Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Public Library, Newark, NJ

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city

The Lovin Spoonful sang those lyrics back in the summer of 1966. For those of us who grew up in the city, the song certainly rang true.

Today marks the first day of summer, and as I thought about a topic for my Inkspot post, my thoughts drifted to those hot summer days of my childhood.

I grew up in Newark, NJ back before community pools or recreational centers. Swimming involved families either sending their kids to camp, driving down the shore, or paying to belong to either a private swim club or the local Y. My family had no money for any of these luxuries. Six of us were crammed into a tiny two-bedroom apartment. My parents slept on a sofa bed in the living room. My sister and I shared one bedroom; my brothers shared the other.

Summers in the city were brutal. Fans were nearly useless. All they did was blow around hot air. Eventually, my parents bought a small air-conditioner for the living room, but it did me and my siblings little good since we were all sent outside first thing in the morning and only allowed back in the apartment for lunch and potty breaks.

What I remember most about those summers were the hours and hours I’d spend at the library. The library was such a magical place for me that I never thought twice about having to walk over a mile in 90+ degree heat to get there. Once I arrived, I was transported to far away places, sometimes wonderful, sometimes not so wonderful, but always an escape from the realities of summer in the city.

What did I read? Everything. Back then the librarians ran summer reading programs and kept track of the books we read. After finishing a book, we’d give a brief oral report to the librarian. She’d record the book and hand out certificates at the end of the summer. I don’t know what happened to my certificates. My parents probably threw them out when we finally moved to the suburbs. What I do remember, though, is that every summer I read the most books of anyone taking part in the summer reading program. Perhaps those long ago summers of reading at the library played a role in me becoming an author. I’d like to think so.

How did you spend the summers of your youth?

Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist and has been nominated for a Book of the Year Award by ForeWords ReviewsDeath by Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series, was released in January. Visit Lois at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog,


Shannon Baker said...

Remember when summers seemed endless? Ah, for that freedom now!

Caridad Pineiro said...

I lived in Levittown and we were lucky to have community pools and also Jones Beach right nearby. We would spend the summer months between the two and between an assortment of street games on our quiet blocks. We'd also spend lots of time at the library, picking up books to read or just hanging out!

Kathleen Kaska said...

Thanks for bringing back those summer memories for me. Growing up in a small Texas town, the only thing to do was hang out at the swimming pool from morning to night and eat peach ice cream. But, I also remember the coolness of libraries, literally and figuratively.

Lois Winston said...

Shannon, what I remember is how it always seemed so long before summer vacation started. Why is it the older we get, the faster time flies?

Caridad, we lived across the street from a private city swim club. It was sheer hell knowing that pool was so close yet so unattainable.

Kathleen, we had the Good Humor man driving around the neighborhood every day but were only allowed to buy one Dixie Cup once a week. :-(

jeff7salter said...

Loved reading your library memory.
My small-town library memories are treasures to me.
Public libraries also have a special place in my heart because i was a professional librarian for nearly 30 years. In fact, the library HQ bldg --in Shreveport, LA -- where I spent some 26 years resembled the one in your picture here. Though it was built at a post office and court house and remodeled (inside only) as a library during the 1970s. Italian Rennaissance.

Lois Winston said...

Jeff. confession time -- the picture is an old postcard of the main library in Newark. I couldn't find a photo online of the branch I walked to all those summers ago. It may no longer exist.

Beth Groundwater said...

I definitely think those long summers of reading led to you becoming an author, Lois! I, too, participated in summer reading programs as a child, at the library of whatever USAF base my family was living on each year. And, I, too, was a voracious reader.

Lois Winston said...

We certainly didn't have all the other stuff vying for our attention that kids have today, Beth!

Anonymous said...

If I may talk about being an adult in the city!!! Manhattan can be a sweltering jungle in the summer and I live one block from the 92 Y - and for many years would beat the heat by doing my writing in their wonderful library! Then, just two years ago, they closed the library! We were just devastated! It was cool in all the meanings of the word!! Thelma Straw

Anonymous said...

In the summer when my brother and I were home from school, mom dropped us off at the library while she went shopping. In eight grade I won the library's summer reading contest by reading the most books! And I wasn't even trying to win. The newspaper ran a photo of the two runners-up (both boys) and myself. I stood a whole head taller than both of them. I always stand out in a crowd.
Sally Carpenter

Shelley Freydont said...

I grew up in Georgia, summers were hot, sticky and there were bugs. I lived at the library, or if it got too busy with adults (I refused to use the children's section, precocious little brat that I was)I went downstairs to the local museum (Yes they were in the same building and they were small). the museum had a Cherokee exhibit, several costumes, a canoe and a diorama of the Trail of Tears, and a mummy case (Egyptian) and a few other odd relics.

Vicki Doudera said...

I too, read a TON in the summer but my fondest memories are of slumber parties in the huge wall tents my friends and I all had in our backyards and also our trips to the drive-in. We would all crowd in some Mom's Country Squire Station wagon and see the double feature. So much fun!

Thanks for the memories, Lois! (PS I went to kindergarten outside of Newark...)

Lois Winston said...

Thelma, that's such a shame about the Y closing their library.

Sally, I'm usually the shortest person in a crowd. No one knows I'm there!

Shelley, I think the bugs are worse than the heat in summer, especially when you keep hearing a mosquito buzzing around your head at night but can't find it.

Vicki, I think drive-ins have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Are there any left anywhere in the country?

Kathleen Ernst said...

I grew up in the burbs of Baltimore, way before AC, and remember sweltering nights. I also remember trips to the library or bookmobile, always a huge, huge treat!

Lita said...

Lois, Summer in the City has been playing in my head all day. I grew up in Elizabeth and we didn't have any community pools either. The only relief we had was running through the neighbors garden sprinklers. Some neighbors were nice, others not so much.

I spent so much time in the library anyway and I don't remember if there was air-conditioning or not. Our libraries were very old and always seemed cool because they were made of stone.

I do remember going to the library up the street when it was cold and venturing up to the main library during the warmer months. The main library was always so much more fun because they had FLOORS of books and microfilm of the old newspapers. Ah, now I am yearning to read a copy of the Daily Journal.

Irene said...

My grandfather worked with canvas. He made us a wading pool out of scrap material. If you got down on your belly, the water would just about cover you. Despite the grass clippings and crowding from other kids in the neighborhood, we all managed to at least get wet and cool.
On weekends, my parents took us to Lake Hopatcong. I only got out of the water when pulled out by an adult. And, oh, that hour's wait after lunch was endless!

Lois Winston said...

Lita, I don't think the Newark library was air-conditioned, but it was brick with marble floors and huge windows. So it seemed cooler, especially when there was a breeze blowing through those windows.

Kathleen, I only remember the supermarket and movie theaters being air-conditioned when I was younger.

Irene, that ride up to Lake Hopatcong in cars without air-conditioning must have been sweltering!