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The Good Old Days: We can still experience childhood joy as an adult

It was September 1959.

Television programs included “Rawhide,” “Bonanza” and “The Twilight Zone.” The yearly inflation rate in the United States was 1.01%. NASA introduced America’s first astronauts to the world, including John H. Glenn Jr., and launched its first weather station in space.

Can you believe it? The price of a gallon of gas was 25 cents.

In 1959, I was in first grade attending Fields Memorial School in Bozrah. I had been home for six years with my Italian mother helping her make her famous tomato sauce, but mostly, I played on the floor with my dog Sam.

On the first day of school, I remember standing outside my classroom with my mother holding my hand tight. My mother was afraid to let me go. She was Sicilian and could predict things before they happened.

I could see inside the classroom and all the little girls that looked like me wearing bright, plaid dresses and their hair in a ponytail. Like the colored paper chains my sister brings home every Christmas that inevitably fall apart, I pulled myself away from my mother’s hand as easily as if we were connected by a string of thin paper chains.

Now separated by two different worlds, I stood inside the classroom and blew my mother a kiss goodbye, as she stood against the brick wall weeping. And even though I felt the pain of leaving my mother, I closed my eyes and saw her no more. For this was my alpha, my beginning, my first dawn.

“Don’t worry Mama,” I whispered. “I will be a good girl for you and Daddy.”

I never saw such a magical place as Fields Memorial School. The playground had swings and seesaws and slides that seemed to touch the sky. In the back of the school there were trees and large spaces of grass which created the perfect place for kickball games and of course, freeze tag.

At recess, we would take a crooked spoon and dig in the dirt hollowing out a little hole to play marbles. We spent endless hours playing the Farmer in the Dell, London Bridge and Three Blind Mice.

At my desk, I folded my hands and observed the beautiful pictures taped to the wall. I especially liked the one of a smiling farmer sitting on top of a red tractor with a barefoot boy chewing on a piece of grass in an enormous field of grazing cows. The walls had tall sunny windows with shelves displaying rows of books that my sister would love. In each corner, wooden apple boxes contained Lincoln Logs, dominoes, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, checkers, jacks and my all-time favorite: paper dolls.

Upon the linoleum floor was a long green rug revealing a happy town painted with trees, mountains, rivers and a train with a red caboose. Comic books sat patiently on the shelves waiting for children to learn how to read. I recognized Casper the Friendly Ghost, Hot Stuff the Little Devil, Little Lulu and Little Lotta.

Out of everything that was bright and beautiful, the best part was the enormous clock hanging high above the teacher’s desk with the smiling face of everyone’s favorite television farmer … Captain Kangaroo.

In time, I discovered when it snowed, we could bring our sleds to school. I spent many happy hours sliding down the hill during recess, which appears so small today. Our bus driver Mr. Lashinski would allow us to bring sleds on the bus.

Before I entered school, I already knew all the magical places on Fitchville Road due to my big sister Janice. Together, we explored Clyde’s Woods, Beebe’s Fields and Gus’s Pond. We discovered beautiful clear, blue ponds and sun-drenched meadows, where the jack-in-the-pulpits, lady’s slippers, and water lilies grow in abundance. We giggled as we waded in the brook because the rainbow trout would swim circles around our bare feet.

It was a wonderful time to be a child.

There were no after-school-activities we had to frantically run to attend. We had no pressing future ambitions and happily lived in the now, never once discussing scholarships, or how someday we would have to pay for some imaginary place called college. We had no doctor’s appointments, no daycare and no indifferent babysitters who might ignore us while talking on the telephone.

It was just the two of us happily residing in a world the male culture had stamped and approved.

It’s no argument that the greatest blessing bestowed upon this era was how children played. After school, rain or shine, we played outside in the fresh air until the onset of dusk. We returned home with peaceful minds, our thoughts moving freely through a vast open space, free from clutter, ready to create tomorrow.

In contrast, the technological children of the future will never know such peace. They will end each day with overstimulated minds and nonsense information that will make it difficult to differentiate between the truth and a lie.

Fields Memorial School had dedicated lunch ladies who always made cherry cobbler for the students. We used to watch little shows on the stage in back of the cafeteria and have our Brownie and Girl Scout meetings there. Mrs. Booth was the school’s loving secretary. She welcomed you with a piece of butterscotch candy and a smile that made you feel special.

I remember the days we practiced how to “duck and cover” underneath our desks just in case Russia decided to drop a bomb in our lap. Over and over, we watched a film in the gym where Bert the Turtle would warn children to duck and cover.

After the cartoon, a stern and serious man would appear and warn us further. As children, we never took the film seriously. We would giggle and joke in the semi-darkness, as if somehow knowing the concerns of adults would never destroy our world, our world of secrets, our world of play — our magical world!

Our days were filled with beautiful times and sad times. But no matter what, a secret joy remained in our hearts that only children can understand.

Norwich Free Academy

Like a poem following a sequence of events, the Norwich Free Academy held our future hopes and dreams. We did not know when we left grade eight, we would go from the top of the pecking order to a lowly freshman demoted to the term: Greasy.

It was a time of innocence and respect for a higher authority. Mr. Pavey rewarded the good and punished the bad. Bus drivers held the utmost respect of all. Mr. Lashinski was my bus driver from grade one, through all four years at NFA. I remember one day, my friend Jodi being disrespectful on the bus, and even though we were miles away from his house, Mr. Lashinski opened the bus door and quietly announced, “Jodi, get out and walk.”

Without so much as a peep, Jodi left the bus, the door closed and no one said a word. Different times indeed.

None of us had a perfect childhood. We tried to remember the best and leave the rest behind. As children of Bozrah we lived in a beautiful town with fields and streams and summer nights with a sky filled with bright twinkling stars. We went to a good school with good teachers and graduated with a degree.

We were lucky. Childhood is a precious time, and even though no one ever finds the way back, we hold our childhood joy in our hearts. This joy can still be found today, and perhaps, this is the secret to being happy as an adult. To remember what gave you joy as a child, and try to replicate the same experiences today.

I am sure you will find the simple pleasures in life are the key to happiness.”

Concetta Falcone-Codding is a graduate of the Norwich Free Academy class of 1971. Excerpts from this essay were taken from her book, “The Lonely Nest.” You can contact her at: sarah_falcone@yahoo.com.

 

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