Simplicity & Technology Autobiography, Bell Street Press, Friendship, Memories, The way it was 10 Comments

It was the late 1950’s and the early 1960’s. We were kids, and the way we communicated with each other was by talking or by writing a letter. Letters were pretty much reserved for birthday and Christmas thank you notes. 99% of our entertainment was from playing – playing outside with our siblings and our neighborhood friends – and in our case, because my grandmother lived near the ocean, we spent a lot of time playing at the beach. we lived next door to the Kennedys in San Jose, hence they were known to travel with us to the beach.

At Twin Lakes Beach in Santa Cruz, CA circa 1960. Me, Johnny Kennedy & my sister Mary in the back row. My brother Herbie, my sister Jane and Sally Kennedy in the front row.

There were no electronic games or phones or tablets. We would do things like pitch a tent on the front lawn and create an adventure while others in the group were sitting at a “lemonade stand” – pretty much a table and chairs gathered from various houses for the event. My dad’s old robin eggshell blue ’38 Chevy parked out in the street in front of our house on Newhall Street (He called it his Jaguar – pronounced with his Southern Gentleman accent as jag – you – aah). We would play outside until we HAD to go inside because the sun had set or it was dinner time.

In the tent, left to right, Clarke Blauer, Johnny Kennedy, Me – At the table, clockwise, Mary Bell, Sally Kennedy, Herbie Bell and hidden behind him was Jane Bell.

Bobby lived across the street and was older and used to sit at his bedroom window and shoot BBs at me while I was helping to unload the car after a trip to the grocery store. After that happened a number of times, it was rectified by my father talking to his father. Today it would be a huge todo with lawyers and police involved.

In the early 60’s we would get up on a Saturday morning, have breakfast, and then head out on our bicycles. Just bicycles – no head gear – no knee and elbow pads – and just one gear on the bikes. Sometimes we had a destination planned, but many times we would just tell our parents we were going and they would tell us to be home for dinner. There were easily 1,000,000 fewer people in the Santa Clara Valley back then. Numerous times we would pack a picnic lunch and ride our bikes to Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga. I Googled the distance (something we couldn’t do back then) and it is about 13 miles each way. The directions say to use Hwy 17, but Hwy 17 hadn’t been built yet – we rode on surface streets. The hardest part was getting there because it was all uphill. But it was worth it because of the beauty of the grounds. The way home was delightful and much faster.

Map and directions today
Montalvo Art Center

I was looking at a CBS News report that said that “Kids and teens age 8 to 18 spend an average of more than 7 hours a day looking at screens.” If they go to school 6 hours a day and sleep 8 hours a day, that only leaves them 3 hours, at the most to go outside and discover the world in which they live.

I’m glad I grew up when I did and was able to learn how to play and interact with ALL the kids on the block. My first electronic device was a transistor radio that was tuned to KLIV and KYA – both Rock stations. I didn’t get a calculator until after I was married in 1972 (because they hadn’t been invented yet) and didn’t own a cell phone until I was 46 years old (1996). It was a Motorola flip phone that Rita got for me when I was in the hospital recovering from surgery for the Stage-4 colon cancer. She wanted me to be able to get in touch with her anytime.

State of the art in 1996 – it was large

I think our first computer in 1983 was an Apple 2e. If I remember correctly it had about 64k total memory and huge FLOPPY discs. Thirteen years later when I was in the hospital we thought the technology had reached as high as it could. Not the case by any means, but no matter how high technology gets, it will never be able to duplicate six kids on the beach or a bevy of kids playing on the front lawn. I’m not in the least against creating new technology – I just feel that a child being outside and playing with their brothers and sisters and friends is as creative as it gets.

Comments 10

  1. Thanks for recreating the memories Lew! I’m so glad to see the photos. I remember those times very well. Remember the great cherry trees in our front yards? And our fill of walnuts off the Peterson’s tree down on the corner house (NewhaLl & Monroe). Also the bike trips to A&W Rootbeer in Santa Clara….and playing in the tall fields behind the houses across the street?? And your next door neighbor who had all the snakes?

