When Our Summer Occupation was Playing Outside

I grew up in a suburban pocket of a big inner city – that was part of Philadelphia. The area was a working class section, but the residents were upwardly mobile and the neighborhoods and schools were a source of pride. We called the area the Great Northeast.

I know I am not the only one who sees the reminiscing on social media sites such as Facebook which regularly remind us that our youth was a far simpler time.

It’s now summertime. I reminisce often on what summer meant when I was growing up. Most of us who did not go to day camp or sleepaway camp (I finally went for 3 week sessions while in junior high and loved it) did not have structured activity to keep us busy when school was out.
We just hung outside no matter what the heat was, day after day. We rode bikes, went to the neighborhood playground, (my closest one was called Tarken) and at least twice a week there was a free city-run pool at another playground called Max Myers. At this free pool, which was an oasis because we were otherwise surrounded by postage stamp lawns and greenery and a whole lot of concrete with no back yards, girls would happily don our swimcaps, and swim all day long until we were absolutely waterlogged. (We could only go on Girl’s Day to swim with other girls. I believe boys had M-W-F and we had Tuesday and Thursday, but correct me if I am wrong).

Back to my other days at Tarken, there was a very basic and almost primitive set of sprinklers that we used to run around in since there was no pool. (And in the winter, there was a skating rink there – not free, but we used to go there almost daily to skate.)

It was unstructured play and fun all day every day. If our moms were home, the soaps were on and with one TV per household, there was no choice to sit in front of a TV all day. (And of course no computers or video games to sit around either.)

So we were outdoors. It was hot, humid, and muggy most days and we never cared a bit. We conjured up things to do. There was a tiny local hill near Algon or Dorcas) that was a luxury as there were no parks in walking distance.  I would pretend it was my private park and brought picnic lunches for a treat and something different to do.

The simple equipment at those ancient playgrounds were less safety conscious and probably did not have to meet stringent codes like they do today. Here is a photo of me at the primitive monkey bars, where I would climb straight up them (standing upright) and then perch on top of them. They weren’t that entertaining but we found our own entertainment on them.


I even took advantage of the playground while a teen when others might have given up on it. In fact, we had just as much fun there as teens, knowing we were still kids at heart.

The aforementioned Max Myers playground, blocks further away, was a much fancier playground that we utilized from time to time. Aside from the free pools, it had a climbing giraffe, and a special sliding board we called the “Wiggly Waggly Sliding Board.” (It didn’t have a name marker but no one called it anything else). I am tickled as an adult that we called it this unique name. This was a sliding board that spiraled down in a circular fashion, and we loved that metal sliding board even if the hot metal burned us when it was super hot outside. We were a sturdier lot of kids who didn’t mind the burn for a little pleasure.


That’s how the summer days went by: entertaining ourselves outdoors all the long summer day with whatever means were available to us. There was no adult supervision or escorting to these places – just you g kids walking to them on our own. We didn’t come back home until dinner hour;  without watches, we kind of knew when to head home.
We didn’t bring bottled water but used public fountains when we got thirsty. If we were lucky we brought a quarter for the day with us and got a treat of a water ice (Italian ice) and soft pretzel from the trucks parked at the playgrounds, for snacks. The ice cream man was there too.

Since I was also a reading nerd, I joined the library’s book club. I was fortunate to grow up with a library right at the beginning of our street – less than a block away – and I was in the cool air conditioning there doing book club at least one of the mornings each week. I read those books every night, never missing an opportunity to read.

It’s amazing to me how structured my own childrens’ lives were in comparison to my own, and their children will have the same if not more structure.

Yet for us, it was just unstructured play, all day, every day. That’s what summer meant. Our jobs were to go out and play and have fun every day.

I would love to hear your own reminiscing here in comments below!


  • Arlene,
    Thank you for taking me back so many years ago. I grew up on the Max Meyers side of Castor Ave. I remember that giant slide. I was probably 8 or 9 when it was erected. One day after school I went to the playground to try it out. The closer I got the larger it got. There was a long line but I persevered. Finally got to the top and I froze. I let kids pass by me. Finally a classmate pushed me down. Wow what a ride. So I did it over and over.
    You are an excellent writer. Can I subscribe to your posts?

  • Susan Wexler-Weiner

    Arlene, from morning til night, I was at Max Myers playground. Board games like checkers and chess and Parchese, Jack’s, and arts & crafts. Basketball, BlueBelles softball, July 4Th festivities, watching my crushes play ball, all total fun without supervision. What a great childhood! Thanks for the memories.

  • The hours would fly by……such was summer in Oxford Circle. Thanks for the delightful trip down memory lane Arlene!

  • My summers were just like that only we also made big bottle Cap courts with chalk and would play bottlecaps for hours along with double Dutch rope games.

  • Good article Arlene! My family lived on Summerdale avenue facing tarken playground. In the winter time there was ice skating rink and in the summertime there was tennis courts and sprinklers to run through and get wet. Much of my life was spent at Tarken
    playground either there playing tennis or watching the men’s softball games that were there almost nightly. IE: The Budd company vs Tastykake company. Always good games and always fun watching them play. In addition to that we had Fels schoolyard around the corner that was a great place to play stickball or have bike races. Northeast, specifically Oxford Circle was a great place to live and grow up in. Thank you for bringing back good memories!

