Monday, February 19, 2007

Wenonah, 1958

So here we are at last. August, 1958. Wenonah, New Jersey. I'm 6 years old, about to turn 7 in December. Mick is 5 and Ted a mere 2. My mother is 31 and my father 30. To me they are old. Grown ups. My grandmother Glading was probably younger than I am right now but she was ancient to me. It's late summer and early evening. Summer evenings in August in Wenonah were hot but Mick and I ventured out of the house to meet our new neighbors.
Our house was located on the corner of West Mantua Ave and South Lincoln Ave. Our address was 206 W. Mantua Ave. S. Lincoln was only two blocks long, ending in the Wenonah Woods, then known to me only as "the woods". It was in the woods that I would spend most of my young life. (here's a link to the Wenonah Woods that I found today:
Thanks to WW II and the baby boom there were several children my age and Mick's age up and down the street. Our nearest neighbors and the boys and girls who would become our friends were Terry Fleming, Chris DeHart, Gary Condell, Charlie Flitcraft, Robby Cook, Dotty Chattin, and several others we will meet in the months to come. All of our parents were roughly the same age and worked in a variety of trades. My father was a salesman for the gasoline industry, Terry's father was a dentist, Chris' father worked for the family trucking business, Gary's dad worked in the oil refineries along the Delaware. Mr. Flitcraft worked in Philadelphia. I have no idea how he made money. I'm not even sure if Mr. Cook existed. I can't remember him at all but then adults played only a passing role in our lives then. Teachers and other children were the people who made up our world. Everyone else was just part of a larger mystery. One we learned about bit by bit.
This evening Mick and I would meet Gary and Chris, Terry and Charlie. They treated us like the outsiders we were. They wouldn't let us play in any reindeer games. We stood around and watched them play their elaborate games and waited to be invited in; then our mother called us into dinner. We were in bed shortly after. Every night till I was 9 I had to be in bed by 8pm. This was a slow torture because Mick and I would lie in bed and listen to the distant shouts of playing children and the murmur of the TV downstairs, all the time wishing we were older and able to go out like everyone else.
So what was this house like? It was a three story Victorian on a corner lot. All the blocks in Wenonah were the same size; roughly 500' by 300'. Most of the southern part of town and the bulk of the northern part were Victorian homes. They'd been constructed in the late 1880's as a development meant to attract vacationing Philadelphians. The railroad and the nearby man-made lakes were the attraction but it quickly became a bed room community for business men who worked in Philadelphia. Later the oil industry built refineries and tanks along the lower Delaware and the men who worked there came to live in the nearby towns. You'll note I have not once said, men and women. That's because most of the women of that generation stayed home to keep house and raise the children.
At any rate my block had four houses on our side of S Lincoln and of course four on the other. Along Mantua Ave there were also four homes (including our own). We knew the names of everyone on the block and the adjacent blocks. It was a rare house that didn't have a name associated with it. Of course, since we were children, the further you moved from our block the less likely it was for us to know the people there. That would change slowly as we grew.
The street was lined with Black Maples, mature trees all. There were a few oaks and on Cherry St a number of Sycamores. Farther down Mantua Ave, closer to the Mantua Creek, there were taller trees. Not being a naturalist I don't know their names but now and again in a rough summer storm or hurricane they'd come crashing down.
Once tramping through a part of the woods we'd only just discovered we found an immense Elm. So big four of us could just barely encircle it, arms spread. We thought it was the largest tree in the world.
Eventually we became part of Terry and Chris' games. Some of them were familiar, others new and completely made up. Kick the Can, Capture the Flag, yes, but also, He Died at the Foot of the Werewolf Tree, and Who Looks the Deadest. We left the house at 7:30 and ran out to play and play and play. We returned to wolf down peanut butter sandwichs and hershey's chocolate milk and back out again. Talking about it now it sounds idyllic. But idyll's have their hollow cores and children at play aren't just playing.
I was an asthmatic.
I think I left that out.
Mick was as well but only a bit.
Ted eventually was as well and his asthma was severe.
But it was asthma that made games both a joy and a curse.

1 comment:

Jim Maddox said...

Woodbury Heights down the road apiece from Wenonah, was my world in 1958. A small town where it seemed you knew almost everybody. I lived at one of the farthest corners in town, bordering Deptford. When we first moved there,I was only 2 years old, and there weren't any kids around of my age. I lived in a fantastic world of my own with imaginary friends. I talked for them, using different voices for each. My father would hear the goings on outside and say, "Mary, who's he talking to?" It was all me. The woods behind our house was my Disney World. A land of mystery, of Davey Crockett and the French and Indian Wars.
Then something wonderful-a boxer, my very own dog. Her name was Whee-Zee and she was so ugly she was beautiful. She was my closest and dearest friend. She protected me from the myriad of older kids that loved to terrorize the younger kids in town. Bullies named T-bone and Tanker and Lucas, and the infamous Goss Brothers. Whee-Zee was my armor, my shield. Raise your hand to me and behold her wrath. She lived until I was almost 11. She eventually got so sick she had to be put to sleep. I can still feel the horror and the anguish watching her being taken away from me,put into a van, never to be seen again. I spent a long lonely time in those woods after that. I still miss her deeply.