Monthly Archives: March 2011

Vacant Lots and Back Yards

As a child, we spent lots of time thinking about what we would like to be when we would grow up.  Living in America slants our dreams somewhat.  We are expected to grow up, go to college, get a good job and make a good living.  The American dream , as it were, nearly always involved financial freedom and getting that can become the goal of life from a young child.  We were no different.

There were some kids who seemed to always do well in school who everyone thought would be instant successes.  There were kids who were great at sports and everyone thought they’d become great stars on a field or a court (and some did).  Then there were kids like us who had the dreams and that’s as far as it went.  Somewhere in the back of our minds was the truth that we were just average and probably would end up that way.

Our dreams came true in the annuls of great plays in the vacant lot next to our house and in our back yards.  In those places, we were the stars.  Baseball and football were the normal sports.  Basketball always came in third.  Mostly because none of us had goals in our yard, but nearly all of us owned and football and baseball equipment.

The games would always begin with the very awkward choosing of teams process.  Two unlucky guys would be chosen to take turns picking the kids in the group.  Most of the time, someone would get their feelings hurt.  Many times the last kid to be picked would find himself being argued over–not to be picked, but to try to get the other team to pick him.  What a self-esteem boost that was!!  The team who picked first, usually had to be the visiting team, or receive the ball last.

Our playbook existed in our heads and were always drawn out on our hands in the huddle as we made up the play–right then and there.  You could hear the quarterback’s strategy, “You go down the line ten steps and cross.”  “I’ll fake the hand off, and throw the ball to the guy going long.”  We were the greatest of all time–in our own minds.  When someone would make a great catch or tackle the guy, or hit the home run, that play would be the talk of the week.

It’s strange how I can remember actual plays we ran.  I can remember times when I got hurt.   I remember taking an elbow in the eye and it swelled so much, I could not see out of that eye.  I remember us doing things like sliding toward the street when cars were coming just to try and get the driver to swerve to miss us.  It’s a wonder we are still alive today.  I can remember making a throw to win games.  We practiced this stuff and got pretty good at it.  We coached ourselves, made up our own rules, and I believe that much of what we learned helped prepare us for a few decisions later in life.  We had no parents involved, so we had to learn on our own to get along and participate with one  another in a good way.

One specific event happened in our back yard that I will never forget.  We were playing football one day and one of the guys punted the ball.  It was a pretty good punt too, because it was high enough to hit the power lines.  When it did, there was a loud BOOM!  You’ve never seen a bunch of boys run any faster.  The kid who did it thought he had blown up the neighborhood.  Neighbors were coming out to see what had happened.  As you can imagine, we did not play there for a while!

These are just a few of my childhood memories about sports and dreams of a very young man.  I was very blessed to have had this kind of childhood.  We stay out till mom called us home from the vacant lot and the back yards of fame.  What a great life!!  That vacant lot still exists today.  My mom lives in the same house we did then.  The lot is much smaller now than it was then.  The cars still zoom by.  And sometimes when I drive by, I think of those days when we were so young.  It seems like yesterday.  I’d better quit now before I begin to get teary-eyed.

Thanks for reading.

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The Woods!

Life in my neighborhood was always an adventure of some kind.  Counting six or eight blocks in any direction, it seemed as though the space was endless.  By foot, bicycle, or go-cart, we could lose ourselves and lose all track of time.  It has really grown in population now and what exists in houses in houses and businesses today was “the woods” back then.  There was hardly a day that went by that we didn’t spend time in the woods.

Across the road in front of my house was totally forbidden when we were younger.  Living on Huntsville Road was like living on the Indy 500 track.  Cars were numerous and speedy and crossing by any means was not allowed.  We would beg mom to go “over there” and play.  We didn’t really know what was over there, but it sure seemed cool.  I don’t remember the age that my mom finally said, “Yes” to riding my bike across the road, but I do remember the feeling of excitement.

We immediately found the wooded area to explore.  What we discovered was there were people who had gone before us.  There were walking trails, probably made by people on foot, bikes, and motorcycles.  We found all sorts of things in those woods.  Old cars, junked and just left to rust.  We found old washing machines.  We found old bottles (which back then you could take to the store and redeem for cash).  We found old magazines (some of questionable nature), books and the suchlike.  We even found bicycles parts that were old and rusted. 

One of our favorite things to do was to create our own trails.  We stayed there so much that we knew every trail by heart.  The speed with which we used to ride through those woods was a testimony to how well we knew them.  In one area, we would have neighborhood bike races.  We called it the “Eight Track.”  It was complete with ramps, cools curves, and some of the dustiest dust in the world.  Mom always knew when we were there because of the “red” dirt that would be in our clothes when we returned home.  That track still exists today to some degree.  A few years ago, I took my kids there to see it.  That was interesting.  They rode their bikes on a trail that I rode on as a kid. By the way, I was on a bike with them too.

The woods also connected, in another direction, with TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority).  On their property, which I think we were not technically supposed to be on, we found an area which was totally covered in smooth asphalt.  It was perfect for us.  We carried enough building materials through the woods to this place to build our very own skateboard park.  We had slalom, small ramps, and even built our very own seven-foot vertical ramp.  It was going great till one day we showed up and all of our stuff had been removed.  We took that as a hint and decided that we would not rebuild.   

One of the most fun thing to do in the woods was to build tree houses.  We once built a three-story tree house.  The top-level was the “look out.”  I don’t have a clue as to what we were to “look out” for, but it was there if we needed it.  n the lower levels, it was big enough for the gang.  We could even eat lunch there if we wanted to.  It was the coolest tree house in the world.  We built it out of some very good lumber that we “borrowed” from some of the new houses being constructed in  the neighborhood.  They even provided the nails for the job.  It was the “hottest” treehouse ever built in our neighborhood.

The thing that writing all of this brings to my mind is the kind of imagination we had as kids.  Going through all of this with my young friends was a basis for thinking and creating.  We could be anything we wanted to be in our own minds.  Many times, we actually made our imaginations come true.  Whether it be a motorcycle racer, to an army defending the forts, to a spy hiding out from the enemy, we felt like the world was all ours. 

Sometimes I think about it and get teary-eyed.  I think that those days of imagination are gone.  Then I think of the God I serve and understand that I can still imagine great things and work to see them come to fruition.  He is still the God who says He is “…able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us….”