Summer always reminds me of how much life has changed from my childhood. Growing up in a city neighborhood meant a summer filled with lazy days on your block or perhaps around the corner playing with some friends.
During my childhood, there weren’t too many organized programs for kids. The Boys Club on Jefferson Street had a pool and a basketball court, and there was a playground on Wooster Street near Olive. But, for the most part, you were left to your own devices.
The interesting thing was that, at that time, in my neighborhood schools, the fourth grade boys got to go to the Boy’s Club once a week to learn how to swim in the pool. It was a skill that we carried through life - being able to swim. If it hadn’t been for that program, me and most of my friends would have had to learn to swim on our own.
I never knew of any parent who planned or organized summer activities for any of my friends. Angela, on the other hand, moved from Fair Haven to Morris Cove when she was 8 and she would tell me stories of her summer days playing in open fields there or in Fort Hale Park, or just on their sparsely travelled street. It was a real contrast of life in the city, one almost rural and the other urban.
Since we had a store, our days were centered on life there; setting up the large fruit and vegetable display outside each day, and catering to the customers who would stop by. I helped to a point, but I wasn’t expected to be there all the time. I did learn how to pick a ripe melon and know which produce was right for the season. Later in life, Angela would always defer to me for the fruit selection at the supermarket.
On really hot days, some of us would get a quarter to go to a downtown movie with air conditioning, a welcome relief for the city heat. Or, walk up to Lucibello’s Pastry Shop for some lemonade in one of those crimped paper cups that you squeezed to get it all out. At supper my mother would prepare our favorite summer drink, grape juice and ginger ale.
So even though I didn’t enjoy Angela’s country childhood, one summer I did enjoy a special experience; a stay at the Boy Scout Camp Sequassen. This was such a jolting departure from my usual life that I can still remember it vividly after 60 years. St. Michael Church had a Boy Scout troop which I joined. We sometimes went to Camp Cedarcrest on a short stay which was for me, an unreal experience, spending time in a natural setting. But, one fateful summer, our troop leaders offered us an opportunity to go to summer camp, for an extended period. My parents gave permission and me and my friends from the neighborhood landed in this summer paradise filled with cabins, a lake, an activity center and a dining room where we ate “American food” each and every day. I can remember several times when I filled up on biscuits rather than partake of the strange food offerings.
We had opportunities to boat and fish, to swim and do crafts, and to participate in the ceremony at the hermit’s grave, a long-standing tradition there. It was an experience that I carried with me throughout my life. It only happened once, but it opened up a view of the world that my Wooster Square neighborhood could never have offered.
Even now, when I see opportunities for kids to attend summer camp, I always try to help.
Now, I realize that, for many kids, summer is a series of orchestrated events, with things happening every day and very little down time to just play a game of under the leg or hide and seek or hang out with some friends. I’m happy to look back on what I had, and I’m not all that sorry that it was what it was.