Do you know the song "Toyland?" One of the lines from that song remains with me – "Once you pass its borders, you can never return again." It is a reference to the joys of childhood – the magic, the wonder, the imagination, and the carefree attitude.
So true – once we leave childhood, the pressures of the world set in and we lose a lot of our innocent happiness.
No one had a better childhood than I did. We lived in a small Pennsylvania town – Mauch Chunk – and our house was on the main street. It was a big house with a nice front yard. The yard had terraces that went back up the mountain to the rear.
My two sisters and I played in every area of that home. On Saturday mornings, we would set out our paper dolls in the bay window and dress them up for hours. We would go up into the attic and explore our Mom's costumes from vaudeville. In the afternoons, we would meet our friends out in the yard and play all kinds of games.
True, we had no television and no video or handheld games. We had to create our own games. Many times we put together a carnival or a store or a hospital or a restaurant. We would make mud pies and drizzle little seeds from plants on top. We would throw bricks, prick balloons with pins, and give out homemade tickets for prizes. We used little stones as money.
Our Mom would let us roller skate in the kitchen on the linoleum. She also let us pile up the cushions from the couches and make a landing pit. Dad hung a rope from the biggest tree in the yard and we called it our "Tarzan Swing." We would pull the rope up to a terrace, jump off and swing to the next terrace. Until you caught on, there was always the danger of smashing into the tree.
After dinner, all the neighborhood kids would meet on our front pavement. We'd play "Red Light, Green Light," "Sardines," and "Hopscotch." As it got dark, our mothers could be heard calling us in for bed. They never worried about us. Mom could sit on our second story porch and hear us yelling to each other. She knew we were safe in the environment of our neighborhood.
In the winter, we used the coal shovel to pile snow up against all the terraces in our yard and make a chute for our sleds. The only problem was at the bottom. There was a wrought iron fence there. If you didn't make the turn at the right time, you landed head first into the fence.
Next to our house were the High Street steps. They went from our street up to the next street up on the mountain. When we got older and braver (some might say dumber), we used the steps as the sled chute. That was exciting, but risky. One of us had to stay at the bottom and watch for cars, because you would shoot right out on the street at the bottom of the steps.
Across from our house was the Mauch Chunk Bakery. Louis, Mary, and Franklin Schatz made the best chocolate wedding bells, Easter Egg cakes, snowshoe breakfast buns, cinnamon rolls, and – well, just everything. On Saturday mornings, Mom would give us some money and let us go to the bakery for a breakfast treat. I'll never forget the smell of that bakery. It woke me up most days.
We didn't have a big extended family in Mauch Chunk. The only relative who lived there was our Uncle Eddie Mandracia, Mom's brother. He and his wife Mary had two children, Christine and Eddie, Jr. We saw them on holidays and I'll never forget the taste of Aunt Mary's homemade ravioli.
All the rest of our relatives lived in New York City or Florida or Italy. We did travel to visit them (not the Florida or Italian cousins) a few times. Our trips to New York were always exciting. We went on the train and had breakfast in the dining car. I recall first tasting orange marmalade there. It has always been my favorite jam.
Living my childhood in such a way made me who I am today. I regret that my grandchildren aren't having the same experience. And, I would take exception to the words of "Toyland." I have passed the borders of childhood, but I can return there anytime I choose – by sharing memories.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO CONTACT DR. SMITH, SHE CAN BE REACHED AT HER EMAIL ADDRESS: JSMITH1313@CFL.RR.COM OR IN CARE OF THIS NEWSPAPER.