A Card, a Clothes Pin and Chalk: Kids in the 60s
by Cindy Phillips
As I drove out of my daughter’s neighborhood today, after a day with my grandson, I came upon a father and his two sons tossing a ball in the street. As my car approached, they parted and each stood against the curb out of harm’s way. I slowed my car even more until I was safely past them.
I was taken by surprise at the depth of the memory that insignificant scene invoked. In a flash, I was back on Krause Street in Bayshore, NY, a typical Long Island suburb back in the 60s. Our street was lined with about two dozen modest Cape Cod homes. Ninety percent of those homes were families with children, all of us within a ten-year age span. And I can say with the utmost confidence, we were never, ever without something to do – and it often took place in the street.
The minute we got off the school bus, we ran home to change into our play clothes and maybe grab a quick snack (though we were more apt to wait for the Bungalow Bar ice cream truck). Within ten minutes, we would regroup, usually midway up the street but never in front of my house. There was nothing wrong with playing in front of my house except that I lived directly across the street from Mrs. Kenny and she didn’t have any children. If we edged too close to her house, she would come right out and shoo us further down the block. If she was in a particularly crabby mood, she would threaten to call the cops on us hooligans.
Softball, Kickball and Other Games
Most of the families had three to five children, so there was no lack of players even if someone was sick or had to do homework. Ball games were most often at the top of the list. We didn’t dare play with a hardball due to the proximity of windows, but there were plenty of other options.
Kickball was one of my favorites because it didn’t require the coordination needed for hitting a small ball with a bat. Kicking a large plastic ball, I could handle. I sometimes could muster my way through a Whiffle Ball game. It was a slower moving target which meant I also had more of a chance of succeeding in the outfield as well. The one that always caused me shame was playing with a Spaldeen, that little pink rubber ball that flew like a bullet. I couldn’t hit it and I couldn’t catch it, so I usually got picked last for a team when that was the choice of the day.
Creating bases was a cinch so long as someone had chalk. Home plate and second base were right in the middle of the street with first and third drawn closer to the curbs. The only traffic on our street was from people who lived there. The code was simple – whoever saw the approaching car first yelled “Car” and we all moved to the sidewalks without hesitation. At about 5:30, we had to yell “Car” a lot as the dads, or in my case the mom, came home from work. The game would come to a quick conclusion at this point because it meant dinner would be on the table soon. At my house, it was always at six o’clock on the nose. I look back now and wonder how my mom accomplished that each night after working all day, but somehow she did.
We Rode Our Bikes
During daylight savings time, we often were allowed to reconvene after dinner. Though too late to start another ball game, it was perfect bike riding time. We would follow each other up and down the street, very rarely going past the corner or off the block. To make our bikes “cool”, we would take a playing card, or more likely a baseball card, fold it in half over a spoke and clip it in place with a spring-loaded clothes pin. The sound it made was like firecrackers going off and the faster you rode, the louder it got. I’m sure when all of us had it going it was a very grating noise for the neighbors, but I don’t recall anyone ever complaining, except maybe Mrs. Kenny.
If we were bored with ball games and bikes, or in my case, if the chain once again fell off, hopscotch was another option. Using that trusted chalk once again, we would draw the hopscotch blocks in the middle of the street and use a rock or penny to toss on the numbers. Hopscotch, like jump rope, was more of a girl’s game, though as we neared puberty the boys seemed to take more of an interest in it. They tried to act as if they were just doing it to be annoying, but don’t we know better now.
Kids today are not playing ball in the street. They are opting for high tech entertainment like Playstation and Wii. Beautiful days are being wasted as kids choose to stay closed up in their rooms with video games and scary movies. I am hoping to turn back the hands of time and start my grandson off early. Armed with chalk and a Spaldeen, I will take him to the street for some old-fashioned fun. But, I will be sure to first teach him what “Car” means, as well as to stay away from Mrs. Kenny’s house.
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