One Last Sleepover… For Old Times Sake

I grew up in the best neighborhood a kid could ever hope for… it was kid haven.  It was a quaint little suburban neighborhood full of young couples raising their families.  Everybody knew everybody else.  It was made up of neighbors who carpooled kids to school in the mornings, and neighbors who took meals to other neighbors who were sick and who contributed money to buy flowers for a hospitalized neighbor.  The kids in the neighborhood are now mostly in their 50s but we still remain friends to this day.

When I was growing up in this neighborhood in the 60s and 70s, the kids all played outside.  Our parents had to call us in at night.  We had fun and were creative in finding things to do.  We did the typical “kid” things like riding bikes, playing Hide-N-Seek, ball tag, kickball, softball, etc.  Many summer nights were spent playing tether ball, flashlight tag and ball tag.  In the summer, we explored the woods in the neighborhood, had clubs, went swimming, caught lightning bugs, climbed trees, walked to the local five and dime, and had neighborhood camp-outs and sleepovers.  We had bake sales and lemonade and Kool-Aid stands.  Most of the neighborhood was made up of girls, and we spent many a day playing with dolls or trolls and playing pioneers (something we sort of made up as we went along).  I remember making pretend pies with mud and poke berries or wild strawberries.  We had a sweet little old man who we called Charlie “The Popsicle Man” who drove a little tractor which had been converted into an ice cream truck and who came most days in the summer.  Charlie knew all the kids in the neighborhood and he knew what houses to stop at to ring his bells, because he knew sooner or later we would be running out the door to meet him with money in hand.  If it was your birthday, Charlie was known to give you a free popsicle.  And sometimes if a certain child happened to not have money that day, Charlie would give them a popsicle anyway.  Charlie loved the kids in the neighborhood and the feeling was mutual.  He looked out for us. 

Like I said, we used our imaginations back then and could get quite creative.  I was telling my kids once how we used to make grass houses in the neighborhood.  We would go to a house who had a freshly cut yard and rake up the grass clippings into piles.  Then we would use this grass to make the outline (a sort of floor plan if you will)  of a house.  We made doors and windows and rooms, and when we were done we played in these houses for hours and invited “friends” over to our houses.  Some days we jumped rope for hours.  We knew all the old jump rope games and rhymes and we would chant them in unison.  I also remember when I was in 6th grade, asking for a turtle for my birthday.  These were back in the days when they sold baby Red-Eared Slider turtles in Woolworth’s.  I begged and begged for a turtle.  My parents weren’t real gung-ho about it, but when I woke up on my birthday that year, there on the table beside my bed was a plastic oval bowl with a palm tree and not one but TWO Red-Eared Slider turtles.  I was ecstatic.  Soon everyone in the neighborhood had turtles and so we decided to form a neighborhood turtle club.  I can recall having maybe 14 or 15 turtles in this club.  We would have turtle parties where all the turtles were put into a plastic kiddie pool to swim together and have a feast of apples, carrots, greens, etc.  A few of us would run around with fly swatters and kill flies and dump them in the pool and watch the turtles go after them.   And we all knew each turtle by name and somehow everyone could identify their own individual turtles.  We had weekly turtle club meetings where minutes were read and we had turtle officers.  We even had a turtle wedding once, complete with bridal veil, wedding music and ushers.

neighborhood turtles swimming together

Yes, we had a lot of great times in this neighborhood where we all played so well together.  On the 4th of July, we would pool our fireworks together and meet at a designated neighbor’s patio to watch the fireworks show.  We would go to the state fair together (back in those days we got out of school for a “fair day”) and would plan what rides we were going to ride weeks before the fair.  On Halloween we would go trick-or-treating together.  We planned back in the summer what our Halloween costumes were going to be.  On Christmas Eve, all the kids in our neighborhood would go Christmas caroling and then to a local church for hot chocolate.  One year, we took it upon ourselves to learn The First Noel in Spanish for a hispanic family who had moved in the neighborhood.  We sang that at their door on Christmas Eve.  On New Years Eve, we would meet at my parent’s house and we would bang pots and pans to celebrate the New Year.  My mother would give each kid a spoon and a pot (or lid) and we would stand on the front porch banging those pans and making the loudest racket imaginable.  Sometimes we even marched up and down the street banging away.  I was in college before I realized that not everyone did this on New Year’s Eve.  In the winter, we would go sled riding together and build snowmen and snow forts together.  You just couldn’t keep us in the house back in those days. 

