SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. – If you were in the sixth grade hosted by Torger Gram, an English teacher who gave you weekly compositions to write, the heading of this column would be familiar. Of course, it was once a bromide, too, in almost every English instructor’s class, public and private schools.
Nationwide, returning students would be asked to build descriptive, adjective-laden sentences (hopefully) by relating what happened to them in a relatively carefree time. The paragraphs would be about the same across the U.S. – details of trips with family, hanging out with friends, birthdays, swimming, even boredom – but different as well, unique to the area.
So it is that we come to the summer of 1954 in a village called Spring Valley, 30 miles north of New York City but with the suburbs yet to build out, still far removed from Gotham save the visiting of summer bungalow dwellers. This is still a community where the soon-to-be sixth grader, the fellow or gal who would write compositions for Mr. Gram at the North Main Street School (or for teachers at the South Main Street, Monsey or St. Joseph’s schools) was probably third generation Valley, at least, headed for the same desks their parents sat in (some of whose reputations would precede them). In many cases, kids who played together were the sons and daughters of people who had also mutually passed sleepy summers in the Valley.
Vacation time would bring youngsters together at the Spring Valley Theatre, where we would watch “Stalag 13,” “House of Wax,” and, later, The Diary of Anne Frank,” “On the Beach” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” We would buy candy from Brown’s next door since the theater charged triple for Necco wafers, Jugifruits and non-pareils. What Brown’s did not have was Bon-Bons, a box of vanilla ice cream bits covered with chocolate. The cost was 25 cents, almost double the admission sticker for the Valley Theatre (14 cents).
We might head back to Brown’s after the movie, if we could afford a soda, or go across Main Street to Arvanite’s Luncheonette. (In later years, there would be trips to Perunna’s, Bartero’s or Martio’s for pizza.)
Since we had free summer time, our parents would send us on errands. We might go to DeBaun’s Hardware or K&A for something, or to the five & ten or to Slavin’s Drug Store. Haircuts would be had at Balogh’s, Rocco’s and a few other places. We took our portable radios to Ro-Field Appliances and picked up dry-cleaning items at Ideal Cleaners on Church Street.
No matter where we went “downtown,” we’d end up in Memorial Park, where we’d find other pals on the swings or the merry-go-round. We might also head up Church Street to West Street, past the Ukrainian Church and onto the old Erie tracks, which could take us to Monsey and the sandstone Indian caves down in the glen. If we came back to West Street, we might play with the huge piles of scrap metal at Consolidated Stamp or head off to the Clopay factory on Church where boys found scraps of shade material to use in building summer huts.
Days were spent outdoors, under shade trees, playing canasta or other card games with friends, and on some occasions, indulging in an innocent-enough “spin the bottle,” organized whenever three or so girls located three or so boys.
The hot nights were endured without air conditioning, tarrying out as late as we could, given the 9 p.m. Spring Valley curfew, “enforced” by friendly police. Some evenings found the boys sleeping outdoors in their huts in the woods not yet bulldozed for post-World War II development.
Each summer was its own, with physical and mental development driving moods from one to the next for growing youngsters who enjoyed themselves without much money, who had few luxuries, but who enjoyed pals who seemed to be there forever. The key ingredient in these sleepy seasons was stability, in a village that never seemed to change.
Come September, it was easy for many Valleyites to write “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” since that time had passed so easily, so simply, with good memories. All across America in that year of 1954, the writing surely came fairly effortlessly as well, with distinct area flavor. Yet not one experience elsewhere was fully interchangeable with that in Spring Valley. That was our unique gift.