StoryWorth: My Hometown

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.

StoryWorth: School Field Trips

Clipart bus field trip, Clipart bus field trip Transparent FREE for  download on WebStockReview 2021

I’m working on stories for my StoryWorth book and decided to post some of them here. Some are long, some are short. But what they have in common are memories, not impressions. I wanted to have a collection of MY memories in case I lose them as I get older. No one travelled with me from place to place so no one else shares those memories with me now. I don’t want them to be completely gone.

I remember three field trips from my childhood years in New Jersey, all possible because everything was close enough to reach by bus in a single day.

First was a class trip to Pennsylvania, visiting Valley Forge and Philadelphia. We were studying American history that year, so there was a great immediacy to what we saw and heard. I don’t remember much about Valley Forge, but Philadelphia was fascinating. We saw the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, and were entertained by an actor playing Benjamin Franklin on a walking tour.

Best of all was the Giant Heart at the Franklin Institute. I remember it as a huge walk-through exhibit that followed the path of blood through the human heart. We heard the “woosh-woosh” sound of blood flowing through the veins and the walls pulsed as we walked through the exhibit. It was amazing and all of us went through it more than once.

In sixth grade we made a trip to the United Nations in New York City. I wore stockings for the first time and felt very grown up. Our teacher, Mr. Holbrook, had us write letters to ourselves about what we thought the world would be like in 10 years, which we mailed from the U.N. We were to have our parents hold on to them for us and give them to us in 10 years. I’m not sure what other parents did, but mine put my letter in the safe deposit box and gave it back to me when I graduated from college ten years later. I bought Mexican jumping beans in the U.N. gift shop and don’t remember much else about what we saw.

When I was a sophomore in high school, we went to Stratford, Connecticut, to see Shakespeare’s “Othello” at the American Shakespeare Theatre. We were studying Shakespeare in English class and I’d seen plays before, but never adults performing right in front of me. The theater was full of giggling high school students from the tri-state area, all there to see live theater. We had fabulous close-up seats and great views of the stage. When one of the actors started speaking, we all looked at each other in surprise because we recognized her voice. In costume, it took us a while to figure out that she was Madge the Manicurist from a popular Palmolive detergent commercial on TV. I’d never really thought about actors playing different roles before. I guess I remember that more than anything else about the play.