My boyhood home recently came up for sale. That would be 113 Windy Ghoul Drive in Beaver, PA. Flipping through the pics- which show a house virtually untouched (!) since we sold it in 1974- I was reminded of how much an impact my neighborhood had on me.
I could see my bedroom, and the front yard where I played endless baseball. I could see the pool where we swam until our fingers looked like raisins. The wall where my Mom’s lilacs framed the garden that provided us with so many fresh vegetables. The terraced lawns my dad loved and I despised, because half my allowance was dependent on mowing the eastern quarter. The roof where we climbed and played tag. The piano room where my sisters practiced endlessly (and I never learned a note). The giant game/playroom that was usually full of friends on a rainy day, and where we were expected to check in before dark.
Tim Urban’s blog Wait But Why talks about a main pillar of happiness being a sense of home, stability, and safety. Blue Zones talks about the same quality as common to those that live long lives. It’s a strong strand of everyone’s DNA, and it had a huge impact on my outlook, values, and sense of home, hearth and neighborhood. That’s why “Where you were born and raised?” is a main element of our generational debate show- Incredulous.
So I got to thinking about what all that means today. I couldn’t really interview an eight year old for that; they’re in the thick of it. So I went just slightly older, a legit iGen (1995-2010) with the improbable name of “Spiker” who’d grown up in the neighborhood where I now live. As we spoke, I realized I had settled in a modern version of my hometown, and perhaps would be able to pass along a few of the values that were so important to me. Of course, if you want to spend your precious childhood being a jerk, go ahead. We’ll be over here.
As Spiker talked around the dinner table, I did an amazing thing. I taped it, and he let me.
What values show up in you today as a result of growing up in our neighborhood?
A few keywords that pop up immediately are “sincerity,” “community,” “family,” “genuinity,” if that’s even a word. (No, sorry dude). It’s a strong statement, but our neighborhood has made me the person who I am today, and helped draw my ambitions for what I want to do in life, financially, but also from a career standpoint.
Just to give you an analogy, growing up in our neighborhood …it wasn’t just my parents that raised me. I credit countless families that raised me as well. My closest friends are all neighborhood friends, and part of that is because of the common ground I had with all of them. We did the same activities, played the same sports, did things like sleepaway camp … but not any camp, I’m referring to sleeping overnight in Captain’s Island, or Island Beach. That’s not only with my friends, but also with parents involved. A lot of these are memories I’ll have for my whole life.
Growing up, you’re with the community, 24-7. We were involved in everything, whether it was the water polo team, swim team, the tennis team, etc. Every summer all the families were invested in how you’re growing up, and asked “How was the winter time?”, because in the winter a lot of those connections kind of wither away until Memorial Day. People are so invested, especially in the kids, in how they’re doing, what kind of success they want to find in life, and how they can help. That’s the reason I talked about those words in the beginning. Just understanding how you’re doing, and how they can help in any way. That, to me, is what made our neighborhood such a special place. Hopefully one day I can raise a family in that same kind of community, if it’s not this neighborhood.
Tell me about competition and sportsmanship here.
The competition, it was perfect. Whether it was playing on the tennis team with your best friends, or traveling to different tennis clubs and playing against other teams, it was always so much fun. It was such a close family of friends, whether you were in the “17 and under” group or whether you were in “12 and under.” That to me was the first real time outside of playing in traveling leagues or whatever, that it felt like you were really part of a fun team.
The competition aspect was also great. There’s so many sports in high school that people are truly amazing at. But here, there were always families watching to see how their kids are doing. The sportsmanship was always instilled, it was always one of the biggest things. Learning how to play tennis, learning the sportsmanship of what’s “in” and what’s “out,” how to call the proper score, when to change sides, and that’s just for tennis alone. Same thing in water polo.
Having your parents always watching had a sportsmanship element to it, too — but the competitiveness at least, it was twofold, because you’re playing with your best friends on these team league sports… but with Junior championships you’re playing against your best buddies. Whatever happened happened. At the end of the day, it could’ve been a grudge match on the court, screaming across the sides of the net, but then after the match you go back to being tight with your closest buddy. That also created some competition, because you always wanted to beat your friends, just for the bragging rights.
What did you learn in the dining room about carrying yourself, dealing with older people?
Whenever we go out, especially with my family, it’s always in our neighborhood. The reason is not just because the food is great, and the views are great, but it’s also because, going back to the first question you asked, you have the best kind of treatment. The wait staff know you by your first name, and welcome you with open arms. Some staff saw my sister and I take our first steps in the dining room. There’s an extremely special connection.
In terms of the dining itself, with the etiquette involved, carrying a conversation, that all came together naturally. I grew up watching my parents talk to friends, how they conducted the conversation. I always wanted to model that, because I always thought my parents were the most polite, genuine, sincere people. Obviously, I’m very biased! I always tried to model it after them, and I hope I turned out okay.
There were just a lot of things, like when we were little ordering stuff off the kids’ menu and eating with family, friends, parents. They always made sure we were on our best behavior. If we were raising our voices, ordering out of turn, if we were kind of causing a ruckus, we always knew what was right and what was wrong at a very early age.