We often had camp-outs in our neighborhood.  We either slept on lounge chairs and sleeping bags on someone’s patio or in one of our backyards, or we made a tent out of blankets thrown over a tree.  These were memorable fun times for me.  No, I wouldn’t trade the neighborhood I grew up in for all the money  in the world.  

My mother passed away back in December of 2006.  In July of the following year, we sold my family’s house.  It was the only house I had known.  My parents bought it in 1960 and we moved in when I was just 11 months old.  Forty-seven years we had that house.  I can’t begin to tell you about all the wonderful memories that were made there.  Saying goodbye to that house almost literally broke my heart.  While part of me was happy that we had sold the house to a young couple with small children, another part of me couldn’t stand the thought of another family living in “our” house.  How could they ever know of the memories WE made in this house?  How could they know about all the birthdays and holidays that were celebrated in this house?  They would never know about the fun times our neighborhood kids had in the yard of that house.  They would never know about the turtle parties and turtle races we had in the yard of that house.  They would never know I learned to ride a bike without training wheels on the driveway of that house and how my father stood at the end of the driveway cheering me on, telling me I could do it.  They would never know that my very first kiss was under an old Chinese Elm tree in the front yard.   They wouldn’t know about the rusty old bobby pin that was wedged outside in my sister’s bedroom window and how the neighborhood kids would come and “flick”the bobby pin making a loud pinging noise to let her know they were out there.  They would never know I was with my father in that house when he took his last breath.

My sisters and I still remain close with our childhood friends and so we decided the week before we were to close on the house, that we would have one last sleepover, for old times sake.  We invited our friends and we had pizza and coke and my husband made homemade ice cream.  Everyone brought sleeping bags and old photo albums and some brought scrapbooks.  We sat out on the back porch for hours eating pizza and reminiscing about old times.  We laughed so hard that night.  Some stories that were told I had forgotten and some it seemed had happened only yesterday.  The electricity went out that night while we were on the patio and we were left in the dark, but that didn’t keep us from reminiscing.  Fortunately, some very kind neighbors, who knew we were having a “reunion neighborhood sleepover” were nice enough to bring over candles to put on the patio.  We shared some of our stories with them, telling them what the neighborhood had been like when we had grown up in it.  We had such a great time that night.  I loved these people…. these lifelong friends.  That night we sat on the floor in my parents dining room and we looked at old photo albums and old scrapbooks.  And we laughed some more.  We relived memory after memory and we laughed until we cried.  That night we all piled our sleeping bags into the living room, just like old times.  Except this time, we had air mattresses for our 40 something year old bones and we talked about who takes what medicines, who is on blood pressure medicines, cholesterol medicines, sleep aid medicines, and anti-anxiety medicines.  Yes, the conversation had changed over the years but our love for each other had not.  We laughed when one of us got up to go to the bathroom, tripped over an air mattress, and fell on someone else.  Then we laughed again when that same scenario was repeated within the hour.  This night was important for me… in a way, it brought some kind of closure to my aching heart.   

