The Treasures of My Early Youth

When I was a kid, we weren’t exactly floating in dough. We didn’t have much money either. Fortunately children aren’t quite as sensitive to that sort of thing, so I had no idea. I thought we lived in the coolest place cause we had a yard where my mother planted things like strawberries, cucumbers, green beans, green peppers and a few other things.

I thought we did the things we did, cause it was the cool thing to do. Everyone else had it all wrong! I’d tell my friends “You guys get orange juice that’s already made? You should tell your parents to try the frozen stuff that you add water to and mash, THAT is the good stuff.”

I grew up (mostly) in Brookline MA which is a smallish town bordered on 3 sides by Boston. The town itself is fairly well to do. A 5 bedroom, 2 bath, 2200 sq ft house in Brookline is generally around $900k+. Have a look for yourself:

My family was (and still is) blue collar hard working Irish. We rented, and during my earliest years it was in the projects. The projects in Brookline were literally 1 or 2 streets over from some of these super rich streets, with houses rich in history. Here’s where I grew up. We were the third unit down. That parking lot on the right used to just be a paved common area where we played kickball and threw Frisbees. I learned to ride a bike there.

Some residents of Brookline found secret passage ways filled with civil war regalia, and some were part of the under ground rail road. My brothers installed HVAC in the house of a couple of the New Kids On The Block in the height of their fame. Which wasn’t exactly our style music, so it was rather less than enjoyable. Their mother was very proud of them, and like to share their music, I’m told.

But again, as a kid, these things were just simple facts to be known, not badges of honor for some and points of disgrace for others. I knew who I was, and I knew what I enjoyed. I played in the park with the neighbors, I slid down the slides, I played on the swings and we had a great time. We knew we were different, and it never crossed our minds that it made any difference at all. …which I still feel that it didn’t, and shouldn’t. I was called “honkey” a few times by one particularly belligerent kid. What a stupid thing to call someone, I thought. I didn’t even look like a car! He was clearly challenged in the name-calling department. I took pity on him.

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We had the coolest garden hose, which looking back was just a simple green …uh, garden variety… hose. The cool part though, wasn’t the hose itself, it was the nozzle we had. It wasn’t one of those usual pistol-grip ones with the lever, it was a straight brass nozzle that would control water flow when you twisted it.

In reality, it was nothing special, and we probably only had that instead of the more common one because it was cheaper, but in my mind, we had it cause it was the best! 

One day when I was about 7 years of age, the kid in the unit next-door, (and there’s no easy way to say this without cracking a smile, so I’m just going to say it…) had his hose out at the same time I had mine out. (You’re snickering, aren’t you… I know, it’s OK. I am too!) His hose was unadorned by any nozzle at all, but he thought he was something special, putting his thumb over half of the opening, making the water spray a little bit faster, but at an awkward angle.

He thought he’d challenge me to a water fight. He had no idea the technology I held in my fat little hands! I smiled and warned him it was a bad idea. He mistook my warning as cowardice, and sent a limp splash of water my way. It was refreshing. It was almost cute. I twisted the nozzle of my secret weapon and blew the glasses off his face. He went in crying, which was not what I expected, but a victory nonetheless. I’m sure I got in trouble for it, but I still say it was worth it.

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Another wonderful thing that I had, that I thought was a one-of-a-kind was the turtle sandbox. I remember the day my folks bought it and brought it home. A little quick math, I think I couldn’t have been more than 5.

We went to some enormous store with a super high ceiling, which in retrospect must have been Home Depot, and bought sand. I remember being very confused that we were buying big bags of sand, when there were tons of it at the beach that we could just bring home. I had it all figured out, I’d get my pail and new shovel, and we’d save money! I don’t remember the rest of the discussion, but if it was anything like the ones I have with my kids, I’m sure I know how it ended.

I loved my sandbox, and so too did the kids in the neighborhood. We’d sit in it and dig, and fill back in, and dig, and rinse, repeat. I’m sure I was told countless times to put the cover back on when I was done, but for some reason, it never seemed to cross my mind when it should have. The problem with this sandbox that I and my friends loved so well was that the cats in the neighborhood (mine included) loved it too. It wasn’t long before I was no longer allowed in my sandbox.

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I had an extensive collection of Matchbox cars, and I loved every one of them. I had rules regarding my matchbox cars that were followed strictly. They were to be put away in my spiderman carrying bucket (which I recall was just a little different from that picture, though I might be wrong, so that pic will do.) when I was done with them, and they were not to be played with in the sandbox.

One day, I’d brought my matchbox car collection across the street to the “Co-op” playground where some other kids my age played. I thought they would love my collection and had visions of them ooing and ahhing at it. I knew we’d all have such great fun playing with my cars and they would beg me to come back again soon with them so we could play some more! And I was right! We had such a blast that day, and I was the hit of the party.

The next morning, I thought I’d grab my cars and head back over and pull an encore performance! I dressed and ate and went to scoop my spidey bucket, only to find that it was not there. In sudden horror, I realized I’d left it there over night, outside, and it had rained that night. I ran back over and found my bucket. It was lying in the muck, sideways, a pool of cold dirty water inside. I was missing most of my cars, and the ones that were still there were filthy and stickers were peeling.

I remember being crushed, thinking that I would never again see such a bounty of matchbox cars, because I was certain that these were the last ones on earth, and no one had ever seen them anywhere before except from my collection! Imagine my surprise, ten plus years later when I found out you can buy them by the dozen for pretty short money. I was literally shocked they were so cheap, and simultaneously a little bit jaded that no one could drop a few bucks to build my little collection back up.

I suppose it taught me a little responsibility and cause and effect. …On the other hand, here I am 31 years old, blogging about it, it must have left some scar that could have been avoided. I went without my cars, but I don’t remember anyone going without scratch tickets or cigarettes!

It’s funny to watch my kids now, particularly the older one, cause she looks at things much the same was I used to. A very low quality doll from the dollar store gets damaged, and you might think the world stopped spinning. Part of me wants to tell her to forget it and go replace it with another of the same thing. The other part hopes that one day, I’ll be reading her blog about the irreplaceable doll that met a tragic end. Followed shortly by a post that goes “They were only a dollar and you never replaced it?!”

Did you have something as a child you thought was irreplaceable?  


3 thoughts on “The Treasures of My Early Youth

  1. I had a toy truck. It was a little larger than matchbox cars, which I would guess hadn’t even been imagined yet… it was 1947. My mother and I were someplace back east at a hotel, but we were leaving. Sometime after we boarded the bus to the train station I remembered the truck was still in the hotel room… pretty devastating to a four year old.

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