  • Arlene, My summers were exactly as you described. Same playgrounds, same experiences. One summer my parents sent me to day camp and I cried not to go but did end up enjoying it. I lived on a small street with a zillion kids and we all hung out together, shared our kiddie pools and barbecued together and shared food every night. It was a BLAST! Wouldn’t trade growing up there for anything. The BEST of times. The street lights meant it was time to go home.

  • I lived right across from Taejon playground on levick street. We only had one side of the street with houses the other side was Tarken. So close made it so available and we spent most of our days there as well. When my sons were young we spent t time there as well. They played little league baseball and my husband coached. I spent even more time there as an adult than as a kid. Took my kids there for ice skating lessons as well. Great times and such great memories. Thank you for the ride down memory lane

  • I remember most the excruciating boredom of those days, which was so intense it even became a form of pleasure!

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  • Hi Arlene,
    What a Great Memory that your Photo on the Monkey Bars brings back to me. I too hung in Maxies all summer long, both Day and Night in my Teens!! Mainly playing Tennis from Morning till “Late Night” just about “Every Day”!! The Swimming Pool was another reason, aside from learning to swim over at Boulevard Pools in my younger years, it was Fun Swimming with my Friends at Maxies every other day thereafter!! As a teen, I knew a lifeguard there, that I played Tennis with, and she would let us in the Pool late at night, since they watched the Pool late nights also, even though it wasn’t open. In fact, she grew up in your area, closer to Tarken, where we played Tennis also once they put Brand New Courts down over the old ones, in the early 1980’s. Her last name was Zahner, maybe you knew her or her Brothers.? A walk up to Roosevelt Mall was also always lots of Fun too!! Air Conditioned stores, plus the Galaxy Arcade, we were in Heaven!! And never looking for trouble either! Your attire reminds me so much of my youth, and Max Meyers!!! You know, when I was really young, My Dad used to carry me on his shoulders over to Max Meyers to watch Softball games, or teach me to catch and hit!! Then he’d take me up to the Pool, with the different Diving Boards, and deep 12-16 Feet of water under them. Eventually by the 90’s the City filled in the Deep Part of the Pool and the Diving Boards were removed as well, making it all one Pool, with 6 Foot at it’s Deepest Point in Middle!! But at the Time that My Dad took me as a Kid on his Shoulders and for years to follow, Max Meyers Playground was so “Well Kept” that it really looked like a Country Club, between the Pool-Dives, Basketball and Tennis Courts…..Beautiful Tree Shaded Picnic Areas with very nice Concrete Tables and Chairs built into the ground!! I remember the Pool, Boys and Girls Days, and the Mixed Day in between where both could go same day……even had a Family Day, maybe Saturdays or Sundays, and they enforced it too. The Nice Brick Walls that surrounded parts of the Pool were almost Artsy!! What a shame that “Respect for Property” was to come after our time, and now Max Meyers looks like a War Zone!! Those Playground Rides and Swings, Slides, Giraffe, etc….may not have had Inspectors for Safety like certain Playgrounds do these days……BUT……The Rides-Playground Slides, Swings, etc….were Built Far Superior than anything made today!! The Giraffe has still been there straight to last time I went by there a couple years ago, and despite all the years, and the Abuse that would eventually come his way in later years, The Giraffe was Still Standing “Tall and Strong” as Ever!!! You really brought back some Great Memories!!!!

  • Loved your story. I spent a lot of time at Maxies. My father ran Bushrod and subsequently the NE Regional Library.

  • I feel like I am providing my kids with opportunities by including them in organized activities and spending time with them. This is great for them but I am sad to think that they haven’t gotten to experience the freedom that I had when my parents just let me run free all the summer days. There was such joy in that. Tarken, Maxies, a journey by bicycle to Tookany creek park via Old Soldiers road; the steepest scariest hill to coast down with a bike. Venturing along the old railroad tracks behind the Oxford Village all the way down to the old Sears building. Such wonderful adventures with my friends that I’ll always remember. Are my children going to have vivid memories of their activities like I have? Is it an adult perception disconnect when I look at their life’s experience versus mine as a child? I sure hope that’s the case.

    • Don’t worry Bob, your children will look back on those days as the sweetest even if they are not as unstructured as ours were. It was a different era, never to be again. Thoughtful comment, thanks for sharing.

  • I remember Tarken playground and the monkey bars pictured above and the climbing wall of chains that g-d forbid if anyone had ever fallen from there surely they would have cracked their heads open – but no one ever did. I remember watching them build the ice-skating rink and how Friday nights were never the same after that. I also remember a wonderful swim club my parents belonged to for a few wonderful summers in Somerton. They don’t build them like that anymore.

  • I also remember those long long days of being outside. It seemed as though the sun would never go down. We came inside only to eat lunch and dinner and go to the bathroom at the library or at home.
    Though the place might look like a wasteland to our kids, brought up in manicured suburban neighborhoods, it seemed like Eden to us when we stayed out all day long in the heat, a water ice in one hand and an eggroll in the other.

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