The YWCA, YMCA and YM-YWHA were terrific organizations for children growing up in the mid-20th century. For those of us who lived in a four-season climate, it meant access to lots of fun sports and camping activities all year long.
I think I was about six years old when my mother signed me up for my first swimming lessons at the YWCA in Passaic, New Jersey. While I enjoyed swimming every week in the big, indoor swimming pool, one of the highlights of summer was getting to go to the YWCA day camp.
Our membership cards were linked to our swimming progress:
Once this set of skills was mastered, we were allowed to swim in the deep end of the pool during free play.
A medical doctor had to sign off on our fitness for sports. Dr. Baum was my pediatrician. He was a young doctor when I was one of his patients – he passed away in 2008 at the age of 87, still serving the children of Passaic.
1963 Membership Card
New cards were issued each year that memberships were renewed. This is my last set of YWCA cards, but they were the ticket into a week of fun-filled activities.
I don’t have any photos of the Y from my times there. Google Earth shows this building at 114 Prospect Street:
114 Prospect Street Today
Today, one of the building tenants is Passaic County Social Services. Back in the “olden” days, it was the place kids wanted to be.
How did I get there? Today, my parents probably would have been taken in for child neglect, but I actually rode gray Bus #3 (never the green Athenia line that went all the way to Clifton because it didn’t stop at Summer Street) from the corner of my street at Lexington Avenue all the way downtown to the Prospect Street bus stop at the flat iron building:
Prospect Street, leading uphill to the YWCA, street on right
Although this postcard dates well before the 1950s, Passaic hadn’t changed much downtown!
Route to the YWCA
The first arrow, top left, marks my house. The second arrow was the walk down to the corner of Lexington Avenue. The long arrow was the ride along Lexington Avenue to the corner of Prospect Street. The short arrow shows the walk up Prospect Street, as seen in the postcard above, to reach the YWCA.
The total distance was about a mile from my house to the Y and, at the age of seven years old, I was big enough to make the public bus ride to day camp.
What did we do all day long? I think camp began at 9:00 in the morning and ended about 3:00. We sang songs, made all kinds of crafty little items, like sit-upons.
We sat on our sit-upons, made from two sample sheets of wallpaper torn from old books. We lined the two pieces of paper up together and then punched holes about an inch apart all the way around the edges of our rectangular-shaped paper. Next, we cut old newspapers into a rectangle that was smaller than the wall paper sheets. The newspaper was the stuffing. Last, we were given pieces of yarn threaded into a needle and we sewed the top, stuffing and bottom of the sit-upon together like a sandwich.
We played games in the Y gym, climbed, tumbled on mats and went swimming for about an hour each day. Everyone brought a sack lunch, so there was some quiet time mixed in the middle of the day. Once a week, we had a bus trip somewhere nearby. I remember going to Garret Mountain in Paterson quite often, where we hiked and learned about outdoor camping skills. Lambert Castle is still there, although I don’t ever remember us being taken inside. The Passaic County Historical Society now uses the Castle as a museum of local history.
The very best part about field trips was the bus ride back to the Y from Paterson. What did we do on those rides? What all camp kids do – we sang 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, over and over. I can’t imagine that any kid growing up in the 20th century doesn’t know the song, but just in case, here is a sample of the sophisticated lyrics:
100 bottles of beer on the wall, 100 bottles of beer.
Take one down and pass it around, 99 bottles of beer on the wall.
99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer.
Take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall.
I don’t know if the counselors were happy because it kept us occupied or whether they wanted to kill us all for singing it over and over. Either way, the kids all had a great time.
I wish I had photos of some of the fun times at the YWCA. However, I don’t think my mom ever took any pictures at the few events in which parents were invited.
What was the cost for a week of fun c1963? $35 per week seems to ring a bell with me. One year, for whatever reason, I was given several gifts of money instead of clothing or toys. I think my mother said $35 of it was going to pay for summer camp and I had $10 to choose some new clothes. What a bargain! Those were definitely fun times.