Yesterday, I described the Summer Street neighborhood where I lived and shared some images, both old and new, of the street. Just as a quick refresh, here is the aerial view of the street.
My house is pinned in yellow and the two U-shaped buildings are the apartment complex across the street where I spent many hours playing.
Now, where to begin the story? Passaic was a wonderful place in which to live. This, in spite of the fact, that even when I lived there, much of the city was already old, dirty and packed with people. Passaic is only a little over 3 square miles in size and, back then, the population was about 55,000. It was definitely a working class community and families had little extra money for luxuries. In spite of that, we had fun and I never felt like I was denied extras.
In the 1950’s, children didn’t sit around in the house unless they were sick and most kids didn’t want to be in the house anyway because there was fun to be had with their friends. I was no different.
During the week, when school was in session, we all walked. My house was about 4 1/2 blocks from #10 School and it took 15-20 minutes to walk each way. Because Passaic was geographically small, everyone walked to school and we walked back and forth four times each day because lunch wasn’t served as school.
I’m not exactly sure of the start and end times, but, if my memory is close to correct, school started about 8:30 or 8:45. Some of my Summer Street friends went to #10, like Lenore and Howard, who lived across the street. Others, like Carol and Sandy, went to Holy Trinity, which I passed along the way to #10. I knew I was right on time on my walk to school when I passed Holy Trinity and all the Catholic school kids were walking up the church steps to daily morning Mass.
The morning school session ended about 11:30 and everyone walked back home for lunch. We had about an hour and a half off, so there was plenty of time to eat, get back to school and participate in a good game of double dutch jump rope. I was always very envious of my friend, Janie, who lived only two doors away from school. Not only did she have time for lunch, she had LOTS of time to play on the playground. Needless to say, I was always happy when she invited me over to her house for lunch.
The afternoon session ran from about 12:45 or 1:00 until about 3:15, I think. Everyone would head home from school and I remember getting home not long before American Bandstand came on at 3:30. In 1960, I wasn’t much aware of rock ‘n roll music, but a couple of the older kids on Summer Street loved the show.
In previous posts, I’ve written about my actual school day and teachers, so this is about all I’m going to say this time around regarding school.
I do have one comment to make about homework, though. I was always a good student and I loved school. However, I never remember having much homework at all in elementary school. Typical homework would be to finish one page of arithmetic from our workbooks if we didn’t finish it in class. (I always did.) The only other homework I remember is being told to study for the Friday morning spelling test. I was always a good speller, too, so that never took much time.
On the other hand, Carol and Sandy, my friends who went to Holy Trinity, carried home heavy leather book bags filled with work practically every day. They lived on the same side of Summer Street as I did, but only a couple of houses in from Central Avenue. The school was held in the red building to the right of the church.
There were reading assignments, arithmetic, science, history and, most importantly of all, catechism. The old Baltimore catechism was in vogue and, each night, Carol and Sandy had to memorize questions and answers in each chapter.
Eventually, one of my friends gave me their old catechism book, which I still have. It’s the 1953 edition.
Here is a better view of the school. It looks quite small now, but is bigger in my memory. Once a year, Holy Trinity School had a carnival, which was its fundraiser. Everyone in the neighborhood saved up a quarter and spent a Saturday at the school. There were a couple of small rides and game booths, along with small food concessions for things like home baked goods and lemonade.
The door to the school building on the right was unlocked and, once – just once – Sandy took me up those stairs into the school so she could show me her classroom. She was two years younger than me and, I think, in 3rd grade, so this would have been about 1962. All we were doing was looking when who should appear, but Sister Mary Catania! I thought we were in big trouble, but all she did was scoot us out the door and tell us to stay outside. I had heard stories about Holy Trinity kids getting whacked with rulers and yardsticks and I thought that was going to be our fate. Luckily, it was not to be.
Once school was out for the day, it was time to play. I changed into my play clothes. Back then, girls had to wear dresses to school, but unless we wanted to be in big trouble with our mothers, school clothes were definitely not play clothes. What did we play? Well, without much money, games were simple and needed little or no equipment. Tag and kickball were favorites and we played in the grassy area between the two apartment buildings.
See where the sidewalks intersect? That was home plate. We used chalk to mark the exact safe spot. About half way from the intersected sidewalks, there were drainpipes coming down the side from each building. Those spots marked first and third base, while second base was towards the back area near the parking lot.
Girls played jacks and boys played with marbles. Hopscotch was also very popular and all that was needed was a small rock to toss and some chalk. I never played hopscotch in front of my own house because either my grandmother or my parents didn’t like having the sidewalk all chalked up.(Even though the rain washed it away.) Everyone liked the pink rubber balls (about 3 inches in diameter) that bounced really high and only cost a dime. We could buy them at Pat’s Luncheonette on Harrison Street on our way home from school. Pat had one child, a daughter, Maria, who was in my class at #10. She didn’t have a mom living with them and I think she died before I knew Maria. Pat and Maria lived upstairs over the store and the door up there is the hard-to-see white spot on the side of the building.
Pat’s was a great little store. Not only could we buy jacks , marbles and balls, we could buy penny candy, big red wax lips that tasted really good when we chewed them up and candy necklaces. Pat’s also had the old fashioned soda fountain where cola syrup was mixed with carbonated water to produce Coca Cola. Whenever I was sick with a stomach ailment, my mom stopped at Pat’s to buy some cola syrup for me – that was one medicinal cure that tasted really good. Pat’s was located in a great spot for children’s nickels as this store is one block from #10 School and directly across the street from Holy Trinity Church and School.
Two big fads happened in the late 1950’s. The first was the hula hoop. I had two – I had a big yellow one and a much smaller, thin blue one meant for swinging on my arm. I was pretty good at keeping the hoop going, too. I found a hula hoop recently in a store and bought it for the bargain basement price of $2.98. I tried it out, but modern hula hoops are very light weight and difficult to keep going. The original ones were just heavy enough to get a good rhythm going. I also remember sand or pebbles or something along those lines making noise inside them and I think whatever that material was helped with hula hooping, too.
The last toys I want to mention today are stilts and bicycles. Most of us had a bike and we rode all over the place on them. If we didn’t have time to visit Third Ward Park, we rode our bikes around the block. I distinctly remember when it became the “cool” thing to not only be able to ride our bikes down the street curbs, but we learned to ride them back up the bumps, too, so we didn’t have to stop and walk the bikes up the curb. However, in the 1950’s, no one rode bikes to school. There was no place to lock them up so they would be gone by lunch if you left them in the school yard.
Tomorrow is Recommended Reads, so on Saturday, I’ll share some memories of weekends and holidays, summer time and shopping in downtown Passaic.