Saturday, July 23, 2016

Home Base

There's a big boulder of granite -- nobody knows how big because nobody ever tried to dig it up -- but only the very tip of it rises just above the sod at the north end of the yard (in the shade of a long-spent, untended pear tree). That tip of a boulder acted as home base for thousands of hide'n'seek, kickball and baseball (played with a tennis ball) games (A home run was over the pines that lined the south end of the yard).

I used to cut that acre into walking paths and then, finally, after creating mazes, mow over the whole thing -- always after the grass was too tall to cut well. We mowed the yard with a series of cheap Sears mowers with bald tires and Briggs&Stratton engines that usually gave up the ghost by mid-Summer. Then we'd take turns mowing with a push mower.

Between the nine-apple-tree orchard and the pie shape of pines and at the edge of the property was our burn pile. Just about every other day one of us six kids would walk the burnable trash out there and set in on fire. On cold days we'd stand by watching styrofoam meat platters melt over cereal boxes. We could watch the image of the Wheaties athlete turning into a charcoal negative of itself. As black smoke sent rivulets upward into the sky, we'd warm our hands and enjoy the fire.

On hot Summer days like this one, we'd walk away from the fire -- leaving the only evidence of burning in the way the rising heat rippled and pushed its distortions through the air above the pile. Once or twice in my lifetime, we'd catch the adjoining field on fire. One of those times somebody called the fire department.

Across the yard and above the sand pile -- a sand pile we used for fun and Tonka Truck business but that dad had put there to add sand to the mortar to build his rock wall -- was a tire swing. One of my brothers threw a weighted rope up into a horizontal branch of that huge walnut tree and then secured it around one side of an old bald, used tire. We'd swing high and we'd swing wide and just every now and then we'd swing around and kick off the trunk of that walnut tree.

And the walnut tree had a HUGE bee hive in its hollow. HUGE. I know it was. We used to poke sticks into it and then run -- sometimes making it all the way across the yard -- to safety. Sometimes we didn't make it. Bees are fast. They take offense at being poked.

There were two cherry trees in that front yard. They produced sour cherries (not that they tasted sour -- it's the kind of cherry they were). I ate as many as the birds would leave behind.

On the other side of the house was a catalpa tree. It was right out by Spring Mill Rd (Do you realize how close the spelling of "Spring Mill is to "Millring"? :) ). The catalpa tree was a big one and its shadow was entirely covered in square yards of wild day lilies. Adventurous and budding hoodlum impersonators, we'd smoke the hollowed, spent stalks of the day lilies. No, it didn't taste good. Yes it burned. Yes it was stupid. Was it the stupidest thing we did back then? Don't ask.

But the real glory of the catalpa tree was a long-ago sawed off branch that left four or five feet of horizontal, western saddle-shaped protrusion from the trunk, just about 8 feet from the ground. A fella could spend hours sitting in that saddle reading a book. Or so I imagine.

The sugar maple that grew closer to the house turned an impossibly brilliant orange in the Autumn. It was an orange of such florescence on a rainy day that I bet it could be seen through cloud cover from a satellite miles above earth. I'm guessing that the moon navigated the night skies by that tree.

And in the Summer, if you had the bedroom in the corner at the top of the stairs, you could enjoy itching all night as tiny bugs that populated that maple would completely cover the window screen. And the window screen kept those tiny bugs out of that bedroom to much the same degree as, say, chain link fence might hold back a fast-flowing river.

When I was twelve Mom brought home from Lumber Mart the very thing that changed the entire gravitational center of that yard. She bought me a basketball goalpost. From then on that driveway and that goalpost were the only thing that mattered in that yard. Maybe in my universe.

I had an AC/DC radio and I could listen to WNAP for hours. And hours. And hours. I shot baskets. I envisioned a car full of Indiana Pacers driving by, screeching tires, backing up, pulling into the drive, and challenging me to 2 on 2 games (I really only excelled at hoops when you reduced the number of players ). That never happened. I know, right?

That's the first hoop I ever dunked anything (a tennis ball) on.

The hoop was flawed. It had never been properly welded at the support, so if you missed and hit the front rim, the ball was likely to spring nearly as far in return as the distance from which it was shot. It was like the ball hitting the end of a springy diving board.

Up driveway from the hoop....and back about 7 years in time.... was the garage -- attached to the house by a breezeway. The garage was never finished on the inside. It housed the freezer. And junk. Lots of junk. The rafters had a few hundred (maybe?) bottomless galvanized garbage cans that were meant to be buried in the ground and used as what we in this day would call a compost cellar. It was supposed to rot away all the garbage. It was one of Dad's marketing schemes. Dad, as far as I know, never sold one. We didn't use one either (note my comment about the burn pile )

On the last days of the school year, I would come home through the breezeway door that faced Springmill Rd -- up the brick steps where Jimmy tripped on a wire used to deliver bundles of Indianapolis Star for us paper carriers. He bit all the way through his lower lip (I think he still has the scar more than fifty years on).

And as I entered the house from that direction, I'd be greeted by the late spring, early summer smells of mom having opened up the house, ironing on the Ironrite, and doing the first preparations for dinner (which we had with almost unwavering consistency at 6:30 every night. And mom worked full time. Let that sink in for a minute.)

And we'd sit together -- no TV, no radio -- just conversations, teasing, arguments, silence, and simple food. But not until we said in unison:

Oh Heavenly Father, who doth feed our bodies with daily food, feed Thou our spirits with Thy heavenly grace that we might truly serve Thee,

Through Christ our Lord,



  1. So sweetly written, I feel like I was your shadow. Childhood memories can be so comforting...
    -M. Krawczyk-Stucker