Saturday, February 11, 2012

Glendale Park

Growing up in the projects meant that we didn't really know too much about trees.  I never climbed a tree as a kid (though my father hung a swing from the tree in the back of our house on Woodlawn Street, I moved from there before first grade), though I was great at climbing swingsets.  We never saw a fox or a rabbit or a deer, except on TV, but I knew how to capture a grasshopper in a Skippy Peanut Butter jar (with holes punched through the lid).  I had not learned the knack of skipping stones across the mirror surface of a quiet pond, but I knew how to attach a pair of iron skates to my shoes, turning the key with enough force so they'd stay attached (I had skinned too many knees when a skate flipped off, bringing me to an abrupt halt on a patch of asphalt).

But we had a large, green park in the middle of Everett where we city kids could get a taste of the green grass and trees that I would learn much later in my life could actually be part of someone's back yard.

In the summertime, Glendale Park came alive.  Four baseball/softball fields welcomed teams throughout the day and into the cool summer nights.  Around the periphery of the fields, a paved walking path provided enough space for two large prams to pass each other comfortably so mothers walked their children during the daytime.  My aunt would meet us there, usually with one of her kids in a big black baby carriage, and she and my mother would sit on a bench while the "older kids" (me included) tossed a ball, played baseball, or just chased each other around the bases.  Lots of other moms brought their kids to the park and took advantage of the time to catch up with the latest gossip.  They paid little attention to us, so we explored the whole park, including that area behind the bleachers that would end up being important for a different reason (much different!) when we were in our teens.

The baseball area of the park was flat, but in the back of the park rose a fairly good size hill, terraced at two different levels.  The parks and recreations department hunkered into the first level of the hill, tucked against the rise in such a way that anyone with a yen for sports would be discouraged to try to navigate the trek to the office.  Above the office building sat a double tennis court where a friend and I first learned how to lob the ball across the net when I was in junior high.

Above the parks department and the tennis court was another rizer.  And only the bravest of the brave would make the trek upward so that s/he could catch a wave back down the rest of us.  Up above the park, another set of projects sat with a great view of the skyscrapers of Boston in the distance.  We knew some people "up there," but we rarely visited them until later in my life when my cousins moved in, had children, and I became their babysitter.

That hill became my favorite part of the park in the wintertime.  Come December, when the snows began to fall in earnest, the hill became a sledder's dream.  One could start at the very top on a Fearless Flyer and make the long run down the first (and most exciting) half, then over the rise and down the second half to land on the flat area of the baseball field.  If the snow was particularly slick, one could go over the rise to the second half in the air -- screaming and laughing -- like Evil Knievel.  Plenty of kids did that and more than a couple landed on their skulls, occasionally having to take a trip to the emergency room.

One of my favorite pics is of me at approximately two years old, wrapped up in a snowsuit, bundled in several blankets, and being pulled on a sled by my father.  I remember that day and how cold it was -- and how hard it was to move even my little finger!  My rosey and cold cheeks took at least an hour to thaw out.  Many more times in my life, my cheeks were just as frozen and chapped at the end of a day in Glendale Park.

The Park isn't the same anymore.  Our sledding hill is now occupied with the new high school.  All glass and chrome, it's pretty to look at, but I must admit I still love the brick building on Broadway where we crammed into small classrooms and complained about the cafeteria food.  And I hate that the new building takes up the space where we spent so many happy days sledding, playing tennis, and getting to know ourselves under the trees.

P.S.  Thanks to John Cooney (Class of '71) and my sister, Candy Cioffi, for the pics they provided me for this post.

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