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A Childhood “Over the Rainbow”

July 16, 2017 12:13 pm0 commentsViews: 1
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WIWAK-1

One August day in 1953, my father hopped a train to Bristol PA and arrived back home at 10pm to inform my mother to pack her bags. He had bought a new home for $8,900 on a $100 deposit in a new place called Levittown.

 

Thus did fate provide a Levittown childhood for Mike Tasker—a childhood he has lovingly and hilariously rendered in WIWAK (When I Was A Kid). In his years as an English teacher in the Pennsbury and Neshaminy school districts, Mr. Tasker always urged his students to write about their experiences. “I finally decided to take my own advice,” he said.

 

His new book details the goings on of thousands of ordinary kids and their families in what was then America’s largest suburban development. “Books have been penned about the period,” said Mr. Tasker, “but most, if not all, fail to get down to the nitty-gritty of the everyday kid on the streets.”

 

WIWAK is rich in precisely that nitty-gritty, the anecdotes and adventures of Levittown kids through their own eyes—from the hair-raising stunts on bicycles to the “duck and cover” drills in school “in case of nuclear attack by the Russians;” from chasing the bug spray truck to camping out in one’s own backyard.

Every summer in Levittown would signal the beginning of the great fruit heist. Many families owned their own fruit trees, but fences were not allowed to be more than four feet high. So kids, under cover of darkness, would begin their clandestine fruit harvest: peaches, nectarines, cherries, apples and pears were among the pilfered goodies. The heists provided not only the forbidden fruit, but also ammo for bombing roofs of snotty neighbors.

 

The book is written in brief, highly readable passages that often combine pure nostalgia with fascinating—and often forgotten—facts about Levittown history:

 

We bought rubber rafts and used them to float around Levittown Lake in late spring. The lake was originally dug out by Levitt to help make concrete for his mammoth housing project. On opening day over a thousand people from all over the county would come to try their luck for rainbow, brown and brook trout. But after the anglers had given up on pursuing trout in the former quarry by mid-May, we would swim and float out to the middle of the lake. In certain parts of the lake we could stand on a sandbar where the trucks used to drive out to pick up sand and stone. Today the Lakeside section surrounds this huge lake.

 

Every winter we looked forward to a tasty neighborhood delicacy, sucking on the six-foot icicles that hung off our Levittown roofs. The houses did not originally have gutters built onto them, so icicles formed everywhere.

 

Although Thomas Tasker died not long after his family moved into their new Rancher in the North Park section of Levittown, Mike Tasker’s remembrance of his youth is a profoundly happy and affectionate one. “We really believed we had landed somewhere over the rainbow,” he said. After attending St. Joseph the Worker School in his elementary years, he graduated from Pennsbury High School—where he would later teach—and worked as a sportswriter for the Bucks County Courier Times.

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Mike Tasker’s address has barely changed—he still proudly resides in North Park—but the world he captures in WIWAK has largely vanished. “The Boomer generation was unlike any that has come before or since,” he said. “These kids were allowed to be kids, by parents who had a lot of their youth taken away from them during the Depression and World War II. These parents were determined to win for their kids a childhood that they never had.” ■

 

WIWAK (When I Was A Kid) can be purchased at www.lulu.com for $12.95

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The Lower Bucks Leader comes out every two weeks and can be found at over 700 high-traffic locations in Lower Bucks County. To find a host location nearest you, call 215-499-5535 or email us at Editor@LowerBucksLeader.com

 

 

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