Which is also, just thinking about it now, an extremely powerful thing to have growing up. Because it’s apparent, the older you get, when you go to college or in your job, and you meet people from all walks of life… It’s just like the smallest things, when you’re at a dinner table, like how to hold a fork properly and things like that. You kind of pick up the little nuances about properly conducting yourself in a public setting.
What other experiences do you treasure from your time in the neighborhood?
There was one time, and I was probably like 11, 12 years old. I was just overhearing a conversation, and this little boy, he was probably around six, seven years old, just old enough to be away from underneath his parents’ supervision for an hour. He and his friends wanted to go play Manhunt, or Hide and Go Seek, over by the tennis courts all the way down to the pool. Then I’ll never forget, the father got on his two knees so he could be eye-level with his kid and said, “Son, I just want to tell you something. That this property, this place, this neighborhood, this is not real life, this is not reality. You can go and have fun with your friends, but I want you to know that this is just not the real world.”
It’s so true when it comes to “P,” a security guard. He’s seen me grow up since I was a toddler. We’ve gotten away with things, I’m sure, other people outside of the ‘hood won’t necessarily get away with. We would go pool-hopping, run in people’s backyards and go into the pool just for excitement, and then just keep on going until we made our way all the way down to the big pool. Halloween was always such an amazing experience, getting dressed up at our buddy’s house and then walking through the streets and whatever. Back then the “J’”s always had one of the most remarkable Halloween getups. They hired actors, and would have scary haunted mazes, stuff like that. I think they shut it down because it got too realistic. Kids were traumatized even though there was all the candy in the world.
Going to dinner parties or barbecues, and just walking down the street to different homes… Christmas parties were also special, just walking down a couple houses to see people in the wintertime that you hadn’t seen in a couple months.
That’s another reason why my friends are often at the pool together, and we never leave. We all work in Manhattan, for the most part, and there are reasons we don’t invest in a summer house in Montauk or the Hamptons. Everyone’s like, “You’ve got to do it, at least for one summer.” It’s because I truly don’t believe that kind of money is worth it with the setup we have here. Our family is here, all of our friends. The boats are here. If you want to play tennis, it’s here. The food at the snack bar, if you want to eat dinner at the bar…to me, that’s the most incredible thing in the world.
A lot of it also has to do with the property itself. Learning how to drive a car in our neighborhood was awesome. Because you didn’t have to worry about cars zipping by, and it was a very quiet place, so you didn’t have to worry about other people getting in harm’s way.
In a world like today, how would you convince your child that your experiences in real life (IRL) were more valuable than the next level on Xbox, Madden NFL ’16?
That’s a great question. For me, I was lucky, because all of my closest friends growing up, especially in the summertime, we all wanted to be outdoors. If we weren’t, if we were in camp … The reason why is because we were in camp, and we were doing all the activities from sailing to doing the camp’s annual show. I’ll never forget getting dressed up for “Greased Lightning” when I was five years old. Water gun fights, water balloon fights, “Red Rover.” Everything in the summer was outside, so I guess we gained an amazing appreciation for that, so that by the time we were old enough to start going out on the boat alone… This is just me, but there is no way you can tell me that sitting in a room, when it’s beautiful and 80 degrees out, is more fun than being on a boat with your best friends or going swimming at the pool, things like that.
I see so many people who are my age, who grow up in our neighborhood, or even years younger, that all have the same kind of interest, because that’s just how they were brought up. Of course there are going to be kids that love video games, there’s no denying that. But I think when you’re surrounded by so many people that love to play tennis, love swimming, sailing, or boating, you’re going to want to do that. That’s something that all of my best friends loved to do. There’s never been a conversation like, “Let’s go play video games.” It’s always, “Let’s go on the boat,” or “Let’s go to the pool,” or go to the beach. It was always something outside, no matter what.
I think growing up in this community naturally makes you aware of the beautiful things in life outdoors. The further away, the more miles you are away from our neighborhood, the more you appreciate just how spectacular and special and rare it is.
And tell me about your family and boats….
On my 15th birthday, I got a Boston Whaler. It was powerful because there was so much responsibility. There’s the same kind of responsibility, if not more so, than a car. At such a young age, that was a huge deal. No matter what kind of shenanigans there were, there was always “safety” behind everything we did. Making sure the engine was turned off, and the lines are out of the way…where the rocks are, and when the tides are up and down.
Before that, my family had a 50-foot beautiful sailboat, “Cherubini,” which was the prize possession in our neighborhood harbor for 35 years. It was the most beautiful boat in the harbor. When I was like two weeks old, I was introduced to life on the water. Growing up on a boat was such a special opportunity, so I have a great appreciation for the water. Me and my friends understand the kind of responsibility it took to maintain and to make sure everyone’s safe.
And.. yeah, maybe you’re going to have a few bad apples n the mix when you’re growing up. They take their good fortune and go the wrong way with it. For the most part, though, everyone I grew up with has become an amazing adult. You could interview any one of my closest friends at BH and I’m sure you’d get a lot of very, very similar answers, if not better answers than mine.
But we’ll do that another time.