Friday, February 27, 2015

Childhood is Fleeting

Doug: This post began as an ode to spring, and when I got to thinking about what I like most about spring, my idea morphed into a bit more expansive topic.

Doug: I was going to begin by saying the advent of baseball season was one of the things I always looked forward to the most, coming out of the (usually) long winters that Chicagoland is known for. But as my mind came to rest on that, it occurred to me that not only do I look forward to baseball at the Major League level, I really miss my sons not playing any more. Around this time of year -- probably for 10-12 years -- I'd begin shopping for whatever baseball equipment they would need for the coming season. It may have been some equipment for around the house, such as a hitting stick or a screen to use with a tee. I loved searching for bats -- never the new, expensive models of "this year", but always on eBay for last year's models. Big-time savings there. And gloves. Nothing better than getting a new glove and breaking it in. We used this shaving cream-type of product that absorbed into the leather while baking in the oven. No kidding -- three rounds of application and a few hours of catch and it was amazing how pliable the leather would become. Man, I'm getting a little misty just thinking of this.

Doug: So today let's turn it to you. What do you recall of your own childhood as winter began to loosen its grip? Were there certain rites of spring that you treasured? It may not have been athletics -- was it the freedom of bike riding, or of playing cops and robbers through your neighborhood? How about the planning of and anticipation for a family vacation once school got out? And for those of you with grown or almost-grown children, what do you miss about their youth at home? As always, thanks in advance for your memories!

Doug's youngest, 2007 Little League. Nine homers in the regular season.

The boys at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 2009

17 comments:

Colin Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Redartz said...

Nice shot of your son, Doug! He must have been quite a hitter...

Both of our sons played ball, so we experienced many of the same preparations you did. I especially remember trooping down to the park on registration day and seeing all the kids and parents from last year, and catching up...

As a youth, I never played organized ball. Yet in the spirit of today's topic, there was certainly the anticipation of warm weather and the corresponding activities. Our local drug store always brought out the Wiffle Bats and balls; that was our neighborhood routine. The empty field between houses was perfectly sized for a Wiffle game, and kids like me who were not paricularly athletic could get hit in the face with a ball and remain smiling!Now, years later, I have continued the Wiffle tradition in the front yard with my grandsons. They and I love it!

Edo Bosnar said...

Autumn and winter where I grew up in Oregon were always kind of gloomy: mainly overcast, with lots of rain. Spring was pretty rainy, too, but it usually did get warmer, and the sun would come out, so one of the best things about that was being able to go bike riding again. Also, my family lived in a pretty rural area, and there was this little forest across the road, so I'd sometimes spend time there traipsing around or just sitting against a tree trunk and reading comics.

And Doug, those handsome fellas are your sons? I'm guessing the good looks come from their mom ... :P

Doug said...

I love wiffle ball! And mostly because of all of the arguments that take place. The movie The Sandlot typifies days like that.

My younger son was the beneficiary of a birthdate change that Little League enacted when he was 12 (the last year a boy can play). By moving the date he actually was able to play a second season as a 12-year old. He has a late June birthday, so he'd always actually played a year up. In other words, he was only 8 until the very end of his 9-year old season and so on. But yes -- he was definitely the big dog his last year in the league.

He was a catcher through most of his career until a series of head injuries from soccer derailed that. It was really too bad, as by the time he was a junior in high school he was 6'3", 200 lbs. with a cannon for an arm. But he made himself into a decent centerfielder as his older brother had been. The younger one needed to rely a bit more on anticipation and his arm; the older was what you'd call a "go get it" outfielder.

Getting misty again... Or, thinking of Springsteen's Glory Days!

Doug

Martinex1 said...

Redartz, I had the same experience with wiffle ball. We would play that between houses or in the street. Dozens of times. Also played something we called "Fast Pitch". we would draw a square (a strike zone) on a wall and throw a rubber ball as fast as we could; the batter had three swings, and the distance indicated the hit level. I asked people I know in St. Louis if they ever played that growing up, and they never heard of it. So it might have been a local Chicago custom. There were squares painted on every school yard wall.

Back then in our neighborhood, some of the boys would build wooden box hockey sets. Did anybody do that? It was a wooden box with wood pieces to block the puck and slots in the end as goals. The puck was a checker and the sticks were popsicle sticks.

