Cedar Grove is a suburban town located
in the rolling hills of eastern New Jersey.
My family moved there in the late 1950's when I was in kindergarten.
A good place to grow up, it was
safe and had large parcels of woods and farmland that had not yet given way to New Development.
public school through 3rd grade then transferred to St. Catherine's, close to where I lived.
and I would bump into each other at the Candy Store which was located on busy Pompton Avenue just a stones
throw from my front door.
It's formal name was The Sweet Shoppe and as far as the kids were concerned it was the most happening place in
Old fashioned by today's standards, it had a wooden Phone Booth in the back and a Soda Fountain with all the trimmings.
It carried all kinds of merchandise ranging from Stationary to Cigars to Baseball Cards
(a nickel a pack) to Candy Bars (a nickel) to Sodas whipped up right there at the Soda Fountain with Seltzer and Flavored
watch as the Counter Person squeezed in the syrup from a Pump then added Seltzer.
This was the way it was done back then and on a hot Summer
day it really hit the spot.
In Winter the place was dense with the aroma of Soup, Coffee and Hot Chocolate and
older men would sit at the counter reading Newspapers and talking about the weather.
For us kids it was like
King Tut's tomb.
the latest toys including G.I. Joe's, Silly Putty, and Water Pistols were there, a huge array of Candies and just
about anything a kid might want could be found at the Candy Store.
Miss Munch's House
A short walk down Pompton Avenue was an
abandoned Victorian "mansion."
The previous occupants were an elderly woman and her sister who were in their nineties and had
lived there for since the 1800's.
The old house was 3 stories high, dark and foreboding and in a
state of disrepair.
Overgrown shrubbery and trees shrouded it from view.
Out back was a dilapidated
Shed filled with broken furniture and tools.
We used to go in there to rattle the furniture and watch startled
rats and mice run up and down the walls.
Behind the house were the remnants of the Family Farm and each autumn
Gourds, Squash and Pumpkins still grew there in abundance. To us kids, it was Magic.
When Miss Munch
passed away the first floor was boarded up to discourage kids from getting inside and having the run of the place. This is
of course exactly what we would do whenever the fancy struck.
If we needed a thrill, Miss Munch's house
was right there waiting for us.
Hearts pounding, we'd slip into the darkness never knowing
what we might encounter inside.
The place was in disarray, the rooms filled with clutter ranging from brass beds
to piles of Magazines and Newspapers from the 1800's and even a broken piano in the living room.
The kitchen shelves
were stocked with Mason Jars filled with fruit grown right there on the property and broken dishes were scattered around.
As our eyes grew accustomed to the shadows we'd make our way upstairs and go from room
to room until a noise, real or imagined, would send us scurrying outside into the reassuring reality of a crisp Autumn
The world again!!!.....where we could feel the breeze through our hair and see the traffic whizzing
by on Pompton Avenue......Safe!!!
Having once again braved the vague terror of Miss Munch's house, it was on to the next adventure.
Then one day the house
was torn down........gone forever.........
It was back in the days of Glass Milk Bottles.
they were Quart Sized then upgraded to Half Gallons, then, in the Mid 60's they went to Gallon Jugs.
was a 25 cent deposit on each one which was a Windfall to a kid in 1965.
The local Super Market was
where we went to redeem our bounty, then run over to the Candy Store to eye the assortment of things to choose from.
Anything you wanted was 5 cents so one milk jug could net you two Candy Bars,
a pack of Baseball Cards, Chewing Gum and a Lemon Ice.
The only problem was that the jugs
were hard to come by so we devised our own system.
We'd head to the Super Market and
go around back to the loading dock where the Jugs were placed in shopping carts.
be dozens of those bulbous beauties glistening in the afternoon sun and we'd pluck a couple and bring them around
to the front of the store to redeem them. One trip kept us in Candy and Butterscotch Crumpets for the entire afternoon.
The gravy train ended when a Cyclone Fence was erected around the loading dock to keep the bottles from walking away.
Newberry's Department Store
There were afternoons when we'd head over to Newberry's to explore that fascinating world.
in our play clothes we'd saunter up to the Display Windows where Mannequins were decked out in the latest fashions
and position ourselves there among them.
