Days Gone By (Summers as a 70s Kid)


I do not often stroll down memory lane.  I am not one to live in the past, preferring to look forward to the future.  However, I find myself thinking about my childhood these past few days.  I attribute this bout of nostalgia to a pending birthday and to the start of the summer season.

I was fortunate to have grown up in a small town in northern New Jersey in the 1970s.  Sparta was an idyllic place, nestled in Sussex County and far removed from Newark (the first place non-Jerseyans are likely to encounter upon arriving at the airport).  The crown jewel of Sparta (and shared with a neighboring township) is Lake Mohawk, a huge lake bordered by gorgeous homes and a quaint boardwalk.  Summers were magical in Sparta, the 70s were a simpler time, and I could not have asked for a better place to while away my own summer days.  

Lake Mohawk - photo credit to Bobbi Landrock

Lake Mohawk – photo credit to Bobbi Landrock

There were days spent roaming our neighborhood and exploring the surrounding woods.  There were days we rode our banana-seated bicycles, streamers whipping from the handlebars, baseball cards thwack, thwack, thwacking against the spokes, down treacherous, twisting Glen Road to the pizza parlor for a slice and a soda.  It was a scary journey, but the reward of a giant slice of cheese pizza dripping with grease made the game of human Frogger well worth the perils.

There were day trips to Tomahawk Lake.  One or more of the neighborhood moms would load a pack of us into the back of a station wagon or a Buick the size of a small aircraft, coolers packed with sandwiches and juice.  Donna Summer or Steppenwolf would be blasting from the 8-track player, the windows were rolled down for “air conditioning”, and any cares we may have had went right out those windows.  A day at the lake meant picnic tables, diving off of the docks, and if we were lucky, some pocket money to use on tickets for the paddle boats or the waterside.  The snack bar promised a treat of a snow cone or a cup of hot, crispy french fries.

The Boardwalk on Lake Mohawk- photo credit to Bobbi Landrock

The Boardwalk on Lake Mohawk- photo credit to Bobbi Landrock

There were special days when we would get invited to the Cruiser Club with a friend whose family had a membership.  This meant a glorious day of swimming in a pool that seemed endless in its enormity.  There were diving boards at various heights, as well as platforms at even higher heights to test your daring.  Again, there was a snack bar that promised soft-serve ice cream and those hot, crispy french fries.  What is it about french fries in a cup that makes them so good on a hot summer day?

There were block parties on Ginger Lane or down by Fox Trail Lake, with games and tables laden with each neighbor’s donated dish.  The dads stood around grilling burgers and dogs and complaining about crabgrass and the Yankees.  The moms sat around picnic tables sipping wine and cocktails, chatting, and swatting at the errant child.  Nobody counted carbs, or calories, or points back then.  Our plates were brimming over with potato salad, macaroni salad, and pasta salad.  We ate and ate some more, then we played while our parents drank and laughter filled the air.  Someone would bring out the sparklers, and the kids would run around in frenetic circles, dazzling silver sparks lighting up the night.

Lake Mohawk Country Club- photo credit to Liz Montgomery

Lake Mohawk Country Club- photo credit to Liz Montgomery

There were hikes in the Sparta Glen.  We had fireworks over Lake Mohawk for the 4th of July.  We watched ballgames at Ungerman Field, and we played on the playground in front of the library.  Lake Mohawk and its beaches offered more swimming, boating, and water sport delights.  There were picnics and backyard barbecues with tomatoes and corn on the cob.  (If you have never had Jersey tomatoes or corn on the cob you are missing out. It is called the Garden State for a reason.)  We had long weekends “down the shore” with beach days and boardwalk evenings, carnival games with cheap stuffed animals, funnel cakes and sticky cotton candied hands.

I am glad I grew up in the 70s.  I am thankful that our phones only went as far as the cords would stretch, and that video games were reserved for the most rotten of rainy days that forced us to stay inside.  Our car trips did not include DVD players or iPads.  We relied on our imaginations to pass the time.  We were free to roam the neighborhoods we lived in, and our parents were safe in the knowledge that there were other parents looking out for us, watching over us, and scolding us when necessary.  There was no sense of time beyond getting up when it was light and going to bed when it was dark.

Today, on the eve of yet another birthday, I sit back, close my eyes, and smile.  I inhale deeply and smell the sand and the salty french fries, the pine trees and the pizza. I listen and hear the sound of kids’ laughter and the thwack thwack thwack of a card stuck in the spokes of a bicycle wheel.  Today I am that child of the 70s, the summer sun is shining upon my face, and the living is easy.

View of the lake from Lake Mohawk Country Club- photo credit to Liz Montgomery

View of the lake from Lake Mohawk Country Club- photo credit to Liz Montgomery

 

(Special thanks to Bobbi Landrock and Liz Montgomery for allowing me the use of their photos.  These photos are the property of the individuals and may not be used without express written consent from the owners.)

