A Broad Expanse Of Tranquil Light: Recollections Of A Jamestown Childhood
“What though the radiance which was once so bright, be now forever taken from my sight, though nothing can bring back the hour, of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower, we shall grieve not, rather find, strength in what remains behind,” said William Wordsworth from Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.
Poet William Wordsworth and novelist Charles Dickens recognized the power of childhood–how it builds who we become, how it radiates through our entire lives. In Great Expectations, Dickens refers to a “broad expanse of tranquil light.” I think that magical light shone on us as children and stays with us in memory. Where we come from is a great part of who we are, one way or another. Childhood may not be ideal, but most people have some good memories of it even if parts of it were less than perfect. There is a radiance to childhood, as Wordsworth says, that illumined our lives and that shines on in our memory.
Growing up in Jamestown in the 50s-70s was a pretty nice thing to do with our safe streets and neighborhoods. So many of us recall not ever worrying about locking doors or being afraid of strangers. We walked to and from school. We played outside until the sun went down. We rode out bikes to the local park. If you ask people, they almost always have their own childhood narrative to tell.
Some of us lived in homes our parents owned, or with grandparents or uncles and aunts; some of us lived in apartments or mobile homes. In any case, the environment became our world. My parents grew up in the 30s with immigrant parents in working class households. They were brave people, polite, well spoken, driven by work and the dream of owning a home and living better. Children explored the neighborhoods and played on streets and in yards nearby.
My sister Vicky Barone spent an idyllic part of her childhood living in a bungalow in Maple Springs. I was nearly grown by then. She recalls, “My friends Beverly Salerno Olson, Jeryl Kelderhouse Hinson, Barbie Sandstrom and I had great times in the late ’60s walking down to Midway Park, sometimes just sitting on the skating rink steps and talking on a summer night. There was the corner store in the other direction. And of course we swam in the lake in summer and ice skated there in winter. Barbie and I also liked to lie in the sun on the rocks by that little creek off Chautauqua Avenue.” We drive up there often, stopping by the creek and down by the lake in several of our favorite spots. It’s still one of the prettiest places in America, I’m convinced.
Pat Treharne grew up in the 1940s right in downtown Jamestown in a large house. Pat says, “We lived on Washington St. between Seventh and Eighth Streets. My mother had a boarding house and tearoom. It was beautiful then, the huge house cream and brown with Doric styled pillars and a portico. On a hot summer day when we were young children, Cindy Johnson, Loretta Anderson and I would set up a card table under a maple tree and play Old Maid … We had boarders who also became my friends. There were people from all walks of life. They came and went, some going to college and some starting new jobs. Being the only child I would get attached to them. My cousin Anna, who was manager of the food bar at Woolworth’s, also stayed with us. After supper the girls and I would play all the new record hits, sing and dance and make chorus lines. On Sundays, we would wear our fine clothes and hats. Then the girls and I would trample up through the park from the foot of Seventh Street to go to mass at Saints Peter and Paul Church at the top of the hill. After mass, we would walk downtown to Eckerd’s to buy sundaes. It was a wonderful time then.”
Lynne Williamson Anderson grew up on Howard Avenue. Her cousin Kay Williamson Dracup was her best friend in childhood, and it seems they are still the best of pals. Kay and her husband recently purchased land on Howard Avenue and are building a new house there, so close to her childhood home. Lynne remembers, “We lived on Howard Avenue in a house my Dad built, the one that has the Christmas train in the lawn now. My cousin Kay lived right behind me. We were more like sisters, always together. My favorite memory was swinging from a swing with a wooden seat and ropes in an old hickory nut tree. We loved it! And when the hickory nuts fell, we would always try to eat them.” Kay added, “We loved that old hickory tree and swing. We used to spend hours collecting hickory nuts and cracking them with little rocks. It was a lot of work for delicious little morsels. The old tree is still standing but is showing her age like the rest of us! Ironically Dave and I are having our empty nest home built just one lot north of that much loved swing and hickory nut tree right now. I often wonder what my parents would say about me moving back to the old neighborhood.”
Far across town near Bush School, Marcia Lundsten Coone lived on Swede hill as did Michelle Lutgen. Marcia remembers, “We walked up hill to the “Rezzy” which was what the kids called the old reservoir in order to play in the park. It was so nice with merry go rounds, swings, and even a picnic pavilion! There was a ski lift too. Oh, the hill was a fun place to grow up,” Marcia said.
Michelle recalls childhood hours spent at the park too. Her memories of childhood are both dark and light. But the Rezzy area on Swede Hill helped her get through a difficult childhood. She recalls, “Poverty and abuse overshadowed many of the joys of childhood for me, but I could always find a bit of happiness at the local parks in Jamestown. The reservoir park was just behind Bush School, and I would play there often. I met new friends and would play for hours. If I was hungry, I only needed to go into the woods and pick some of the wild fruit that grew there. I also believed the woods were a magical place where fairy creatures hid just out of sight as I munched on wild blackberries. It was a haven for wildlife in the middle of the city. I caught insects for science projects and watched deer families roaming in the woods. At Allen Park I spent much of my time looking for crayfish in the water. If I had a dime, I could buy a popsicle at the little snack shop. The teeter totter and the swings were my favorites. I imagined that if I could just go a little higher I could fly away like the butterflies I watched. It gave me hope and strength to face another day.”
My niece Brooke Barone grew up on the Northside of Jamestown and shared some memories here: “Growing up on the Northside of town provided hours of entertainment with its rolling grass hills, school fields and playgrounds. Playgrounds with slides to slide down that once seemed so tall and monkey bars once too high to climb. Our imaginations took us to foreign lands and lives outside our own where we lived as rock stars and performed shows on our front porches. We listened to boy bands as we rode bicycles for blocks until our feet got sore. I drive past the street now that holds so many fond memories and smile. On the Northside you always felt safe, and as the sun would go down and the moon would rise, we each would find our way back to our homes to await tomorrow’s next adventure.”
All the places have changed now though Maple Springs remains much the same. At the Rezzy, wildlife has taken over as have wild flowers. In Jamestown, there are no more formal boarding houses on that block of Washington Street. But Ring School has a nice playground for neighborhood kids still. Though things have changed, people take the best with them in their memory. We can return there in a second. We can look over our shoulder and see the past. Most of all, though, beyond the faces and names, the streets and the places, the smells and sights, we recall the way we felt there.
The radiance of childhood stays with us. A sense of belonging and joy, a joy that permeated days, summers, whole periods of life. Somehow childhood has its own magic no matter the problems that may have troubled our homes. We had hope then, hope that seemed to spring from inside us, hope for a fine life to come. At the same time, we lived in the moment, beautifully and perfectly. Time seemed endless. Days lasted so long. Later in life, we may feel fugitive from such radiance and joy. But we can journey back as we wish. It remains a refuge.
If we could, we would embrace our old friends and thank them for the part they played in our lives. If we sit down and write, we can recall image after image like a reel of film, and if we are lucky, the good ones outshine the rest. We bask in the radiance of memory. It sustains us.