Rittenhouse Park, Silverbook, Newark Delaware.

Yesterday I found myself on Google Earth revisiting Newark, Delaware. I typed in my childhood address, 18 Minquel Drive, Silverbrook and there I was, floating over our old house.

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We moved to Silverbrook when I was two, moved out, to Oaklands, at the beginning of seventh grade. That worked out great for me since most of my West Park Elementary School buddies were going to Central Junior High. But it stunk for my sister. She was beginning her Junior year of High School and was forced to leave her friends of a lifetime.

Mother professed the move was for school districts. However, I don’t buy it. Marilyn had done great at Christiana High. I wasn’t going to do great no matter where I went. I was a lazy student at best. The truth was Mom wanted a fancier home than the little Silverbrook split level.

18 Minquel Drive backed up to Rittenhouse Park. We could walk through our yard, slip into the neighbor’s yard and access the gate into the park. We spent entire days playing there. In this day and age, few mothers would feel safe allowing that.

Summer found us hopping from one moss slick stone to another, criss crossing the Christina River. The dappled sunlight played on the water. Sometimes we were Indians. Others we were tiny people living on a giants head. The tall trees were his hair, fallen leaves his dandruff. No memory of what the creek was. Sweat, perhaps?

We found blacksnakes. We saw but didn’t pick, jack-in-the-pulpits. Lisa McClendon told me plucking those wasn’t legal. Who knows. Sometimes we waded in the shallows grabbing water beetles.

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In the winter we put on our skates, and atop weak ankles, we slid around on ice until our feet were numb. We’d hear the ice crack and realize perhaps we shouldn’t go any closer to the warning sound.

No parent ever came looking for us. We were usually gone all day. No one wondered if we were floating face down in the middle of the river. We weren’t. It was a delicious time and place to be a kid.

The next door neighbor girl, Kathy, was Marilyn’s age. They set up a pulley system with parallel strings wrapping two nails in each of their bedroom windows. They would attach little notes and tug them back and forth over Kathy’s large side yard.

When I was about seven, our family took a cross-country trip to Disneyland. There we were able to ride in small motorized cars. Daddy adored cars. One Sunday afternoon at dinner (dinner was a big meal after church about one in the afternoon, later, about six, supper was something light.) while they were eating real food and I was eating cream cheese with a spoon, Daddy suddenly spoke up.

“Girls, I’ve been thinking of building something for you.” In a monotone, he asked, “Would you like a small playhouse in the backyard?” Then he continued, but his voice was suddenly enthusiastic, “Or a little car? A real car with a motor? You could drive it through the neighborhood! Visit friends! Zoom here and there!”

Naturally, given the zealous introduction, we picked the car. Daddy built it out of wood. A two-seater. The upholstery was a vinyl tablecloth tacked over foam. It had a lawnmower engine. The steering wheel was a baby buggy tire. We pulled a cord to start the motor and pressed a lever to a spark plug to stop it.  I think he painted it the same color blue as my bedroom.  It topped out at about three miles an hour.

We named it The Little Car.

The Little Car was the envy of all the other kids. At first, we drove in the streets until neighbors complained. After that, it was sidewalks only.
Daddy put a hook on the back so we could attach a wagon and give friends rides.

The only spanking I ever got was when I stubbornly refused to let anyone ride in the wagon. My Little Car. My wagon. Get lost. Daddy was furious. My butt was still red at bathtime. When mom saw it, she got quite angry with him. (Curious, she oversaw my baths as if I might drown, but she let us run amok by a river all day, no worries.)

Yesterday I “drove” all around Silverbrook via Google Earth. Rode down Minquel, took a right on Lenape Lane. Paused to look at friends homes. The Hiltons, Catalina’s, Winky somebody’s, Patnovic’s. At the end of Lenape, I turned left and drove out of the ‘hood over to Art Lane and the Tew’s house. I spent a lot of time at the Tews. They had a laundry shoot we could crawl through going from first to the second floor.

Then I turned around and headed back to 18 Minquel Drive. It was a fantastic trip down memory lane.

Mother and Daddy kept The Little Car. When Matthew came along I took him riding all around Oaklands, the neighborhood we had moved to in seventh grade. By then The Little Car was red. Daddy installed a seat belt–one of his old leather belts. If we were gone too long, Daddy would climb into the car and search to make sure we hadn’t broken down.

Later, when we had Mo, the kids would take turns having car rides. By that point, Matt drove with me as the passenger. Mother still had the car after Daddy died. We were living in Chicago. One year she called to ask if she could give it to a friend for their grandkids. My first reaction was, “No way. My Little Car!” (yes, greedy Alice probably deserved another spanking.)

Then I relented. It was just sitting there, unused, front and center in their garage. The Little Car was meant to give magic to kids.

I wonder if she still exists?

I wonder if kids are ever allowed to play freely in Rittenhouse Park these days? I’m so glad I was.