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88 thoughts on “Days Gone By (Summers as a 70s Kid)


      • Wow, thanks for taking me down memory lane! I lived on Glenside trail in the Byram side of LM, and belonged to the Cruiser Club. I remember staying there all day, leaving only to go fishing at the red dock. I used to come home fron school in the fall and spring, and drive to the Marina to enjoy the view and drink a soda. Thanks so much for these memories.

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      • Hi Scott,
        Thank you for taking the time to leave your comment. I have loved hearing the stories from others who cherish their time there as much as I do. It was a special place to grow up for sure!
        Best,
        Karen

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  1. Happy birthday to you. I live close to Sparta and often drive to Lake Mohawk just to sit on the boardwalk and enjoy the beauty of the lake and the surroundings there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What lovely memories to have, ones that are shared by many of us who grew up in the 70’s. Life just seemed simpler & slower for everyone! Happy Birthday!

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  3. Happy birthday. I was a child of the 60s and can remember our first (and last) caravan holiday as a family, Dad buying an old ambulance and us going camping in it, and finding half a crown in the sand and buying ice cream for everybody and still having change!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love it. I grew up in the 70’s (and 80’s) and I can relate to many of your descriptions, well except the beautiful locations. But I do remember those carefree days and running/biking around the neighborhood until it got dark. And we would take our pennies (b/c that’s all it took) to the little convenient store for gum and candy. And yes there was no talk or worry about sugar/carbs or abductions. It really did seem like a simpler (and happier) time. I wish my kids could experience life without all the distractions (electronics) at least for a day. They just can’t get how good it can be without all their ‘stuff’.

    And happy birthday, Karen! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, we took our pennies to the 7-11 for our candy and gum. (I’m not sure what the closest equivalent is now that I’m in the South, maybe Circle K or Kangaroo?) The 70s were my innocent days…as I hit the mid-80s and my teen years not so much 😉

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  5. Karen, first of all, happy birthday! And second of all, I didn’t know that you’re from New Jersey:))))
    Your memories of growing up were so vividly written… I felt as if I were almost there with you, grabbing a slice of pizza and a soda!
    Lovely memories of a much simpler time when yes, phones had cords!
    Have a great rest of the weekend!
    *Lia

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Happy Birthday, Karen!

    Loved this post and all the great memories it brings back. (I was a 70’s Sparta kid, too, and still live here!) Just subscribed and look forward to reading your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Tracey,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to subscribe and to comment! I am curious… I had a gym teacher at Alpine and a Nurse at SHS with the same name as your maiden name. Any connection? (I was a good kid in elementary, but the poor nurse had her hands full with me in high school. She did try to keep me in line, though!) I truly appreciate your visit! 🙂

      Best,
      Karen

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  7. I did too and you awakened a lot of those memories for me. What a wonderful time to grow up before electronics became an extension to our children’s bodies (and our own).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love going over to Lake Mohawk and walk the boardwalk, have dinner or ice cream and watch the boaters. We actually went to a wedding at the country club there last summer. It’s a beautiful setting. That’s a great area to grow up. I’m sure you had a great time. I’ll say hello to the boardwalk for you next time I’m there…:)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Happy Birthday, Karen. Reading this, I see you and I had pretty much the same sort of childhood…..I loved this post. Many more happy memories coming down the pike for you, I’m sure, but sometimes it is nice to have a look at where we used to be….

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  10. Thank you so much for taking me to the 70’s (I was born in 1980). The summer we spent as kids was the best, there is no replacement of those days. I missed mine a lot but now I make sure that my son can have its own set of long lasting memories, just like his old pop!!
    Thank you once again!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Having grown up in Sparta in the 70s too,your story took me,very vividly in fact,right back to those care free days. I too remember waiting to get out of there when i got older,yet now i find myself wishing i was still there. I’m down at the shore now but still get up there to visit,see the old Hilltop Tr homestead and yea,maybe even stop for a bite and a beer at Kroghs. I’ve been out of Sparta now since 82 but it will always be my home.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. A great post Karen, thank you for bringing me back. I remember saving my pennies and my 1st bike had that banana seat and monkey bars. Then customized it a bit by adding what is known as a “sissy bar”.
    Was so interesting growing up in high school with long hair in guys, and yep Steppenwolf and their “Magic Carpet Ride”. 🙂
    I do have some 8 tracks tapes still, but my player keeps “eating” them. :(.

    Thank you for sharing! 🙂
    ~Carl~

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    • Thank you for the birthday wishes, it was a nice day! One of the last concerts I attended before leaving New Jersey was Steppenwolf and The Allman Brothers Band. They played at this cool outdoor venue called Waterloo Village. Great memories!

