By Liam O’Mahony
As my 25-year high school reunion approaches, I began reminiscing about the blissful, idyllic years living in north Clarence during the ’80s and ’90s. Then I took a detour to drive down the remote road where I grew up. This excursion unleashed vivid memories of simpler, stress-free times while revealing a changed landscape with newer houses where ATVs once ruled the open fields.
We lived nine miles from Clarence High School and Eastern Hills Mall. Friends were more spread out than the traditional, concentrated, walkable neighborhoods of central and southern Clarence. I didn’t realize it then, but we were closer to Lockport High School and Lockport Mall.
Given the extensive ground to cover in the North Country, summer bike rides down Goodrich, Wolcott and Tonawanda Creek roads to friends’ houses could be arduous but they led to open-ended, carefree adventures – our version of “Stand By Me” or “The Goonies.”
Living in the boonies offered ample elbow room between neighbors; the freedom to carve out trails in the woods or fields; build and ignite impressive bonfires; and shoot off fireworks.
We had friends who lived in an old farmhouse with a silo, barns, outbuildings and a driveway that was a quarter-mile long with a bridge over a creek. We experimented with many projects, bouncing from one structure to another to see if the agricultural relics offered other uses.
Down the road was Acadian Farms, a popular summer youth camp with horse riding and recreational activities that combated idleness in the swelter with teen counselors leading boys and girls through the various programs.
Other area landmarks included the former shop next to then-Leo’s restaurant that had “14032 ½” on its sign; the eerie aura of the barren, dark Delaware Road; and Greenwood Golf Course.
We had a pond with a “Huck Finn” raft and steering stick; I would push off shore and sail around in the midst of frogs, minnows and mosquitos. One day I explored the woods behind our house by venturing a few acres into the unknown. I stumbled upon a hidden junkyard featuring a Studebaker with a tree through the engine cavity, a toilet, a go-kart and other miscellaneous parts from vehicles of yesteryear. It was equal parts eyesore (even if no one ever saw it) and scattered time capsule.
Instead of a garage sale, we had a barn sale one summer. I parted with a few boxes of baseball, hockey and football cards. Aside from the allowance my parents provided, it was my first real income. I took my $25 in sales and rode my bike to Bernardi’s convenience store over the bridge at the end of Goodrich Road into the hamlet of Rapids, never realizing that I had left Erie County to buy ice cream, gum and more baseball cards.
I didn’t excel in sports, but our house became the de facto recreational gathering place for our boonie group and invitees from the town’s “mainstream areas.” We hosted many long summer nights of basketball and tennis under the lights and were lucky to have a pool to cool off in after the heated 3-on-3 games.
As the Wonder Years evaporated into the Asunder Years, social and athletic interests changed and boonie buddies merged into different groups so that I didn’t see some of them anymore.
My 11th grade English teacher said we lived in the “Golden Ghetto.” I knew what he meant – we weren’t rich, but we had to be thankful for everything our parents, neighbors and the town provided. We had it all in those wandering, formative years in the North Country.