I don’t remember ever being shy around people. I really couldn’t afford to be. I was the third child in a family of four. Just 4 and a half years separated my oldest sister and my youngest brother. When my mother became pregnant with me, she and my dad were renting an apartment in Los Angeles that was tiny even before my older sister arrived 9 months after their marriage, followed by my brother just a year later. It was clear they needed more room so they joined the millions of other young families taking advantage of the GI Bill and purchased a modest 4 bedroom tract home in the San Fernando Valley. All the houses in our tract had 3-4 bedrooms and most of those bedrooms were filled with other kids.
On any given afternoon and pretty much all day Saturday and Sunday, the streets of our neighborhood were filled with children. There was not any where near the amount of organized activities then as when my own children grew up, still we had no trouble finding sundry ways to pass the time. Our neighborhoods were safe and our parents trusted us to pretty much determine our own schedules when we were out of school, just so we were home in time for dinner. We rode our bikes, played hide and seek, had impromptu sessions of dodgeball or Red Rover, built forts and, on the rare occasion when the weather wasn’t favorable to be outdoors, we gathered at each others homes for a game of Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, or checkers.
Probably my favorite neighborhood pastime in those formative years was baseball, though our version of it bore only a negligible resemblance to the actual game. The size of the teams varied depending on how many kids were interested and available to play on any given day. We sprayed painted the four bases on the cul-de-sac in front of our house. So it was a narrow elongated diamond with only perhaps 30 feet between each, with home plate and second base located smack dab in the middle of the street. The outfield spread beyond the curbs to the front yards of several homes and so, if a ball was hit especially well, the result could be an abrupt end to the game. Fortunately, we rarely used a regulation ball so broken windows were kept to a minimum. Instead we would use a deflated rubber or plastic ball that were readily available in every supermarket and drugstore.
My experiences growing up in this close knit neighborhood full of children both younger and older than I taught me a lot about getting along and fitting into with a diverse population. Most of the time I was the only girl lining up as captains (usually the oldest boys) alternately picked the players for the day’s game. At first I was disappointed to be selected last but that only made me work harder and eventually my status and my game improved. I learned to be comfortable in my own skin and to get my chores or homework done early so I could get out and join the others. And perhaps most importantly, I learned the value of fresh air and exercise. I am confident that my early days in the suburbs were critical in helping me to become a well rounded adult.
The neighborhood, that meant so much to me as a young child, was getting pretty rough around the edges in the summer before my sister was to start high school. So my parents moved our family to a new, larger 5 bedroom house in a new larger housing tract twenty miles north in what was then called Saugus. Eventually I lost touch with my former friends. But the skills I learned early on the cul de sac helped me to make new friends, many with whom I still communicate with and occasionally visit almost 50 years later.