Safe at Home
I grew up on the outskirts of Milwaukee in a town that was every suburban cliché come to life in the mid 70’s. We walked to school, we rode our bikes to the neighborhood park, and we stayed out playing until the streetlights/houselights came on. We had tree houses and hidden “forts” in the overgrown and empty fields where the older kids (once they hit 7th or 8th grade) hid their contraband cigarettes and Playboy magazines swiped from either dad’s dresser or the closet of an older brother. Very few people locked their doors and we ran into/out of each others’ kitchens as if we were all part of the same family. A few folks had swimming pools and nothing was better than being able to take a dip on a hazy, humid Midwestern summer afternoon. We had older brothers and sisters who wore bell bottoms and smoked pot and wrecked cars back in the day when the drinking age was 18 which meant everyone was drinking by age 16.
And we played baseball. Lots of baseball.
Before the empty lot across the street from my house was subdivided into 3 lots in order to build a few more houses to up the population density, and thus the tax base, it served as our neighborhood baseball diamond. We played almost every day, sometimes beginning in the morning, with a break for lunch and dinner, and then going back at it again until it was too dark to see anymore and/or our parents began to call us through the screen doors. (Speaking of which, why does no one seem to have screen doors anymore?)
We were a mixed group; more boys than girls, although there were often 4 or 5 girls at any given time. We had athletes and stoners (as we called them); we had the decidedly non-athletic (that would be me) and the kids who never played but hung out with us all day anyway. We ranged in age from around 10 to 15, with a few younger siblings occasionally filling in when we needed more players.
Now I was never the most stellar of players. And unless I happened to be the captain, and thus the assembler-of-my-team, it seems to me that I was quite often one of the last chosen when we were picking teams. But that was OK; no one put too much pressure on each other and we played for the sheer joy and exuberance of being outside, hanging with each other, and earning neighborhood bragging rights.
Interestingly enough, when the school year began, none of us really “hung out” much AT school. We moved in different circles – the brainiacs, the band and theatre geeks, the detention kids. Our baseball club had straight-A students and those who had been held back a year…or two. Oh sure, we played a bit in the early days of fall; and we resumed in spring before school let out for the year. But primarily we played in the summer. For a few brief years.
On those glorious sun-filled days, with our thermoses and snacks; our hand-me-down gloves, our wooden bats and our aluminum bats, we WERE a team.
And we were safe at home.