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  13. Karen, I can’t tell you how much this article means to me. It was sent to me yesterday by my oldest and dearest friend since kindergarten, and at first, I swear I thought he wrote it. It captures every memory of our childhood together in Sparta. He lived down the street from Tomahawk Lake and my family lived seven houses from Sleepy Lagoon Beach (across from the Cruiser Club). We hiked, biked and did everything in that town a kid could possibly do and not get arrested. I wanted for nothing, and nothing existed (except for NYC) outside of our paradise in Lake Mohawk. Nothing’s random in this life including this article. Thank you for taking the time to capture your memories in writing. It’s a lot of people’s as well as your own. Excellent work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi John,
      Thank you for taking the time to leave this comment- it truly has made my day! We were so fortunate to spend our youth in that town. I find that no matter where we go, and no matter where we end up, we always call Sparta home. I am thrilled to hear this brought back good memories for you!
      Best,
      Karen

      Like

      • Thank you for responding Karen! My mom’s birthday was Sunday and I included your article in her birthday card with some thoughts on how she contributed to making our family’s life at Lake Mohawk the best a kid could have. She was blown away by the sentiments you managed to capture. I had a hard time convincing her I didn’t write it but someone I didn’t even know did. She was smiling from ear to ear for minutes while she read it. She’ll read it a hundred more times and be taken back to those days. I wouldn’t have traded those days for anything in the world. You’ve touched a lot of lives with this one. Thank you and God Bless!

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  15. What a lovely post. The memories so vivid that I felt I was there with you. I’m a child of the 70’s too but from Canada. Our lakes and summers were very similar. Gin & tonics is what my parents drank, cold beer on the boat, the smell of the rubber mattresses we played on in the lake…ya, it’s still all there. Thanks for triggering my own summer memories. Hey, that first photo reminds of a scene in that movie “What About Bob?” with Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray. I wonder if that’s where it was filmed. Happy Summer!!

    Like

    • We spent a week every summer at Fifth Lake near Parham, Ontario. We stayed in these cottages with no TVs, no couches, and no hot water! The whole purpose of the trips were to relax, fish, float on those rubber mattresses, swim, hike, and explore. Other than have to take a “bath” in the lake with a bar of soap in our bathing suits it was always an awesome time! Not sure on the movie…I’ll have to look into that!

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  16. Happy Birthday Karen! You have shared lovely memories of your childhood. My childhood was in 80’s and 90’s but when I look back I do realize that those days were simpler with no smart phones and video games were a treasure of the rich. We would play in the streets till sunset and a single ice cream cone was a pleasure. Perhaps this will be with every generation and every adult would agree that their childhood days were simpler. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  18. I grew up in Sparta as well. Change the decade to the 80s, and this was my childhood and adolescence exactly. I haven’t lived there in over 10 years, but it will always be home.

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    • Hi Kelly,
      Thank you for reading and sharing your memories! Sparta didn’t change much from the 70s to the 80s. In my teen angst years I couldn’t wait to get out of there, thinking there was something better elsewhere. It was only as I grew older that I began to understand just what a unique place it is.
      Best,
      Karen

      Like

  19. Happy birthday a little late, Karen. This was a wonderful post. Although I only visited New Jersey once as a child (and still have fond, vivid memories of spending the day at the ocean), many of your recollections could have easily been from my 60s/early 70s childhood in Evanston, Illinois.

    And don’tcha just love those posts that write themselves?

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    • Thank you for stopping by! I wonder…thirty years from now, will people talk about the simpler, happier days of their youth as well?

      Those posts that write themselves are a gift! I’m realizing that more now as I am currently in the midst of a rather long creative dry spell! 🙂

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  20. Great article, I grew up on Castlewood Trail in the 70’s and remember spending Summer’s swimming in Fox Trail lake and that great ride down glen road to town and what at the time seemed like a brutal ride back up the mountain. But well worth it to go to Dominic’s for a slice or Sadies for some candy or swimming in Lake Mohawk, diving off the the diving board on the the boardwalk which is long gone. Still an Awesome place to live!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Brian,
      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment! I lived on Castlewood Trail, too! Small world… I was there from age one through seventeen. We moved to South Carolina at the end of 1988. We were so fearless as kids…I don’t think you could pay me enough money to ride a bike down Glen Road as an adult!
      Best regards,
      Karen

      Like

  21. Thank you for a beautifully written tale of your experience growing up at the lake. I was also fortunate to have lived there my entire childhood, and my grandparents were original settlers who lived across the lake in an original Crane house. It was an idyllic childhood with tons of activities at our fingertips. Some of us have moved on from the area, but our wonderful memories will always remain. And thanks for using Bobbie’s awesome photos. She really knows how to capture the lake’s beauty.

    Like

    • Hi Barbara,
      Thank you for sharing your happy memories! I lived off of Glen Road near Fox Trail Lake, but many of my friends and classmates lived on Lake Mohawk. Such an amazingly beautiful place! And yes, Bobbie captures that beauty through her photos!
      Best,
      Karen

      Like

  22. This was so fun to read! I grew up in Sparta in the 80’s and I feel like I have all the same memories. I went to college in the south 18 years ago and now live in Pawleys island SC. I love the south but I will always cherish my New Jersey summers.

    Like

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