My childhood neighborhood, Tanyard Farms, in Richboro, was really a great place for a kid to grow up.
Back in the late 70's and early 80's, it was a sleepy suburb of Philadelphia. Tanyard Farms was a development by Toll Brothers, nestled between a cow farm, a greenhouse, a slaughterhouse and a swim club. There was a small creek that ran through the development, and plenty of places for young children to play and romp. Tyler State Park was close enough for a weekend jaunt with our bikes in the wilderness of the area.
In the early years of our development, my family bonded with the other families that lived there. We used to have Block Parties each summer, with games, races and bar-b-que food shared by all families that participated. Each Halloween, we didn't really have to venture outside our neighborhood of 50 homes. We would have sleepouts and swim parties. We would construct BMX trails in the undeveloped lands that surrounded our community, with rarely a complaint ever heard.
Each season the boys of the neighborhood would play a sport. Spring was basketball season, with my brother Kevin showing his early glimmers of becoming the star of the neighborhood. We would play basketball for hours and hours, trying to outbest each other. Or, Kevin and I would play one-on-one. I could never beat Kevin for two reasons: One, he was just always bigger and faster than me. Two, even on the off chance that I did beat him to the basket, he would just make a simple noise to make me miss my shot. I don't know what it is, nor how to explain the strangled yelp he would make but it would make me completely miss my shot about 99% of the time. I would be completely miss my shot, because I he would make me laugh with his lame noises and throw my focus out of wack. After missing the shot, he would swoop in for the rebound and I would still me laughing and angry at the same time.
Summer we would play baseball or whiffle ball, at first in the backyard of our houses, and when we got bigger and stronger, we would play in the cul-de-sac of Deborah road, with my house as center field. You hit a house and you get the home run, i'm amazed my parents let us get away with this. I guess it was good that we would play with tennis balls and not hard balls, like we used in Little League. Doug was the king of baseball, the Michael Jack Schmidt and Popeye behemoth of our gang. Doug was, for his age, much, much larger and stronger than anyone we knew. There wasn't a single kid that could beat him in a fight, Doug was a great friend to have growing up. Plus he was great to have on your neighborhood baseball team, too, since he was a homerun slugger.
Fall would usher in football. Football was Vic's game. Vic was an extremely large and rotound Puerto Rican kid and it would take about 3 "normal" kids to tackle him. We would play afterschool each day, getting muddy and dirty from playing on grass. We would keep playing until the sun went down, and even some nights in the dim twilight, with our house outdoor "flood lights" positioned on our field. Scrapes, bloody noses and bruises were commonplace from football season.
Late Fall/Winter would be hockey season. Padded up for our protection and for the winter chill, we would set up a hockey net and play 3 on 3 games. We would emulate the Broad Street Bullies and it would be a very physical contact sport. Eventually we started using roller skates, and the goalie would have actual pads and a mask (no one wanted to be the goalie, however). Hockey wasn't our most favorite sport. Especially after one day when I wouldn't carry home the hockey net because I was wearing the goalie pads, stick and mask and it was hard to walk. I was ahead of him, about 15 feet away and Kevin threw his stick at me like a boomerang. It was a perfect shot, nailing me in the back of my legs and causing me to limp back to my house sobbing. I'm fairly sure that was the last time I played hockey.
Aside from sports we had games that we would play all the time. One was "Freedom", and easily the most popular game our neighborhood would play during the summers. It was a modified version of hide and go seek. The children would divide into two groups. One would hide and the other would search for those hiding. We would set up boundaries & zones that the people hiding could not go past. But otherwise, you could hide ANYWHERE you wanted while hiding - under or inside unlocked cars, in trees, bushes, pools or rooftops. Once a searcher found someone hiding they had to catch them. The rules of the catch are simple - you have to grab the person, hold on to them and shout "One Two Three You're My Man That Breaks No Holds". I have no idea where that phrase came from, but its the exact wording that must be used, ensuring that a simple "tag" wasn't enough. You had to grab and hold that person (or their clothing) long enough and say the phrase. If you couldn't hold on long enough, the person was still free and able to run away. Once caught, the person would be brought back to the jail, while the rest of their comrades were hunted. Now, the interesting part of the game is that you can free everyone in jail if you were quick or sneaky enough. If you were hiding and able to run back to the jail cell (it was usually a designated spot, like a porch or a mailbox) and touch it while yelling "FREEDOM!", then everyone in the jail cell was free to run away and keep hiding. The searchers win the game by finding everyone who is hiding, put them in jail, and prevent anyone from hiding form freeing those penned up. Once everyone who is hiding is caught, everyone switches sides: the searchers have 3 minutes to hide, and the people who were hiding become the searchers. Every once in a while in Hoboken I will walk through the park near the ballfield and hear the kids shout "ONE TWO THREE YOU'RE MY MAN" and I want to turn to them and say "You have to finsh it! You forgot, "That Breaks No Holds!". I think they call it Jailbreak up here, not Freedom. I'd be curious how the rules & game are different up here.
We were fun, active kids. We didn't have today's cable TV with 150 channels or Xbox or playstation (but Atari and Intellivision were a lot of fun!), and I can easily say that there was a good reason why you rarely saw any pictures of kids (besides Vic) who were overweight in our town, because we were always active outdoors. If I were to ever choose a place for kids to grow up it would have been Richboro in the late 70's / early 80's. I have been back to Richboro in recent years and its just overgrown with people. All the fields are gone, replaced by Mallard Creek, or new McMansion sized homes that dwarfs my old childhood abode. I think my parents made a great decision growing our family up there and I only look back on those memories with fond rememberance.