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      Thanks, John. Yeah, it was a fun time. As we got older there was the Little League field and the Wuzit Club. Saturday movies at the Santa Clara Theater. 25 cents! John Cherney lived next door. Then there was the older guy going to San Jose State that was living with his aunt. I think next-door to the Whites.

      1. Yes, John Cherney. And next to them was Clare Winkler. It was her nephew Jim Williams that came to live with her as he attended SJS. Communications major. Remember his Vespa? I thought he was so cool!
        We actually strung wires along the back fence from Jim’s room to mine so we could talk to each other. Pretty high tech stuff then!
        Clare use to always go to the Hostess Bakery Day Old shop and buy Hostess Cupcakes and Snowballs! She’d give me one every time I went to see her….. and I went a lot. Don’t remember if it was her dog or Jim’s but do you remember Stretch, the dachshund?
        Next to Clare lived Mike & Mark Freitas, the twins who didn’t look like twins.

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          I do remember Stretch! I liked Jim a lot, too. His Vespa was really amazing. Clare was always really nice to all of us kids.

  2. What a blast from the past, Lew. Thank you for all of the warm memories and recalling what I had forgotten about…Now I’m thinking of the incinerators in our backyards, bikes through the front yard sprinklers with round-the-block and dearly departed neighbor, John Billings. And picking limitless cherries until we were sick to our stomachs. Hide-and-seek and Kick-the-can still conjure up the excitement of nightfall approaching when first calls from the collective parents to come home meant we still had precious few minutes to beat the clock. Agreed, a natural playground for creativity. Keep writing and delighting!!

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  3. Sweet memories Lewis! How could I forget? Herby was my best friend in all the world! I also recall you had a cat named Sylvester…that had kittens. Is that right?
    I don’t remember much about our neighbors to the east, except that they had two dogs, Bingo and Jackie that would tear into each other on numerous occasions. My mother would take a pot of water and toss it over the fence to get them to break it up! Crazy what stays in your memory.
    I loved going to Nana’s place in Capitola. Her gardens seemed magical through a child’s eyes. Never got to bike to Montalvo, but it was a big deal to get to ride to Woolworth on Newhall and Bascom! I remember a movie theatre in Santa Clara (very near the apartment where my grandmother lived) with a “smoke shop” next door where you could get fist fulls of candy (Necco wafers, yes!) for practically nothing.
    My dad’s whistle could be heard from several blocks, which was our summons to head home for dinner. Remember “party line” telephones? Fun to reminisce those carefree years.

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      Hi Sally! Yes, Sylvester did have kittens. It’s funny, I volunteer at the SPCA for Monterey County, and on Friday I was recounting the story of our cat named Sylvester having kittens. I remember exactly where your grandmother used to live. I was curious the other day and looked up the going price for our house on Newhall that I think my parents paid something like $8,000 dollars for in 1957. Would you believe $1.4 Million? Lots of memories. Thanks for sharing yours!

  4. Lew, Wow! I am thrilled that Bell Street Press has returned. What a treat! And leave it to you to bring back memories that resonate with my own from the same era. I had the same kinds of experiences in the 1950s-60s — I would jump on my bike and ride … that-a-way … to nowhere in particular. I brought a small notebook with me (I was a nerd, before that word was created) and I would write down the names of streets that I hadn’t seen before. And yes, I had to be home before dark — no cellphone, no text messages. The other feature I remember is that most of the moms were home during the day in our neighborhood and most of those moms knew each other — most important, they all new MY mom. We knew that, if we misbehaved, one of those moms would report our transgressions to our own mom and would be in TROUBLE (remember “trouble?”). And, there were empty lots along the way — remember empty lots? Imaginations could run wild in empty lots, especially those with downed trees in them. Oh, yes, and I remember blowing up a few balloons and tying them to the spokes of my back wheel. That made what passed for a delightful motorcycle engine noise. One time I was so enthralled with it that I looked back at my back wheel and watched the action — I ran straight into the side door of a parked truck. No damage, no injury, but — worse — the kids I was riding with made awful fun of me and laughed me all the way home. Maybe it was 1959-ish.
    Thank you for publishing this piece, my brother, Luigi. I look forward to more. MORE!
    With my enduring affection,

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