A Century AgoAugust 7, 2022
Recent Gathering to Honor a Head Football CoachAugust 10, 2022
Summertime Memories in Conshohocken
by Brian Coll
This is one of those articles I write every so often where I talk about part of my childhood in Conshohocken. For some reason the year that is always in my mind when I write these types of things falls into the 1984/1985 era. It probably has something to do with the music, I can vividly remember playing on Forrest Street during Live Aid in the summer of 1985 and running in to check when certain bands were taking the stage. I remember hitting record on the VCR, a fairly new contraption (at least in our household) somewhere in the collection I probably have the Led Zeppelin set featuring Phil Collins on drums that was never released as part of the official video from the day. I could sit here and write about Queen stealing the show, or local favorites the Hooters as one of the opening acts, but this isn’t Rolling Stone, it’s Conshystuff and I’m going to go back to Forrest Street somewhere in the mid 80’s.
So, in 1984/1985 I’m in the 10 or 11 year old range (please don’t do the math) and by this time of the summer Conshy Little League has wrapped up. I loved playing baseball, officially at Sutcliffe Park as part of the Hawks (the coolest of the major leagues at the time) or unofficially any day of the week in any pickup game around. As far as the pickup games went, there was a makeshift field at 7th and Fayette, home to the former Conshohocken High School and later the site of the first Montgomery County Community College. Today Santander Bank calls this old lot home. That was probably what I’d consider my home Sandlot if you will, but instead of sand there were a few rocks in the hard soil, glass shards scattered about and since it wasn’t an official park and the dog laws weren’t really a thing, you had to dodge your share of dog turds. This field was across from the Acme, where you could get like 7 cans of warm soda for like a buck and since no one ever really fielded a whole team, two bucks got everyone a soda. We’re not talking Pepsi and Coke here people… these were names like Cola, Orange, not every soda got it right, some flavors were just colors that didn’t necessarily correspond with actual flavors…. anyone want a Purple? We were west side mid ave kids… everyonce in awhile we’d get a visiting team come over, you know, like East 7th ave kids. If that happened you had no idea how long you’d actually play.
People today will say kids aren’t the same, and they are only partially right…. the thing is, in the time period I’m talking about, we could fill a major league roster with the amount of kids from one block, and you could do that all over the borough. It’s a little harder for a kid today to gather enough kids to go play a giant pick up game of baseball. Plus the kids that really want to play today, all somehow play travel baseball and such. That wasn’t really a thing for my generation. It could have been nationally, but most kids I know who grew up in Conshy, it just wasn’t a thing. I think kids want to go out and play, but a little of it is the parents and the time we live in. As a parent myself, I’m not ready to let my kids go out the door at 8am and say, hope to see you at lunch. I’m not saying that is what our parents wanted to happen back in the day, but there was a little of the pack mentality. I’m sure I told some lies as a kid, like I’m only going to the park. I may have left out what park. Conshy had its share of parks, still does. If you’re reading this, check out one of the concerts in the parks around Conshy, the next few weeks take place at Mary Wood Park on Thursday nights.
Forgive me, I write like I talk and I do both as things pop in my head. In my mind I was playing baseball with my old Forrest Street gang, wearing high socks, not sure if it was a fashion statement or simply what we could afford from Flocco’s or Woolworths. The high socks helped me slide into the dirt pile we called third base. You know, maybe kids do have it a little better. In my household we had one pair of shoes at a time. They were our dress sneakers, play sneakers, workout sneakers, crick sneakers, my kids throw their crocs on when we go play in a creek somewhere. I still buy black sneakers because I just know I’m going to mess any white sneakers up two days after I get them. So on our little home field where the old school used to sit… I don’t remember anyone having assigned positions on the field. Some days you pitched, played the outfield or an infield position, most games we never really had a whole team so you normally did without a right fielder or maybe got away with a 3 man infield and one of the kids waiting to bat played catcher. Even writing about it takes me back and reminds me how good we really had it.
