Memories and Musings: The hometown park

Published 3:40 pm Thursday, February 1, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Gene Gallelli

It occurred to me during one of my many nostalgic moments how much my hometown parks had meant to me. In fact, I realized that many fascinating childhood park experiences often popped up during coffee conversations with friends and colleagues, along with debates over politics and myriad sports.

I’m not talking about parks in big cities that have them at every major intersection, but those small ones cherished by every village or town where the history and events of community life are celebrated. You know the ones I’m taking about, with the white-painted gazebo on maintained acres of land at the edge of town where football, baseball and soccer were played on the same field and where nearby high schools often held gym classes playing one of those three sports.

Get the latest headlines sent to you

Having lived in many communities during my career in education, I’ve walked, played in, and attended many events in several hometown parks, and most were named after a local benefactor, town founder, historical figure or local hero. Quite often the parks housed artifacts of both World Wars including artillery, monuments etched with the names of war veterans, and bronze statues of infantry in action.

My hometown of East Rochester had two often-used parks, one recently named after my all-time favorite teacher – it’s the one with the white gazebo where many high school gym classes were held. I pitched a winning J.V. baseball game against our opposing Fairport J.V.s there, and I may still hold the school record for the number of batters walked in a single game. Oh well, a win’s a win!

The other park was in a gully with a meandering creek loaded with speckled trout and carp; it also widened to form a swimming hole, before an outdoor pool was built in town. There was a paved road into the park where most high school varsity football and baseball games were played. The long sloping road was the best winter sledding site in town. During summer months, we never entered the park using the road; we used a steep, hillside path to validate our fearlessness.

In the summer, the town park’s division held arts and crafts activities in a pavilion that has been replaced with a wonderful facility complete with meeting and kitchen capabilities. Fortunately, the infamous his and hers “outhouse” has since been removed and a modern facility stands in its place near the old baseball diamond.

Even though my memory of the physical aspects of both parks is accurate, it’s the many wonderful memories that I attribute to both parks that remain close to my heart: The first fish I caught using a bamboo pole. Swinging on a rope into the swimming hole. Watching my best friend pitch the game that gave us the league baseball championship. Sitting on the creek edge thinking about the high school girl I had a crush on. Sliding down the snow-covered slope on my new sled.

I still enjoy the beautiful parks where I now live and take walks and attend events at them when time allows and the weather permits.

In my opinion, memories of hometown parks allow us to remember our early, clumsy days and remind us to take time in every day to exhibit a little childlike behavior. I try to do it every day and believe everyone should try it. After all, the child inside each of us has a right to be seen and heard.

Gene Gallelli was associate superintendent of the Dare County Schools for eight years. He received his doctor of education degree from East Carolina University, where he taught and supervised students studying to become school administrators.