I can recall reading how children in New York City would play stickball way back when …. I grew up in a pseudo country side, and my father had invented ‘sticky wicket’, a game with a ball and a cricket bat with the players trying to throw a ball (gently) at the legs of the person holding the cricket bat. It was so much fun, and I can imagine how it would be frowned upon today! Throwing a ball at someone’s legs! Oh my goodness!
My siblings and I would grow vegetables and then ‘sell them’ to my mum, and there was such a sense of accomplishment. Each year I would embroider chairbacks for Great Aunt Nance, and she would knit us a cardigan each. We would be in bed at 7 pm. (summer too – can you imagine!), and we would lie in bed for hours until we fell asleep. I would read a book, and sneak it beneath my pillow when I heard my parents on the stairway. My mum made great roast chicken with stuffing (my father’s chicken was better though), but it was just the way he would season it. He would return from work and we would sit and watch him eat, and he would put x amount of pepper on the potatoes, and then the salt, and I cant describe it, but he would make everything look so appetizing when he did next to nothing? My mum would place our dessert called ‘afters’ behind the main course. We were not allowed to eat the ‘afters’ until we ate our dinner. The point of course was to eat all of those vegetables we hated in order to get to the yummy dessert be it pie and custard or something else. Ice cream was always a huge treat. When my mum made a stew.. ‘we…ell‘ it was meat, some vegetables in water…. That was when we started to learn how to season, some A-1 sauce, some pepper, anything to give flavor. We would always take out the dumplings and save for our ‘afters’ and serve with jam. Vegetables? My mum would cook a variety, but I would not be exaggerating if I stated 4-5 with each meal. Swedes, spinach, cabbage, brussel sprouts, potatoes of all kinds, greens as we called them. Not much meat.
Sundays in the summer would mean my mum pickling some hard boiled eggs in vinegar to have with salad for tea ( always a roast for Sunday lunch). If fishermen would come around, we would have fresh cockles and mum would place them in vinegar to marinate. They were delicious. Herrings slow cooked in the oven with onions and vinegar – yum! I used to love to bring in the bottles of milk and enjoy the fresh cream on top!
Life was so different. Families were families. Sunday afternoons would mean sitting by the fire and reading the Sunday newspapers. When I was 4, I would pretend to read.. and when I was 5, I did read. So many stories about the holocaust. That I vividly recall. I can recall coming in second in a Cadbury’s writing contest held amongst all schools in England and Northern Ireland when I was in Elementary School. We had to write a story on how the Easter Bunny lost its tail! We had time to have imaginations. Are our children too programmed today?
Playtime was outside, playing with friends, be it soccer, or berry picking, or going where we weren’t supposed to it which were the batteries or emplacements on Canvey Island. We would run amidst the pillboxes having so much fun. Yikes! I am sure there was ammunition left somewhere but what did we know in the 50’s! I can recall mud flats, and we would roll in the mud – it would be warm and oozing. Canvey Island was a holiday spot for people from London which made us laugh. Coming to our island? People would come for holidays or day trips, there was a fair ground, a Country Club, a horrible stony beach and a casino. We even had (have) Dutch cottages with thatched roofs. One famous pub was called the Haystack because of it thatched roof.
When I was 11, I passed the “11 Plus’, my parents told me not to go to High School for I would get married and so why bother. Ha! However, I attended an all girl’s High School which meant I had to wear a uniform, a beret, take a bus to a train, a train and then another bus to my school from the age of 11 onward. I cant imagine doing that now. However, back then, everyone did it. The trains were also steam, and so we would hang our heads out of the window to see the smoke getting all black in the process! We had to stand for any adult on a bus so they would not have to. Life was different. We were taught to respect our elders.
I couldn’t wait to have a job and earn money. At the age of 14, my friend, Carol Brand and I obtained jobs at Connolly’s in Westcliff. I seem to recall a bed and breakfast, a snack bar, and Mrs. Connolly made THE best flaky fruit pies. I was put in charge of the snack bar, and one day I felt sorry for a lady and made her toasted cheese sandwich with extra cheese. She made a complaint about me! Mrs. Connolly informed me that she wanted to sponsor me and send me to a Hospitality and Restaurant School! I declined but I often think what could have been had I accepted. I had a crush on her older son who was an engineer but a different story! Perhaps she saw that. Of the musing of the young! When I traveled to the United States, Mrs. Connolly wrote the loveliest reference letter on my behalf.
I think that our childhood also determines to some extent the type of play we then have with our children when they are born. My father was the fun person, and we loved his sense of play. I can recall (still do – oops) having throwing contests with paper balls into the garbage can from the kitchen table. We call it the best of three, and see who gets the ball of paper into the garbage the most times. A relative came to stay once, and asked why were we doing it. I responded with ‘because its fun!” I felt so sad that he had never experienced doing something so silly and he was so young. I would sit down on the floor after dinner, their homework completed, and my sons and I would play marbles. Or, we would play floor hockey on a limited basis of course. Board games – always just as we did growing up on Canvey. Scrabble my favorite! Driveway tennis, baseball, berry picking, cooking. All of my sons are great cooks. One of my son’s friends said he would love sleep overs as I would make great breakfasts. That was nice . One time, and after my children had a bout of the flu, we decided to have an indoor picnic to cheer up. I placed a sheet onto the kitchen floor, and we had a picnic just because…
I was taught not to take myself seriously, and I would like to think that my three sons all have a great sense of humor, care for others, and to treat everyone the same. Life is too short.
So, it all makes me ponder on this generation a little. Don’t hate me!! I see the children glued to their computer tablets and phones so how do they socialize, have fun and just be children? Will they grow up to be too serious. Perhaps unhappy? Its saddens me when I hear how colleges have to create safe places for their students because they cant cope. Have they lost their sense of fair play, how to play, how to relax, can they spontaneously create a game just because?