Chevy Chase Maryland was a wonderful place to grow up. Of course, I had no idea how fortunate I was to live within 2 miles of the Nation's Capitol and less than 3 hours from the Atlantic Ocean.
I was busily living in my own little world... one where a dozen or more neighborhood kids felt safe playing outside, whether we were roller-skating around the block or clearing brush in nearby woods to create our own little miniature golf course (on private property, no less). As you can tell, my memories of the home where I grew up are more about the neighborhood and the experiences than they are about the structure in which I lived. Of course, my home was very much at the heart of these memories, since it was one where "everyone" gathered.
My home was a Gunnison house - My parents could not have been prouder of this little pre-fab home they built on a nice corner lot, perched at the top of a slight hill and looking out over the neighborhood. It was 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, with a basement that was finished over time. Eventually my dad built a garage behind the house and created a flagstone courtyard in the remaining space behind the garage and house. Today this house is completely un-recognizable, with a second story added and the screened porch now an integral part of the finished living area.
I didn't realize that my next door neighbor was the White House correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, or that I babysat for the children of a powerful union boss. To me, they were just "the neighbors", and they and their children were no different from anyone else.
None of the moms worked outside the home in those days, and they were always available to cheer us on as we learned to do cart-wheels or perform magic tricks. In the winter, they blocked off the road which was the primary entrance into our little neighborhood so we could safely go sledding on that road, which was a fairly steep hill. (At night, the grown-ups felt safe leaving kids alone in our homes and THEY went sledding on the same hill. I was lucky to live close enough so I could sneak to the window and watch them from the dark interior of my house. I did think they looked pretty silly!)
As we got older and braver, the adults didn't seem to worry about us as we headed off to the nearby country club to go sledding on a much steeper and longer hill on the golf course. (We had no idea that Columbia Country Club was a very hotsy-totsy place with a decades-long waiting list and very elite, powerful and wealthy members.)
That same golf course provided a place to take our cocker spaniel for a swim to cool off on hot summer nights - it was, after all, before most homes in this area were air conditioned. Often we would return home from the doggie swim to a softball game in the street right in front of my house where moms, dads and kids from tots to teens all played together. No organized youth sports or Little League for us - who needed one, when this was so much fun?
Several times each summer we staged a gymnastics show, completely organized and choreographed by the kids to show off our latest accomplishments in somersaults and cart-wheels, dance moves, and tricks on the swing set. (Oh, to be so limber and full of energy again...) No wonder we all grew up to be successful adults, with so much confidence-building independence and recognition for our successes!
Neighborhood holiday traditions included an annual "spook house" in the basement at my home. Several of us worked on it for weeks, without the help of any parents, and people came from all around to crawl through tunnels we created with chairs and walk on a sloping floor we created by placing bricks under one side of a piece of plywood saved from year to year. Our visitors experienced sewing thread hanging from the chairs, feeling a lot like cobwebs, and they had the opportunity to see boxes full of fingers (actually, stubs of unpeeled carrots), dead babies (dolls) hanging by their feet from the ceiling, ketchup on the wall (which appeared to be blood), and other frightening sites in the dark windowless basement that ran the length of our house.
Wind (from an electric fan) accompanied by our own sound effects indicated the presence of ghosts who popped out of the dark to scare visitors with a loud "booh" or evil laugh and the flash of a camera... We literally had a line outside waiting to pay their nickel to experience all this, 'though I still have no idea how the word spread. Perhaps our parents were doing a little P.R. for us, without our knowledge.
July 4 was another special occasion in the neighborhood. Every family had their own family cookout at home and then wandered down to the same house each year before dark with their lawn chairs, blankets and bag full of fireworks. We had a celebration that lasted long into the night. It was so much fun... even if we had known that it was only a few miles away to see fireworks on the National Mall, no one would have considered missing our own holiday celebration.
And the neighborhood was alive with the sound of music throughout the Christmas holiday season, as kids of all ages bundled up for the cold and headed out to go caroling every night for a week. Of course, every home greeted us with loud and enthusiastic applause, and it seemed like someone in the neighborhood was always prepared with cookies and hot chocolate or cider... How did they know we were coming? Haha. (I'm betting the grown-ups got together and each picked a night, but they still won't admit it.) Could it really have been just a coincidence?
What a lifestyle! Parents said good-bye to us each morning with a promise to whistle or ring a bell (each family had their own distinctive sound) to let us know when dinner was ready. No one worried about sexual predators, kidnappers or bad guys of any description. Perhaps parents were clueless about any dangers (and just lucky that nothing happened to any of us)... or maybe times have changed.
I just know that I'm so grateful for growing up in a home located in a neighborhood like this... and during a time when creativity and relationships (not electronic devices) kept children entertained. It was a good life and I wish today's children could enjoy the same experiences in their childhood homes.