By Sue Moynagh
I love the change of seasons in New England, each season having its own special characteristics and activities that keeps life here interesting. I love winter! Yes, I even love snow and the bitter cold winds that numb your face and bring tears to your eyes as you slip and slide over the streets of Worcester. Growing up in my neighborhood, Union Hill, winter weather brought changes to our daily routine, but it was fun. Whether inside or outside, children of my generation knew how to keep themselves busy through the winter chill.
I can’t help but notice that there are fewer children enjoying the great outdoors these past winters. I suppose many are indoors in front of the TV or computer and others are partaking of the numerous after- school programs available. With many backyards converted over to parking lots, kids have to do their playing in parks. I miss hearing the voices of kids playing in the snow in my neighborhood. This is not a criticism, just a comparison of my generation and today’s youngsters. Kids today usually have more organization in their activities, as members of sports teams, for instance, and there seems to be less spontaneity.
As a child of the 50’s and 60’s, my winter routine was defined not only by the daily weather report. School attendance, church activities and gender roles played a part in shaping our schedules. As a Catholic, I attended St.Casimir Church and Parochial School, both within walking distance from our home on Harrison Street. Relatives lived close by. We did most of the grocery shopping in neighborhood stores, such as Whitman’s Creamery on Water Street and Delonis Market on Harrison Street. There were bakeries, pharmacies and specialty markets all within walking distance, so inclement weather did not severely impact our activities.
Of course, school took up a large part of the week, as it does now, but there were few organized after- school programs back then. There was the YWCA or YMCA, Girls and Boys Clubs that offered different classes depending on age and gender. I remember taking a homemaking course at the Winthrop Street Girls Club. We learned to make beds, crochet, knit, and spent a lot of time running around the block with dolls in carriages. We also used to draw and make paper dolls, which wasn’t too bad. At least it somewhat satisfied my creative urge. I especially loved using the YWCA pool.
Indoor activities usually took place at home. I had a lot of cousins, six of them living in the first floor apartment. We girls played with dolls, paper dolls, and enjoyed games like “Barbie, Queen of the Prom.” We could spend hours drawing, coloring, playing house, jacks, or listening to records. We played with the boys, often gender- neutral board games like “Monopoly,” “Life,” “Parcheesi,” and “Clue.” Yes, we did a lot of TV-watching. Friday nights, Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings had quite a lot of family friendly programming. I loved the shows like “National Velvet,” and “Father Knows Best,” but I lived for horror shows like Boris Karloff’s “Thriller,” or monster films like “Godzilla.” I especially loved sitting by the window, drinking hot chocolate, and reading a great book that let my imagination soar to new places and experiences.
February had special days to celebrate, such as St. Valentine’s Day. In school, the nuns let us pass out our Valentine cards, and often we had candy. On Lithuanian Independence Day, February 16, all of the grades K through 8 students had to learn some song or dance to perform on the stage in the Church hall. I never understood a word of the songs, but I loved the music and was thrilled to be on stage. And of course, there was the winter vacation.
It was outdoors that we really had a ball. It was a thrill to hear that school was canceled because of snow. We bundled up, pulled out the shovels, sleds and skates and kept busy until meal time, or until our hands and feet were too numb to tolerate. It was easy to sled on Harrison Street back then. Although people shoveled their walks, there was just enough snow left to allow sledders to race down from Providence Street to Blake Street. It was a challenge, but it was exhilarating! The walkways were narrow, and we actually had quite a few trees to avoid. We also had opportunities to skate at Mulcahy Field at the end of Dorchester Street, and even down at the bottom of the I-290 construction site. Unfortunately, my mother bought skates that were several sizes too large. My ankles would buckle in and I usually had to go back to using the twin blade training skates.
In the back yards, we spent hours creating snowmen, forts and snow houses, sizes depending on snow amounts.
The only minus was having to avoid the snowballs thrown by nasty little boys. One in particular, named Paul, seemed to target me and my cousin Nancy on the way home from school. He threw hard, and you saw stars when he hit you in the head with a hard, ice- encrusted snowball. I did get my revenge. I filled snowballs with dog poop and threw them with everything I had, hitting my target often enough to elicit considerable cursing. I assure you he never threw anything at us again.
Yes, we had a great time back then. We used our imaginations to get us through those cold winter days, until spring brought promise of summer fun. I suppose kids today will create their own special winter memories. I just hope they compare well to those of my generation.