Monday, June 4, 2012

That Old Gang of Mine

I grew up in a neighborhood full of kids.

It was a small neighborhood, really – for all practical purposes just the one-block-long street that we lived on, plus a few houses in the blocks at either end.  We didn’t have to travel very far to gather up a gang of like-minded peers, no matter what we had in mind.  It was the late 1960s and early 1970s, after the Baby Boom but not by much.  We were everywhere.

This is a group shot that someone – my mother, probably – took of the neighborhood kids in 1968.  That’s the common driveway that ran behind our house, bisecting the block the long way – in the background you can see where it rises sharply before exiting into the street.  The Mean Old Man’s sitting rock was up at the top of the hill, on the right.  This was taken from right behind our house – a three-bedroom twin built in the late 1940s.  That’s our driveway on the bottom left corner.

I’m the cute little tyke on the front left end (I know, what happened to me since?).  I’m about two and a half.  Alexandra – a sweet girl who was about my age – is in the red jumper next to me, and on the other end might be Chris, who was one of my best buddies well into grade school.  He lived on the next block over, right at the end of our street, so it was always an adventure going to his house and crossing the street.

Be still my beating heart.

Alexandra’s older brother Joseph is, I believe, the kid in the green shorts.  He was just one of those kids that every neighborhood has, and it is largely because of him that I inherited my dad’s lack of inhibition about disciplining other people’s children.  Apparently one day several years later, when my own brother was about the age I am in that picture, Joseph hauled off and whacked him with a whiffle bat.  My dad was out the door and running before the blow landed, and chased Joseph into his own house but he managed to get into his bedroom and lock the door first, which didn’t stop my dad from trying to get in anyway.  His parents were home at the time, too.  “What were they going to say?” my dad asked later, when he told me that story.

[Update, 6/12: Apparently Joseph was the kid in the plaid jumper next to his sister.  The kid in the green shorts was George, and it was George's younger brother Tadg who was most likely whacked by Joseph with a toy golf club.  Now I know.]

Nevertheless, I ended up going to his birthday party in 1970.

I’m the pirate in the middle, with the orange shirt.  Chris is on the left, then Susan, then Alexandra, then me.  Nick is in the black shirt next to me, then the birthday boy.  I’m not sure who the kid on the right end is.

Alexandra and Joseph’s mother was an artist, and she designed the whole theme of this party.  We each got a hat and a handmade wooden scimitar, which we were warned in apocalyptic terms not to use on each other, so we spent much of the party industriously sawing holes into the bottom of the swimming pool instead.

Worked like a charm.

This photo is from 1975 or 1976.  That’s Nick on the left.  I’m in the stripes.  Kate is in the blue tank top, and Kirsten – who lived on another street entirely and was thus somewhat exotic to us – is on the end.  We had been running around the neighborhood, doing whatever it was we did, when suddenly it was lunchtime.

I think it was Nick’s idea to make noodles.

So we had a picnic there, on the front step of my house, with a bowl full of buttered noodles and several bottles of 7-Up, and it was good.

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