Every year or so I am compelled to write about summer childhood memories. Maybe it’s because we live on the street where I grew up. Maybe it’s because the summer sounds and smells and sights of our neighborhood bring back such vivid memories. Or maybe it’s because, as I age, I find myself looking back with fondness and wistfulness to days where life seemed simpler, happier and easier.
Whatever the reason, if you were a child of the ’60s, I am sending you on a trip down memory lane. If you weren’t born till after the ’60s, this is what you missed.
We lived in our bathing suits or shorts, tee shirts and Keds without socks. As the summer came to an end, our sneakers started to wear thin right over our big toes.
The smell of hot tar from the streets was pungent. The scents of honeysuckle, roses and fresh-mown grass accompanied us everywhere. The earthy smell of the creek between Broad Avenue and Terrace Boulevard rose up to greet us as we raced across the bridge on our way to Woolworth’s on Parkway Avenue (where the Rite Aid stands now) to buy records. If we had some extra coins, we stopped in at Lee’s Pharmacy for a cold drink (Lee’s is now a bank).
Chlorine bleached our hair and our bathing suits as we swam in our backyard pool. Line-dried towels waited to embrace us as we got out of the pool and sat at our picnic table and ate pretzels and drank Kool-Aid. Sometimes the smell of Coppertone filled the air when we were forced to apply the sunscreen.
And oh, the sounds! The clatter of dishes and pots and pans as Mom started dinner, the slap of the screen door as we ran in and out of the house, the slam of a car door as dad came home from work, the neighbors calling their kids home, dogs barking, ice cubes crackling in cold drinks, the clicking sound of playing cards stuck in our bike spokes, the crack of a bat as someone hit a home run in the backyard, the splashing as dad jumped in the pool to cool off, the whoosh as the flames sprung up from lighter fluid-soaked charcoal briquettes, the sizzle of hamburgers on the grill, the slap-slap of a jump rope, the “1, 2, 3, 4” of a hopscotch game, the yells and laughter during a game of tag, the chirping of birds, and under all that wonderful summer cacophony, the music of the ’60s played everywhere we went.
We carried a transistor radio everywhere. Mine had a looped handle on it so I hung it on the handlebars of my bike. Songs like Lulu’s “To Sir With Love,” The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” the Young Rascals’ “Groovin’” or the Buckinghams’ “Kind of A Drag” played while we sped down the hot streets of our neighborhood, off on one adventure or another. Our moms had radios perched in the kitchen windows, cars went by blaring music from their radios, the stores played the greatest hits. My favorite music to this day is the music from this era.
I remember riding our bikes down Broad Avenue singing “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen at the top of our lungs. “Everyday People” by Sly and the Family Stone, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, “This Magic Moment” by Jay and the Americans, and so many more fantastic songs were the soundtrack to our grade school summers.
We squeezed every second of daylight out of those days. After dinner we played kick the can or dodgeball or went for a swim. When the streetlights came on, we rushed to get home so we didn’t get in trouble for being late. After our baths, we gathered in front of our TV, often with bowls of ice cream. The Brady Bunch, Bewitched, Petticoat Junction, and I Dream of Jeannie were among our favorite shows. We were probably asleep before our heads hit our pillows, in our un-air-conditioned houses.
I know we can never return to the innocence and simplicity of our childhood years, but oh, how I wish we could, even if only for a day.