Cookie cutter, assembly line houses made the streets the same. Built white bread, white picket fence whitewashed. Strangers could not tell one lane from another. Strangers were not welcome.
Once an orchard, a dairy farm, a hay field or cornrows, Mr. Levitt purchased land dirt cheap from families too exhausted to keep going for Veterans and their families with The American Dream. This was a Levittown.
They built four types of houses. Two kinds of one story houses: the little Kensington Rancher and the bigger Buckingham Rancher. Two types of two story houses: the smaller Cape Code called an Ardsley, and the larger Gramercy Colonial. Throughout the eight square miles of raped and ravaged land they built the same four houses. Rinse and repeat. Roads, sidewalks, lawns, and trees. Everybody lived in parks and the names of our streets started with the same letter or words as our home park. We lived in Garfield East and lived on Eastgate Lane which was just off of East River Drive. Ever clever.
The rules said, “No bushes or fences in the front yards.” It made it easier to play tag and kickball. We even got yelled at when our ball ended up on the neighbor’s front lawn. The old man actually came out his front door, all outrage and high dudgeon, tried to capture our ball before we could rescue it. When he beat us to it, he’d keep it until the next day. But since everyone had their own balls, we just kept playing.
In Winter, we built snowmen and igloos in our front yards, Dads competing as much as the kids. Snowballs flew over the top of cars slipping down the icy roads. It took hours and sometimes days for the plows to make it to all areas.
In Summer, we rode bikes with banana seats. When it rained and the sewers backed up at the end of our street, we waded in and swam in the flood waters. We drank out of garden hoses and ran through the sprinklers that wave back and forth like a liquid fan. We’d get called in for dinner and then be right back on the street. We stayed outside long after the lights came on.
Not all was rosy and idyllic. We were infested with bugs. Maybe mosquitoes. Since we were kids, we didn’t know and we didn’t care. Not about what they were, anyway. All we cared about was the cure. All we knew was that we were lucky because we had a great game to play. On random afternoons, in the heat and humidity of a New Jersey Summer, the Bug Spray Truck would make its rounds. It was basically a large bug spray can on wheels. It would travel slow throughout the neighborhoods spraying huge, thick white clouds of poison and we would run behind it, laughing and sucking all of the noxious fumes.