I’m more in the mood to walk down memory lane than to do comedy, so if you feel like a little trip to the past, come join me. When I was a kid, we had the advantage of living in a working class neighborhood, which meant that no one really had much money. I don’t ever remember being jealous of anyone as a kid. When someone got something new, we didn’t want one ourselves, we all just sponged off of them.
Lisa Cain had an outside, under-the-carport ping pong table so there were always five to ten kids (or more) playing ping pong. The Armbrusters had a croquet set, so we’d all migrate en masse to their big back yard whenever that was set up. At our house we had a pole vault and high jump pit, and a homemade ping pong table out in the back yard, so we always had kids hanging around.
If someone was home, we went to their house and started playing with whatever they had to offer in their yard. Sometimes the kids didn’t even come out. The whole neighborhood belonged to us, and we played outside every day the weather allowed. Since this was Tennessee, most days were outdoor days, even during the school year – until it got dark.
In the summer, we played under the streetlight at the intersection of two streets. One street butted into the other – it wasn’t a thru street so you had to either turn right or left. If you went right, it was a dead end, so no one really drove on our two streets except the people living there, which made the intersection perfect for playing softball in the summer. A manhole cover served as home plate. 1st and 3rd were storm drains, and 2nd base was the intersection of two cracks in the concrete. The only down side to this was when the ball rolled into the 3rd base storm drain. A strong, older kid would have to remove the grate and a little kid would jump in and retrieve the ball. They were only about 3 feet deep and never had any water in them, so it was never anything more than an inconvenience. I got to be the little kid who jumped in and grabbed the ball sometimes, which made me a 5 second hero. Then Phippy Sams pulled me out like I was no heavier than a doll, which was as fun as a carnival ride.
A couple of summers Sandra Mead got together the older kids and put on a variety show. She and the other stars draped blankets over clotheslines to make a long curtain. All the parents attended and we were treated to corny skits and off-key singing that delighted us because most of us had never seen “live” entertainment.
I had one best friend in the neighborhood, Christine, and I spent most of my time with her, but we spent most of our time hanging out with all the other kids. The Gallagher’s yard had a chin-up bar in back that we’d have contests to see who could do the most pull-ups. The Gallagher’s kids were already grown and gone but Mr. Gallagher, who we called Poppy, liked to taunt us to do more by saying, “pull, pull, pull, you can do it!” My older brother could do a bunch of them, and when we’d all finished Poppy would grab the bar and the muscles in his lean, tanned arms would flex into hard balls as we counted off his pull-ups. He’d do about 50, maybe more, and the girls would get bored and drift away. Poppy and his wife lived on the corner by 3rd base, so everyone hung out in their front yard when we weren’t chin upping in the back. We did handstands and cartwheels for hours, and sometimes brought a blanket to lie on and have a picnic.
My family was the poorest on the street, I suppose, but that made us creative. My brother made the pole vault pit by digging holes in the ground and putting in 4 x 4’s with nails hammered into them at one-inch intervals to hold the crossbar. He worked delivering newspapers on a bicycle to buy the fiberglass pole, and boys from miles around came to use it. They didn’t go much higher than 9 or 10 feet because the poles didn’t bend in those days. They’d land in a pile of sawdust. Girls came, too, but we high jumped.
He also made the ping pong table out of a 4 x 8 piece of plywood that he painted green and put on two sawhorses. It worked pretty well except there were a couple of knotholes that disrupted the ball and sent it in odd directions, but that just increased the challenge. If people wanted a real table, they could walk over to Lisa Cain’s. That’s where we held the ping pong tournaments.
Rocky and Stone Maddox (names we thought were silly but would fit right in today) had a big area to play basketball in their gravel driveway. Kids and younger fathers got up lively games there all the time. The Sams’ who lived a couple of doors down had a tetherball and we’d get tired of basketball and go over there. Sometimes there were upwards of 20 kids and adults hanging out at any given time.
Well now, we’ve come to the end of our journey and wasn’t that a fun little stroll into the past? I don’t know if anyone else had a magical neighborhood like we had with all the adults accommodating the kids in yards with no fences, and everyone with plenty of time on their hands. It wasn’t all perfect, and there was some crazy crap going on here and there, but we had everything we needed to enjoy our childhood. Did I mention the gigantic, outdoor pool about half a mile away, and the grocery store a block down the street with a glass candy case full of every sweet a kid could ever want? Oh, and I have to mention the carnival that came for two weeks every summer and was about a seven minute walk away. I never thought about it until just now, buy my childhood was at the vortex of the universe when it came to opportunities for a good time. There was a park about eight minutes away with tennis courts, and, best of all, we got to go anywhere we wanted without having to check in or even say where we were heading.
All things considered, it was a virtual. Wish you could have been there.