Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Humphrey, Big Kids, and Baseball

Pineview Drive was the fabulous sight of so many great things to do if you were 6 or 7 or 8 in the summers in the 50's. There were the marathon games of hide and seek, which we called "humphrey." The kid, who introduced us to this version of the game, Jack, I think, explained that everyone hid while one kid was "it" and counted to 100. Then, when he was out seeking the hiders, you tried to run back to the spot designated home and shout "Humphrey!" which made you safe. We played this way for years and years never realizing we were supposed to be shouting, "Home Free!" To me a game of hide and and seek and run will always be called "Humphrey."

There was also tag, and fort building, expeditions to the woods for apple wars, and riding our bikes around the block 20 or 25 times, going to day camp at the little school, where I learned to do boondoggle, and playing with our toy cowboys and soldiers in the sandy yards. But the absolutely favorite thing to do was to play baseball. There were only six "big kids" living in our two street neighborhood. We used that term to describe those of us who were the oldest boys in our families and of about the same age. On Pineview lived Paul Kreger, Jack Butler, Fred Schwind, Jeff Hainge, and I. From Apple Orchard came Gary Kibler. That group of six was pretty much together until we went off to Junior High School. If there was a ball game happening or mischief somewhere afoot, we were the usual suspects. As a result both of our baseball teams only had three players--a pitcher, an infielder and an outfielder--baseball at its simplest but most wonderful.

Hundreds of baseball games were contested between the Pineview Pioneers and the Appleview Eagles. Gary was the only resident of Apple Orchard Lane, the next street over, but we felt it necessary to include the word Apple in his team name to make him feel part of things. We played for hours most days in the summer in the Butler's backyard. Their house was on a corner lot, and had a big backyard as a result. From homeplate to the fence that separated the Butler's backyard from the Short's backyard was probably 120 feet. But when you were 7 or 8, that was a real distance. For what I bet was a couple of years, we tried to hit a homerun from homeplate over that fence, and we gave such a dreamed of but apparently impossible hit a name. It was everyone's deepest wish to hit a "shortsy!" For the longest time no one ever did, until one amazing Sunday when Paul hit the first "shortsy" in history. Later that day, I hit one. When the long Sunday afternoon game was over, Paul and I had swatted two shortsies apiece. What had seemed impossible was a reality, and I will never forget that day.

The glove pictured at the top of this blog is almost exactly what my first baseball glove looked like. I got it for my sixth birthday. My dad took me up to "Huehn's," which was a variety store in Webster. On a bottom shelf was a pile of dusty ball gloves. From that pile I chose a three-fingered model. It was flat as a pancake, had a very little web, and almost no pocket. I loved it and played with it until I was 10 or 11. I still have it stored away in some box. I think it cost 4 bucks. I also got my favorite bat ever at Huehn's. It was a long but light "Danny O'Connell" autograph model. But the bat came later and is, perhaps, a story for another time.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pineview Drive and Those Who Moved Away

Our house was the last house to sell on Pineview Drive in Webster in the summer of 1953. The houses on Pineview were built for the World War II vets and their families. My birth year, 1947, was the second official year of the post-war Baby Boom, so there were lots of kids my age on our new street.

The houses on Pineview were either Cape Cods or ranches with two styles of each. Both the more expensive Cape and the more expensive ranch had covered front porches. That was what made them special. Our house was one of the less expensive Capes. It was white with a red roof and sat on a lot composed entirely of sand. Not a tree nor blade of grass surrounded our houses. Playing sandlot baseball on Pineview Drive was a literal event. The houses had gravel driveways, and the contractor had been pretty stingy with the gravel. But I think my mom and dad bought our house for $11,400, which is now the cost of a half decent used car, and I don't remember anyone complaining about our spartan lawns and driveways.

