Growing up in Chatham in the 1950s and 1960s

There are clearly a lot of activities for tots and teens in Chatham now, but what was it like for children in the good old days? Ginny Nickerson, a longtime resident, shares some thoughts about growing up in Chatham in the 1950s and 1960s.

Life was very simple growing up on the Cape then. In the summers, we would wake up in the morning, and right after breakfast, we would head outside and spend hours playing around our yard and in the woods. We would go fishing and polliwog collecting; we would build forts, climb trees and swing on the large bittersweet vines.

We played hide-and-seek, caught fireflies, made daisy chains, ate wild clover flowers, honey suckle and all kinds of berries and played “fairies” under the autumn olive bushes. There were large fields, lots of woods, very few fences, very few houses, lots of insects, birds, pheasants, quails, frogs, turtles, bats and other wild animals.

We took swimming lessons at Oyster Pond. My mom would drop us off in the morning and she would go to work at her Children’s Shop on Main Street. After finishing our lessons and playing at the beach, we’d walk up to the shop. We’d bicycle everywhere, roller skate or run around barefoot. Our shoes came off in mid-June and they were rarely on until we went back to school. Life in Chatham was very casual during the day in summer time, but in the evening if any of our parents went out, men always wore jackets and ties and women were “dressed to the nines.” We always dressed up for church, parties and town meetings.

Our summer friends arrived in late June and left right after Labor Day. It was lonely and quiet then and most of the stores, inns and restaurants closed for the season. Even the movie theater! But we could wander all over North Chatham in the off season, and go anywhere we wanted, since all the summer homes were shut tight.

In the winter, we would check with the police station to see which ponds were frozen over and head out ice skating right after school. We’d also go sledding and come in soaking wet and frozen only to dry our clothing on the old cast iron radiator and head back out again.

When I was a teenager, I could not wait to graduate and leave Chatham. But when I was at college, I realized what a paradise Chatham was and I could not wait to come home to the ocean, beaches and wild nature of the Cape. I am glad to have been able to live off Cape for many years and I am delighted to have been able to come back to stay. I cannot think of a better place to live.