By Liam O’Mahony
While today’s youth enjoys immersion in technology and on-screen entertainment, there was nothing like the mischievous camaraderie and outdoor activities in the Northtowns suburbs in the 1980s.
Prior to some blissful years in Clarence, I experienced the other side of the residential coin – the quintessential late ’60s-build subdivision. Jan. 11 was the day we left the ’burbs. Watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix took me back to those days of cavorting throughout the neighborhood.
We arrived in Amherst from downstate in 1979 and lived in the greatest neighborhood. There was a Christmas tree farm across the street and Bassett Park hosted the fireworks on the Fourth of July.
My ’80s persona featured big glasses, a curly mop head, short shorts and color-striped socks – like the retro NBA uniforms. My neighbor had the mini-arcade Donkey Kong that occupied us for hours, and then it was time for “Ghosts in the Graveyard” or “Everyman For Himself” in the dark basement – a great game until someone hit the pole and ended the festivities.
We recreated anything that was Nerf into a new game or destroyed it. There were countless nights of baseball and touch football – that turned into tackle – and pre-dusk hide-and-seek marathons.
I nearly learned to skate at the former Clearfield Skating Rink. There was always street hockey with the neighborhood crew, which included future NHLer Todd Marchant. One time I caught the frozen orange ball in the mouth and ran home from 15 houses away to make sure I still had all my teeth.
When we were grounded for a week and couldn’t play with friends, it only lasted a day.
When I received an allowance, I drained it on baseball cards, candy cigarettes and “Whatchamacallits” at the Corner Store. I remember scoring the coveted 1982 Reggie Jackson (with the Angels) Topps card at Peterson’s Drug Store in the Bells plaza.
We fished in the development’s mini-lake, grabbing a shoebox of worms and a bag of Wonder Bread for bait and spending hours between small catches. When we needed more adventure, we crossed Klein Road to the Bassett Park pond, and then we discovered another smaller pond in the woods that had catfish.
We had a dirt trail system called Roxbury Park for our bikes where the development had yet to max out, and there was a berm trail before the Youngs Road extension. It was a bustling BMX bonanza, our version of “Gleaming the Cube” and reminiscent of the bike scene in “ET” (sans car chase).
One summer afternoon, word got out that the actor who played Boss Hogg on “The Dukes of Hazzard” was visiting a relative around the corner. More than a dozen boys and girls were lined up outside the house when Sorrell Booke emerged from the front door with a signed photo for everyone. Another time my sister and I, along with a few friends, were chosen to run through the backseat of a car for a Darien Lake commercial.
In the fall, we amassed huge piles of leaves for football diving catch and tackle highlights. When Halloween arrived, the trick-or-treating was akin to shopping on Rodeo Drive. Candy was only the start as we stuffed pillowcases with toothbrushes, T-shirts and coins. You just couldn’t resist running home to grab another sack.
Who didn’t love football or hockey in the winter or playing “king of the mountain” on the snow pile in the plowed driveway?
After Jan. 11, I never saw those neighbors and friends again. Until “Stranger Things.”
Liam O’Mahony, of Williamsville, still ranks “The ‘Burbs” as one of his top-five films from the ’80s.