By Norb Rug
Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.
I grew up in Buffalo in the 1950s and early ’60s. It was an entirely different time and place than it is now. I remember walking to PS 68 and back home again without the need for my parents being there to protect me. Many days we would jump the fence and play baseball in the school playground when it was locked up after school had let out for the day. I recall playing outside till we were either called home or the street lights came on. We played stickball, hide-and-go-seek, duck, duck, goose and red light/green light, among other games.
My friends were Bobby, Bruce and Richie. My first love was named Betty. I was also in love with a college girl, Mary Ann, who was my sitter and lived three houses down the street. Apparently at one point I had asked her to wait till I grew up so I could marry her. This was a great source of humor for everyone and a huge humiliation for me every time my parents would tell the story.
We rode our bikes all over the place, and it was not uncommon to go 10 to 15 blocks away from home in our travels. You never had to lock your bike to a bike rack because first off, there were no bike racks, and second, no one would steal it anyway so you would just throw it on the ground. I lived on Berkshire Avenue and would walk to Bickford Avenue to see my grandparents. I enjoyed going to see “Bimpa” and helping him with his vegetable garden.
Many of the stores and places of business are no longer there, like Noah’s Ark, Western Auto or the Garden of Sweets on Bailey Avenue, an old-fashioned candy store that served up milk shakes, sodas, floats and banana splits. They also had homemade chocolates. Much of my allowance was spent there sitting at the soda bar eating those cool confections. I also made money collecting discarded pop bottles and turning them in for the two-cent deposit at the corner store. Much of the money I made this way didn’t make it out of the store except in the form of comic books or penny candy.
After a visit to the Garden of Sweets, a bunch of us would go over to the Varsity Theatre to catch a matinee. One of us would actually buy a ticket and go in to wait by the rear exit door. When the usher wasn’t looking he would quietly open the door to allow the rest of us to enter. I am surprised we never got caught. Movies back then involved a feature film and a few cartoons like Heckle and Jeckle, Bugs Bunny or Popeye the Sailor.
There was an elderly couple in the neighborhood that had an in-ground pool. Every day during the summer they would allow a number of children into their backyard to go swimming. The line would start forming an hour before they opened the pool. I don’t know how they did it but they wouldn’t allow you to go swimming two days in a row.
Halloween was awesome. I would spend three hours yelling “trick or treat” and collecting bag after bag of loot. I would then have enough candy to last me till Easter.
The neighborhood was filled with an assortment of people like Mr. and Mrs. Olsen, a nice older couple who lived next door. One year they went on vacation to their homeland of Sweden and brought me back a red, hand-carved wooden horse.
Mr. Chase lived two doors down and was an avid fisherman. I was at his house one time watching him scaling and filleting the fish he had caught. When he was done with a fish he was working on, he jabbed the knife into his leg. This freaked me out. That was when I found out he had a wooden leg.
Yes, it was an easier time and I miss it. It is too bad children today can’t experience childhood the way I did.