We also built go carts.

And you could hear the kids playing "Kick the Can" or "Ollie Ollie Oxen Free"

Colin that's a great story about the Gettysburg Address. I would imagine that a lot of American sayings seem odd. My wife is just from another state, Michigan, and sometimes she says to me...what are you talking about? Of course I did say, "Oh my stars and garters". Ha.

Doug, I see your son had a couple of Grand Slams that year. I bet he was excited. That was a good idea to mark the balls with RBIs etc.

Doug said...

Edo --

You would be correct. Their mother is carrying the load in the "looks" dept.

Martinex --

On our LL team we gave out a game ball (sometimes more than one) after each game, and of course kids got to keep home run balls. The boys each have shelves in their rooms with all of that memorabilia. I imagine some day when they come home with their own kids we will all indeed relive the "glory days" through the discovery of the next generation.

Doug

Anonymous said...

Wiffle ball..???

-sean

Doug said...

Sean --

Wiffle ball is just like baseball, except you play with a long yellow bat that is made of plastic and is hollow. The balls vary -- sometimes they are hollow plastic with a solid shell, other times you can use a hollow plastic ball but that has holes or oval vents all over the ball. That creates some crazy action both when pitching or hitting the ball.

See here for some images.

Doug

Anonymous said...

Thanks Doug. Although I have to say I'm slightly disappointed to hear it isn't something far more exotic and strange, with a name like that.

-sean

Humanbelly said...

I think NPR did a piece several years back on the origins of good ol' wiffle-ball. That game is about a zillion times more fun than it would appear to be on paper, y'know?

Like you Chicagoland folks, the SW corner of Michigan could also be a climatic loose-cannon when it came to when the heck Spring actually took hold. We had more than a couple of Easters that we spent snow-saucering on our neighborhood hills; and at least two high-school Spring Breaks were spent entirely at our local little ski area. Other years-- snow was gone and tulips were a-bloomin'.

Bike riding was huge for my buddies and me as the roads cleared-- although I never actually stopped riding mine as basic transportation in the drier winters. Geeze, I even slogged with it on the couple of years I had a paper route. . . But when it got warm enough to tear around in your shirt-sleeves again-- that's when it got good.

We had very, very little in the way of organized kids' sports or activities in our little town, and our usual gang in particular wasn't that athletically gifted (well, maybe Kenny Williard. . . ). So we would go through phases and crazes of games & activities that would capture our passion for a couple of weeks at a time. Bike riding; wiffle-ball; softball; frisbee; massive, sprawling croquet courses (once the yard got clear enough); complicated shoot & run & hide games; badminton (huge in my family); and assorted driveway-style basketball games (lots of folks had backboards).

Like the Fast-Pitch mentioned above, I do imagine there must be an infinite number of regional, or even tightly local, fabricated games and sports that provided a ton of happy memories, even as they kind of defy explanation. As a sort of last-resort play-outside activity for my sister and I (when there was simply no one else available), we would play "driveway ball", which was basically a modified and expanded version of 4-square we'd play across the seam of our driveway with one of those red rubber school-style playground balls. That ball was actually a bit of a status symbol, as they were not readily available for regular folks back then-- had to special order it!

Man, Doug-- this is one of those topics that could have us sounding dangerously like OUR OWN PARENTS! "When I were a lad, we had nary a thing t' play with. Just a stick and a pine cone! And we THANKED GOD FER IT! *cough* *wheeze*"

HB

Doug said...

HB --

Love me some four-square. Before we finished our basement we even had a - what would you call it, a court? - taped on the concrete floor. Many a cold winter's day was spent down there playing. Great fun. I remember it as a playground staple from elementary school as well.

And to go with your line about sounding like a bunch of old geezers -- it didn't take much to amuse us back then, did it? A couple of kids with plastic guns could turn into hours of cops/robbers, basically using an entire block for a huge game of hide-and-seek.

Doug

Martinex1 said...

It is true; it didn't take much to entertain us back then. I think all of the parents on our block had a unified cry of "Go play outside"! and that was sometimes like creating a Neverland petri dish(or Lord of the Flies depending on the day). In our neighborhood,when the street lights came on, it was time to go home. But other than that it was sometimes a free for all.

