When I was six…

I really loved Singapore Actually’s entry on what life was like when she was six years old in 1970’s Singapore over at White as Milk.

In return, I promised to write an entry here about what life was like for me when I was six years old in Ayer, Massachusetts, 1984/1985.  I can’t find a picture here of me when I was six, but I did have a photo of when I was 8.  The majority of my family photos are in Boston, in my in-laws parent’s basement with the rest of our stuff.

Crystal, age 8 (instead of 6, sorry)

According to google maps street view, this is the house we lived in.  I lived in an apartment with my mom, aunt, and grandparents.

The house wasn’t quite so run down 20-ish years ago, and the area where the car is parked was a fenced in green lawn.  There was a swing set.  I don’t know if my grandparents put it up or if the landlord had-there were other apartments and at least one other apartment also had another child.  There were purple lilac bushes–I remember picking lilacs in the spring for the house, and how lovely they smelled.  I remember there was a path of different colored large stones that sunk when it rained heavily and there was a lot of mud.

I shared a room with my aunt.  My grandparents had the other bedroom, and my mom slept on the fold out sofa.  She used to work the night shift, so I saw her in the morning and when I got home from school (I think), but not at bedtime.  My aunt or grandmother usually put me to bed.  If I was sick, or had a nightmare, I would go out to the living room and they would let me wait up for my mom.

One of my more vivid memories is that my grandmother always had a jar of Oil of Olay on her bureau, and she’d use it to moisturize her skin every night.  Even today, the smell of Oil of Olay cream makes me think of her.  She had a crocheted Santa that she kept in a drawer of her bureau, and if I was good, I could play with it.

I attended school at Hilltop Elementary school.  School years in Massachusetts run from September through June.  In September of 1984, I was still 5, and I turned six about two months into first grade.  In those days, Kindergarten was a half day program, so this was my first year with all day school.  All day school meant starting at 9am and ending at 3pm.

Behind the school was a swamp.  My mom would occasionally take me there in the summer to pick wild blueberries.  I wonder if that has been paved over or developed…I haven’t been back to that school in well over a decade.

I had one my favorite teachers that year-Theresa Vincent (I was lucky enough to have her again for the few months I spent in third grade in Ayer–we moved up to Maine in 3rd grade, but moved back just before the end of the year).  She isn’t necessarily the kind of teacher most people think of when they picture a first grade teacher.  She was tough.  I don’t remember her as soft as nurturing.  But I do remember that when she tested my reading ability, she realized I was a strong reader….and pushed me to start reading chapter books.  At the start of the year, I was the only kid in my class allowed to take books out of the chapter section, and it made me feel so grown up.  She never told me the meaning of a word, but instead handed me a dictionary.  I struggled my way through “The Secret Garden” and “A Little Princess,” and although I’d always loved books…I remember first grade as when I became an independent reader and an obsessive bookworm.

I must admit, though that my memory is a bit faulty.  I would have sworn that I first started reading The Baby-Sitters Club when I was six.  However, the series didn’t begin publication until I was 8 (which would have been third grade).  So there’s that.  But I will cheat and say that this series was a HUGE influence and part of my elementary years.  I remember rushing to Waldenbooks at the searstown mall in Leominster and checking to see if a new one had come in (they were published very fast, if memory serves).  I was also a lover of Sweet Valley Twins (the characters from Sweet Valley High, but middle school aged), classic books like “A Little Princess” and fairy tales/fantasy books.

Other than Waldenbooks at the mall (which we only visited on days that we were at Market Basket to grocery shop-a treat if I was good), I also looked forward to walking to downtown Ayer, where my other favorite bookstore was-BookBerry.  I looked online, but can’t find a picture of what it used to look like.  I remember that the sign was blue with gold letters.  In 1991 I would buy my very first cd there; a Gloria Estefan cd.

We lived in a lot of different apartments over the years in Ayer and Shirley when we lived in Massachusetts–I moved between Mass and Maine a lot.  By my count I attended 10 different schools in 13 years of school.  I spent the most time in Ayer–1/2 of Kindergarten, 1rst, 2nd, part of 3rd, all of 4th-6th, and a month or two of 7th, so I think of Ayer when I think of “home” as a kid.  However, there was one constant–the presence of Fort Devens in my life.

Fort Devens was an army base when I was a child.  It closed in the 90’s, although there is still a small Reserves center there today.

My grandfather retired from active duty when I was 10 months old from Fort Devens.  However, he kept working on the base throughout my childhood.  My grandmother worked at the General Store.  My mom worked at a cafe and the grocery store.  My aunt worked at the daycare center on base.  My babysitters were all located on the base.  Many of my friends lived on the base.  I saw movies at the theater on base.  I knew all about saluting soldiers (and would salute them regardless of their rank-which tickled the Army Privates–the lowest soldiers on the totem pole–NO ONE saluted them).

If you were on the base at 5pm, you’d hear a cannon shot and everyone had to stop what they were doing during the time it took to lower the American Flag and fold it according to ceremony.  At six, I thought this was really cool.  By 12 or 13, I’d just roll my eyes.

I also loved trick or treating on Fort Devens.  Back then most of my costumes (like everyone’s) were made of plastic with a mask that I’d bought at Woolworth’s.  Late October weather was always dicey, so we had to buy them big to fit over a coat.  I don’t have a picture of me, but I do have a picture of Ravi that illustrates the basic principle.


