Recalling the good old days in Stockbridge

by Mary Lou (Shellenbarger) Clifton

Old folks, of whom I guess I am one, often throw out the phrase, “the good old days.”  But just for a moment, put aside the computer, the smartphone, the iPad. You get the idea.

In 1947, my dad accepted a teaching position in the Stockbridge Schools. So my parents, my brother and I, a brand-new baby still under warranty, moved to Stockbridge. For the first four years, we moved from rental to rental until we purchased a house on Mechanic Street. A time when no one’s yard was fenced-in and every dog was known by name. More than once my mother received a phone call that our napping dog was blocking the entrance to the grocery store.

Anyway, it was on Mechanic Street that I met my best friend, Jo Ellen. We were 4 years old. When we turned 5, we headed off to kindergarten. At that time,  the school building on Elizabeth Street housed grades one through 12. There wasn’t any room for kindergartners and the elementary building wouldn’t be built for another four years. So kindergarten was held in the basement of the Presbyterian Church.

Jo and I attended the afternoon session. The two of us walked the two blocks to school. Alone. No crossing guard. We crossed Clinton Street. Harold Lantis, a well-known man about town, said we looked like a couple of college girls headed for class. Kindergarten snack consisted of a half pint bottle of milk and a graham cracker. If we happened to run out of crackers, Helen Mitteer, our teacher, sent a couple of kids across Main Street to Wilde’s grocery to get more. When school ended for the year, my siblings and I headed to Dancer’s Department Store for a pair of PF Flyers. Boy, could we run fast in those shoes.

Summer nights were hot, especially in the upstairs of our house. I’m not sure anyone had air conditioning in those days. Summer days were spent playing with friends, while mothers chatted over clotheslines as they hung out the wash fresh from the wringer washer.

A favorite pastime for kids was roller-skating up and down the sidewalk. Skates were attached to shoes using the skate key that generally hung by a string around one’s neck. I could skate like the wind and knew every crack and raised spot on the sidewalk. I can hear those skates hitting the cement now. Every once in a while, a skate would fly off, which meant a trip home for merthiolate applied to a bleeding knee.

If we weren’t skating, we were probably riding bikes. Our tricycles had hard rubber tires, which had to be replaced more than once because we wore them down to nothing but holes. When the streetlights came on in the evening, we knew it was time to head for our own yard. We never locked the house at night, and in fact, didn’t even have a key. If a bike was left overnight in the yard, it was still there in the morning.

Wonderful, heartwarming memories. I like my smartphone, but I gotta tell ya; those were the good old days.

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