Days we weren’t playing baseball we were on our bikes exploring as much of the area as we could. Some days we’d invite ourselves to the Plymouth Gardens pool (if we knew someone we could normally show up and sneak in somehow). If we didn’t get in the pool, guess what was right there? The silt basin. I think I promised my sister Jackie that I wouldn’t write too much about the silt basin anymore so if you were there, you know about it, probably loved it like me and can agree if you were in the movie Stand by Me, that the silt basin would have been the most likely place to find a dead body. Moving on….
One of my friends from this era is an incredible writer, musician and artist and his name is Serge Bielanko. He has a collection of essays called Thunder Pie, it’s a paid subscription and he talks about his family life, his days of touring the world in the band Marah and he occasionally talks about growing up in Conshohocken and I’m going to steal something he recently wrote. You know what, I’m not going to steal, but I’ll paraphrase this next part. In a personal essay he was talking about going for a car ride with his mom and brother. He wrote of turning the corner onto Fayette Street, past Tommy Kows taproom, past Bolero’s Pizza, past Al’s with it’s stainless steel door. When I read that, and I paraphrased badly.. it hit me. This scene rolling around the corner from 9th Ave down Fayette Street.. boom, boom, boom. this was my paper route as a kid. I’d have to walk my little ass into those bars, weave my way through all the grown men to get the attention of the bartender. I’d deliver my newspaper and slowly make my way back to the door. At the two bars mentioned there was a heavy smoke in the air. Before I get too far away from Serge and his writing, he’s truly talented and if you ever want to read something real, something that makes you think, please look him up. I’m not sure if this link will work or not, but here he is https://sergebielanko.substack.com/?utm_source=substack&%3Butm_medium=email&%3Butm_content=share&%3Baction=share&utm_medium=email
Back to that block, between 8th and 9th on Fayette Street. Bolero’s, damn it was good. This of course is debatable, but to me… to me it was great. It was close to home, the guys working there took pity on the kids around the corner and it’s the first place I had what I consider a specialty topping. Before this, I had only had pepperoni on a pizza, my culinary world changed the first time I had cheesesteak on a pizza. I still order it at Franzone’s but I know my love for it as a topping came from Bolero’s. I mentioned being a paperboy and on days I had to collect from these places… I think all my money was spent on this block.. beer nuts from one of the bars, slice of pizza from Bolero’s or maybe a hoagie from Jem’s at the corner of 9th (I’d say hi to my mom who worked there). If I wasn’t spending all my money on this block, it didn’t make it past Josie’s on 8th between Forrest and Maple. Again, I could talk forever about Josie’s baseball cards and penny candy and that sweet old lady who looked after our gang. And again, my sister has told me…everyone knows you love Josie’s!!! And I did love Josie’s, my dentists thank me that I loved Josie’s….
Recently I watched a movie with my kids called Finding Ohana (I think that was the title) and it was billed as a modern day Goonies. We enjoyed it. Part of it revolved around finding a treasure and early on in the movie the main character (a young lady who did an excellent job) was doing what’s called Geocaching. After the movie, the kids and I decided we would give it a try. More to come on that in a future article/story.. but going back to my days in the mid 80’s… I’m not sure this was really a treasure but in certain woods, maybe all woods and while we called them woods… it was probably more like an area between a few houses that had a bunch of trees and overgrowth there were treasures to young boys. Maybe you’d find a stash of adult magazines, these would be wrapped up in plastic bags. Like one generation passing the baton to a new generation. in some cases someone would stash their pocket knife away from prying eyes only to be found by the next group of kids to wander along.
While I’m thinking about this…. I’D LOVE TO PUBLISH SOMEONE ELSES MEMORIES OF GROWING UP IN CONSHOHOCKEN OR West Conshohocken. If you think you can write something and feel comfortable putting out there…. e-mail me. email@example.com
I really wanted to write more, but I’m more excited about hearing from someone else. I think someone could be my age and have had an entirely different Conshohocken childhood just a few blocks away. I’d love to publish some other people’s memories, reach out!