It's probably true that most memories of your youth are imbedded between the ages of 4 and 11. At the very least, they are the most pleasant, because the next ten years tend to be a jumble of hormones, embarrassment and outbreaks of acne that you'd just as soon forget. For me, those early years were spent at 1945 Cherry Street Court. I don't exactly know what a "court" is supposed to be, but ours was a horseshoe type with about 20 houses, most of them 2 bed, 1 bath bungalows.
As in most houses that size with mom, dad and two or three kids, we continually tripped over each other and fought for the one bathroom. So, when summer rolled around, the kids spent as little time indoors as possible.
The Spences' home was in the southwest corner of the court. They were the landed gentry of the neighborhood, with a large house, a large lot, and an attached empty lot about three-quarters the size of a football field. They were reclusive people who we thought kept a couple of horses in a small barn at the back of their house. We didn't know much about them and kept our distance out of respect for the upper class. But they were not unkind, because they let the neighborhood children play in their extra lot, which was known as "Spences' Field" They had erected a small shack that resembled a concession stand in the northwest corner, and inside they kept canvas bases, a few baseball bats and a croquet set. On one wall they had tacked up a list of "rules"which basically said to behave and don't tear up shit. If they didn't like something that had happened, they would tack up another note admonishing us. We always took these special notes very seriously, because nobody wanted to be banished from Spences' Field.
During the summer, there was a pick-up baseball game during the afternoon almost every weekday. The Bench boys and the McNair boys would always play. They were the jocks. My buddy Mike and I would usually join in, and sometimes our sort-of friend, Mark, would play too. But Mark was kind of effeminate and tended to squeal when excited, so we liked it better when he stayed home. And there were others that I don't really remember. Most of the time, the games were small, but four or five times a summer, there were a full 9 kids on each team.
The baseball games went on year after year, with all of the fun and bickering that went with them. But in the Spring of 1962, something changed ... big time. One day, the equipment shack disappeared, and then the bull dozers came. Over the summer Spences' Field (including the Bench home) and the pasture to the north along Glenstone Avenue was transformed into a new "Medical Village" with a huge adjacent parking lot. The new facility was architecturally all early 60's chic, laid out like an outdoor strip mall with inverted canopies and hammered metal fountains. But instead of shops, there were doctors offices and a pharmacy. Actually, this was quite ahead of its time for a rube town such as ours.
Naturally, we were incensed at the change. But what could we do? Well, we could go play in the new "Medical Village". This didn't last too long, thanks to the no-horseshit security guards.
But the security guards weren't around in the evenings, or the weekends. In fact, nobody was there, so when Mike came over to visit, we usually ended up over at the MV, as we called it. And it wasn't too long before we found the mother lode ... the dumpsters.
It's hard to fathom now, but back in the early 60's, the concept of "bio-waste" hadn't really been addressed, so the dumpsters were a cauldron for everything coming out of the doctors offices.
Including syringes. Syringes with the needles still attached. And one Saturday, we found the mother lode. Of course we knew what they were for, and we cringed when a doctor approached us with one. But here in the dumpster, they didn't look so menacing. In fact, they looked like the perfect mini-squirt guns. So we each grabbed a couple of the larger ones, found a mud puddle and proceeded to spray each other with muddy water combined with Jesus knows whatever had been in those syringes. This went on for a while until Mike decided that they made great darts too, and started throwing them at me until I threatened to kick his ass.
Our dumpster diving went on for a couple of weeks, until one day we discovered something repulsive laying beside a bin. A small, reddish gelatinous mass surrounded by bloody gauze. Quicker than we could react, Mike's dog chomped down on the goo and swallowed it. We stood, stunned, for just a moment, and then Mike went berserk, screaming an crying that his dog was going to die. He dragged the mutt home and we waited several anxious days, but the dog was fine.
After the incident, it slowly dawned on us that we really shouldn't be messing around the dumpsters, and we stopped. Which was just as well, because it wasn't long afterwards that the powers that be secured them behind a locked fence.
When I sit back and think about all of the things I did when I was a kid, I'm truly amazed that I lived into adulthood. I guess there was some luck there, mixed in with just a wisp of common sense. My best friend Mike wasn't so lucky.
But that's a story for another time.