Somewhat related Blog Posts:

Destination Disneyland!

Growing up in a college town was good because…

Going to Church

My Lifelong Love Affair with Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Grove Point Girl Scout Camp and an enema

 

 

Destination Disneyland!

In 1959 our parents rented a travel trailer and our family took off driving across the country from Delaware to California.  The reason? Mother said, “Someday you girls will want to travel to Europe.  You should experience your own country first.”  In the picture below I am holding Gee Pee. Remember her?  GeePee

We spent days in the backseat of our red and black Buick station wagon.  Daddy made a drop leaf table that hung on the back of the front seat.  We could lift it and have a surface on which to color.  Each day we were allowed to purchase one soda. We didn’t call them “soft drinks.”  I had my first Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak near the Grand Canyon.  Marilyn’s favorite was grape. We’d drop the soda bottles off for deposit at the next gas station.

We also read millions of comic books.  I liked Little Lu Lu and Betty and Veronica.  Marilyn was into Mad Magazine.

Each day at lunchtime we stopped, climbed in the trailer and had lunch.  Cream cheese on white bread for me.  I have no idea what they ate. There were mosquitos, ants, insects of all shapes and stripes.     Mother often wanted to picnic outside. Daddy refused. Eating outside wasn’t his thing. There were mosquitos, ants, and bugs of all shapes and stripes,  In Kansas, the flies were big, buzzy and aggressive.

Daddy wired our toy pink plastic Princess phones from the trailer to the front seat of the car.  We were sometimes allowed to ride back there because we could easily communicate if we needed anything.  Illegal?  Yes.  But I’m sure my parents got sick of our constant chatter.  Marilyn and I had this silly sing-song ditty we would repeat over and over ad nauseum.  First, in sad slow voices we’d chant, “School boo boo hoo!” followed by an upbeat squealing, “Flower!  Ha ha ha ha.  Ha ha ha ha.”  Can you imagine how fed up they got of hearing that for hours on end?

In those days cars weren’t air-conditioned.  My parents were advised to drive the Mohave Desert at night.  Marilyn and I were in the trailer the night we crossed.  I was sleeping in the upper bunk overhanging the station wagon.  I recall rolling myself into a small ball in an attempt to warm up.  I tried calling from the pink phone, hoping they would pull over and find me an extra blanket.  Theirs must have been off the hook.

Whenever my parents saw an Airstream, their dream trailer, they would yell “AIRSTREAM!” and we’d all peer out the windows.

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Each night we’d be a different trailer park.  Daddy had special language he used when hooking up the sewer, electricity, and water.  We called it, “Under the trailer talk.” Those were the only times we heard Daddy curse.  When there were no electrical hookups we lit gas mantle wall fixtures.

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Some of the experiences we had traveling from East to West and back again:

Our first view of the Rocky Mountains.  It was astonishing to see that majestic mountain range rise up before us.

When we were finally on the peaks we stopped and made summer snowballs.

Watching fluffy black bears raid trash cans in Yellowstone Park.  They looked cute and playful and it was tempting to approach them.  While in Yellowstone we bumped into Newark neighbors and friends, the Browns. We had not known they were going west that same summer.

The cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and seeing Esther, the 1500-year-old mummy.

Hearst Castle at San Simeon.  The views, the opulence.  In every room, our guide shared amazing stories of astonishing wealth.

Floating in the Great Salt Lake.  I got a terrible sunburn that day.  Marilyn reminded me how floating in the lake caused stinging in places you really don’t want to sting.

The brilliant neon-lit Las Vegas Strip.  We were too young to go into the casinos.  Mother and Daddy gambled at slot machines we could see with our noses pressed against the windows.  They would bring their winnings to us, we’d drop them into Mother’s red plaid fabric eyeglass case.  They were doing well,  the case was heavy with change when Daddy came out, took it and promptly lost all their winnings.  That experience cured me for life of any desire to gamble.

But for Marilyn and me the real goal, the point of the trip, lay at end of those 3,000 miles. Disneyland!  We set up camp in a trailer court near enough to see the Matterhorn from our little plot of California soil.

I just emailed my sister and asked how she remembered our Disneyland experience.   Her reply echoes my memories.

“Walking into Disneyland was magic. Main Street USA was another world, with Cinderella’s castle right there at the end.
We had seen the construction of Disneyland on TV, probably on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Actually being there was a dream come true.

For kids from Delaware, making it to California was sort of unbelievable. Among other things, this was the home of the Mouseketeers!
I remember we had to “drive the desert” at night so the car wouldn’t overheat. Somewhere in the Magic Kingdom Daddy laid down on a small patch of grass and fell asleep.

Memories include the Matterhorn , the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, and the spinning teacups. It was one of the best days of our whole childhood.”

We went again four years later. It was still wonderful, but nothing matches the magical first-time experience.

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