Idyllic memories of 1950s Riverside

By Marty Gervais, The Windsor StarJuly 11, 2009
Garbage was collected at your back door and dumped in an open flatbed style truck at the curb and hauled away.

Sewers were flushed out regularly and tree roots cut out every couple of years.

People left their doors unlocked, and milk and bread were dropped off daily at the doorstep, and mail landed in your mailbox twice a day.

As a matter of fact, if you sent a letter first thing in the morning, it would be delivered in the afternoon.

It all sounds pretty ideal when you consider the present. But that's what it was like in Riverside in the 1950s and it's the picture you get from reading Our Town: Memories of Riverside, Ontario, 1921-1966, released by R.A. Publishing.

I lived through the 1950s in Riverside, just across from the former St. Thomas School on Prado Place. I agree with Cathy Kriz Prekupec, who writes in this book that it was "a sleepy safe haven where kids could roam freely on foot or bikes."

In those years, as Georgene Olender added, "Our family ate dinner at the same table, at the same time. We didn't call our friends on the phone. We went to their house and knocked on the door."

To this, Dean Kouvelas, in his contribution, correctly observed that during this era, "most families were pretty much reflections of each other. They all had the same income, dad worked while mom stayed at home and most families had 2.5 kids, about 3.5 years apart.... There was only one car (dad's), one television, and one radio (AM only). If it sounds like the 'Cleavers,' you've got the picture. Houses were never, or seldom locked .... Fences didn't exist, and dogs and kids were everywhere."

True enough.

We roamed the neighbourhoods, dragging baseball bats and hand-me-down baseball mitts, eager for a game at any available park, against any available ragtag bunch of kids. And we played till sundown and sometimes beyond. We played -- not for championships or anything else -- and never with team shirts and hats. We played for the sheer joy of the game itself. We didn't need an "organization" to set up a game. We did it ourselves. It cost us nothing. It cost us only time, and we had lots of it to eat up on a sunny afternoon.

During the winter, we turned the streets of Riverside into road hockey tournaments, constructing nets with two-by-four boards and potato sacks, and wore bulky oven mitts for gloves.

The home I lived in is still there. A few years ago when it went up for sale, and its owners held an open house, I stepped through the front door to relive those childhood years. Little had changed, except it seemed dramatically smaller than I recalled.

Now, as I read this new book, it's like entering that childhood all over again.

We had different values. We had a different way of looking at the world. This was the Cold War era, and when we scrambled up on the leather barber's chair at the Esquire shop on Wyandotte, the talk was about Ike and Khrushchev. And we marvelled at the Russian Sputnik. On Saturday afternoons, we raced down to the Centre Theatre to catch the latest John Wayne movie. On Sundays, we filed into church dressed in white shirts and bow ties.

There was a kind of order and discipline to that era.

And trust.

I remember new homes going up on open lots in our neighbourhood, and how tradesmen at the end of the day would put down their tools and leave them behind, and go home. Later, we scurried about these construction sites, scooping up their hammers and saws, and dragging away discarded lumber to build our tree houses, or forts, but always making sure the tools were put right back where we found them.

It's what we understood as "trust," and followed it rigidly. We didn't need to philosophize about it -- it was built into the way we thought, or behaved.

It certainly wasn't a perfect world by any means.

But it was ours. We learned lessons we've carried with us all our lives.

Was it a better time? That's hard to say. It was different.

Our children and our grandchildren will have something else to tell about their neighhourhood, their childhood, and might even claim theirs was better.

We can only hope that's what they'll say. Right?

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