Calverton Kids of the 1970s
What was life like for kids who were lucky enough to grow up in Calverton, MD in the 1970s? A whole Facebook page is dedicated to "Calverton kids of the 1970s" with almost 500 people signed up as followers to reconnect with old friends. What a lovely way to reminisce about the good old days, when all we had to worry about was where were to go exploring on your bike and what to get from the ice cream man. The Calverton Kids of the 1970s Facebook page intro says it well:
"Did you grow up riding your bike to the pool, and People's, playing in the pits and playing kick the can until your mom called you home for bed?"
A Long Time Ago in a Subdivision Far Away...
There was a suburban community located near the city of Silver Spring, MD, just one exit outside the Beltway of Washington, DC. Our homes in Calverton were in the style of one story ranches and two story "split-levels". Calverton had the weird distinction of being a planned community that spanned two different counties: Montgomery and Prince Georges county. So kids living just a couple blocks away but over the county line might have been attending different schools. In the 1970s, the homes were still new-ish, the recently planted trees hadn't grown tall yet, and we were young.
There was a Land With No Fences...
Now my children live in a place full of solid redwood six-foot tall fences that completely enclose each yard. Our homes are built to shut people out, but they also shut people in. I guess people feel the need to build walls and moats around themselves now to protect themselves from evil world outside. Our current place is governed by strict rules and a homeowners' association which essentially regulates exactly what we can do with our houses, down to the specific colors we are allowed to paint our front door.
But I remember a place that had very few fences at the beginning. In Calverton, kids could just cut through the backyard and the neighbor-behind's yard to get to the next street. We didn't think anything of it at the time - everyone did it. Later, people started putting up chain link fences around their backyards. A lot of them were just dog owners who needed to keep their dogs enclosed. Chain link fences were really easy to climb over so as long as there wasn't a vicious dog in said yard. So the yard-hopping really wasn't deterred by the fences. Maybe some neighbors were ticked off about the "trespassing" but for the most part no one seemed too concerned about kids simply cutting through their yards.
A Place Where We Used Our Own Power...
Leg power, that is. Imagine kids walking by themselves to and from elementary school. Sometimes in good weather we rode our bikes. Our morning send-off did not consist of massive lines of minivans and SUVs full of rushed parents jockeying for a position close to the entrance. Today, parents act as if a few unescorted steps further away from the school would put their children in mortal jeopardy. Sometimes we kids even walked home for lunch, a real hot home-cooked meal. We had enough time even though we lived more than three blocks from the school.
When we got older and went to junior high school (yes dear ones, that is what we used to call middle school), we took the school bus. During the energy crisis, daylight savings time was changed so that we ended up having to get to the bus stop in pre-dawn darkness. Nevertheless, we walked in the dark and we took the bus. When we made it to high school and driving age, we still mostly took the bus, unless we had activities after school. My parents did not regularly let me use their car to drive to school. (Although sometimes I used the family car to ferry myself and younger siblings to activities.) Occasionally I would ride my "Free Spirit" bike from Sears to and from high school even though it meant crossing Route 29, a divided highway.
A Time When Kids Roamed Free...
In the summer kids would just ride bikes or roam and run all over the neighborhood, finding other kids to play with. There were so many places to explore: the Calverton Apartments, the woods, the local pool, the creek, the gravel pits and the mud fields near the local shopping center. Even the school playground facilities were not fenced off at the time, so we could climb on the jungle gyms. We would stay out until the street lights came on.
"Wandering all over the neighborhood with friends without Mom being worried." - FB quote
In the summer we walked or rode our bikes up to the community pool with our towels and snack money and spent the whole day there, swimming and playing Marco Polo, or doing cannonballs off the high dive. Every hour when the lifeguards blew the whistle, we had to get out of the water for "Adult Swim" time. Then it was time to go to the snack bar for pizza or a frozen Milky Way bar. No one reminded us to reapply SPF35 sunscreen every two hours.
The boys used to ride their bikes up to the pits, where they would practice wheelies and stunts and jumps in the dirt. With no helmets. Or kids would climb trees and build forts in the woods, or go down to the creek and and look for hog-nosed snakes, tadpoles and frogs in the mud. With no hand sanitizer.
On the fourth of July, there was a parade down Galway Drive, with a few local floats, bands and marchers. Majorettes spun their batons, and a local guy dressed up as Uncle Sam. Neighborhood kids would decorate their bikes, weaving red, white and blue streamers through the wheel spokes, and ride along. Afterwards, there were hot dog picnics, baseball, and fireworks at a local field.
