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June 13, 2021 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in batavia, nostaglia, history, news.

My life in the teen years growing up in Batavia in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a mix of trying to please my parents and teachers while also attempting to be more independent. Of course, this is true of young teens pretty much anywhere at any time.

My friends and what they thought and did became all-consuming it seemed.

When I was 10 and going into the fifth grade, we moved from the Thomas/Ellicott Avenue area across town to North Spruce Street. After some begging and whining (and maybe some fake crying) my parents agreed to let me continue at St. Mary's School on Woodrow Road, even though it would involve solving some transportation issues.

Most of my friends still lived on the west side of town and at first, I didn't see as much of them except during school.

The exception was Charlie, my partner in shenanigans, whose parents built a big house on East Avenue. Their basement was so big at one time they considered putting a bowling alley down there. They also installed a fountain in their front yard, which featured spraying water that changed colors. Older teens used to park in front and make out until the police shooed them away.

So, Charlie was right down the street and then as we got more toward 12 or 13 years old my friends' and my parents allowed us further range on our bikes and the gang was back together again.

A huge kid advantage to living on North Spruce was having lots more outdoor room to play and horse around. At that time, we were the last house on the northeast side of the street. North Street ended at our corner. All around us were woods, which today is the Narramore and Allanview Drive area.

Charlie vs. Dave

We had a big back yard and Charlie and I would spend hours out there playing whiffle ball. He was the New York Yankees and I was the Milwaukee Braves. We'd designate certain areas for singles, doubles, triples and home runs and we'd play entire nine-inning games, even to the point of writing down lineups and batting orders.

We had some epic games and even a couple fights because Charlie was not a good loser.

In 1957 the Braves won the World Series and I got to lord that over Charlie, for a year at least. Back then the games were in the afternoon and one day, to my immense surprise and everlasting admiration, my mom let me be “sick” and stay home from school to watch the game on TV (in black and white of course)

The Braves moved to Atlanta in the '60s and I've not had a favorite baseball team since.

A number of years ago I started collecting 1957 Milwaukee Braves memorabilia and I now possess all the Topps baseball cards from that team as well as signed baseballs from the four Hall of Famers who played for them that year: Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Red Schoendienst.

Into the Woods

Our house became a popular gathering spot with my friends because what kid doesn't want a woods to mess around in? Especially in the summer, we'd spend a lot of time out there. We'd play chase and someone had built an awesome tree house and we'd actually have “wars” where we threw rocks at each other. My friend Ray got clonked in the head one time and as my mother bandaged him up her comment was, “You guys already have rocks in your head.”

Another nutty thing we'd do is light fires in the dry grass and then put them out just before they got too big. Anything for excitement, I guess. One time though we came home to find fire trucks out there. A kid down the street had started a fire, but it spread too fast and he panicked and ran away. Neighbors spotted the smoke. He got caught of course and his dad may or may not have lit a fire on his behind.

Fort Reilly

Right on the edge of the woods and our property we built a “fort."

Constructed of an old piece of plywood, some 2x4s, and a bunch of old sheets and bedspreads, it was place to hang out and sneak cigarettes.

Most of our parents smoked like chimneys, but it was "Do as I say, not as I do.”

We used to play poker for smokes, but most of the time the cigs we gambled with were ones we pilfered from our parents.

As we got a little older our parents agreed to let us occasionally “sleep out” in the fort. Of course, very little sleeping took place.

I was especially bad about being able to nod off. Usually, what happened was it would start to get light and I'd sneak off to the house and go to bed. My friends would wake up, see I was gone and just get on their bikes and go home. I deservedly took a lot of mocking over that.

A really bad incident that happened out there involved my younger brother Dan. I had already gone into the house (again) and was sound asleep.

Apparently, when the other guys woke up, they decided to start a fire in a pit we had dug. They couldn't get it going so little brother went in the garage to get some gas.

You can predict what happened next: the gas caught fire as he poured it and in trying to jump away, it spread to his face.

I woke up to screaming. I ran to the kitchen along with my parents and there was Dan with his head in the sink splashing cold water on his face.

My father, dressed in his nighttime attire of tank top undershirt and boxers, tried to go get dressed, but my mother literally pushed him out the door to go to the hospital. He was lucky to get his pants on.

Fortunately, although he was in pain for a few weeks and had some nasty looking scabs, Dan recovered fully with little or no scarring.

Our fort was decommissioned by General Mom Reilly and we had to find somewhere else to hide out.

Tanks for the Memories

One of the things we used to do on our overnight “fort” escapades was go wander around the streets.

We weren't really doing anything bad like vandalism, but rather just looking for some excitement. For example, if we saw car headlights coming at 1 in the morning, more than likely it was a police car on patrol. So, we'd dive into the bushes like we had escaped from prison. If it turned out not to be the cops, we were disappointed because it just wasn't as thrilling.

