Our house was one of the first built on the street, and there were no sidewalks. For a number of years, a large tree at the corner served as a mail drop, with a variety of mailboxes nailed to its trunk. At the time, it seemed perfectly natural to walk down to the end of the street and get your mail off of a tree. In retrospect, it was a very peculiar arrangement, which today, would probably cause a public out cry and qualify as a crime against nature.
The one end of the street sat at a higher elevation than the other end of the street, so that it felt like you were walking down a small slope as you progressed down the road. The houses on the opposite side of the road, all had retaining walls in the middle of their backyards, which were handy for jumping off and playing war, unless of course a mom happened to be looking out the back window, admonishing you NOT to jump.
I don’t have in my possession a very good picture of the house itself. Below is a picture that shows the side of our house with the back door, as well as yours truly with my long nose accentuated by mother’s insistence on short, short bangs. My mother and I were constantly at war about the length of my bangs throughout my childhood. I guess we can see by this picture, which one of us was right!
Besides my middle sister as a playmate, the neighborhood “gang” consisted of my friend Debbie and her brother Ronnie, Diane and her brother Jerry, Susie and sometimes, when he deigned to grace us with his presence, Susie’s brother Chris, Mary Ellen, and once in awhile, Pony Tail who lived at the farthest end of the street. Other kids from nearby neighborhoods would also play with us, but this was the core group.
Debbie was the one who taught me how to make the sign of the cross, when she was going through catechism classes. Of course, being a Lutheran, my mother frowned upon showing off this new talent when I went to our church the next time. When I found out by accident, that not only did she get to make the sign of the cross, and have a cool set of rosary beads, but that a quick confession absolved Deb for all that particular week’s sins, I was all like – sign me up!
And what particular sins could a child under ten have that would make the idea of confession sound good?
Well, for one, there was a game we played that involved throwing your flip flops at bees who were minding there own business in the clover, and then running like heck, squealing if the bee chased after you.
Of course, one bee got revenge for all, when I was running in my front yard one day, and ran out of my flip-flop, stepping squarely on one of those fine creatures. He rewarded me by jabbing his stinger into my instep. I gave bees a wide berth after that.
Another time, instead of playing hide and seek with my friends, as I desperately wanted to do, my mother made me keep an eye on my baby brother and my two-year old sister, while she went inside to start lunch or maybe dinner.
My youngest sister was painting on a large piece of paper on the sidewalk, when I looked away, craning my neck to see what my friends were doing across the street. I don’t think I looked away that long, but it was long enough for sis to get bored with the paper, and decide that using my brother’s face for a canvas was a much better idea. When I looked back, there my brother was with big black circles painted around both eyes. He never let out a peep. Was it my fault he was born with bad reflexes?
In my memory, summers lasted forever, and the days were filled with kick ball games, running through the sprinkler, communal reading of comic books, and plays performed and written by those of us in the neighborhood. It was a great place to spend a childhood, and there are many nights where I am back in that neighborhood, with those friends and that house – even if it is only in my dreams.
Until Next Time!
This post written for “Smile for the Camera’s” 3rd edition – a celebration of home.