Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash
By Marilyn Pellini
Growing up in my neighborhood, sports were a big thing. All summer long, our moms shooed us out of the house early in the morning with one command: “Go play.” Even after school we went outside — not many kids back then had after-school lessons to attend — and homework was not usually given until middle school.
I had a friend, Paula, who for three summers coerced me into forgetting games and sports and putting on plays with her. She was the writer, producer, director, and had the staring role, and I did whatever she told me to do. Being two years older, I guess she felt it her privilege. We put on our production mid-morning under the grape arbor in her tree-shaded yard. The arbor had cobblestone to use as our floor. No grapes could be seen growing anywhere, so we were able to adorn the latticework with flowers and scenery to enhance our script. Handwritten invitations were put into the neighborhood mailboxes or slots of those households with children, announcing our production at a cost of five cents for kids and ten cents for adults. A promise of a home-baked cookie and a cup of real lemonade would be an added draw, we believed. I guess the plays were not all that bad for the three years we produced them, or maybe the free goodies were the lure, but we always had a crowd.
There were other diversions from the daily athletics, too. We could be found lying in the grass watching the clouds and describing the formations. If we had money, we’d walk to the local drugstore for ice cream, as they had a huge soda fountain with stools that swiveled. We might even press the tar bubbles at the edge of the street for a bit of sticky fun. When we were little we rode our tricycles, and later our two-wheelers (if you were lucky and your folks could afford it). Mine was a blue Schwinn, and I guarded it with my life. I used to ride it down a pretty big hill, “no hands, no feet.” That was the double-dare thing to do.
I saved my pennies all year long so that each spring I could buy a new rubber ball — and it was dearly needed, because we literally bounced the life out of it. A game called ten-zees was a favorite. Number five required you to swing your leg over the ball while bouncing it as high as you could and catching it before it touched the ground. At the end of the day, there was usually a game of Seven Up, and just before dark set in we would play hide and seek (real scary with the dark shadows creeping up!). We knew our names would soon be shouted from the windows, calling us home.
There was hopscotch, and a game the boys played with the jackknives that they always carried in their back pockets. A circle was drawn, and they would flip their knives to see who could get it closest to the center of the circle. The girls were allowed to watch, but never to touch the knives. We would bring out our dolls and exchange doll clothes to see how ours would look in some new duds. We peeked in the window of the downstairs neighbor, as they had one of the first TV sets. The woman of the house had it on all day as she did her chores and didn’t seem to notice or care about our peering in. We all gathered there at five o’clock when she turned on Howdy Doody for her young son.
No one had a hockey stick or a basketball and hoop, but most of us had a speedy Flexible Flyer to slide down the “little hill” when you were a small kid and down the “big hill” when you got to be eight or nine years old. Your goal was to slide down the hill and then along the edge of the street to see if you could get to the Nelsons’ house. That only happened if it was a bit icy, though, and that gave you real bragging rights. All winter long there were rough, tough snowball fights. First you had to build your fort, and then on a very cold night you had to pour water over it so it would freeze into a solid wall of ice to hide behind once a barrage of snowballs was thrown simultaneously by the kids across the yard. Each team always declared they were the winners.
In the fall, we played our own version of football because the girls had to be allowed to play, as there were simply not enough boys in our part of town. After a certain age, though, the girls’ mothers would no longer let them join in, as it was rather obvious the boys just wanted to get their arms around us and toss us to the ground.
Our best-loved sport, however, was baseball — not softball, but actual baseball. My friend Anne grew up in a family of three girls. Her dad sold Spalding sporting goods. They were the best-equipped girls for miles around. Kids came from all over, as every day was a day of baseball. We had our own little field right across the street from my house. It was nice and flat, and once we wore away the grass it had the distinct outline of a diamond. Each day, Anne and her sisters hauled down the bases, balls, and bats of different sizes and weights, and we were in business. You had to provide your own glove, try it bare-handed, or maybe borrow one from the kids who were up at bat. We were definitely not two teams of nine, but somehow we managed to get up a pretty good game. Someone might have to cover the outfield alone, or bat twice, but we had our own system to keep it evened up and make it fair.
Those summers long ago, playing sandlot baseball with the neighborhood kids, boys and girls together, gave me a love of the game. I liked watching professional games on TV with my dad, and once in a while he took me to the stadium to watch our local team play. That was such a treat as it always included hotdogs, soda, and peanuts.
Now my ball games consist of driving three hours many weekends in the spring and summer to watch my 14-year-old granddaughter play softball with her travel team, Thunder. I go up on a Friday and stay at their house until Monday, and believe me, it’s worth every minute of the trip. Elizabeth is a tiny girl, but oh so powerful. She can pitch a ball 53 miles an hour, play shortstop when the opposing team is hitting to the infield, or play centerfielder when the other guys are hitting long. I have my own special chair with a nice thick cushion, as there are two to three games on Saturday and two on Sunday depending how many they win. With a cold drink in my cupholder and the rest of the family seated side-by-side, we’re all there for the duration.
This spring, my granddaughter will try out for a position on the varsity softball team at the high school where she’s a freshman. It’s a very large school with 2,000 students, but we’re so hoping she gets chosen, and then we can all simply climb up into the bleachers and watch her play her heart out in a sport she loves, just like her Grammie did so many summers ago when she was a kid.
Marilyn Pellini has recently published a grief book entitled Dear Al, A Widow’s Struggles and Remembrances. It has been selling quite well. Her other credits as a writer include a recent article in Brick Magazine entitled “Memories in My Button Jar,” pieces in Westchester Parent Magazine, Bay State Parent Magazine, On The Water, Balanced Rock, and others which she would be happy to provide copies of upon request. In May of 2018, she took the first place prize in the N.Y. State Federation of Women’s Clubs writing contest.