The next day after everyone had left, I stayed so I could walk through the house one last time.  I walked through each room trying to call up every single memory of what had happened in a particular room.  I never wanted to forget.  Some of the memories were good memories (most in fact), but a few memories were memories I wish I could erase.  I cried harder than I think I have ever cried in my life, and asked myself  how I could EVER say goodbye to this house that was so full of memories for me.  A house that held memories of my now deceased parents, a house that held the memory and love of long gone pets.  I visualized those memories as I went room to room.  I visualized all the family Thanksgiving dinners around our dining room table, all the Christmases celebrated in the living room around the family Christmas tree.  I ran my hand over my mother’s old avocado green stove and remembered her standing and cooking over that stove.  I went in the little bathroom off my parent’s bedroom and remembered how I would stand there as a child and watch my father shave and how he would pretend to shave my face with his electric razor.  And I remembered the time my sisters and I decided it would be fun to play with matches in that little bathroom.  Yes, we caught the commode seat on fire… one of those memories you sorta want to forget.  I walked around the yard, remembering all the neighborhood games played there.  I remembered where our old swing set was and remembered my father teaching me how to swing by myself and how to “pump my legs.”  I walked to the part of the yard where all my beloved little pets were buried-my two turtles, my family of gerbils, hamsters, goldfish, and guppies.   How could I leave them?And I walked to the front yard where the old Chinese Elm once stood, where underneath it, I had shared my first real kiss.  I couldn’t get enough, couldn’t stop the memories from coming and I didn’t want to.  I looked up and down the street imagining all the kids on bicycles gathering at the stop sign.  I left before I wanted to leave and I left feeling a sadness so deep that it physically hurt.  I left feeling like I was leaving a part of myself at that house…a piece of my childhood.  I wondered if it was possible to physically have a broken heart because it felt like mine was splitting in two.  But I also left knowing how blessed I was.  Blessed to have grown up in a neighborhood so full of kids and love, and blessed to still have those friends after all these years.  Blessed to have lived in a house with a family that I loved.  A family that wasn’t perfect by any means, but a family that I loved no less with all my heart.  Yes, without a doubt, I was blessed.

my childhood home

About Gail

I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, veterinarian, and wanna be writer. I love nature and animals of all kinds, music, cooking, and spending time with my family.
This entry was posted in Childhood memories, Family, Kindness, Love, Memories and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to One Last Sleepover… For Old Times Sake

  1. Teresa says:

    Gail – I just love your writing style. What a great post, although I think I read the last half through blurry tear-filled eyes. I wish we could’ve known the neighborhood for what it was back then. I wish every day your Mom would stick her head out the door and ask Robb what took him so long to get home. I wish you could see Ethan in our backyard playing pirates in his tree house and pumping his legs on his swing. I wish that we will be able to make wonderful memories for him as he grows up next door to your childhood home. We are trying and reading your post is certainly inspiring.

    • Gail says:

      Thanks Teresa. Your comment made me cry, but I will confess I have been a weeping mess all day. 🙂 Thanks for your kindness- to my sisters and me and the kindness you always showed to my mother. She loved you two like family. You were the best neighbors to her!! I will always laugh over her being so worried about Robb…. she was literally pacing the floor that night! Ha! I would love to see little Ethan playing pirates and pumping his legs on his swing. I am so glad to see children in that neighborhood once again!

  2. Mary Beth says:

    Wow, Gail. That was a wonderful post.

    I miss that neighborhood and all the people that populated it. It was a magical period of time for all of us who grew up there. We never felt threatened and there were many unlocked doors. We were lucky to have had that experience and I do feel a closeness with all of the neighborhood kids… even Rusty, who taunted me like crazy. I do remember our turtles and the turtle club – wishing my son had the same experiences that I did. I do remember spending most of my time outdoors. I remember your dad always sitting in “his” chair in your den – I think I was mostly scared of him! Find it funny now.

    My grandparents knew we had a “special” neighborhood. I remember the “neighborhood reunion” that they held in their backyard for all of us.

    Remembering with you through this post was a good way to end the week. Now I’m wishing I could turn back the clock. Thank you for sharing.

