I grew up in a small town where everyone was either related to you or knew your mother or your grandmother. It was like the television show Cheers, but on a much grander scale. This gave all the parents a sense of security.
We could walk everywhere or easily ride our bikes from one end of town to the other with relative safety because sidewalks were on nearly every street. I don’t remember hearing about crime and I knew no one who owned a gun. It was a happy, carefree place to grow-up. Boonton, USA.
During the summer, you didn’t whine about having nothing to do. We played with our friends all day until we were called home for supper. We didn’t eat dinner growing up; it was always supper. There was hopscotch, jump rope, hide-and-seek, SPUD, bikes, the park, and our pool. There were no computers, video games, or infinite television on demand. We had to create our own fun.
Our town had a summer school program. It was located in “The Flats” at John Hill School, which was my school for seventh and eighth grade. I remember playing Chinese checkers, making plastic lanyard key chains, and creating a craft in wood shop, which was for boys and girls alike.
The most popular project was the duck. Everyone had one. We’d spend days sanding the little devil until she was silky smooth around the edges and then we would decorate it, bring it home, and hammer it into the yard. It looked like this:
We looked forward to Fridays when we would participate in themed competitions such as “hat day.” Everyone would wear a hat and be judged for the silliest hat, or prettiest hat, or smallest hat.
When we wanted to go on an adventure, we would hop on our bikes and head to the Dairy Queen in Denville. I would order either a vanilla cone with sprinkles or a pineapple blizzard, which was a very thick pineapple-flavored milk shake. There was something very special about a Dairy Queen treat, which tasted even more delicious after working so hard to get there.
The distance to the Dairy Queen was very long. I know that sometimes childhood memories distort reality, but when I mapped the route today, I was shocked to learn that my imagination was accurate. It was a round trip of over ten miles. There is no way I would have allowed any of you to take such a long ride at what I know was a fairly young age. But the times were different, the roads were less traveled, and nothing ever happened to anyone in my town back then.
Those summers were so long, or that’s how it seemed to all of us. As the days grew shorter and the nights cooler, we sadly realized the end of our carefree days were coming to a close. Grandma took us shopping for our school clothes, and we anxiously awaited the Labor Day Parade, Firemen’s Fair, and fireworks. We’d check out the rides, have some cotton candy, and meet the friends we hadn’t seen since June.
Those days are long gone for me, but as Labor Day approaches each year, I know the tradition of the annual Labor Day celebration continues in my hometown. Maybe someday I will go again.