Remember When: “Summer Daze”

My favorite season was summer, of course. I have most of my happiest memories when I think of that season of long days, short nights and days full of adventure and play.  It seemed like you couldn’t ask for a greater place to grow up than our neighborhood, in the summer. Everything we needed was right within walking distance.

Rockefeller Park it was one of Cleveland’s gems. Beautifully kept and manicured with Cultural Gardens to let your imagination run wild with. The creek was there to enjoy and play in. You could explore the woods like the Indians did in the past. It was your great get away, a place to escape from your home, family, or even yourself. There was no finer evening entertainment then watching the softball leagues play on the Ginny Hill Diamond. You could watch all those aspiring neighbors be baseball stars.  You could rout for you favorite tavern team (mine was the Lucky Leaf Tavern) and watch great amateur teams play. It was our neighborhood series. If you were lucky you could have enough change to buy a coke and small bag of chips and that made the night even more enjoyable. Baseball, ice cold coke (in bottles) and a bag of fresh chips; how much better could life get? The games went on until it was almost too dark to play. You met your friends there and so did the neighbors. There were also games to watch at Gordon Park (under the lights) and don’t forget Gradina Park too.

The Cleveland Aquarium was an interesting place to visit, it was supposed to be an educational experience, but it was just a great place to visit and imagine what it would be like to live life as a fish. Somehow when you went to the Aquarium you stayed for a long time. It was never meant to be a short visit so I guess because you had to pay an admission fee, you had to stay long enough to get your money’s worth. You spent more time at the gift shop then in front of the fish tanks.

The neighborhood playgrounds also offered places to play and Sowinski School had a great playground. Swings, “teeter totters” and monkey bars, slides, basketball courts and baseball diamonds. During the summer City Summer Employees called “Coaches” or “Teaches” staffed the playgrounds. They were college students that the city hired to work the Recreation Centers and Parks during summer. To us they were role models, smart older kids who taught us how to improve our sporting skills and tried to keep us in line so we would not misbehave too badly.  They also held craft and hobby classes indoors inside some of the classrooms in the basement of the school. Sowinski had one of the biggest sand boxes in Ohio and we played the card games “Muggins” and a game with a jack knife that we flip into the sand off our hands, elbows or knees. Now that was living dangerously. 

When the schoolyard closed we went home ate supper then usually went over someone’s house to sit on the front porch, Some other things we did involved baseball cards. Everyone collected them. Everyone traded them and everyone pitched them on front porches. We all had our share of cavities from chewing all that bubble gum that we had to buy to get those cards. Someone has to keep all the neighborhood dentists in business. Somewhere I still have my treasured baseball card of Rocky Colavito from the Cleveland Indians.

When it came to summer swimming we had Lake Erie, or you could go to Petri Pool, which was one of the city’s outdoor pools. Petri Pool was quite a walk from 79th Street down to 33rd or 32nd street. We mostly rode the bus to get there and stayed the entire afternoon. It was outdoors and the water was clean and refreshing on a hot summer day.  Swimming made you hungry so if the pangs got too bad you could spend your bus fare home and buy pop, chips or other junk food to satisfy your hunger. Then you made that long walk home. Lucky for us, if we planned it right we would walk home down Superior Ave and look for my Dad driving home and flagged him down for a free ride. This was a true example hot to “have your cake and eat it too”. 

Evenings were for sitting on front porches, catching lightening bugs, playing “hide n seek”, or waiting to hear the music of the Mr. Softee Ice Cream Truck!  When that music played everyone knew he would be on your street in a matter of minutes. The begging for money began at the first hearing of the chiming music. A frozen whipped concoction made for a perfect evening while sitting on your front porch with family, neighbors and friends. Life was simple and we were happy. I wish sometimes I could go back.