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Childhood Memories

Of Sheffield


As a child I went to visit my Grandparents in Sheffield during the summer months with my sister, Stephanie, and our cousins Pat and Judy. As I recall it was an annual event. Our ages those days ranged from 6-12.

My grandparents, Gay and Barnard O’Connor, were affectionately know to us as Moccy and Poccy. They summered in a large yellow house set back from Route 7 known as Netherby. It remains a gracious home however all our action was out back.

We ran barefoot those summer days, amazingly free and unattended. A year separated each of us. I was the eldest, then came my cousin Pat, sister Stephanie and finally cousin Judy. Pat and I were the leaders and decided on a whim if and when the others might join us. Seniority did have its privileges.

At the end of a large mowed lawn, the property was bordered by railroad tracks, extremely busy in the 1950s. The train whistles and rumbles woke me early in the morning and and soothed me to sleep at night. I was comforted by their presence, sound and regularity.

We children knew the tracks were dangerous. In the daylight we would walk gingerly down them, vigilant that a train might be just around the bend. We knelt with our ears to the tracks and guessed by vibration when the next would come. We collected, wherever possible, and hoarded pennies to place on the track before an advancing train. Once it had passed we searched the grounds, hoping to find the totally smashed coin. We were alternately thrilled and terrified by the large, dangerous machines as they raced by. In retrospect I am amazed we had so little supervision.

Then there was the barn, old, musty, intimidating and dark. A ladder rose to the half floor above where birds and, we believed, ghosts lived together. It was gloomy on the sunniest day and housed a tractor, tools, old furniture. Wonderful for climbing, hiding, searching - always with our hearts in our mouths. We amused ourselves by creating scary stories in the gloom. Each year one of us would inadvertently step on a rusty nail. Then off to the doctor, Mercurochrome and the inevitable tetanus shot.

There were some lovely old evergreens on the property, perfect for climbing but only if you were a certain height. One had to reach the lower branches, swing the body up and begin the climb from there. It was Pat and my exclusive hiding place. We balanced a plank upon the branches and called it a treehouse. Away from the bothersome youngsters we would feel superior, discuss private things and plan for the future.

Fast forward fifty years, I received a phone call from Pat. He reminded me that, sitting in the branches of our favorite tree, we had planned to spend the centennial together. Really? Yes. It was a solemn vow. And so we did these many years later. We celebrated together in Sharon with great joy to fulfill a promise made in the heights of our tree.

Then there are snippet memories, sensual images and smells with no context or story.

Moccy’s victory garden in early morning, the dew glistened on the lettuce heads. My grandmother with her basket picking vegetables for the day.

The kitchen with the old butcher block table that held cookies with their delicious smells.

The cupboard in the living room where all the board games lived. The old house smell when one opened the door. Play in the evening hours in sometimes not so friendly competition.

The old maroon station wagon Moccy used occasionally. In truth, we walked to the village, we did not drive much. Yet on those rare times, we children rushed to the car to be the first in the front seat, the one to start the engine by pushing a button near the steering wheel.

Those hot summer days were filled with freedom and joy. No place to go. No place to be. Just children creating a world of our own in a beautiful, green outside space.

These memories hold a special place in my heart for the Town of Sheffield. And perhaps, not consciously but possibly, a real part of the reason I returned to the Berkshires.