Finding Mudville: Summer fun

  • Wednesday, June 26, 2013

It is summer vacation, but when I drive around town there’s something I don’t see. There are no kids out playing.
The basketball courts and ball diamonds are deserted. There’s nobody swinging from the monkey bars at the school’s playgrounds. The only people I see out playing tennis are the old folks.
Where did everybody go? Did the zombie apocalypse happen and I not get copied on the memo?
Do kids even go outside and play anymore?
I remember during summer vacations when I was growing up my mom, having had enough of my lurking around the house picking on my sisters and brother, would say, “Go outside and play.” This meant, “You’re on my last nerve son, and if you are intent on staying inside I’m going to put you to work.”
So I made myself scarce.
Today, “Go outside and play,” has evolved, or maybe devolved into “play dates.” I can’t even write the phrase without cringing. That’s when moms get together for coffee or lunch and turn the kids loose on Chuck E. Cheese.
During summers in Ohio, the sun didn’t set until after 9 p.m. This allowed maximum play time during summer days and we took utmost advantage of them.
Our “neighborhood” involved a line of houses hugging the top of the Smiley Avenue hill in Forest Park, one of the first true suburbs of Cincinnati. Those included in our gang lived in houses on both sides of the street within our sight line. Back then my neighborhood gang consisted of Ricky and Greg, Dougie, Jeff, Tommy, Roger and Mikey, Buster and brothers Moose and Skeeter.
That gave us 11 guys counting me, which made for six-on-five most days with whomever didn’t have Tommy, the oldest and best player of the bunch, getting the extra player, usually Moose. We saddled Tommy with his baby brother Mikey, who stunk at everything.
There were no vacant lots to commandeer and convert into whatever sports field we needed for the season, baseball field in summer and football field in winter. Instead, we found the most level stretch of back yard and used that.
There were no fenced in yards and given that our games involved just about everybody who lived on one side of the street, we could stretch a football field across three back yards, a baseball field that included the houses behind ours as the outfield fence and the McDonald’s driveway court for basketball before we moved across the street to Buster’s when his dad built the big court out back next to their new pool.
Games would start around 9 a.m. They lasted until lunch when we’d break to eat. We’d come back in an hour to play the rest of the afternoon until we started getting called home for supper.
Usually Jeff was the first to get called home.
We’d eat dinner and then afterward include the girls’ portion of our neighborhood gang, Pam and Sandy, Debbie and Diane, my sisters Carey and Peggy, Vicki, and Connie, all the sisters who played house, hop-scotch, or jumped rope during the days for a neighborhood-wide game of Hide and Go Seek at dusk.
Bed time was at 10. We had to go to bed early, because as soon as sun crested the rooftops and burned off the dew the next morning we were out there, doing it all over again.
Now, that’s what I call summer fun.

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