Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist
My previous article “Warm Summer Nights” was a recollection and reminiscence of the neighborly closeness among families at our end of Derby Street, which was very near the northwest corner where Derby and South Main met. Derby formed the southern boundary of Brooklyn Square, being the first all residential street that was a stone’s throw from the curious commercial and residential mix of Harrison Street one block to the north. And if warm summer nights could bring out the neighbors on porches then hot summer days brought out all of us kids on the street and sidewalks and yards for our playgrounds.
One of my playmates from first grade to about third grade was David Svenson, the youngest son of Senior Captain and Mrs. Eric Svenson of the Salvation Army, the Fralsningsarmens Tempel, that was then located at 24 Harrison Street. The Tempel was a red brick building with a large, well-kept grassy yard that was visible from my back yard at 17 Derby Street and was accessible by slipping through a hole in the fence that had never been mended. The summer months held great expectation for me because David and I were classmates in Miss Doris Peterson’s first grade class at R.R. Rogers School, and we often met and walked to and from school for several years. So it was quite natural for us to be together, and each summer when children from Salvation Army families came to the Tempel for Bible study and a play period, David always invited me to participate in the games the children would play with adult supervision.
Dodge ball and softball were favorites as well as a game called Pom-Pom Pullaway. It was essentially a game of tag where one person was It, and he or she had to face a whole line of children who would chant “Pom-Pom Pullaway, Get your horse and run away!” Then they would all scream and run to the opposite side of the yard while the person who was It had to tag as many children as he or she could. Those kids then joined forces and became a collective It, and the chant would start all over again until only one or two children were left to be “enveloped” and tagged by their opposers!
That was a once-a-week play group, but for the most part my summer days were filled with activities with my friend Carol. Because of our closeness in age and because most of the kids on the block were boys, we pretty much stuck together. Early on, we would share coloring books, play tea party with sugar water for tea, or sit on our gliders and talk on our front porches. And some times we’d play what we called “Post Office” with old mail, post cards, and any kind of junk mail that our parents would throw out. We’d collect these bits of mail, excited that we had found an old birthday card or a colorful piece of mail, stow them in cigar boxes that Carol’s Uncle Busti had given her, pretend to write a greeting inside, and drop them in a box to be “delivered” one to the other. We’d spend hours doing this!
Some times, as we got older, we would go uptown and buy a small bag of candy at Betty Dixon’s or Fannie Farmer’s candy shops, buy movie magazines at Murphy’s Five and Dime, and pick out a stenciled dish towel or even on one occasion a pair of pillow cases that we would embroider sitting on Carol’s front porch while we listened to the radio. One summer a small private plane, probably sponsored by some business that wanted to advertise in a unique way, would fly over the city piping music as it flew so that everyone within ear shot could hear some popular songs by popular musical artists in the fifties—Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Ray, Frankie Lane, Perry Como to name a few. It was great entertainment—and free!
One summer my friend Carol and I made a discovery behind one of the old houses that fronted South Main; I think it was known as the Jones house. We could access the back yard of the house that had become part of “the Jungle” that plot of ground that was overgrown with weeds and burdocks and had been abandoned to nature. In our exploration, we came across some brambles that had wound their way around an old wooden fence and on closer inspection we found, much to our surprise, black raspberry bushes! In spite of the debris and oil spill from the Sunoco gas station that was adjacent to the lot, they bore delicious berries summer after summer.
Carol and I picked those berries, sampling them as we plundered those bushes, finding the fattest and juiciest berries under prickly green leaves, always surprised that the best grew in the shade of their own plant. We even got our mothers involved, and one summer we picked enough so that my mother made jars of homemade blackberry jam, sealed with paraffin wax and topped with waxed paper and a rubber band to hold it in place. Each found a spot on one of the old wooden shelves in the dirt-floored cellar of our home. Summer’s delight packed in a jar and waiting to be enjoyed on a cold winter’s day. But berries that didn’t find their way into that sweet jam were gobbled down, bruised berries staining hands and, dropped by a handful into one’s cereal bowl in the morning, staining the rich homogenized milk that covered Rice Krispies a deep purple. How could you not love it? Summers not to be forgotten…