At some point on one of these ventures we ended up on State Street by the National Guard Armory. Sitting there next to the building was a genuine military tank. It was not a World War II leftover like you would see in front of a V.F.W. or American Legion. I'm pretty sure it was a real working tank that they must have used for training purposes.

The unbelievable thing was that they left the tank unsecured.

We would climb up, open the hatch and go inside. We would look through the slit visors and I seem to recall a periscope we would play with. Hopefully, the guns weren't loaded or operational because I don't even want to think how that could have ended.

This was at the height of the “Cold War” so it seems odd that the National Guard wasn't concerned that some “Commies” might take the tank and topple the Upton Monument or something.

Today, there is a fence around the Armory and most likely lots of security cameras to identify any surreptitious anarchist types who might be up to no good. Not to mention goofy teenagers.

What put an end to these early teen hijinks? Three things: summer jobs, getting driving permits, and interest in girls. You can't really leave work at the hot dog stand at 2 a.m. and head over to climb around on an Army tank.

But teenage mistakes kept getting made.

On my very first real date with a girl I took her to see Alfred Hitchcock's “The Birds,” one of the scariest movies ever. I think it was a coincidence, but soon after that she moved out of state.

I guess it's a good thing to grow up and mature (although some never do). But those teen years certainly provided me with some good stories to tell when I got old.

April 4, 2021 - 8:00am
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in batavia, history, nostaglia, news.

Recently, we were all vaccinated against coronavirus and off to finally visit our grandchildren. How wonderful to finally see them in person. On our first night together, we were talking about what they were doing to have fun.

The conversation turned into what we did for fun at their age. 

A typical day in the '60s would be playing kickball with our homemade bases and arguing about who was out. In the afternoon, we would go to the end of our street, where there was a swampy area, and we would try to float on our makeshift raft.

At night we sleep outside in a tent or at a neighbor's house on their back porch. We actually caught fireflies and put them in a jar.

We would ride bikes when the park was open and spend afternoons at the community "New Pool." We would go over to our neighbor's for her Kool-Aid popsicles.

The highlight of the summer would be a block party. If you notice, none of these activities cost any money, just our imagination and the participation of neighborhood kids. I guess you could call those our playdates.

If we fought with a neighbor kid, which happened often, the moms and dads never got involved. It was a life skill to learn how to get along.  

The other part of growing up, and the most important part, was your family. My memories are going to church and being separated from my brother, so we didn't fight in church. As we entered the pew, our dad would give us a tiny pinch just to remind us to behave in church.

We were usually late because getting eight family members ready for church was an event.   

We took a memorable trip to Florida when I was in fifth grade in our station wagon. My parents in the front, with my youngest brother in the middle, I was in the middle seat with my grandmother, and my other two brothers were in the backward seat. My sisters were too little to travel.

The trip only took four days to get to Florida. It included bathroom stops about every hour. It was like one of those movies about a crazy vacation adventure.  

Family holidays were so important with grandma, all the aunts, uncles and cousins with a food table that would feed 100!  

So now that I'm in my 70s, my memories seem to mean more to me. When I'm with my siblings, we love to talk about growing up and sharing our stories.  

One Christmas, when we were over at mom and dad's, and our children were running around, our mom gave us each a photo album filled with pictures of each of us growing up. I can't express how much those albums meant to all of us. She captured our childhood with photos and her love.  

Now I've turned into my parents -- telling my grandchildren what it was like when I was growing up.

My dad's favorite story to tell was about how he had to walk miles to school and home for lunch in all weather conditions. We live in the house he grew up in, and walking from our house to Ross Street wasn't that far, but he sure loved to tell that story, and we never got tired of listening to it.

Growing up in the '60s, a tablet was something we wrote on, a screen was on a black-and-white TV, and our phone was attached to the wall.

If you were lucky and had a Kodak Instamatic camera, it would have a little tower on it where you would put a flashcube to take a picture. It would take a week for the photos to develop.

So, I have lived through my childhood of the '60s, our daughters' in the '80s, and our grandchildren's in the 2000s.

I hope they have memories that they will cherish growing up during their time and the same for my grandchildren.

Yes, times have and will always change, but I hope everyone can still hold on to those memories of growing up.

I think we baby boomers have the best memories!

If you are fortunate to have your parents, ask them to tell their story, write it down or tape it. You will never regret their memories.

Always feel free to share your memories with me.

Photos of the Peca family, courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz (née Anne Marie Peca).

Top, Anne Marie with her dad and two of her brothers - and two cameras!

Below, the nuclear Peca family all dressed up.

