Is there one particular place you always associate with childhood joys?
When you think of your teen years, is there any teenage hangout that stays in your warm memory bank?
For me, the answer to both those questions is the same place – Knoebels Grove in Elysburg.
I grew up in Shamokin, about a 30-minute drive to Knoebels, or, shorter if you drove fast. When we went on rare family outings that were considered a special treat, we went to Knoebels.
When we had our yearly family reunion, we went to Knoebels. The amusement park has a big swimming pool, probably one of the nicest I've ever seen. But all we did as kids was look through the fence.
Our cooling off was confined to walking in the crystal clear creek that runs through Knoebels' scenic picnic area. But I'll tell you this: Never did we feel deprived as kids because we swam in the creek instead of the pool. We thought it was a big treat.
An even bigger treat was our yearly family vacation. Our extended familygrandmother, aunts, uncles and cousinspacked the cars and drove a half-hour to our vacation spot: Knoebels Grove.
At the time, Knoebels used to have small wooden cottages it rented to families. The cottages were in such demand we had to reserve a year ahead of time. And when it was time to go there, we kids thought it was Christmas all over again.
We stayed in cottages called The Old Schoolhouse and The Old Trolley Car. The entire cottage was about the size of a narrow trolley car.
It was lucky there were outdoor picnic tables because our family would never fit inside, even if we all stood up.
Sleeping arrangements were something kids today would report to authorities as child abuse. We kids slept three in a bed. Sometimes the fourth child slept on the bottom of the bed, beneath kicking feet.
I usually slept under the bed. It was nice and cool on the linoleum and no one kicked me or peed on me during the night.
We kids thought it was Utopia. Six decade later, I can still recall the taste and feel of those childhood vacations.
A classmate recently sent me a video of Knoebels Park during its recent flooding. It tore at my heart to see the devastation.
Roads we once trod on so happily are torn up. Chunks of roadway are on top of destroyed amusement rides. The picnic area, a place of so many timeless memories for me, is underwater in the photos.
But the classmate who sent the flood photos assured us Knoebels is open again. That place is amazing with superb management.
When disaster strikes, as it has periodically over the decades, the park management digs in, hires local help and does an incredible job of coming back quickly.
Knoebels always takes care of its own problems sufficiently by paying locals to help. But I suspect if it put out a call for volunteers many of us would come from all over. Our heartstrings are attached to our old teenage stomping grounds.
Knoebels was where we as teenagers went to dance, roller skate, and yes, to go on fun dates.
As I was reminiscing about Knoebels this week and thought back to our family vacations, it struck me how those simple, inexpensive outings contrast to what today's kids consider a treat.
In a few weeks, my grandkids are going on a family vacation. It won't be to a small cottage where they have to sleep three and four to a bed. They are going to South Africa for a safari adventure.
When I was a kid, I was never outside the country. Heck, I didn't get outside the state unless it was to visit my father in New Jersey.
My grandkids go to a different country each year, with Italy being their favorite destination. They are typical of their friends.
While they are probably more blessed than some kids, I doubt there are too many kids today who would jump up and down in excitement at being able to picnic in a park.
I doubt they would be thrilled at walking in the cool, clear waters of a creek. I think today's kids would feel deprived if they couldn't swim in the park's swimming pool.
Today's kids are used to more. Way more.
But I don't think they are having more fun.
Sometimes I feel sorry for kids who have so much and get so much more. I feel sorry for them because they'll never treasure simple childhood joys that were shiny moments in my childhood.
How many of today's kids would thrill to having a slice of cold watermelon that was chilled in the creek during a family picnic?
How many kids would feel privileged to finally be able to afford the admission to swim in a pool?
How many kids today find joy in walking through woods and running flower-filled meadows?
How many kids will feel a rush of happiness at picking wild blueberries and finding a lush patch waiting for eager mouths?
I don't know what memories will warm the hearts of today's kids when they are old.
But I do know when I think of my own childhood I think back to when I knew I was richrich with the simple joys of a very uncomplicated childhood.