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Mike Roberts - Summertime (when the living was easy)

Happy 4th of July!

Yes, I know that the Fourth has come and gone, but for me it stirs so many memories of being a kid in the Village of South Meriden, many, many years ago. There were so many things to do during the hot days of July and so little time to do them in.

Of course, back then no Fourth of July would be complete without some fireworks to shoot off. That meant a barefoot walk on a hot tar road down to the Tracy area of Wallingford if we wanted to purchase some fireworks.

Just before the Fourth of July just about every home in Tracy would have a fireworks stand in front of their place and the choices of fireworks for purchase were mind-boggling. Of course, we were limited to what we could purchase simply because we did not have the money for the more expensive ones. However, we did know that come Fourth of July evening, our parents would have a cache of fireworks, as would the other neighborhood parents.

As kids we were generally limited to bottle rockets, smaller firecrackers and some miniature firecrackers called “Lady Fingers.” They were really quite harmless so there were no parental objections to using them. And of course there were also Sparklers.

We also had “Summer Playground” at just about all of the school playgrounds in Meriden. They were headed up by a female adult and a male adult (usually someone connected to the school system) and back then they were never in danger of being taken away from Meriden’s schoolchildren.

The various playgrounds would have baseball teams that would play the other playground teams in the city. This was before organized sports came into being so the attendance at the playgrounds was pretty high.

Some of us kids whiled away an entire summer while going shoeless. This took some doing on our part, especially when it came to sandlot baseball. I generally played first base and some of the city kids, with their spiked baseball shoes, made sure that I got my foot out of the way after stepping on first base.

Back in the 40s and 50s none of the homes had an aboveground swimming pool like the ones that are so common today. But we had something even better: the Quinnipiac River and Hanover Pond and, of course, Morin Grove. During the dog days of summer, especially July, we were there constantly either swimming or fishing and sometimes doing both.

As I said earlier, summertime meant going barefoot to whatever destination we had in mind, and the hot tar roads really put us to the test. We would look for either grassy spots or shady spots to rest and cool our feet.

Any sunny spot that featured a hot surface met with a mad dash across it by us kids. Today, kids going barefoot would be an object of pity. Back then it was simply a way of life and none of us turned out bad because of going barefoot.

For reasons I do not know, back in the 40s and 50s Hanover Pond saw very little fishing action because the Quinnipiac River from the bend below Red Bridge, upriver to above and beyond Carpenter’s Dam were the targeted areas for our fishing forays.

We were unencumbered by expensive waders or hip boots and fancy fishing vests. Our usual summer fishing outfit was shorts and bare feet. When you wanted to jump into the cooling waters of the river to do your fishing, that’s what you did.

For a number of years, Red Bridge was sort of ignored by us kids as a fishing spot, but one day one of our gang was fishing a nightcrawler off of the bridge and landed a trout that measured 22 inches in length. The next thing you knew, we were all fishing there and all seemed to be catching lunker brown trout.

Of course, something that good does not last long and, before you know it the fishing panned out and we returned to using Red Bridge as a swimming base.

It was nothing for the Village kids to while away entire summer days swimming and diving off of Red Bridge or swimming at a couple of secluded beaches that have now grown over with trees and brush. Today, because of the shallowness of the river caused by silt buildups from construction along the river, such an activity as diving off Red Bridge would be extremely dangerous.

The grassy park (Meriden Lions Club Park) just above Red Bridge was a backwater cove that teemed with aquatic life, but was filled in when a pipeline was installed on the River Road side of the Quinnipiac.

Ordinarily this would not be a good thing, but so many folks now enjoy what is now called Meriden Lions Club Park, it is hard to fault its existence.

Back in the 40s, Dossin Beach where the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association (QRWA) is headquartered had none of the trees and brushy foliage that now grow on the former beach area. In the 40s, Dossin Beach was closed to swimming because of the fear of a polio epidemic that was around, but many folks ignored the danger and continued to swim in Hanover Pond.

Below Dossin Beach heading down the new portion of the linear trail were a couple of secluded beaches that many of the young people flocked to in the hot summer days. One was called “Double Beach” and if you were on the opposite side of Hanover Pond you could see the two small beaches divided by a small bunch of brush.

The other beach was a bit more infamous and carried the handle of “B.A.B.” that stood for the name Bare­Assed-Beach and is still known by that name by whatever old-timers are around to remember it.

The original Quinnipiac River channel also flowed by these areas and the more adventuresome swimmers would cross the deeper water of the channel and then be able to stand on an area we called “The Sandbar” but it was really a mud bar I took the recent Q-Gorge Trail walk awhile back with Pete Picone and a group of other enthusiasts and my mind was awash with childhood (and even teen) memories of summers spent on the Quinnipiac River.

Just above Red Bridge was a huge sycamore tree that someone had hung cable type swing in and was used by swimmers to swing out over the middle of the Quinnipiac River and drop off into the water. It got even better after a flash flood from a summer storm and the river really ran wild. We would swing out and drop into the river, but the current would be too swift to swim back to the jump area and you went downriver and climbed the brownstone abutment at Red Bridge and did it again!

If you missed grabbing the abutment you had to get out at the “Sand Bar” (not to be confused with the one off the beach areas) on the bend in the road below Red Bridge. That was embarrassing!

And the area where the power lines cross the river just above Red Bridge was a beautiful grassy meadow back in the forties and is now heavily covered with brush and small saplings.

As you walk the Q-Gorge Trail in back of the homes on River Road was a small area we used to call the “Beach”. It was a favorite spot for both fishing and an occasional cooling swim in the Quinnipiac River.

Just above that you come to the “Broken Down Dam” and just above the dam was a spot know as “The Cables”. This was the area where another set of power lines crossed the Quinnipiac. The Cables were strung across the river so a person (more than likely a power company lineman) could cross the river from one side to the other without getting wet. I would have to bet that you could not count the Village Youths who did get wet trying to cross the river on The Cables.

Next up was “Boy Scout Island” so named because the Boy Scouts that used it off and on as an overnight camping site. Just before the bend at “The Retaining Wall was a parking area for a couple of cars and a huge log bridge that allowed access to Boy Scout Island.

It was also an excellent spot to catch a trout or two.

There was so much to do for a youngster growing up in the Village of South Meriden during the summer months thanks to the playground, sandlot sports, the Quinnipiac River Hanover Pond and Morin’s Grove, boredom was a word that was never used and we had no computers, TVs, cell phones, Smart phones, Video Games and all of the other electronic gadgetry has swallowed up our kids today. Did we miss something back then? Personally, I would not trade those days for any amount of electronic gadgets that are so prevalent today.

See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be.



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