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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X-pletives deleted: I learn to curse #AtoZChallenge

X is for X-pletives deleted: I learn to curse. Twenty-fourth 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!

Before I moved to Endwell, N.Y. at age seven, I led a relatively sheltered country life on our family’s farm near Altamont, N.Y.

My second grade school photo. Fresh from life on our family’s farm, I was innocent and wide-eyed — and unused to fowl language — when we moved to Endwell, N.Y. in 1957.  Scan: Molly Charboneau

The four adults in our household — my parents and maternal grandparents — were probably trying to set a good example for me and my younger brothers, so I don’t remember much in the way of colorful language.

But all of that changed when we moved onto our working-class street with 50-or-so kids two blocks from the Susquehanna River.

There, my brothers and I became River Rats who lived on the other side of the railroad tracks below Main Street  — and that’s were I learned to curse.

Dad sets the tone

At our new home, my dad was in charge of household projects without my grandfather as a buffer. So he had sole responsibility for painting, repairs, lawn mowing, car fixing, you name it — and it didn’t take much for him to let fly with a few x-pletives deleted when a project went awry.

https://pixabay.com/vectors/painting-room-paint-brush-bucket-24439/
Dad let fly during household projects. At home, Dad was responsible for painting, repairs, lawn mowing, car fixing, you name it — and it didn’t take much for him to let fly with a few x-pletives deleted when a project went awry. Artwork: Pixabay

In one famous episode, Dad was painting the outside of the house during the summer and something went wrong. Maybe he stepped in paint or messed up the window trim — who knows?

Whatever it was, Dad started cursing — along the lines of “goddammit” and other choice words — and came stomping red-faced into the house.

Dad wasn’t a drinker, but he’d been a bartender in his parents’ Adirondacks hotel — so he could think of only one solution. He made himself a boilermaker.

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One neighborhood dad cursed like a sailor. My father could not hold a candle to the yelling dad up the street, whose x-pletives deleted were over the top. Artwork: Pixabay

“What a mistake that was,” Dad told me years later. “Between the heat and the alcohol, I had to go straight to bed in the middle of the afternoon. Well, I never did that again!”

He did, however, continue to utter a string of x-pletives deleted during almost every household project throughout my childhood — a number of which I made a mental note of.

Another dad ups the ante

Yet my father could not hold a candle to the yelling dad up the street — the one whose windows we kids waxed every year during our fall Halloween mayhem campaign.

Yelling Dad’s x-pletives deleted were completely over the top — true “cursed like a sailor” outbursts, which I will not repeat here.

And we kids got to hear just about all of them as he spent miserable evenings scraping wax off his windows when trick-or-treat season ended.

My third grade school photo. Don’t let my cross and first communion dress fool you. After a year on our working class street, I had toughened up and learned to curse. Scan: Molly Charboneau

I listen and learn

I know I should have been shocked by the sudden exposure to Yelling Dad’s rough language — but oddly, I was impressed.

This was not the run-of-the-mill swearing Dad used at our house — which Mom was already afraid we children might pick up.

Yelling Dad’s curses had a raw edge to them that was somehow more authentic — a primal howl of frustration that he had yet again been outwitted by a bunch of kids and our annual childhood pranks.

Meanwhile, we kids gloated, listened and learned. Then, out of earshot of our folks, we practiced some of his choicer phrases on each other — and that’s how I learned to curse during my elementary years.

Up next: Y is for Youthful pastimes: Parties, skating and dust-bowl biking. Please stop back! 

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Weeping Willow: Our backyard tree #AtoZChallenge

W is for Weeping Willow: Our backyard tree. Twenty-third 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!

When professional arborists go into an unfamiliar forest, particularly in the tropics, they count on local residents who grew up there to help them identify various species.

With no formal training, these locals “just know” the trees they have lived with since childhood — and for me that tree was our back yard Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica).

https://pixabay.com/photos/weeping-willow-pasture-baumm-509869/
Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica). A giant Weeping Willow tree was a major presence in our Endwell, N.Y. backyard during my elementary years — a tree I know like family because I grew up with it. Photo: Pixabay

Propagating the willow

When our family arrived in Endwell, N.Y. in 1957, my second childhood home had no major flora to speak of.  There were the grassy yards and some tiny shrubs on one side — but no stately pines or other trees like we had at the farm to cast their long shadows or for us kids to climb.

My dad grew up in New York’s forested Adirondacks region and descended from several generations of amateur landscapers and home gardeners — so he was always up for a horticultural challenge.

Our treeless back yard in Endwell, N.Y. (1957). When we moved in, our Endwell home had no major flora to speak of. But my dad quickly picked up the horticultural challenge — rooting a Weeping Willow in a glass of water as other dads on the street had done. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

And the other dads on our new block were there to help — suggesting he grow a Weeping Willow in a glass of water from a cutting, just like they had done.

Budget-conscious Dad loved the idea — after all, a free tree! — so he gratefully accepted cuttings from other willows on the block and started them rooting. He also took some backyard photos — possibly to plan his planting.

Our willow takes root

The water-loving willow cuttings grew quickly — and before long Dad was able to plant the choicest one in our back yard not far from the swing set in the above photo.

As my younger brothers (and later my sisters) and I grew, so did our Weeping Willow — taller and taller each year, its droopy branches sweeping the ground or whipping wildly on windy days. And best of all it had a three-pronged trunk — perfect for getting a foothold to start climbing!

My brother Mark in our Weeping Willow tree. We kids and our neighborhood playmates would regularly climb the tree — daring one another to go higher and testing tree limbs before inching out onto them. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

 Nature’s backyard gym

Once the willow was big enough, we kids and our neighborhood playmates would regularly climb the tree — daring one another to go higher and testing the tree’s limbs before inching out onto them. Sometimes there would be several kids up the tree — with more of us yelling from the ground below as we waited our turn to ascend.

My brother Jeff in our Weeping Willow tree. As our willow tree  grew, so did the danger of one of us tumbling out of it. So after Jeff fell and required stitches, my parents put an end to our tree climbing. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

This was all well and good when our Weeping Willow was a reasonable size. But as it grew and grew, so did danger of one of us tumbling out of it. So after my brother Jeff fell and required stitches, my parents put an end to our tree climbing.

Mom decided an obstacle was the best deterrent. So she had Dad build a platform where the three trunks met — then installed a large plaster statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary to stare down any child who dared go near the tree again.

Our willow’s sad demise

Dad’s earlier excitement over growing a free tree eventually gave way to aggravation about the willow’s proclivities. For one thing, it attracted beetles — hundreds of them — and they left sticky droppings on the leaves and yard that drove him nuts.

For another, the tree cast such a shadow that no grass grew in its vicinity — messing up Dad’s perfect suburban lawn.

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Weeping Willow branches. Although it was later removed by subsequent owners, our backyard Weeping Willow lives on in memory — the tree I “just know” from my elementary years. Photo: Pixabay

Then came the realization by other dads on the street that the roots of their moisture-seeking willows were now breaking through their water pipes — and soon there were landscapers up and down the block chopping down willow trees and grinding out their stumps.

Our willow tree never harmed our pipes so it survived the mass slaughter — and it was still standing when we moved away in the late 1960s.

Yet although it was later removed by subsequent owners, our backyard Weeping Willow lives on in memory — the tree I “just know” from my elementary years.

Up next, X is for X-pletives deleted: I learn to curse. Please stop back!

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf at a time