Don’t you love it when a baby boomer captures his memories in a book, and they’re kind of like your own? That’s what Bob Pine has done in his new book Tales of the Smoke Shop. This excerpt makes us nostalgic about what we’ve lost.
Central Playground was my summer home during the early 1960s. This was before color TV, the Internet, video games, cell phones, computers, Facebook, and all the thingsthat kids do nowadays. Back then, kids would actually get together and play and there was no better place than Central Playground.
Kids had nicknames like Aug Dog, Arab, and Pizza Face. Central Playground was named for the elementary school, Central, and the playground behind it. Every summer, the parks and recreation department would hire some college kids (including my Aunt Ethel) to pass out playground equipment, softballs, basketballs, bats, etc. and supervise the kids ages 5–12. Supervise meant keeping the kids from fighting with each other. My schedule went something like this: Up in the morning around 9:00 a.m. The playground opened around 8:30, but Jerry Thomas, the morning paperboy, who lived across the street, was the only one I knew that was up that early.
Then, I would say good-bye to my mom and hop on my bike that had my baseball glove on the handlebars from the day before. Down the driveway to Adams, a left on Adams to Harriman, another left on Harriman for just a couple hundred feet, and then a right turn onto Wheelock Drive. Once you hit Wheelock, you could coast the rest of the way to Central. But before you got there, you would pass on your left the huge plastic horse that was put there by the Beyers family. When we walked home from school, you could touch it, but you weren’t allowed to climb on it.
Then on the right, you would pass Dale Burger’s house, then the Spikouskis, and then a left turn into the playground. Park the bike and see who was there! There was usually a tetherball game going on, maybe some plastic horseshoes in the corner, and a game called paddle ball that would occupy most of the blacktop.
Much of the morning was spent waiting for enough kids to play softball. You needed at least six on a side. A pitcher, first baseman, shortstop, third baseman, and two outfielders. Since people were constantly coming and going, it wasn’t unusual to have someone leave for lunch and come back thirty minutes later and end up on the other team! The teams would grow from six to ten on a side and back again. It was time to quit when one or both teams lost their players.
Besides the regular games, there were three made-up games that I can still remember. The first was for two people. It involved a wiffleball or bean bag and was a form of stickball. The batter stood by the screened-in window on the ground floor of the building. This was the strike zone. The batter had to protect the ball from hitting the screen or it was a strike. The pitcher tried to hit the screen without the batter hitting the ball. Runs were scored depending on how far the batter hit the ball. The Stedmen twins were the best.
The next one I remember was Home Run Derby. This involved teams and of course a “Home Run Fence.” The game got out of hand when betting started, with the winning team getting “Little Toms” from the losing team. Little Toms were a six-ounce soft drink. The other drawback, which made the game unofficially outlawed, was that the “Home Run Fence” was on top of the bus garage. So after every home run someone had to climb up on the garage roof to get the ball.
There was one game that was officially banned from Central Playground. It was called “Hot Ass.” Of course, this game was developed by the older boys and went something like this. Someone would hide a belt somewhere on the playground while everyone was around the corner at home base. Once the belt was hidden, the object of the game was to find the belt and start swinging until everyone got back to home base. Fun, huh? But most of the time it was the softball games that made up the summerdays back then.
Once in a while I would go home for lunch, but not often since you could ride your bike down to Bedford and get Popsicles for a nickel. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I would go to the Smoke Shop to check out the new comic books. Then back to Central to see what was going on.
At the end of the day, 6:00 p.m., it was time for dinner and the ride up the hill back home. Tired, hungry, and dirty, I was already thinking about tomorrow down at Central Playground and, of course, the Smoke Shop.