When the streetlights go on -- 09/01/10

Sarah commented on my entry yesterday about summer vacation movies to expand on my saying "free range kids" by recalling her youth when the command was to come home when the street lights came on.

Oh, yeah, the same thing was true in my neighborhood.

Actually, there were three rules in my neighborhood regarding coming home.
  • When out playing on a weekday morning in the summer: come home for lunch when the noon whistle blows.
  • When out playing in the afternoon (in the summertime or after school): come home when the whistle blows. But I can't remember the time for that whistle -- probably 4:30 or 5:00 (Charlie, do you remember?)-- this was a very blue collar neighborhood and dinner was on just about every table in the neighborhood sometime between 5:00 and 5:30.
  • When out playing after dinner: come home when the streetlights come on. Yes, this meant that once daylight savings time ended, you probably did not get to go outside after dinner until you were close to being a teenager or it was a special occasion such as Halloween. (After all, you might be told, "It's too dark to do anything.") Our ability to roam freely seemed to be restricted to daylight hours.
Louie Naccarato lived two doors up the street from me. Mikey Amato lived on the corner of Abruyn and Grove, diagonally across the street from Louie. We were playmates dating back to the days when our mothers would put us in strollers or carriages and let us crawl around on the lawn together, so by the time we started school, we had been hanging out together for five years. Mikey and Louie, as with a lot of the kids in the neighborhood, attended St. Mary's Elementary School, while I went to the public school, Number Four. (Note: in places like New York City they always abbreviated Public School to P.S. for their numbered schools; thus my school would have been P.S. 4, but in Kingston it was "Where do you go to school?" "Number Four.") These days all of the schools seemed to be named. (When they were building a replacement for Number Four, they were supposed to name it the VanValkenberg School to honor "Mr. Van" who had been principal of Number Four for about a gazillion years -- seriously, he was there for more than forty years -- but the school was being built in 1963 and the school board -- without consulting anyone in the neighborhood -- decided that it had to be named the John F. Kennedy School, one of about five million Kennedy Schools.)

I can remember when I would have to ask my mother to watch me cross the street so than I could go over to play at Mikey's house. There was not a lot of traffic on our street -- not every household had a car (we didn't) and those that did only had one -- but there was truck traffic to and from the oil and gas storage facility along the banks of the Rondout Creek. If you look at this Google satellite view (same one I had also linked to above) you will see my house with an A pointing at it. Abruyn Street was relatively level until it reached Grove Street and then it dropped steeply down to East Strand (which everyone called "The Strand"). Millen's Junkyard was there when I was a kid too (except today they call themselves Millen's Recycling) and the oil and gas storage tanks are still there as well. When I was a kid there was a freight railroad line running between the oil tanks and the junkyard, but that may have been ripped up since then. If you read my "Five for Five" entry last year -- the part titled "What scared you most when you were 5?" It was Millen's scrap yard area where I had wandered.

And if you look up Abruyn Street, another block after Grove, that's East Union Street... and in that block to the right, in the middle of the block on the north side of the street is Bigando's Market that I wrote about a few years ago.

Once I was finished with kindergarten -- which had meant walking several blocks to and from school everyday -- there was no parental objection to covering the same territory on my own. This meant the entire neighborhood was mine to roam. As I got older -- say seven or eight -- that included the woods behind Number Four -- and then, as we got older and bolder, the woods at the northern end of the neighborhood (which included caves and abandoned stone quarries and surface mining areas for sand and clay and such for cement and brick manufacturing -- but I'm sure our parents believed we had enough sense to stay away from such areas... after all, they probably cautioned us and we probably assured them that we wouldn't go there) and then the woods and wetlands between our neighborhood and the confluence of the Rondout Creek and the Hudson River. I don't think I could count the number of forts and tree-houses and hideouts and such that we built over the years.

As long as we came home when the streetlights came on...

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