Labor Day during my growing up years in Connecticut meant a neighborhood picnic. Dads carried grills to the lawn beside the swimming pool and served up hot dogs and hamburgers. Moms organized a potluck and corralled their children who raced around in excitement. With fall’s chill in the air, few of us braved the pool’s spring-fed water.
What made us a neighborhood?
We had a gathering place, the big lawn below the Russell’s large saltbox home and the pool, which my father had built for the Russell family back in 1950. All the neighbors who rented Russell homes pitched in to help that summer. Thereafter, every Memorial Day weekend, we drained the mucky water and scrubbed algae off the pool’s two-to-eight-foot graded sides and floor. By the end of school in late June, brook water had refilled the pool, which measured 45×90 feet. The neighborhood’s 4th of July picnic marked the beginning of our New England summer; Labor Day meant fall and back to school.
Historical time also factored into the formation of our neighborhood in the 50s and 60s. Many post-WWII families consisted of dads starting careers and moms taking care of children. We kids ran down the Russell’s hill and jumped into the pool in the summer, and sledded and skated in the winter. Only when swimming in the pool were we under the watchful eyes of our mothers, the true makers of our neighborhood.
My mother (pictured) and one of the other ladies in the neighborhood started the first picnic. Over time, some families moved out and were replaced by new families with children. Many former residents continued to come to the pool and attend the picnics. The neighborhood embraced both old and new members. Mother also founded a women’s neighborhood book club, which lasted for 50 years into the new century. But the neighborhood did not.
In the 70s, one by one, Moms went back to work. My mother began that trend, too. There weren’t as many children in the neighborhood, most of us having grown and gone. The picnics ended; neighbors became strangers; the pool sat empty except for occasional grandchildren. The Russell family fenced the pool and eventually stopped maintaining it.
A special place, time and people – our neighborhood’s spring and summer – passed into fall.