
…but that was then…
Numerous light-manufacturing factories, mainly serving the automotive industry, created comfortable life styles for managers, professionals, and workers skilled in all trades. Just over the river on the main drag stood a popular local brewery. And not a microbrewery, nosireebob! It was a full-sized real McCoy! Jobs for youths? No problem. Teenagers that took the effort found part-time work at any of the mom-and-pop stores, and newspaper routes were available for tweeners.
…but that was then…
Summertime found boys at any of the neighborhood diamonds playing sandlot baseball from morning until dusk. If a batted ball headed toward a window of a nearby home everyone quickly gathered bats, balls, gloves and took off yelling, “No chips on windows!” I think that meant: if we get caught I don’t have to chip-in to pay for a new window, as if yelling the phrase made it so. Oh well, we believed it. Organized ball was also available. In addition to Little League, there was American Legion baseball, adult baseball sponsored by the merchants, and adult fast pitch softball leagues sponsored by local merchants as well.
…but that was then…
I feel fortunate to have grown up there during a time of local and national prosperity. We did not have air conditioning (except at the movie theatre), television required rooftop aerials to receive two channels, and the only computers came in analog versions called slide rules. We did have noisy fans, open windows, banging screen doors, flies, DDT, and homemade ice cream.
We didn’t have pornography available on television or the internet, but we did have girlie magazines. We also had nativity scenes in public places at Christmas. We didn’t have video games or Ritalin, but we did have parents who disciplined us (as necessary) with tough love.
Most of the population smoked like fiends, and our homes, churches, businesses, and schools were heated by coal. Mothers beat rugs and cleaned walls in the spring giving us a firsthand sample of the kind of indoor air we breathed in winter. On the plus side, we had a much healthier diet, and one seldom saw an individual that would be “fat” by today’s standards. We didn’t have row-after-row of fast food restaurants, but we did have a few drive-ins and a lot of outdoor picnics with family and friends. Nevertheless mid-sixties was a typical life expectancy.
We weren’t trained in diversity, but we were taught that America is a melting pot for the unification of all. We didn’t allow freestyle, willy-nilly abortions, but we did execute mass murderers. If one was disciplined at school, including getting paddled (we called it "the board"), our parents didn’t sue the school. Instead we received more of the same at home for embarrassing our family.
But most of all we had Kingsbury Park. Actually, it’s still there, but it’s as quiet and deserted as a ghost town these days. Located at the confluence of two rivers, the park had a lagoon for sea scouts to keep their canoes and sunfish sailing boards, picnic grounds, a baseball diamond, tennis courts, a basketball court, a snack shack, and a large municipal swimming pool. During summer, the place was a hive of activity; and as a youngster, a favorite place to meet friends.
Our family always ate breakfast together at seven-thirty, even in summer. See, we had swimming lessons at Kingsbury at nine and the rule was one could not go in the water until one hour after eating. We rolled our swim trunks in a towel, wedged it between the crossbars of our bikes, rode several miles to the pool, and parked among a sea of other two-wheelers. There was a long line of noisy youngsters waiting at the admission window. Once inside, an attendant issued baskets for our clothes. The cement floor was cold and always seemed skuzzy from alien hair and mop remnants. To get from the bath house to the pool we had to walk through a yucky foot bath, and were supposed to step into one of the two ice cold showers, which we avoided unless being watched.
Finally in the pool, the shock of icy water must’ve put a king-sized spike on our hearts, but we didn’t care. (“Hey, how come it makes our nipples hard, and our weeners shrink?”) Swimming lessons were over at eleven. The lifeguards blew their whistles and called, “All out!” A herd of blue-lipped youngsters descended en masse on the bath house attendant, a teenager who returned our baskets and tried to snap us with a towel rolled into a rat tail. “Watch out for my butt sting!” he’d call. This set off a frenzy of towel snapping kids who’d return home with numerous welts.
The few teenaged boys (lifeguards and attendants) in the bath house would say things we didn’t fully understand, but we’d pretend we did…
“Yeah, Susie fixed me up with her cousin. She was all right; had off-beat good looks,” said one.
The other smirked and said, “I want a girl with beat-off good looks!” This caused hysterical laughter.
The pool opened again at two when we returned again until “All out!”, and towel snapping rites at five. And so it went all summer long, none of us ever bathing at home except on weekends when forced by parents. We reeked of chlorine, and our fingers and toes were constantly wrinkled like prunes.
To get into the deep water and use the diving boards, one had to swim three widths (maybe 150 feet) with a lifeguard witnessing. I accomplished the feat at eight, and was enjoying a delightful afternoon of cannon-balling when I saw my four-year-old brother on the high dive.
“Hey, what’re you doin’ out here?” I yelled.
A nearby lifeguard heard me. “He jumped in behind you and swam three widths right on your tail.”
The only negative of being pool-safe was an occasional dunking by an older kid. They’d get you in a full-nelson and dunk you over-and-over until you coughed-up water.
…but that was then…
You know, nostalgia just ain’t what it used to be.
Copyright 2011 by Gene Myers.
Author of AFTER HOURS (2009) and SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE (2011).
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middle-class town, American dream, sandlot baseball, swimming lessons, towel-snapping, nostalgia,