Besides board games and double Dutch, summers also meant Mitch, the good humored ice cream man. We always heard his truck music before he turned the corner. Dressed in uniform-white shirt, white pants and white hat, he’d stand outside his truck taking orders and then searching behind a thick, white door for the packaged ice cream we requested. I had never seen a coin change belt dispenser until I saw his. After getting over the excitement of making my purchase, I would rush to unwrap my ice cream to see if I had won Mitch’s lottery, Lucky Stick engraved into the wood. I won a free ice cream at least once. I recently learned that the Federal Trade Commission considered those lucky sticks an illegal lottery in 1939. Over twenty-five years after that announcement, Mitch was still bringing broad smiles to the streets of Brooklyn with his sticks of luck.
(Photo by TOLBERT / Alamy Stock Photo)
Sitting at the top of a brownstone stoop, I learned to love the Game of Life. Remember those cute little cars and peg holes for a growing peg family? That game had me making decisions about auto insurance and college at ten-years- old.
(Photo by Randy Fath/Unsplash)
When I was growing up, no one could have ever told me that there was a better place or time to experience New York City than during the hot summers of the 1950s and 1960s. Mind you, no fan or air conditioner blew air around my home during those days, but somehow if I sat still long enough, I remained relatively cool. Once the sun made its journey to the middle of the street, all the children came out to play.
Under the summer sun, I had a chance to exercise my physical, mental and emotional muscles. (I had to learn how to win and lose.) My hot summer games, double Dutch jumping, and songs were mandatory preparation, if not the recipe, for withstanding the trouble in mind or body waiting in the wings of adulthood. Remembering that experience brings joy over fifty years later. I can hear the rope (a telephone cable line ), the jumper’s feet rhythmically hitting the pavement, and our voices singing.
“All in together, girls. How do you like the weather girls? January, February, March. . .“
(Bedford-Stuyvesant, August 2017/MJM Collection)
Adults didn’t supervise or organize our games. I don’t even remember if any of us took the lead. We just co-operated. If we had to choose who was it in a game of tag, all six or seven of us would put one foot in a circle and “eeny, meeny, miney mo” our way to it. And we were off looking for hiding places behind cars, trees, even around corners. One corner we avoided because the owner kept two mature Doberman Pinschers in his high-gated yard.
Here we are in the midst of a hot summer in New York City as the mayor offers cash as a carrot to the unvaccinated and issues a strong recommendation for indoor mask wearing.
Back then, we didn’t worry about the headlines. Our biggest challenge was hitting a ball, running a race or lifting our feet. My fanciest trick was making a 360 degree turn without missing a beat, nowhere near the feats I see today like backflips, splits and speed seen at double dutch championship competitions which now take place in high schools and colleges around the country. It has also achieved international prominence in places such as Belgium, Hong Kong, China and more. Our amusement would climb even higher when the guys decided they wanted to participate or if the older girls on the block tried to recapture their youth.
When we were tired of that we’d lean back and forth, swinging our arms to the rhythm of a jump rope, and just as the upper and bottom ropes presented an opening, we’d jump in, keeping time with the rhythms of the rope for as long as our double Dutch legs could take it. And then our turn was up.
Sometimes summer meant pulling away from friends and taking the train with my mother and six siblings to Coney Island. I remember the aromas of sauerkraut and mustard from Famous Nathan’s Hot Dog.
At Riis Beach along with my cousins and aunt were thousands of other families baking on blankets. My grandmother escorted me to the water, and we held onto a safety rope rising and resting with the swelling and ebbing of the tide. Decades later, when I was old enough to take myself to that same beach, I looked for those lines, but they were nowhere to be found. Didn’t beachers still need a safety net?
With or without COVID, New York City children play in more sheltered places today, but there are lots of out-of-the-house, play-full spaces to do that:
● Free outdoor pools are open for business
● Green space abounds in parks around the city (Prospect Park, Central Park, Battery Park, Corona Park and more) for running and jumping and throwing a ball.
● Brooklyn Museum offers outdoor art-making activities
● Rockaway Beach, Brighten Beach, Coney Island, Orchard Beach. There’s something invigorating about the shore.
● Play Fountains and more: Brooklyn Bridge Park, a family-friendly park with picnic tables, playgrounds, sports variety. Go one day, go every day.
● Summer Streets 2021: Seven miles of car-less streets for biking, walking, art, performance, enjoyment (Park Avenue from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park), Aug. 7 and 14, 7-1pm.
● Free Tennis for children 5- 18: All year, all around the city. Check for a location near you.
● Free overnight family camping. Park Rangers supervise the activity and provide all the camping equipment you’ll need (tent and smores included).
● New York City Summer Reading. Children can travel without leaving their homes by reading a book.
● Puppets of New York. Beginning August 13 at the Museum of the City of New York, at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street, 10-6 pm (M-F), children can meet some of their favorite characters and meet a few new ones. Just across the street, the children can enjoy the green spaces in Central Park.
Despite the heat, New York City is still one of the best places to enjoy summer fun. These gems take a little effort to uncover, but finding them is a small price to pay for the laughter and smiles, muscles and bonds which will create lasting, loving memories. If COVID taught us anything, it taught the value of slowing down and enjoying precious moments with family, friends and self. This is a short list of treasured spaces in New York City. Tell me a place or two I missed. Don’t forget, comment and share.