I would make great friends on Pineview, but when I think back to the beginning of my life, I first remember the kids who quickly moved away. In the first year I lived there, I befriended a kid who was one year older than I was. He had a sad celebrity because his father had been killed the last year of the war, and now Doug, which was his name, lived in a ranch house with his mother and grandfather. When I was 6, he seemed a lot older than 7 , but what really impressed me about him was the fact that he was allowed to carry a little razor blade knife. It hung on his belt from a chain, and, to become his friend, you had to let him slice your palm a little and he would slice his. Then you would shake hands and become his blood brother. Doug moved away after about a year.

A few houses up the street, in an inexpensive Cape Cod, lived giant twin ten year-olds named Marshall and Maurice. I distinctly remember their size and the fact that they always wore white t-shirts and jeans. Maybe, we all always wore white t's and blue jeans, but I only remember it about the M and M twins and how big the t-shirts were. Soon, they moved away and another family moved in. They had a cocker spaniel and a little boy, maybe 4, whose name I have forgotten. He was a cute little guy, and then, they moved away. A year or so later, my friends and I would hear the terrifying news that that little boy had died of the chicken pox. We were told the chicken pox got inside him. It scared the snot out of us. An intimation of our own mortality.

Directly next door to us, in an upscale Cape lived a family with three boys, Raymond, who was 8, Kenny, who was 6, my age, and Ricky, who was about 2, my brother's age. For the first year we lived on Pineview Drive, Kenny was my best friend. One day we decided to dig a hole in Kenny's backyard to search for treasure. We dug and dug in the sand, which dug pretty easily. Suddenly we hit a hard surface. We began to clean it off, and saw that it was a man-made box or something. Treasure! Kenny ran inside to get his mom. She came out and told us we had unearthed the septic tank. I never got enough time to play with Kenny, because he was severely hearing disabled, wore hearing aids the size of fire hydrants, and went to special school in the city. We had great times when we did get to play, though, but then they moved away.

Further up Pineview Drive, lived a family with two boys, probably 5 and 4 years old. Their names were Toto and Gigi. Those were their real names. They moved away, too.

So what does this recollection of friends departed tell me. That 1953 was a very fluid time, I suppose. Jobs calling people to different places. Upwardly mobile house purchasing and moving on. But more than anything, it just makes me wonder what happened to those kids who were briefly part of my life so long ago.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

First Grade

I started first grade 2 days late in September of 1953. We moved from Penfield to Webster on Labor Day Weekend, and it was the Thursday after the Tuesday when everyone else started, that my mom got me registered and delivered to Ridge Road Elementary School. I was the new kid in two ways, both because I arrived late and because I hadn't gone to kindergarten in Webster the year before. It's interesting that I remember arriving that first day of first grade and standing in the doorway waiting to be admitted, when class was already in session. There are few really clear images of first grade still on file in my brain. I suppose I remember those first minutes because I was probably scared and because it was the first time I had come face to face with Mrs. Todd.

Mrs. Todd was a formidable presence. I doubt she was very tall, but she seemed to tower over all of us. I doubt she was that old, but she seemed ancient. She was so stern! And she dressed in old-fashioned dresses with handkerchiefs pinned to the bosom. She took my hand that first day, and, before leading me to my desk, introduced me to the class. "This children," she said, "is Gregory." I shrunk inward. I hated my first name in full form, still do if truth be told. "Greg" was all right, but I really wanted to be Bill or Bob or some other cowboy name. And there I was labeled "Gregory" on my first day of first grade. The label stuck, too. All the other kids called me Gregory. Of course, everyone else had to suffer the same formality. We called Bill Merritt "William;" Rick Walker "Richard;" Charlie Moore "Charles," and Jim Ross "James." You had to have a good non-variational name like Gary Masline to be called by a reasonable kid kind of title. All year long, we went around talking like stuffy grownups. "William gimme the paste!" "Want to play duck duck goose, Richard." Because I really don't remember what we all looked like back then, I imagine first grade populated with a bunch of miniature 17 year-olds. And we all answer to these foofoo names.

