The excitement would start to build about a week after school let out. By then, we had all adjusted to a new routine. Easy mornings in our pjs, my older brother, sister, and I would gather in the kitchen and play eenie, meenie, miney, moe with the mini Kelloggs cereal boxes on the counter. Once we were old enough to compromise (should any of us select the same box), and old enough to wield a paring knife without worry of major bodily harm, my mom would leave us to it. Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, Corn Pops, Rice Crispies, or maybe Apple Jacks? The choice was always so hard! But when our minds were made up, we’d each get to slice our carton right down the middle, pry open the cardboard and waxed paper, pour the milk right in, and spoon the sugar-coated sweetness into our mouths. Ah – summer.
By mid-morning most days, we’d be dressed in shorts and tees and when finished with chores, we’d wave good-bye to mom and our younger brother, and we’d be off. Heading straight down Taubert Avenue we’d stop only when our Keds hit the dirt path encircling the place where we’d spend every day for the next eight weeks.
As a kid, this place seemed so enormous with its flat grassy stretches set against a huge hill with a forest of pine trees on top. At the base was a square cement building that housed the carrom and checker boards, art supplies, and sports equipment. Along one side, ran a meandering brook a few yards away from swing sets, monkey bars, and hopscotch squares that we scratched in the dirt. Our beloved Coolidge Park awaited us. Our home away from home.
From my journal: July 3, 2012 Newbury Park, California
“Going “home” in a couple of weeks…will miss the parade this time. Can’t help but think of Coolidge Park…the memories– ha! fun!”
Each summer spent at Coolidge Park was special, but one year, the stars aligned, and it was simply magical. The year was 1974. It’s just what I needed after having barely eked out my first year at Crosby Junior High. Not only was this new school a hefty walk away, the teachers were not so friendly, and it was dreadfully hard to fit in, as I only knew one other kid in all of my classes. Good grief!
When our park officially opened that last week in June, and we finally got to meet our park directors, I knew I would most likely smile again. Our fearless leaders, Debbie and Jay were easy going and funny. Most mornings, we’d be at the park before them. As soon as we’d spot their cars, we’d run up to them asking if we could help carry anything,…even before they came to a full stop!
If having two cool park directors wasn’t enough, the art projects we did together couldn’t have been topped! I mean, newspaper kites, fingerpainting collages AND macrame plant holders! Really?! A hands-on kids delight!
And the musical we took part in that summer was “South Pacific”. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know the musical or any of the songs. We had weeks to learn them and practice, and at the end of the summer we got to sing our hearts out in the Pittsfield High School auditorium to much applause. Today, I still know all the words to “Dites Moi” and “Happy Talk”.
Now if all of this didn’t restore my faith in humanity, then the annual competition for King and Queen of the park did. I was not prone to thrusting myself into the spotlight, but having the title had its perks. First, your status among all the neighborhood kids would be instantaneously elevated to that of royalty! Respect not earned, but given, nonetheless. Second, you’d be invited to the city-wide contest at North Junior High and if you won, your name and photo would appear in the Berkshire Eagle! And third, best of all, you’d get to ride on the back of a convertible in the annual 4th of July parade on North Street!
To call this a competition was a stretch, as there was absolutely no skill or talent involved. You simply showed up at the park and if you didn’t decline when asked if you’d like to run, you were in. Having lost to Tina the summer before, I was crossing my fingers that things would turn out better this time. When my name was announced as Queen I was thrilled! Eric was crowned King, and even though I didn’t know him well, he seemed nice enough.
We had fun reigning supreme all summer long, but we did not make the pages in our local newspaper. That honor went to King and Queen of Clapp Park. And the parade, what I was looking forward to the most…well, our car got a flat tire a quarter mile in, so we ended up sharing a convertible with the winners from Morningside Park. Still, we did get to smile and wave at our friends, family, and spectators all along the parade route.
Coolidge Park is now Coolidge Playground. It’s still in our old neighborhood, but most of its space is occupied by Conte Elementary School. It no longer serves as a summer destination with park directors guiding kids in all things fun, but it does provide a beautiful setting for a community school. The Coolidge Park I knew and loved however, still exists. In my childhood memories, and especially in my heart.