One of the perks of living in the same town or around where you grow up is crossing paths with your childhood memories in one way or another. This happened recently to me on a Facebook page in the town where I grew up. I didn’t realize at the time I read a post that it was a friend from my old neighborhood. She asked, “Who spent time at Manatawny Park?” I answered quickly without realizing who posted. After a while, I saw and responded in more depth. After a back and forth I responded finally, “Those were the days!” She came back with a response that included, “Those were the days…we were lucky to grow up when we did.”
I was cleaning out my basement from some construction mess and writing these messages when I started to remember those times and it dawned on me by what I meant when I replied, “Those were the days!” Yes, back then as a little kid, I started to know what a mixed blessing life was. I was lucky to grow up in that neighborhood when we did!
I got to live across from the park when my Mom got pissed at my Dad after they got divorced and he went back to Penn State to finish his college days, or so he thought. I don’t know the exact timeline, but I was still nursing and around 2 when my Mom dropped me off at this house across the street from this park, with my Nanny and Pop Pop. My Dad was in school, so I guess my Nanny quit her job as a secretary at Kiwi polish to take care of me and my sister who was 4 years old at this time.
These days that I thought…were the days….happened from that day, when my Mom dropped me off, till my step father came to get me when I was 7 years old and just finishing first grade and I guess there were some of those ‘days’ when we would go back to the neighborhood to hang out and visit my grandparents until my Pop Pop died and Nanny moved to an apartment. I think I was in fifth or sixth grade when all that happened.
My grandmother was one of those who thought that on weekends you should go outside after breakfast and not return till you were hungry again. Then after lunch do the same till dinner. In the summer we were told to go out until dusk. Do you know how hard it is to figure out when it is dusk and then get home before it is over? It’s hard! That would require someone to come around the ice cream factory from our house and yell, “Bonnie, Sherri!” I often wondered if she knew that most Saturdays we had to wait for hours for our friends to wake up, eat and do chores till they came out. But these were the times when all this great stuff happened on the streets and in this amazing park.
We were lucky to grow up then. We could roam around on our own and find lots of amazing things to keep us busy. We went in kids houses and met their families and found their coal cellars. We found big pipes to climb in and heard stories of someone setting off a home made bombs and burning his face. We played in the Creek and jumped on floating ice. We climbed on the rafters of the pavilion and watched kids as they built fires in there. We hung out all day on the swings, slides, merry-go-round. We did what ever we wanted to do! It was a special time.
In my message, I told my neighborhood friend that my ‘best looking Dad in the world’ died in November. What I didn’t tell her is that I lived most of my 61 years not sure if he really was my Dad. I didn’t tell her, though I almost did, that when my step father picked us up when I was 7, I didn’t know him, my Mom, my sister Kim or the newborn baby, Timothy, either. I didn’t tell her that at 18 said stepfather did tell me that there was a very good chance that ‘my father really wasn’t my father’. I almost wrote in that message that at least I took measures to finally answer that fatherhood question right before he died and went to visit him days after I got the results. I finally decided all this was a bit much for an old neighborhood Facebook page and didn’t say that we had a great visit and I said my good byes and was glad he was my Dad.
Those were the days of mixed blessings. I always thought that those years were my ‘saving grace’. I thought that I was blessed to have had lived that life and that it formed for me into who I am today. Somewhere I read that we form who we are before we are five years of age. I always was glad that I lived in a clean, well kept house. That my grandmother loved and cared for us with style! That we learned to sit at a nicely set dinning room table to eat Sunday dinner. That we had nightly baths and clean clothes. That we went to Ocean City for vacations and visited places like Longwood Gardens. Because at the age of seven my life changed immensely and learned even better what a blessing it was to be dropped off at such an early age.
Looking back at my old neighborhood friends, I know that we all had a story of how we got there and that we didn’t know what those stories were. What we did know, was that the Park was a great place to hang out, that Second Street had the best street games, that that was the greatest time to grow up, when you could roam all day on your own and feel safe.
Life is a bag of mixed blessings. Not that I didn’t suffer from abandonment issues, but I did always look at those years as such a blessing. I was lucky to have that great neighborhood experience and friends. I do think that I was blessed or maybe it was that I thought I was blessed that made the difference!