What do you do for recreation in a small town like New Haven, population 550, before TV, with no malls to hang out at? There was no organized baseball, soccer teams, swim teams or any other supervised recreation, for that matter.
But we had roller skates with steel wheels for sidewalk skating. There were sidewalks on
the few major streets in New Haven, a feature that has been abandoned in an age of neighborhoods where driving is the only mode of transportation. So skating lickety split down the sidewalks was great fun despite many uneven pavements and obstacles.
In winter, if there was a decent snow, we got out our sleds. These were store-bought sleds with
steel runners and on a snowy slope were positively swift. We would drag old worn out tires on the sleds and pull them up the hill overlooking the church cemetery. At the top of the hill, these tires were lit for a bonfire producing more black smoke than heat. But you could warm yourself while waiting your turn to take your life into your own hands going down that hill with a maybe-frozen brook at the bottom. A couple boys would pile on a single sled and fight another duo as they careened down the hill side by side. Snowball fights went along with the sledding, of course.
Keeping a lawn up was not a priority in New Haven and cutting it meant pushing a rotary mower, with no motor. A goodly portion of our yard was kept bare so you could play marbles. With these little glass spheres, there were several games that could be played and trading the marbles with each other besides winning them made them a form of currency.
Every kid in New Haven had a stack of comic books and hauled them around to other kids’ places trading for ones not read before. “Seen it, seen it, seen it…” was the refrain as you flipped through the other kid’s stack. If he had one you wanted, you offered to let him flip through your own stack looking for a trade.
There was a movie house in town operated on the St. Catherine’s Church grounds. It was a white brick building with wooden floor. Admission was affordable for us and it was a treat to sit in the wooden seats, eating popcorn watching the Mickey Mouse cartoons, the black and white newsreels of the Korean War followed by a western movie. When the film broke, as it often did, everyone stamped the floor until the frustrated operator got it running again. Hugh Louis had a serious leg condition that required him to be in a wheel chair for several months. The Church, in an age not handicap-friendly, installed a ramp so Hugh Louis could be rolled in to see the movie.
Recreation for adults was poker for men at the downtown Knights of Columbus hall, dancing at the Kentucky Fish and Game club, or playing bridge. My mother belonged to a ladies bridge club and one night a week would spend an evening with her friends. They rotated the host function so about every couple of months, it was her time to set up the tables and put out a spread of refreshments. We would hear them from back in our bedroom, cackling and talking. We were all banned to the back room during these bridge club nights at the house but got to help clean up the mess the morning after.