Friday, July 22, 2016

Kid's Play

Dorien as a Child
When we were living on Blackhawk Avenue on Rockford’s south side, the ten or so kids in my block would get together during summer to have picnics. Tommy Colatta, who lived on the fringe of our recognized play area, was a couple of years younger, and whenever we had a picnic, usually in the empty lot next to my house, Tommy would always show up, but he would never bring anything.

“What’s that?” he’d ask, pointing to something one of us was eating, and no matter what it was, Tommy would say “I like…” whatever it was. You could say “It’s a worm sandwich” and Tommy would say “I like worm sandwiches.” Sometimes we’d share, but most times we wouldn’t. And it never occurred to me, until years later, that perhaps Tommy didn’t bring anything to our picnics because he didn’t have anything to bring. I would certainly hope that was not the case, but that it might have been truly saddens me.

World War II ended and peace broke out during those years on Blackhawk Avenue, but it didn’t make all that much difference to us kids. Our favorite game was “Machine Gun,” which I can claim with no little modesty as being of my own invention. It involved one of us being the “shooter” and the rest of us falling down in the most dramatic way possible as we were “shot.” We had, after all, a wealth of newsreels and patriotic movies to draw upon. The one who died most dramatically became the “shooter” for the next round.

I think I mentioned somewhere before that although I was almost painfully shy and insecure, I was the “boss” of our little clique of kids. I remember once, while my dad was a deputy sheriff and working the night shift, that the gang was getting a bit boisterous in the empty lot, and I yelled: “Shut up! My dad’s sleeping!” so loudly that I of course woke him up. He was not as fully appreciative of my efforts on his behalf as I might have hoped.

With the return of the soldiers, sailors, and marines from the war, the country embarked on a vigorous post-war building boom. Blackhawk Avenue was only a block long, and at its west end bulldozers suddenly appeared to clear the trees for the construction of ten or twelve red-brick cookie-cutter houses. This afforded the kids of the neighborhood endless hours of fascination and fun, scrambling like monkeys through the unfinished houses that smelled of newly-sawn wood and wet mortar.

Anyone doubting the relation of humans to monkeys need only watch a group of kids clamoring over a construction site or…another favorite pastime…climbing as high as we could possibly get in every tree on the block. (And I know for a fact that every kid loves bananas.)

Billy Pearson, who lived two doors to the east of the empty lot, was something of a cipher. My age, he was and wasn’t quite part of our group. He lived in a large, very nice brick home which rather stood out on our block of small-to-tiny frame houses. I don’t recall ever having been invited into Billy’s home, and we all had the impression that Billy’s mom was convinced he was far better than we.

Across the street lived a family with a two-year-old son named Kenneth. Not Kenny: never Kenny. Kenneth. And Kenneth’s mother insisted that when we were around him we speak the King’s English. Contractions were not allowed. “That-there” and “ain’t” were viewed with shocked horror, and anyone who used them within Kenneth’s earshot was in for a firm and increasingly familiar lecture. I wonder if Kenneth ever had a real childhood.

As a matter of fact, do kids today have a childhood? Do they ever climb trees, or scramble through construction sites? I rather fear they are far too busy being hauled to soccer practice (and you can’t convince me that every kid who plays it is doing so out of love of the game), or sitting in front of a TV or computer monitor. Why play games with other kids when you can sit all by yourself and see how many Extruxians you can blast with your Nucleator?
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/

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