I got ahead of myself. Back to Mrs. Todd. Every morning we had to go through "inspection." She'd walk each row and make us show both sides of our hands, then smile to reveal our teeth. Finally, she would stare down into our hair. I never knew what that was about then. But the scariest thing was the way she walked. Mrs. Todd had one leg that was considerably shorter than the other. Though she wore special old lady shoes, she would still dip to one side as she she came down the row to our desks. Dip-step! Dip-step! she approached. I can see her still.

She was a wonderful instructor, I think, not being a very good judge of teachers at that point in my life. I know we all started off learning and pretty much stuck with it. And though I remember her as scary, it is affectionate fear.

I tried in vain to find a photo of Ridge Road School at Google Images. Not surprising, in that the building in Webster hasn't been a school for a long time. The last I remember, it was the property of the army reserve. That's why this post is illustrated with a photo of an "Old School."

Where the Ridge Road Forms a Border and Life is Worth Living

Over the last year and a half, I particularly enjoyed writing about my time in Webster, where I grew up in the 50's and 60's. Having tired of general blogging but not of writing, I decided to start a new series of posts about that time in my life. I hope that it won't just appeal to people who grew up with me, but to others who grew up during those years in other places, and to others who may find life in the 50's and 60's to be interesting.

I have chosen "Dubois Hill" as my title because it was on that wonderful hill that I sledded with my friends way back when. Way back in 2009 I blogged about this special place. That posting is partially reprinted here as an introduction to this new blog of mine.

Where we lived, there was a hill that was great for sled riding not far from the woods we called the Big Woods. The slope was called "Do Boy Hill," and it featured two fine places to slide, a gentle slope for the sissies, and a steep trail through some trees, which we called "Old Suicide." Old Suicide brought about the untimely demise of many toboggans.
Do Boy Hill was both a fun and noisy place, what with all the kids laughing and shouting on their sleds, and their dogs barking happily as they ran down the hills beside them. The only problem about Do Boy Hill was its name. Kids wondered just what was a Do Boy and why was there a hill named after him.
And this wonderment birthed a legend, a legend that existed even before I moved to Webster, a legend that my friends who had lived there longer, and other kids from nearby streets, were eager to share with the new kids that moved onto Pineview Drive or Apple Orchard Lane or Adams Road. The Do Boys, legend had it, were a gang! A gang of big boys, teenagers probably, that prowled the streets of our neighborhood and the paths of the Pines and the Big Woods. Why were they called Do Boys? Why because they "DID" things, of course. Did things to little kids. Awful things! So awful that no one knew what kind of awful things they actually were.
It's not like we little kids spent a lot of time worrying about the Do Boys, but their frightening name did occasionally come up. I remember one time when a friend of mine said, "Did you hear that the Do Boys burned down a garage last night?" "No," we all said in hushed tones, fearful that a nearby Do Boy might hear us. And it never crossed our 7 or 8 year old minds that no garage had burned down in the area in recent memory. Heck, most of our houses didn't even have garages. Another time, I asked one of my friends just what he knew about the Do Boys. He told me that he thought they wore numbers on their backs. I almost passed out one day when I happened to turn around and see bicycling toward me, a big kid wearing a football jersey.
But time goes by, and the legends of little kidhood are put aside. No one mentioned the Do Boys as we grew older. I guess we had all decided without conferring that the Boys had either grown up and joined the Army or had never existed at all. One day, when I was about 17, I was driving down Klem Road. "Do Boy Hill" was quite nearby. I happened to glance at a mailbox in front of an old farm house. On the mailbox, in fading paint, was the word "Dubois." Suddenly, a legend from my youth was demystified, or perhaps, demythified. Do Boy Hill wasn't named for a gang of psychotic, number-wearing, garage burning teenagers. It was named for the owners of the property, the Dubois family, who had apparently chosen to Anglify the pronunciation of their last name to Du-boyse, rather than sticking with the French Du-bwa.
I'm glad I was 17 when I found out about it. If when I was 7, someone had said to me, "Hey, idiot, there's no gang called the Do Boys. The hill belongs to the Dubois family," I'm sure I would have been really disappointed. Legends and myths are important to little kids, and one that's right in your own neighborhood, no matter how scary, is pretty tough to give up.