Bottom, the extended Peca clan, each member looking sharp.

May 10, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by Billie Owens in nostaglia, batavia, news, 1960s.

Story and photos courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz.

In touring the Holland Land Office Museum a visitor can be taken back to the time when Joseph Ellicott surveyed the land with the help of our Native Americans. They can imagine what it was like to cook on the hearth of a fireplace.

The numerous artifacts illustrate our early history. Every decade has its own memories and artifacts. Fast forwarding to the 1960s, people in their 60s might have shared some of these childhood memories with their children.

It always seems an exaggeration, the “hardships” our parents endured, until parents in their 60s are telling similar stories to their children.

In the ‘60s, your summer would include playing outside. What that really meant was you would create your own fun and the word “bored” was not part of your vocabulary.

Children still love to play kickball today, but kickball in the ‘60s was a game that could be played for hours. Where it was played was quite an adventure. If your front yard was big enough, that was where the bases would be put. The bases would be very creative depending on what you could find for the day.

Sandlot baseball games could be found in almost any vacant lot.

If you had a piece of cardboard from Max Pies Furniture Store you could be seen sliding down the side of the South Jackson Street overpass.

Other games included hopscotch and 7UP (not the game played in school today but one that involved a ball and a slanted roof). The players had to catch, bounce, and throw a ball in seven different ways. The one who completed the seven steps was the winner.

Rollerblades were unheard of but roller skates with ball bearings were the skates to own.

The skater needed to have a pair of shoes that had leather soles.

The skates were clamped on the shoes with a skate key.

They were quite heavy but if you were lucky enough to have a pair you learned how to maneuver them.

Misplacing the key was the biggest problem with these skates, so the skater would wear the key on a string around his or her neck.

If it was hot out, which seemed to be almost every day, a sprinkler was set up and you would run through it. There was a rope swing over the Tonawanda Creek for the daring swimmers at Kibbe Park.

Many children frequented the two wading pools in the city. In the winter the wading pools were transformed into ice rinks.

Young people also could ice-skate on the tennis courts at MacArthur Park with music playing and hot chocolate to warm them up.

On any given winter day there would be a line of children waiting to slide down the State Street Hill, today known as Centennial Park.

Backyard pools were very rare, but there was the Community Pool or as it was called by kids of the ‘60s, the New Pool. Most of the young people were very coordinated, probably because everything they did was outside, running, walking, hopping, riding a bike.

There were many versions of playing tag and there was a game called Spud (Scroll down the link's list of 30 classic children's games to find Spud).

There was also the saying that “when the street lights come on, you are to come home.”

A highlight of the summer was the Parks Program. A young person would be waiting at the park for the park supervisor to open the door to the day’s activity.

When a child would bring home a plaster of paris mold of "The Last Supper," the mom would say how much she loved it and would wonder what she was going to do with another mold from the park. It weighed a few pounds and was painted in multicolors and had a little hook attached to the back to hang it. Somehow next summer "The Last Supper” would be gone but another plaster of paris craft would soon be brought home to be admired by the parents.

Many dads were proud owners of rattlesnake ashtrays.

There were many activities that involved movement. There was the (pre-skateboard era) bongo board, a pogo stick, and tetherball (plus, jump rope and hand-clapping games*). Youngsters could also play baseball, ride bicycles or just plain walk.

Parks would play other parks in baseball and started preparing for the annual Parks Parade on the first day the parks opened.

One year the theme was "I Never Saw a Thing Like that!" Farrall Park created a "Zelepea," which had the head of an elephant, body of a zebra, and the tail of a peacock. The head moved and water squirted out of the nose.

Every park entered a float, scrapbook and crafts to be judged on the final day of the parks program.

One could not list all of the technology the young people today have at their disposal. In the ‘60s you were lucky if you had a transistor radio and a high fidelity stereo (Hi-Fi) to play your 45-RPM records on.

Popular music included The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Franki Valli & the Four Seasons to only name a few.

As far as a telephone, the phone was attached to the wall and if you were lucky it had a long cord you could stretch to another room or a closet for a little privacy.

Today a child learns at an early age, not only the rules of a fire drill, but how to react to an active shooter or a bomb threat.

People in their 60s remember the bomb drills that included hiding under their desks with their arms over their heads.

Young people today will someday have to share with their children what it was like to live in their decade. One cannot imagine using the story the people in their 60s heard when they were young -- “I had to walk to and from school in blizzards, rainstorms and extreme heat uphill both ways.”

Today, there is still the Parks Program. It has changed but then everything changes over time. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 there will not be a parks program this year.

These are only a few memories of growing up in the 1960s, unforgettable to those who lived them.

*(Watch an updated epic patty-cake demo.).

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