Rainy Day Children of the Summer
By Anthony Buccino
Kids in my old neighborhood
found fun things
The best part of being a kid on Gless Avenue in Belleville in the 1960s was having four cousins - Patsy, Tommy, Bobby and Lorraine - living next door, and about a dozen other kids all just a few houses up or down our dead end street.
For a few years, my Dad’s older brother Joe lived by himself downstairs from us after Gram died. Uncle Joe was old then, to me, anyway, and had no kids of his own, as far as any of us knew. And it seemed to us as if he was already retired, or simply too worn out to work anymore.
Someone called him a babysitter once because he had a half dozen kids and me playing on his front porch. He just smiled at the babysitter remark and waved his hands in a "suffer the little children" gesture.
Uncle Joe didn’t spoil us, but he didn’t cater to us. If we wanted a glass of water or a cookie, we’d have to go home to get it. But he let us make as much noise as we wanted. We could run up and down the stairs, climb on the banisters and do all other stuff that our moms would never allow.
He just sat by, ready to spring into action if one of us got hurt or something, inside a perpetual gray cloud from his unfiltered cigarettes.
Our porch was the width of Gram’s house, only about six-feet deep, the entrance up a few concrete steps at the left and to the front door, with a closed-in balcony that overlooked our front yard.
After 40 years of living in that house, Gram developed the front yard into one overgrown "snowball" bush squared off by hedges, leaving little of anything to mow. She kept the grapevines and growing fields in the back yard and stayed true to her Italian youth, tending them until the day she died.
Gram owned the house next door and rented the two apartments. My father’s cousin Pat and my cousins lived in one of those little apartments.
Bobby, just a year older than me, and I would see what kind of trouble we could get into in those pre-school days. He reminds me now, fifty years later, that we experimented with some of my grandmother’s cats. She had so many cats that she probably didn’t even know how many she had.
So, Bobby says I was the brains behind taking Gram’s cats to the second floor porch in the back of the house and dropping them, in turn, to see if they really landed on their feet.
At least the cats were safe when we were hanging on the front porch with Uncle Joe.
Bobby’s porch next door was the width of the house, but about twice as deep as our porch. It had what passed for a front lawn, though I’m sure we kids trampled anything that ever tried to grow there. Even though their porch was bigger, we usually congregated on my smaller porch to play checkers, Chinese checkers, chess, Old Maid or just laugh at the girls trying to jump rope on the sidewalk.
Though our mothers were home all the time when we were kids, they had their chores. On Monday they washed the clothes, on Tuesday they ironed the clothes, on Wednesday they dusted and vacuumed, on Friday they washed the floor and so on. (I guess on Thursday they ate bon-bons and watched soaps?)
At noon, our moms watched their ‘stories’ when Love Of Life, Search For Tomorrow, Guiding Light and whatever else came on. It helped pass the time when they could watch or listen to them as they scrubbed the house and picked up after us.
So, when it rained on those summer afternoons, our moms were just as happy to have us out of the house and not in their way. Who wanted to be in the house with mom when we could be outside in the rain with our pals? Our favorite place was our front porches during a thunderstorm where we’d watch the rain pelt the bushes, branches and the banisters.
We’d take turns running from one front porch to the other just to see if we could do it without getting wet. If we got wet, which we usually did, we’d wait until we dried off and then run back in the rain to the other porch. We’d do this until the rain stopped or we had to go inside for supper.
The last time I checked, that house I left in 1964 looks a bit different. For instance, there is a grass lawn, and the front porch closed-in banister has been replaced by open spindles. Not to mention that the faux shingles the house had since they were invented have been replaced by aluminum siding and the front windows, even on the first floor, have shutters.
Grandma wouldn’t recognize the place, nor the place next door with its wide-open porch. I may drive down that street some rainy summer day and see if children might be tempted to run back and forth in the rain, just for fun.
Rainy Day Children of the Summer in Old Belleville first published on Belleville-Nutley Patch, August 26, 2011.
© 2011 by Anthony Buccino
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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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