Tom Purcell, 5/22/2017 [Archive]

Missing the Old Neighbors

Missing the Old Neighbors

By Tom Purcell

Two of my family's old neighbors passed away a few weeks ago, and it makes me sad.

My family's old neighborhood was like many suburban neighborhoods that sprouted up in the 1960s.

Many of the people who moved there grew up in the city. All of them wanted big yards in which their kids could play.

Many wanted to be near St. Germaine Catholic Church and its elementary school. Parents wanted their children to master solid values and receive an excellent education. And the good nuns at St. Germaine sure did deliver.

We moved into our new house in 1964, when I was 2. It was a basic, square house - brick on the bottom, white siding on the top. It was a no-frills house designed for raising children.

And there were a lot of children. I was born at the tail end of the baby boom. Neighbor kids were everywhere. The Gillens had four; the Greenaways, four; the Kriegers, five, and so on.

It was, in some ways, a tough time to be an adult. Most families got by on a single income.

Fathers worked and fretted over the bills, while most mothers, who lacked the career opportunities they have today, stayed home and worried about the kids.

But it was a great time to be a kid. Moms kept a watch on the neighborhood, leaving us free to go outside and play. We dammed creeks to make pools, built shacks with supplies scavenged from new-housing sites, and jumped our bikes off of plywood ramps.

There was only one major rule a kid had to abide by: We'd better be home in time for supper.

Every kid had a unique sound to call him home. My father went with a deep, booming, "Tom, dinner! Tom, dinner!" I could hear him a mile away.

When moms did the calling, they always used full names. They often sang, too, as my Aunt Jane did when calling Mike and Kevin home: "Miiiiiikkkeeelllll, Keeeeevvvviiiiiinnnnn, suuuuuppppppeeerrrr!"

All of the parents in our neighborhood were children of the Depression, whose families had very little money when they grew up.

Some served in World War II and others, like my father, served during the Korean War. They took the first good job they could find, married young and, despite their modest means, began families right away.

They scrimped and saved and did everything they could to help their children have better opportunities than they had.

They lived simply and honestly. They paid their bills on time. They voted. They volunteered at their churches and schools. They didn't expect others to do for them or give them anything they didn't earn for themselves.

They supported each other in times of need. Every time my mother had a baby, the other mothers showed up with meatloaf, side dishes and dessert! If a dad suffered a broken leg, the other dads took turns mowing his lawn.

All of these parents raised kids who are doing well in life. After many years of toiling and sacrificing on behalf of their children, they got to see them blossom.

Most of their kids went on to college and fruitful careers. Their children blessed them with grandchildren and, now, great-grandchildren.

Now in their 80s, these parents enjoyed far more blessings over their long lives than they ever expected - their country flourished over that time beyond their wildest dreams.

It makes me sad that they are passing on now. To me, they represent a happy, uncomplicated, prosperous time in American history that is gone forever.


©2017 Tom Purcell. Tom Purcell, author of "Misadventures of a 1970's Childhood" and "Wicked Is the Whiskey," a Sean McClanahan mystery novel, both available at, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. For info on using this column in your publication or website, contact or call (805) 969-2829. Send comments to Tom at

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