The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Summer Vacation in the “Good Old Days”

on June 14, 2016

Well, here it is, time for me to write and I don’t have anything new to say.  I have hashed over my concerns, beliefs, and new ideas often enough and recently enough to bore readers to tears. There is nothing new in public education, and I don’t write about charter schools unless they are being closed down.  In Oregon, at least, school is over for the summer with nothing new in sight. So, what if I meander for a while about the summer vacations I had in Newark New Jersey as a child?

The “summer vacation” was what July and August were called when I was a kid. And it was just that. School didn’t close until the last days of June, but after that we were truly free. Maybe a few chores around the house, but the rest of the time we made our own choices. Roaming the neighborhood on our bikes was the first choice,  pick-up games of softball or soccer came second, and the third was  joining in summer activities at our local elementary school. I remember taking a weaving class where we made placemats by weaving colored twine on a wooden frame.  The city swimming pools were also open every day and free to children, even the one in nearby Olympic Park until 1 P.M.  So were the public libraries.  At Arts HIgh School dowtown there were free art classes and at the Newark Museum there were activities that led to a dramatic performance.  For a nickel a ride we could take a bus to places too far away to bike to

During the time of World War II most families had Victory Gardens. We kids watered the plants, weeded the gardens and then picked the ripe vegetables. We also took over the fire hoses some of our fathers had as community watchmen to use for water fights. The hoses were connected to tall, closed water buckets rather than faucets, so we had to fill those buckets with water and someone had to keep pumping to make the hoses work. Once, when I was the pumper, I kept my eyes closed while pumping away hard. I didn’t realize until I was out of water that the other kids had aimed the hose at me the whole time.

Another thing most of us did was to collect old newspapers, rubber and metal we could turn in at a local gas station as part of the recycling movement. I would go from door to door on our streetand collect whatever our neighbors had to give. We were paid ten cents a pound and the same amount for used kitchen oil and fat at the local grocery store.

In the evenings we kept the lights low in our houses and the window shades down.  It was the job of the watchmen to walk around the neighborhood and make sure all the houses were relatively dark. We kids sat in the living room with our parents and listened to the radio.  Of course there was news about was going on at the  war front, but there were also music, mystery, action, and comedy shows.

With all those things going on I still found plenty of time to read, especially on hot afternoons. We had plenty of books at home.  When I was quite young my parents had bought a set of children’s books from a door-to- door salesman named “Journeys Through Bookland”. The set had ten books, the first one with poems and fairy tales, and the later ones with pieces of literature  and non fiction.  We also had a full set of “The Book of Knowledge” that my grandfather had given us. Finally, there was some adult literature that I sampled as I grew older. I remember specifically a collection of short stories by Guy de Mau Passant and the modern novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

As you might suspect those summer vacations went quickly and happily. Our schools didn’t give us any assignments to do over the summer or expect anything new from us when school began in the fall beyond writing  an essay on “My Summer Vacation”.  And there was no required summer school for those who hadn’t done well during the school year.  Still most of us learned a lot by exploring the world around us and living through personal experiences that couldn’t be taught at school.


2 responses to “Summer Vacation in the “Good Old Days”

  1. Ann Berlak says:

    Joanne, where did you live? I lived near St. Louis. Your summers seemed a lot like mine. AND I still have my “Journies through Bookland on my book shelf.” I have nine and the “guide.” One may be missing. Did you get up very early at first light, the only cool time of the day, and meet a good friend for a bike ride? I did. Thanks for bringing back memories.


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