The Clark Chronology
A "lifer" takes a trip down Memory Lane to the Pit, Bradlees, Frank's Wheel and back.
If you live in Clark but you didn't grow up here, we forgive you. Especially since you've had the good sense to make this place your home.
There's something about small towns. Growing up in one makes you either love it or hate it. When I look at the "lifers" in Clark, I realize that it is a place that not too many people hated.
Living where you were born and raised fosters a sense of belonging that I can't imagine recreating somewhere new. I can sit in the waiting room of my son's dentist and reminisce about the fun nights with friends at Frank's Wheel, a great bar that once occupied the footprint of building.
I work in the same high school I attended more than 30 years ago. Every hallway brings back a memory. The ghost of Mr. Faulks haunts me in Room 221, where I endured history class. It's also where I met my husband, Bob, which made the class bearable. When I am asked to monitor the girl's bathroom, I swear I can still smell the cigarette smoke that billowed out from under the door in the '70s.
Many of the Clark landmarks of my youth have changed over the years. I was not a bowler back then, but Clark Lanes (now Rite Aid and Bally Total Fitness) was a cool place to hang out. Quick Chek was a teen stomping grounds in the '70s, long before Dairy Queen and Dunkin Donuts were even built. Grant's Department store became Bradlees, then Bradlees became Target. I still miss Bradlees. But before any of it, I have vague memories of days when that entire lot was an empty field, and the circus would come in, set up its big top, and become a place for families to gather.
Does anyone remember the "black path"—or was it the "back path?" I never was quite sure. It wound along the edge of the Parkway from Walnut Avenue to Osceola Church and for those of us who lived over there in "Riverside," this was our lifeline to the rest of town. Years ago, it was fenced off when someone decided it was not safe for children to ride bikes or walk so close to the Parkway. But I can't help but laugh that for all those years, we walked or rode it to and from school every day without incident. Those memories, of course, trigger more... Another similar route, "the pony trail," existed on the other side of town. I am not sure if it was paved like the black path and I have no idea how it earned that name. I am quite sure nobody ever went by me at a full gallop.
The Bonanza steakhouse on Central Avenue came before McDonald's. At Bonanza, we picked a steak and heard it sizzle on the grill as we pushed our trays down along the line, searching for our side dishes and agonizing over which dessert would be the best choice. Today, in that same spot, kids now hope for the "right" Happy Meal toy. Gino's gave way to Roy Rogers, which left when Wendy's came calling. And all this daydreaming makes me hungry for a Gino's Giant burger.
I can't stop thinking about food on my trip down memory lane. I remember when Aliperti's restaurant used to be Tito's Pizzeria. I cherish the memory of driving to Tito's with my dad on cold Sunday nights to pick up the pie. I'd rest the box flat on my lap all the way home, enduring the burning on the tops of my thighs, because it kept me warm and I didn't want the cheese to slide around. Of course, the Clark White Diamond remains the constant, serving what we called their famous "rat burgers," night and day. I guess it was a term of endearment, because I love them just as much today as I did then. And I bet you didn't know that O'Johnnies once had a soda fountain where you could sit at the counter and slurp root-beer floats and milkshakes on the way home from school.
Brewer will always be a middle school to me. Generations of Clarkites attended school at Brewer. We competed with the Kumpf middle school kids in sports—and everything else.
Little League teams were formed according to where you lived, so all of the kids from the neighborhood were on your team, regardless of their talent. We didn't mingle with our Kumpf counterparts much until high school, because we were in four elementary schools and two middle school. Then we were unceremoniously dumped together in a "Regional" High School, as Johnson was known then, and expected to be as one. It was a longer bonding process, much different from today when kids all over town become friends at an early age through sports teams and a single middle school.
It was a great place to grow up and make friends. That is why Bob and I chose to raise our five boys here.
A carpool drive across town is more of a trip down memory lane for those of us who grew up in Clark. I could ramble on about this forever—in fact, those boys of ours insist that I regularly do—but I know that they're working on Clark memories of their own, which they'll pass along to their children.
Still, I'd rather hear about the things I have forgotten (like much of the late '70s), so fill me in and we will keep Patch full of those moments that shaped us all. And for real history buffs, there's a great Clark history room at Brewer filled with old photos and artifacts from the earliest days, even days before the township was formed.