Some of our "gang" would get a bit roguish. I can remember around 4th of July, attaching small pipes to our Stingray bike handlebars and loading them with bottle rockets, and essentially jousting with other bike riders as we rode at each other simultaneously trying to light the fuse. Yeeessh. Although all of our parents were pretty strict, we sure did some crazy stuff.

I can still remember using a hammock as a launching device. We would put one of the smaller kids in the hammock, and 5 or 6 of us would grab each end and swing and swing and then yell, "Jump", I still cannot believe how high Danny F. went and then landed on a fence. He wasn't hurt thank goodness, but it still caused the obligatory shout of "RUN"! as we all thought we would get in trouble.

Holy cow. Sometimes we were like rats in a cheese factory. Good times!

Humanbelly said...

And as I think of it, Doug, a lot of those cheap toys were rather season-specific-- they'd show up at the grocery store in late March/early April. The plastic toy guns we favored were the spring-loaded ones that shot suction-cup dart shafts. And we would wear those things OUT, so that the dart wouldn't even catch & hold in the gun anymore. These were often supplemented w/ bow & suction-cup arrows--- which just chewed a bloody groove across the back of your left thumb (gazing fondly at the permanent scar as I sit here. . . ).
The other popular seasonal one were all of those terrific, cheap balsa wood gliders (pre-styrene) that cost just nothing at all-- even on a miserly allowance. The bigger one with the rubber-band driven propeller was a must-have. You couldn't get more than an afternoon out of any one of them before they crumbled & cracked beyond repair-- but it was the crazy flights and horrific crashes that made them so fun. . . !

HB-- still lost in nostalgia--

Humanbelly said...

Oh, sad news as we reminisce:

Just heard on the radio that Leonard Nimoy passed away earlier today. He'd been hospitalized w/ chest pains a couple of days ago, and had made an optimistic tweet or two-- very, very sad.

HB

Redartz said...

Very sad to hear about Leonard Nimoy. It seems the stars are falling more frequently the past few years.

HB- those thin balsa planes were a blast, although heaven knows how many times I broke the darn thing while trying to assemble it !

For some reason, that reminds me of another Springtime toy: "Poopatroopers" (anyone remember those?). Little vinyl comical figures with a plastic pparachute. You fold up the trooper in the chute, throw it high as you can, then watch it open and float into a tree branch...

Martinex1 said...

I remember the poopatroopers. Those were fun. Just recently, last year, my sons were playing with some. There is some variation of them still out there.

Do you remember, a clear red plastic rocket that you could pump full of water and pressurize it, and then shoot into the sky? They cracked easily but a lot of fun.

The Prowler said...

My grandparents were Pentecostal and members of a very small church. And yes, there were snakes at some of the services. One of my earliest memories of Spring is meeting at my grandparents' house Easter morning in the dark. Once all of the members of the church had arrived, we would walk to the church. I couldn't tell you how far that was, I just remember singing and it being dark. Once we arrived, the women would go inside and clean and decorate. Service would start at sunrise and go until 8 or 9. When I got older I would go with my uncle to the bakery for empanadas and other treats for after church.

Another activity I remember but can't quite place as Spring or Summer was the chasing of the mosquito truck. It would usually come around when the sun went down and spray for mosquito. We would jump on our bikes and chase it around the neighborhood!

The last day of school was always marked by the same ceremony. I would gather all my school jeans, take them to my mother and she would cut the legs off to make them into shorts. I do recall one year that instead of cutting straight across, she did them in a saw tooth pattern. One year in Junior High, I pleaded with Mom for corduroy pants instead of jeans. So I had five pairs of pants in different colors. That summer I found out how hot corduroy shorts can get during summer!!!

There were so many days spent playing the games we made up. Kick the Can was a night time game. IIRC, it was always played in the dark. Probably while waiting for the mosquito truck!!!

I seem to remember a few years back that kickball was becoming the rage amongst adults. Does anyone know if it's still going on?

(Faster than the speed of sound
Faster than we thought we'd go, beneath the sound of hope
Justine never knew the rules,
Hung down with the freaks and the ghouls
No apologies ever need be made, I know you better than you fake it
To see that we don't even care to shake these zipper blues
And we don't know just where our bones will rest
To dust I guess
Forgotten and absorbed into the earth below
The street heats the urgency of now
As you see there's no one around).

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