We didn’t always need a watch to know what time it was. We didn’t have cellphones that we could just glance at for the time, either. No, we had other means by which we could tell time. Watching my kids play outside today, I wonder if they’re able to discern when it’s time to come in other than by either Wendy and I telling them. So, today I thought I’d take a look back at some of the ways we told time when we were kids.
Walnut Street is one of the busier streets in the City of Lockport. As one of the major east-west corridors, along with East Avenue, High Street, and Lincoln Avenue, many people use it to traverse the city. However, there are times of the day that it’s really busy and times that it’s not. Back in the 1980s when I was a kid, there was more of a marked difference than there is today even though there are more cars today than back then.
The manufacturing giants of Lockport were the main reason when I was growing up, most notably Harrison Radiator. The Harrison plant is really mostly a straight shot down Walnut to West Avenue with just a quick turn for Upper Mountain Road. What resulted at shift change was a mass exodus from the plant to points all over Western New York. Many of those escaping factory workers came down Walnut Street.
Crossing Walnut Street was always a tricky proposition at the best of times. It was an event to set my mother’s heart a-flutter. Right around 3pm, the traffic picked up considerably and crossing was best left until later. It also meant that my dad would be home in the next fifteen minutes, so we better get our attitudes in check and make sure there were no toys in the way on the driveway for when he pulled in with the motorcycle. All summer we got into a routine when we heard the traffic noises increase that we’d simply pick up the driveway. I don’t think we were actually aware we were doing it. It was all subconsciously.
We always knew when 5pm rolled around. That was dinnertime for Matt Broecker’s family. His dad would lean out the door and give the longest, loudest whistle I’d ever heard. It didn’t matter where we were, in Mott’s Field or knee-deep in the creek, we immediately headed home for our own meals. I have never heard anyone whistle that long at that volume before Matt moved into the neighborhood.
During the summer, we always had to be home around 9pm. With it still being mostly light at that time, it was sometimes hard to keep to that schedule. It was dark enough after 8:30 that we mostly stayed out of the woods. With the leaves and branches, it was always much darker when we were in there. Luckily for us, there was a street light in front of our house. Once we heard the buzz of the light as it clicked on and warmed up, we knew we better skedaddle home.
In the spring and fall it got dark earlier, so it was much more difficult to tell the time. We’d turn on the light over Mott’s Field and play back there until we heard Mr. Broecker’s second whistle of the day. Then it was off to our respective houses until the next day. Of course, it was always very important to remember to turn off the light at Mott’s Field. No one wanted to lose the right to play in the field after dark with illumination.
The next day, we’d start all over again. We spent a lot of time outside when we were kids. There were days that we spent indoors, but most of our time was spent exploring the woods and creek, playing in the field, or riding bikes, playing basketball, and just hanging out. Sometimes it seems like the girls are inside too much, but really, they do spend a ton of time in the backyard. I think it’s a wonderful thing that they enjoy being outside.
Ironically, whenever Wendy wants to get the girls, even when they’re down the street, she whistles. While it is as loud as Mr. Broecker’s, it’s not nearly as loud as his was. It still is an eerie reminder of my days of youth. Every once in awhile, I think I hear that whistle and hear someone yelling to not forget to turn off the light.
Craig Bacon needs to take the time to reset the sundial. It’s off by about seven minutes. Or the sun is moving faster than it used to. It must be a side effect to global warming.