Adventures on Litchfield Street
We had many escapades during our childhood years when we lived on Litchfield Street. Some of them are as clear to me as if they were yesterday. It seems the ones that readily come to mind, though, were the somewhat tragic ones, but we had plenty of good times to offset them.
My brother, sisters and I knew all the kids in the neighborhood. And it was in our yard that they would show up at to play, Hide ‘n’ Seek, Cowboys and Indians, House, School, ride bicycles, ice skate, roller skate, tag football, baseball, or play any number of other games.
Our yard was the favored playground in the neighborhood because, although we didn’t have the biggest yard, Mom didn’t mind having large groups of children playing outside. We had a big old barn in the backyard, a small but densely wooded area behind that, hedges lining two sides of the yard, and a front wall approximately two and a half feet at one end and gradually increasing to about six feet at its highest point where it bordered the little grocery store next door. The wall was plenty tall enough to duck down behind and hide there when we needed to. Of course, on the lowest side, some of us simply lay flat on the sidewalk, hugging up to the wall, waiting for the right time to jump up and run for cover, the goal, home, or to scare the heck out of any hapless kid who came along just then.
At its lowest end, the wall turned right and ran its length between our yard and the neighbor’s yard, about fifty feet. We often sat on the lower end of that wall, but not as often as we sat on it street side. Our neighbors grew gorgeous flowers on their side of the wall, and my mother, who had hoped for flowers as beautiful, tried to grow them on our side, but I think we kids never appreciated her efforts. We trampled them more often than not.
Those walls often served as a place to just sit and talk to our friends or to interact with anyone passing by. They were cement retainer walls, nothing remarkable, and yet none of us can reminisce without mentioning something that had happened or had been discussed on it or near it.
One of the amazing things we’d witnessed while sitting there was watching it pour on the other side of the street while our side got no rain at all.
Sometimes, we’d hop up on the edge of the wall that ran between our yard and the neighbors’ yard, which was not a wide as that which ran street side, and run as fast as we could along it just to see who actually could do it. My mother’s flowers suffered for that, too. The neighbors who lived on the other side of the wall owned a little dog named Bootsie. She was a cross between a Cocker spaniel and a Beagle. She had short brown hair and a Cocker type head and was very sweet and friendly. Needing a spot to tie their dog out during the day, they asked our parents if they could tie her out in our yard. They promised to clean up after her, and said we kids could play with her all we wanted to. To our delight, our parents said yes.
Sometimes we’d see Bootsie and her owner heading down to the store. He would buy a couple bottles of beer and a bag of Stateline Potato Chips. He would carry the beer home and Bootsie would carry the potato chips very tenderly in her mouth. When we asked about it, he proudly explained that this was Bootsie’s favorite snack and they were on their way back to watch the ball game together!
As one might imagine, we met all kinds of people on their way to the store or downtown. But there was one man who touched our young lives more than any other adult who passed by. His first name was John, his last escapes me, and he once had been in the military. He was tall, of medium build, with brown hair and carried himself like a soldier and always had a smile on his face. He was always dressed impeccably and always stopped to exchange a few words with us kids. He would ask about our school grades, how our parents were, and whether we were behaving as we ought, and if we weren’t behaving, he’d reprove us for our wrongdoings. He listened to our childish prattle, our hopes, dreams, and secrets—whatever it was we had to tell him.
I’m not sure why, whether it was his express command or something we’d chosen to do on our own, but after the first time or two that he stopped, whenever we noticed him coming down the street, a cry of “The Captain is coming!” and we’d race for the wall and line up, standing at attention. We’d salute him and he’d salute us back, and “inspect” his troops. His took this duty seriously. We all had to stand in a perfect row, our feet in line with those beside us. No one’s toes ahead of anyone else’s. Then we would have to be sure our shirts were tucked in.
After we passed inspection, he’d put us at ease, talk about whatever was going on at the time, dismiss us, and go on his way. That small interchange was the highlight of many of our days, I believe, simply because he took the time to be a friend to a bunch of neighborhood kids.
Back then, Westerns were the big thing on TV. We loved them. Sky King, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Rawhide. We watched them all. After all, cowboys, and Indians too, rode horses. And we girls loved horses! Naturally, this found a spot in many of our games.
We would choose a leader for the cowboys and a chief for the Indians. Most of us wanted to be cowboys. Laura always was, and usually wanted to be Audie Murphy, Roy Rogers or Clint Eastwood. My oldest sister, Anita—called Neene—was never a cowboy, and generally was the chief, either Cochise of the Apache, or Crazy Horse of the Sioux. Brother Wayne went between the two, sometimes a cowboy, sometimes an Indian. But when he chose to be an Indian, he insisted on being a medicine man called Dying Antlers. Back then, it seemed a profound name, so it wasn’t until we were much older that we saw the humor in it.
There were days when we chose to be horses rather than people of any sort. Our “riders” would pass a length of rope across our shoulders, down around and under our armpits. Hanging on to the “reins” then, we’d gallop off on high adventures. Sometimes we’d all be wild horses that needed to be captured and tamed.
As time went along, and we acquired bicycles, they served as our horses in some of these escapades. We’d chase each other all around the yard, up and down the driveway and around the house.
One day without warning, Neene raced her bike right off the upper part of the wall. As she went off the wall, she and her bike parted company. The bike clattered to the ground just beyond the sidewalk, while she catapulted across the street, landing right in front of a car coming down the other way. Luckily he was braking for the stop sign just ahead. He squealed his brakes, threw it into park, and ran to see if she was still breathing. Needless to say, he was quite upset and worried.
All we other kids could do was stare in shocked horror and disbelief as he carefully picked my sister up and carried her up to the door. I can only wonder what went through my mother’s mind when she opened the door to find us all crowded at it with this strange man holding her unconscious daughter in his arms.
Neene began to come around briefly as the man handed her over to Mom. However, she didn’t fully wake up until Mom had carried her into the living room where she sat holding her and sobbing for her to wake up.
She’d already called our family doctor who made the trip to our place, yet one more time, to attend Neene’s injuries. He assured Mom that her concussion wasn’t as serious as it might have been, instructed her on what symptoms to look for and what to do about them. Head for the emergency room if things became worse.
My sister was remarkably resilient, for within a week she was back out with us, riding her bike as if nothing had happened. She has no memory of this event other than flying around the corner of the house intending to continue around the front of it and head someone off at the pass. The bike survived the crash with only a few scratches, but no one recalls who brought it back into the yard.
Sadly, we moved when I was ten to a house that didn’t have a front wall or a big group of neighborhood kids we could pal with, where our escapades didn’t seem as memorable.