Sunday, August 21, 2011

Time traveling, part 1

I was clicking through some of my friends' Facebook pages last night, as I am sometimes wont to do, when I came across a photograph from nearly 30 years ago of a mother holding her pre-school daughter on a set of metal playground monkey bars that are so OSHA illegal now that they have become museum pieces.

The monkey bars, that is. Not the mother and daughter.

But the picture got me to thinking of my own childhood from more than 50 years ago.

We lived in a working-class row home in a village called Fountain Hill, Pa., that was snuggled into a ridge on the windward side of South Mountain. The mountain cast its own impressive shadow over the sprawling industrial yards of nearby Bethlehem Steel, then the largest employer in Northampton County.

Fountain Hill's most famous son is author Stephen Vincent Benet. I'd like to think that I'm somewhere in the top 10, but Fountain Hill is so small that the list of its famous folks probably stops with 10,000 people tied at No. 2, sooo...

The really neat thing about where we lived, though, is that we were directly across the street from the borough playground.

Our house in Fountain Hill was the second duplex on the right, the sec-
tion with the light gray roof. When you are 6 years old, it was undeniably
Kid Heaven to live across the street from the borough playground.
This was a special place that included swings, sliding boards, monkey bars and jungle gyms. There was also a huge asphalt basketball surface that featured eight backboards, meaning that you could have four fullcourt games going on at the same time.

In the winter, the city brought out a fire truck to flood the court with water, which then froze over for a season of ice skating. The fire truck was a big event in itself and flooding the court signaled the advent of winter.

The playground rests on the side of a fairly steep hill, so the street that borders it was also excellent for winter sledding. The borough actually closed off the road to auto traffic so it was a safe venue for kids — and adults — to play.

A little league baseball field lay adjacent to the playground, and next to the ball field was the community swimming pool.

So you can see, for a 6-year-old, living here was Kid Heaven. All of this was in easy walking distance from my front porch.

One of my fondest memories, though, is the box hockey tournaments that we had during those lazy summers at the playground.

What, you might ask, is box hockey?  It's a form of hockey, contained in a rectangular wooden box (logical so far) that features two courts, where two people compete against each other to knock a field hockey ball through one of two openings in the center divider, then try to knock the ball through a single opening in the opponent's court to score a point. The players used real wooden field hockey sticks back then. It's a wonder we didn't pummel each other to death after surviving all those forbidding metal swings, sliding boards and monkey bars.

(Notes: A friend of mine actually got hit by a car crossing the street to get to the playground. He survived that, too).

(The video above gives an approximation of the game I used to play.)

The playground had four or five of these box hockey games going on at once. Play was so popular that kids would wait great lengths of time — maybe even up to 15 minutes — for their turn to play. It was awesome.

I don't know what's happened to the kind of box hockey I remember. I haven't seen that version of the game played since we moved to New Hampshire in 1959. In fact, I never saw a box hockey game again. But I did google it and discovered there are several corrupted (in my opinion) versions of the game that I once played. The boxes are usually made of plastic now, and features several dividers instead of just one. The players apparently use paddles instead of hockey sticks, and there's a puck instead of a ball. It's probably safer.

But I suppose you can still pummel your opponent if you have half a mind to.

Look what they've done with smudge pots now.
Side note: All this occurred back in the mid-1950s. I remember one summer there was some road construction in front of our house. Back then, road construction sites were marked with kerosene lanterns that burned an actual flame to warn drivers to be wary. They were often hard to extinguish, so it was great sport in those days to try and blow out the flame. Sometimes we did.

I suppose it's not only a wonder we managed to survive the playground, but didn't serve a jail term as well.

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