I grew up in Westfield, New Jersey, a leafy quiet suburb of New York City, with total population of around 30,000. It’s a wealthy suburb and I didn’t know for many years that my parents bought a house there specifically because of the reputation of the town’s school system. My parents met in college and had high academic expectations for their children. They moved to Westfield because we would get the best possible education there.
Mom and Dad bought an older ivy-covered house after my brother was born and we moved to 525 S. Chestnut Street from Colonia Village when I was three. The 3-bedroom stuccoed house was built in the late 1920’s and had a full attic and unfinished basement – and a root cellar with a dirt floor. There was a detached garage behind the house and a child’s playhouse in the backyard. The windows leaked air and sometimes water, and downstairs had lovely archways between rooms. We had a large screened in back porch that was fully shaded and where we spent lots of time in hot weather.
When I was going into junior high, we moved to a split-level ranch house at 602 St. Mark’s Avenue, a few blocks closer to town. It was closer to schools and town and was more modern, which my mom loved. It even had a built in vacuum system and an intercom! We lived there for four years before moving to Kentucky.
Westfield was a perfect place to grow up. It was beautiful, with wide tree-lined streets with sidewalks and well-kept homes. People were educated, traveled, and involved. Most of the mothers were stay-at-home moms and most of the fathers hopped the commuter train to New York every day. Grant Elementary School was only a few blocks away and we got lots of walking in since we came home for lunch every day, then back to school. I went to Roosevelt Junior High School, one of two in the town, and had one year at Westfield High School before we moved out of state.
It was a calm place. The towns around us experienced massive racial unrest in the 1960’s and I remember sitting on the steps of the high school, watching the National Guard move out in riot-prepped vehicles to deal with rioting in nearby Newark. But Westfield was quiet and we grew up sharing schools with kids of different races and religions. It wasn’t perfect, and it was heavily white, but there was no segregation that I was aware of.
We had all sorts of things to do: piano lessons for years, singing in choirs at the Big White Presbyterian Church, and Brownie, Girl Scout, and Cub Scout troops with Mom as leader or den mother. I took ballet classes at the YWCA, looking like a pink sausage in my leotard, and even ice skating lessons when an ice rink opened while I was in junior high. My athletic brother enjoyed Little League baseball and football, with my dad as coach, and worked on cars to enter in the Pinewood Derby every year. I even think I took horseback riding in there somewhere.
Every day after school, if we didn’t have something going on, we would just “go out and play” as long as we were home in time for dinner at 6pm. No play dates, no someone watching us every minute. We played games and learned how to work together and how to lose but still play. We had lots of homework and I don’t remember my parents helping with it; it was my job to get it done and I did. We walked or rode our bikes everywhere and didn’t need to rely on parents for rides to most places.
In the summers we would go to the shore at Manasquan, but I also spent a few years going to camp. It was not my favorite thing to do – I’m not a lover of outdoor sports and activities – but I went. After 6th grade, I went to Camp El-Ja-Bar which was a YWCA camp where we lived in little cabins and did all those things I didn’t like, mostly sports, because I was so bad at them. I was also horribly homesick. But the next two summers I had a chance to go to Choir Camp at Island Heights, a seaside NJ town. We spent a week each time learning and performing music and it was wonderful. We even watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon at camp. I don’t think I made a lot of friends there, but I did learn the Brahm’s German Requiem, which was a better deal for me.
I got my first paying job other than babysitting when we lived in Westfield, becoming a library page at age 15. I shelved books, retrieved magazines and materials from the basement for people doing research, and put plastic covers on new books to help them last longer. It was a great job where someone actually paid me to spend time in the library and got me started in what became my life’s work as a professional librarian.
I loved Westfield and cherish my memories of our life there.