    • Gail says:

      Mary Beth, you are right… the doors were rarely locked back in those days. We would go to the store and think nothing of leaving the house unlocked. We always felt safe in that neighborhood. I do remember the party your grandparents had in their backyard. I can still see your grandparents walking King up the street. Every day. I would love to be able to turn back the clock also and relive some of those fun times. Thanks for reading the blog and commenting.

  3. Debbie says:

    Just read your post. As I was reading I was wondering if you would mention “The Turtle Club” and then, there it was! We did live in a wonderful time.. no computers, or electronic games or cell phones and texting. I am so glad that we all have remained good friends and keep in touch. Makes me want to go back to those days. Made me remember the last time I walked through my home on Woodberry. Looking out the kitchen window like I did so many times. Seeing that tree that we called “Spring Valley”. Remembering you and I playing in those woods and all my mother had to do was yell “Debbie Kay” and I would run out of there like a rabbit. Thanks for posting those memories.

    • Gail says:

      Debbie, you know I had to mention the turtle club of Donelson! Ha! Somewhere in my basement is a folder I have with notes and the minutes from the turtle club meetings (I think Kelly was the secretary) Ha! I will seriously have to dig that up. I know this blog was waaaay too long, but there was so much more I could have written! So many happy memories we had in that neighborhood. And we did have such good times in “Spring Valley.” Our parents sure hated us to play in those woods though didn’t they? Your mom knew when things got quiet that we had gone into the woods. Yes, I remember her yelling out the kitchen window “Debbie Kay…. get out of those woods!”and you would take off and leave me in the dust! Ha! Maybe I will do a part 2 to this post.

  4. Paula says:

    It is so hard to believe that we sold “our house” 2 years ago. I never will forget our sleepover. What a night that was! While I was reading this, I thought of the Christmas Eve that we rigged up the jingle bells from my room to your room. How creative was that? And how could we ever forget the big snowfall and AE climbing the snow covered bush in the front yard and falling through. I never laughed so hard in all my life. I am so thankful of all the great memories we have of growing up in our house.

    • Gail says:

      Paula, I can’t believe it has been 2 years since we sold the house either. I will never forget the first Christmas driving by (once the new owners had moved in) and seeing their Christmas tree in the living room window. That felt so strange…. seeing another family’s tree in “our” living room window. It did something to me and for a while I didn’t want to drive by the house anymore. I remember the jingle bells (boy we were sneaky little kids). But that was brilliant if I do say so myself. Mother and Daddy were clueless. Ha!

  5. paul t gilmer jr says:

    i remember that night, being the only male brave enough to stay over. you had a wonderful childhood along with everybody on the street and corner. i feel that childern of today miss out on that closeness shared by you and all the kind people of our small group. when i started dating abby, the neighberhood sister’s and a few brother’s came along for the ride. for not only did i have a new girlfriend( and future wife)she brought along, you and your happy family. your mother a quick whitted and smart woman who’s pin up picture as a young beautiful woman is my favorite one of her.fred your father alway’s trying to feed me some wild and crazy dish he had cooked on that green stove. the night your father passed away , he still knew my face and name. thank you for sharing a moment so private and historic with your family. i too have many menories of deerwood and fairway that will keep me for all time.

    • Gail says:

      I was so glad you were brave enough to come to the sleepover Tommy. So much fun… wish we could do it again! You didn’t know when you started dating Abby and married her that you were getting a whole new family…. the whole neighborhood! You have been a good friend to us all and I have to say that my parents loved you as one of their own. My father called out for you- called out your name- so many times there at the end. So I am glad that you were there also with us when he took his last breath. It was a comfort to our faamily having you there. I will never forget him trying to get you to eat his wild and crazy dishes- “Tommy, have some duck a la….” or have some pheasant something or other. Ha! Cooking was pure joy to him and I think he enjoyed it as much as he did flying. Hopefully there is a green avocado stove in heaven! Thank you for your comments and for reading the blog.

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