Youthful pastimes: Parties, skating and dust-bowl biking #AtoZChallenge

Y is for Youthful Pastimes: Parties, skating and biking in the dust bowl. Eighth of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!

At our high school reunions in Endwell, N.Y., my former classmates and I are always amazed by how small our childhood houses and bedrooms were.

“How did we live in such small spaces?” someone always asks. The answer: We had basement rec rooms in winter and the great outdoors year-round to engage in our many youthful pastimes during my elementary years.

Baby Boom birthday parties

With about 50  Baby Boom children on our block, there was never a shortage of parties going on — since it was always some kid’s birthday. Each party had its own guest list — and every family had their preferred venue.

Baby Boom birthday party in our unfinished basement. I am standing at left, my brother Mark is in the  striped shirt, and my brother Jeff is in a white shirt and tie. This must have been a party for my brothers’ friends because I am the only older kid. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

At our house, we held parties in the basement — at first unfinished and later an official rec room after I helped my dad install drywall, wallpaper and wainscoting. But other families used their large kitchens to better tend to us partygoers.

If my brothers went to or hosted a party, then the kids their age usually attended. This prevented a complete mob scene of too many kids at any event.

Young ladies who lunch. This all-girl party features children around my age, who were mainly female. I am at the far left, partially obscured, as we enjoy some impressive looking ice cream! Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

The same was true for me — which often meant girls-only parties, since most of the children around my age were female.

Skating

Rollerskating was big on our street — especially in the summertime. We would clip metal-wheeled skates onto our sneakers and skate in the road or speed skate down the steeper driveways. My legs always felt wobbly after hours of skating on the cement and blacktop.

Metal outdoor roller skates. My legs always felt wobbly after skating on cement and blacktop during my elementary years. Image: Made-In-Chicago Museum

Sometimes, we also skated inside roller rinks — like the one in nearby Johnson City where I learned various stops, starts and manouevers to earn my Girl Scout skating badge.

This gave way to ice skating in winter. At the end of the block, there was a shallow, damp area near the creek that froze over with a couple of inches of ice — and we kids would slide around amid tufts of grass practicing turns and skating backwards.

Ice skates. We kids practiced our ice skating technique on a frozen area at the end of our street and at larger, organized skating parties. Photo: Samantha Marx

Then there were the official ice skating parties at a frozen, flooded field near the Junior High — a great meet-and-greet spot of particular interest as I approached my teens.

Jan. 5, 1962 – Dear Diary, Today I went to the Junior High School skating party. I saw Danny there. I haven’t seen him since October. I hope he goes to the next party.

Biking around the neighborhood

Malverne Rd. and Shady Dr. in Endwell, N.Y. (2020). One favorite biking challenge was to ride uphill on adjoining Shady Drive, then pelt downhill as fast as possible and make a sharp right into Malverne Road at the bottom. . Photo: Amy L. Williamson

Riding our bikes was the main neighborhood pastime during the warmer months.

Our parents let us kids ride throughout our Endwell enclave near the Susquehanna River — which fostered a sense of freedom and built our physical skills.

One favorite biking challenge was to ride uphill on adjoining Shady Drive, then pelt downhill as fast as possible to be the first one to make a sharp right onto Malverne Road at the bottom.

https://pixabay.com/photos/red-bike-vintage-bicycle-bicycle-3498606/
Red vintage bike. I had a blue bike similar to this that I rode around our neighborhood and over to the dust bowl during my elementary years. Photo: Jill Wellington/pixabay

Another was to ride over to the dust bowl — a hollowed out patch left behind after the flooding Susquehanna receded.

The dust bowl was filled with dry, crumbly dirt all summer. We kids loved to go there and ride our bikes in endless circles — stirring up huge clouds of dust that coated our clothes, much to the chagrin of our mothers.

And around fourth or fifth grade, some of us from Miss George’s class liked to meet up and ride down River Road to the old Patterson-Hooper Cemetery to visit the graves of the characters we portrayed in her historic school plays. This was a great early introduction to my later cemetery research as a genealogist!

Visiting the library

Another youthful pastime was going overtown to the George F. Johnson Memorial Library in nearby Endicott — then housed in the former Johnson mansion shown below. What an awe-inspiring experience to go there as a youngster!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gfjlibrary/4098000403/in/album-72157622789736750/
Original home of the George F. Johnson Memorial Library, Endicott, N.Y. What an awe-inspiring experience to go there during my elementary years — wandering the rooms, poking through the shelves and partaking of the building’s magical aura. Source: George F. Johnson Memorial Library/Flickr

I recall passing through huge double doors to the lobby — which had a librarian desk, adjoining rooms full of books, a hallway with periodicals on wooden poles, and an imposing central staircase with a lustrous wood balustrade rising straight ahead.

My mom was a lifelong library user, so she often took me with her — and I loved wandering the rooms, poking through the shelves and checking out books to read at home.

The building exuded a rich smell of knowledge — the combination of printer’s ink, wood polish and the unique scent of the house itself creating a magical aura.

Whenever I discover similar libraries during my genealogy travels, I fondly remember the GFJ Library — which fostered my love of learning and broadened my sense of the world during my elementary years.

Up next, Z is for Zap: Adolescence begins! (and a victory lap, since I survived my third A to Z Challenge.) Please stop back!

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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10 thoughts on “Youthful pastimes: Parties, skating and dust-bowl biking #AtoZChallenge”

  1. Molly, just love this post! Yes, to all of the above, except I used to go to the library alone or with my younger sister, Susie. All of the skating, and what about sledding? I loved that and these days, wonder at my youthful self, throwing myself down onto the sled! Lovely post…what about movies? Sometimes we were able to go to Saturday afternoon matinees….thanks for the memories…write on!

    1. Thanks, Jane! Yes, sledding happened as well — but my brothers were more into that than I was. And I covered movies in Overtown: An Endicott Escape — complete with a photo of the Lyric Theater where I used to see them. Glad to provide you with fond memories at a time when we all need distraction!

  2. I used to love skating around the block. My mother wouldn’t let us go to skating rinks in Detroit but when I was in college I discovered the joys of rink skating on vacation with my cousins in Idlewild. The rink was far from in good shape. I remember jumping over holes in the floor and I was never as good as my cousins, but I enjoyed it.

    We also used to ride our bikes all over town. I had a blue one too.

    1. I loved rink skating — and later in life got into disco roller skating (as portrayed in the movie Roll, Bounce) when it was popular in late 1970s and early 1980s. Glad you got a chance to cut loose at the rink during your Idlewild vacations!

  3. I too was considering Youth as my topic, but changed my mind. I too played outside as a child on our trikes or pushing our doll prams – and the local library was a great source of pleasure. I was struck by your mention of the Basement – a feature most UK houses lack -I can see their attraction!

    1. Yes, the basement is a crucial adjunct to the house in the U.S. Basement rec rooms were ubiquitous during the Baby Boom — and are still popular for home offices and party rooms. Both my dad and my grandfather also had “shops” in their basements — with workbenches and tons of tools. That’s how I learned to be “handy” as my teenage years progressed.

  4. Lots of kids on my street in growing up… so unlike today. You hardly see kids outside, sad. But today they aren’t safe outside unless parent is there… no parents were ever outside with us as we rode our bikes, skated and played kick the can late at night. Baby boomers had the best childhoods!

    1. I agree — wonderful childhoods! My mom even put me and my brothers on the train/bus alone for a two-hour trip to my grandparents house — but never did that with my younger sisters because times had changed. Playing unsupervised and traveling alone on our bikes or on foot fostered a wonderful sense of independence among us Boomers!

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