At Easter break my sister and I had an annual tradition of walking or riding our bikes down to the shopping center and getting a pack of marshmallow Peeps from the People's Drugstore to share. People's Drugstore is gone, but thank God, Peeps are still around. The drugstore even had a diner-style counter where you could order a cherry Coke. Now it's a CVS.
"I remember riding BMX bikes and jumping up and down the hills by the tennis courts. We called it the "Rathills". I never saw a rat there. Maybe they were refering to us as the rats. Danny Davis and I would ride "the creek" which was the concrete water drain that went from The "green wooden bridge" behind Palermo Dr all the way to the Calverton Apartments duck pond. I also remember when we got older, some friends and I broke into the pool. One of them carried his bike all the way to the top and rode his bike off the high dive." - FB quote, emphasis is mine.
You guessed it, the fence around the pool was a chain link fence.
In the winter when school was closed for snow days, sledding ensued. Sledding and tobogganing did not just occur on the hillsides, but down Greenmount or Summerwood Drive actual. Just pick your favorite downhill facing street, launch and pray you wouldn't crash into a car. It was even better when it got icy.
Before Cable...Before Cell phones...Before... the Internet...
We would go to the White Oak library and check out dozens of books to read in our spare time. I could sit and read several books in a day, especially series like Little House on the Prairie or Nancy Drew. I even read the encyclopedia! Yes, young ones, encyclopedias used to be printed in actual books before there was Google and Wiki. There was no Internet, no iPhones, no video games, no Netflix, and only 3-4 basic channels on television. Before 24 hour-a-day Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, there were only a few hours of cartoons and kid programs, after school or on Saturday morning.
Before We Knew What We Know Now...
Many of us kids did not go to organized activities and play dates, the way our own kids do now. Instead, we would just GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY. No parents providing entertainment for us. Just a bunch of kids making our own fun. We played tag, or a pick-up game of kickball with whatever other kids were out and about. We rode our bikes all over the place. We poked sticks at monster red ant hills, and battled each other with crab apple and acorn projectiles. I'm sure the child molesters and abductors were out there somewhere, but we didn't worry much about them. This was a time before high profile media coverage and Megan's law.
"Parents would be turned in to Child Protective Services if they let children wander around like we did as kids." - FB post
The dog across the street used to run over to our house to get some tummy rubs when she saw us outside. We never complained about her not being on a leash. When I was about 12, the dog next door pulled away from his owner and bit me on the ankle. Mr. B was a small-framed man and no match for the dog. I had to get a tetanus shot for it. My parents never freaked out; the word "lawsuit" never came up. They were our neighbors, after all.
When we took trips we piled up our luggage into and on top of the barge of a station wagon, and then relaxed in the back with our feet propped up on the rear window. We went all the way to Florida that way, unfettered by seat belts and car seat straps. When my baby brother was born, the hospital used to give parents a "bassinet" (pink for girls, blue for boys) to transport the child home. Yep, your uncle Bryan came home in a cardboard box!
Occasionally they would send trucks around the neighborhood to spray for mosquitoes. The spray was really quite noxious and probably contained some horrible pesticide that would be banned by the EPA now. If you were outside when that truck was approaching, it was time to run for it and get out of there fast!
"I just recalled riding my bike w/ friends and racing home w/ my eyes and throat burning and wondering what was going on..." - FB post
On the other hand, the swarms of locusts that descended upon the area one year did not gross us out, even though the bugs covered the trees and their fallen bodies crunched under our feet on the sidewalks. We used to collect the Japanese beetles that attacked our rosebushes and put them in soapy water to kill them. One time a swarm of bees descended on the bush in our side yard. My dad called a professional to remove them. I watched the whole process with fascination - how he used smoke to make them drowsy, then took out the queen so the colony would relocate. The girls of Calverton learned not to fear bugs and slugs.
"Is it any wonder I'm still a tomboy? Calverton girls grew up climbing trees, playing in the creek, making forts in the woods, and riding our bikes in the pits....go figure! Lol!" - FB post
...a Place called Calverton.
You might think that we grew up out in the country, or in some small farm town in a place like Kentucky or Arkansas. But this was the 1970s Calverton, Maryland, only 15 miles from the nation's capital. A large percentage of our parents worked for government agencies and commuted into the big city.
We enjoyed an age when our homes, schools, and open spaces weren't walled off like fortresses to keep out worldly dangers. Youngsters had a chance to run and play and grow up without the constant scrutiny of parental eyes or the safety restrictions we have now. We were left to our own devices in that time and place, free to explore. There might have been a few more skinned knees and broken bones to show for our experience, but we survived.
And we put in a lot of miles on those bikes.
"I think growing up in Calverton in the '70's was better than the Wonder Years!" - FB post
Note: if you're interested, the Facebook page is called "Calverton MD Kids of the 70s Reunion".