Staring off into space, we'd strike
a pose as if we were Mannequins too and fight like mad to keep from laughing.
People passing by would
do a "Double Take" when their eyes fell on the 2 Life Like Mannequins with twisted smiles on their faces......
For a little added effect we'd wrap an arm around the Mannequins next to us
and hold the pose like one Big Happy Family.
It always got a laugh but it was never very long before
the Manager would show up and toss us out of the store.
For the amount of fun though,
it was worth it.
Of course we had to repeat the Performance every time we returned to Newberry's.
couldn't help ourselves.
The Cedar Grove
There were times when Alf would have some wicked
fun at my expense when we'd go swimming at the Cedar Grove Pool.
head taller than me, he'd sneak up behind me and drag me to the deep end of the pool where the water was over my head
but only up to his chest.
He'd then let go and watch as I tried frantically to paddle back to the
shallows while swallowing huge gulps of water in the process.
In the background I could hear his whoops of
laughter which made me laugh harder and swallow more water.
Once I made it back I would curse him out while he
taunted me from the safety of the deeper water.
Alf, like my other friends knew me in my Heart of Hearts.
The neighborhood wasn't like school where I always had to be "on."
For me, school meant pressure...... pressure from too much Homework....and
pressure to be something other than what I was.
I couldn't wait to go home at the
end of the day so I could play football or baseball and just hang out with friends.
Once that bell rang and I
walked home it was a Different World.
Off would come the baggy pants, shirt and tie and I'd turn
my attention toward an afternoon's adventure.
Cedar Grove was brimming with Possibilities, one of which was the Slaughterhouse, an Awesome Structure on
county property not far from where we lived.
Like Miss Munch's House, it provided
us with Adventure when we wondered into its Inner Sanctum.
It was huge with long
Corridors where the Cattle would be restrained until the Coup-Do-Grace was administered.
cooing in the rafters made it sound very spooky and like Miss Munch's House, the slightest noise would send us running
outside through the tall grass until we reached the streets of the neighborhood.
The Slaughterhouse burned
down a few years later in a Spectacular Fire that had the town buzzing for weeks.
Then there was the Reservoir where we went fishing
in the Golden Days of Summer.
This took a bit of gumption because you weren't really allowed to fish there.
We'd roll out of bed before dawn and walk the mile or so and squeeze under the fence.
like Eden in there and even Mediocre Fishermen like me could catch many fish in a day.
All you had to do was cast your
line and in minutes you'd be reeling in your catch.
We spent many a day fishing and
swimming in the clear water.
Though we often complained about being bored, Cedar Grove was an Oasis in Space
and the era in which we grew up was a Golden Age of Freedom that may never
be seen again.
By the time High School rolled around I was seeing
less and less of Alf.
I went to Essex Catholic in Newark and Alf
attended Cedar Grove High School so our paths crossed less frequently and less frequently still when in summer of 1968 my
family moved to Glen Ridge, several miles away.
was a long period of time when I didn't run into Alf at all or other childhood friends for that matter.
As far as I was concerned my world was changing and not for the better.
I was thrust into New Situations in a New Town, in a New School and I began to feel great uncertainty
about where my life was going.
The world I
left behind was far more palatable to me than the one I was now facing.
It wasn't until my Senior Year that
I'd find myself in Cedar Grove......
visiting friends who also went to Essex Catholic.
Saturday Evening we ended up at a dance at Memorial (Cedar Grove H.S.)
We heard music coming from the Auditorium and tumbled in among the crowd where a band was playing.
Between songs I caught a glimpse of the Lead Singer and who of all people should it be???
None other than my old friend, Alf......
He was decked out in a Purple Vest with long
fringes and a pendant hung around his neck.
the time I hadn't seen him he'd Morphed into a Hippie..........
but that was Alf.........ever adapting, ever changing......
When the set ended I went up to him, shook hands and for a few minutes we talked.
We had both changed or more accurately we were "going through" changes.
We lived in different worlds now, moved in different circles.
We didn't quite recognize
each other because we didn't quite recognize ourselves.
We made some polite talk and then I had to go.
"See ya man," he said, shaking my hand.
take care," I said.
It would be a long time before I saw him again......