Halloween costumes came in a cardboard box with a clear plastic window on the front through which you could see the mask.  When you opened the box, a wave of vinyl/plastic smell hit you.  I’m sure there were all sorts of terrible chemicals in those costumes, but I feel nostalgic thinking about them.  At some point I was a care bear, she-ra, and other cartoon characters.  My most creative costume, though, was when I was around eight or ten.  I found a black and yellow striped sweater at k-mart, and paired it with a sparkly hat to which I attached pipe cleaners.  I paired it with black leggings.  I declared myself a “tap dancing bumblebee.”

I watched a lot of tv when I was six.  I had to look up what shows were on in 1984, and from this list I can say that I remember watching The Snorks, Dungeons and Dragons, The Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks (why I can’t stand the current re-make–MY REMAKE WAS BETTER), and Looney Tunes.  1984 was also apparently when Punky Brewster first aired, and I was a huge fan (I so wanted her sneakers). I remember watching Knight Rider, which I loved because of the talking car.

In 1984 I was deeply into My Little Pony.  I’m not sure if I had a cabbage patch kid yet, or what year that fad was, but I had plenty by the time my childhood was over.  I was a very girly girl, and loved barbie, play makeup, dress up and all sorts of stuff like that.  However, I also owned toy guns with which I played cowgirl.  Back then there was an aisle of toy guns at the toy store (Childworld –see a commercial of theirs from the 80’s here), something that is anathema today.  I also owned a few transformers, as I was a fan of the cartoons, but I was never into them (unlike Ravi).

I’m not sure if I have the age right, but I remember my mom driving a red car, and that one of the biggest rewards I could get was to sit in the front with her.  Back then the cars were made out of far heavier metal, and seat belt laws were close to non-existant.  In fact, I’m a bit horrified when I think about how I used to put the chest strap part of the seat belt behind me, and relied only on the lap belt.  My mom played a lot of Oldies 103.3 music (which is why, even today, I know a vast number of 50’s/60’s songs by heart), but was also a fan of Kiss 108 (a radio station I still listen to today when I’m home)…and that we would sing along to Madonna (Lucky Star was a top hit of 1984).

I’m sure if I had a photo album of my own handy, I could tell you guys about so much  more, but this what I remember right now.

Add your memories in comments below, or, better yet–write a blog entry about what life was like when you were six and link it in comments!

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13 Responses to When I was six…

  1. bookjunkie says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. You were such a gorgeous little girl. You actually look the same now – just an adult version of you 🙂

    Your mention of Oil of Olay brought back some memories for me. I used to watch my mum apply the stuff daily. I loved being in her room during this after shower ritual.

    It must have been hard on you to change schools so often though.

    As I’m much older than you some of your memories remind me of what my cousins played with – like her My little Ponies for instance. But I did watch Punky Brewster too…loved that show.

    I too know more 50/60’s music because of what my dad played….what they call evergreen hits? It was my partner who introduced me to more of the 70’s music which I now love to bits.

    This post prompts me to ask another question – what was it like being an only child? Did you ever long for a sibling?

    • Crystal says:

      It was rough to switch schools, mostly because curriculum is not standardized within a state or throughout the US. As a result, I had to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” (one of my favorite books) three times in high school, but didn’t read Jane Eyre until college (I took a women in Lit course) and never had to read Dickens. The older the grade, the tougher it was to catch up. I actually dropped out in 12th grade with the intention to repeat it because we moved mid year and I just couldn’t catch up in Chemistry and Algebra 2, but I ended up getting my GED instead so I could just get on with university.

      Life as an only child…that’s another post, I think, especially as Ravi and I are both onlies.

  2. Dawn says:

    I agree with bookjunkie – you look exactly the same as you did at 8!

    Also, I LOVED the Babysitter’s Club at that age. And Ramona. And Anastasia. And the Narnia series, which someone had given me one of for my fifth or sixth birthday and I couldn’t stop until I’d finished.

    • Crystal says:

      I loved Ramona and Narnia, too, although I never liked the ending of book 7. Re-reading them as an adult (with all the accompanying understanding of what Lewis was doing) is a bit difficult because holy crap does it beat you over the head with the Christian Mythology (and yes, I know Lewis was a theologian….but I loved the Screwtape Letters for doing the whole theology thing with a bit of snark) which I totally missed as a kid. I’ll definitely read at least books 1-3 (as they were numbered when we were kids–I do not accept the new numbering of the books) to the girls and let them discover the rest if they want to read them.

      • Dawn says:

        Weird thing is I got “The Magician’s Nephew” as the gift, so I started reading them in chronological order, and the librarian in the children’s section actually guided me through what that order was. So I guess I read it in the “new” order rather than the “old” order even before the “new” order was the standard one. I can see the appeal of the original order, though, and I also agree that the ending of the last book was kind of apalling for a children’s story. And yeah, I don’t think many kids get the Christian part, and since it’s presented in a way where you’re not meant to believe it’s anything other than the mythology of the story, and most fantasies have mythologies associated with them, I don’t see a problem with it.

  3. notabilia says:

    We’re the same age. Thanks for all the pop-culture memories!

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  7. cw says:

    Crystal…Hill! I remember you! Wow. I was also in Miss Vincent’s class…but my memories are not quite as…warm…haha. Anway, this is weird. I hope you are well.

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