When my mom made the comment, “The Lone wolf has found a friend,” it wasn’t entirely accurate. I had the disposition to burn hours by myself: I did indeed have a rule that I had to spend three hours a day outdoors which is considerable chunk of time when you’re in school most of the day. I would go in the back yard and run an obstacle course I had set up. I’d run bases by myself in the summer. I’d grab a hammer and go pound this big rock that was out back by the cherry tree. I’d find a pool of water out on the golf course or a vacant lot and fish dead leaves out of the water, which may not sound like much fun, but I found incredibly satisfying. You’d grab a stick, long and slender, and then you’d poke around in the murky water and you could tell when you had on a good load, and you‘d pull it up gingerly, the pole bending under the weight of the wad of sodden leaves. Kind of like fishing. I’d carry my little pouch of cornmeal with me, just like an indian, so I wouldn’t starve- and every now and then I’d take pinch of cornmeal, let is dissolve on my tongue and then chew the crunchy bits. I never starved.
And I palled around in the neighborhood. Jimmy Mercak, my sister Claudie’s friend Carole’s younger brother and I knew each other. He was a little younger. He came over one day and caught me hitting the rock with my ball peen hammer. “What’re ya doing?”
“I’m hitting this rock.” The rock was about waist height and I’d pretend to be blacksmith forging things. Whap, whap, whap. A little puff of stone dust would rise each time, pungent in your nostrils like gunpowder.
“Oh, I don’t know.”
I was pretty easy to manipulate in those days, I think we all are. It is the unusual child who knows his mind and isn’t swayed by stuff like this. The pounding of the rock seemed a little silly after that. I started to think of other uses for the hammer. I had some rope. Rope in those days was a tremendously precious commodity and this rope was probably used clothesline that my mom ditched. I climbed up in the cherry tree and got the rope tied to a high branch and dropped the coil. I cut it off and tied the head of the hammer to it. By holding the head of the hammer in your right hand- I can practically feel it today, the forefinger and thumb on the ball peen, the last three fingers around the hammer part. It was comfortable. Your other hand would grab the handle at a good place. You could hold on. And swing. We watched Tarzan movies too, and soaring through the jungle on a grapevine looked like an awful lot of fun. We tried. We would find a grapevine now and then. It wasn’t the same as the movies, though; they’d often break on you. Rope was what you really wanted. But if you’ve ever tried to hold on to a skinny piece of rope, it is tough to do. A one inch piece of rope you might be able to get a grip on, maybe even 3/4 inch. All our rope was 1/4 inch stuff. No way you could hold onto it. With the hammer, I could. And it was fun. And the hammer had some heft to it, so you could throw it away from you, scamper up onto the big gray rock, and turn to catch the hammer swinging back at you. Then you were poised, far above the ground on the edge of a giant rock wall, and you could leap in the air, pick up your feet and off you’d go. Really it was great swing. I don’t know if you were ever more than five or six feet off the ground, but with a jump it was away better swing than any playground swing. I got to where I’d pick my feet up over my head and so you were upside down as you swung. Oh yes, Fun in the back yard. Then Jimmy came over again and he got to thinking.
“What if we strung a line up from tree to tree- from this cherry to that oak?”
“We could jump over it.”
So we rigged a line. It was over our heads, but sure enough, it was within range. I took a few trail swings and Jimmy watched.
“Yes.This will be great.” Jimmy took the first real attempt. He’d watched. He threw the hammer, scampered up on the rock, caught the hammer. Checked out the jump ahead of him like an olympic pole vaulter, leaped into the air, just hung on hard to the hammer with his legs scrunched up under him. I watched with wonder. He let go at the height of the swing, arms and legs out wide in every direction and went right over the rope. He landed in a heap on the ground and came up grinning. A new sport had been born. Jimmy was good at it. I was o.k. at it, but I preferred just swinging back and forth. Which I did merrily for hours.
Ronnie Carlson and I were pals too. He lived right across the street in the house with a garage and a breezeway and porch off the back. We thought they were rich. Ronnie had a bicycle. I didn’t. He’d let me try it though. Ronnie started riding his bike to school- how’s that for status? I walked with my little brother Joey.
One day in class the loudspeaker interrupted. “Mrs. Beck?”
Is Paul Murray there?”
“Would you send him o the office please?”
My world went dark. Uh oh. We all wanted to get out of class, but not to get sent to the office. I left with a heavy heart. Out into the halls with the brown vomit colored floors. I walked along, wondering hard what I’d done to get in trouble, came to the newer part of the building where the floors weren’t so scary and got to the office. I pulled open the door and was about to sit on the bench, to await sentencing, when the secretary called, “Paul, come on over here.” I went over to the counter, up to my chin. The secretary came over from her desk. You’re a friend of Ronnie Carlson aren’t you?” I nodded. “He’s gone home sick. His mother wondered if you could do them a favor.” I nodded. “Ronnie rode his bike in to school and he’s worried about leaving it here overnight. Could you ride Ronnie’s bike home for him?” I brightened. I wasn’t in trouble. “Could you?”
“Yes, I could.”
“Do you know which bike is his?”
“O.K. then. I’ll call Mrs. Carlson and tell her not to worry. You can head back to class, and thank you very much for helping us out.”
I walked back to class on wings. Oh my god. I wasn’t in trouble and I would get to ride bike home after school. This is just great.
I believe that that ride home was one of the most pleasant things I’d ever done. I felt so good walking up to the bike rack I don’t believe I ever even thought of my little brother Joey. Apparently he made it home too.
Ronnie had an older sister. Linda. I’d see her a lot because I saw Ronnie a lot. I was clueless of course, but was at least marginally aware that she was cute, but I paid way more attention to Ronnie than I did to Linda. One day their mom asked permission to take me along on Saturday morning visit to her mother’s over in West Hartford, probably six or seven miles away. We didn’t travel much in those days. My mom agreed so I was going to go with Ronnie and Linda over to their gramma’s house for breakfast.. We had some kind of cool breakfast and I remembered being fearful because I loathed eggs and some people eat them for breakfast. What if they served eggs? I heard eggs being cracked into a bowl and started to worry, but Mrbre going to love these, Paul. Ronnie and Linda both do and they’re a special treat.” They turned out to be kind of pancakey and there was a lot of laughter. “You kids run along now while we clean up.” Linda and I found ourselves off on the porch. There was a big highway not far away and the sound of it drifted in like surf in the distance. Sunshine streamed across the chaise long, lighting the stripes. A bird landed on a branch, whistled, turned his head quickly, flicked its tail. Another bird flew in, more colorful. The first bird left. The second bird left. Linda sat on the stripes, her hair dancing in the sun, little wisps of fine, long light brown hair floated around her head like electricity. She looked down at her feet, letting me look at her. She looked up and put her hand next to her on a patch of sun. It was an invitation. I was dumb, but not that dumb. Something was happening. I moved next to her and sat down, barely touching the cushion, ready to fly.
“How’d you like breakfast?” drifted out of the air. It was Linda.
I admitted that I liked breakfast with grunt and word or two.
“What did you think of my Grandmother’s crepes?”
A little silence.
“Those were those rolled up pancakes with powdered sugar and jelly on them.”
“Oh, those were good.” That was the most I’d said all morning. Talk was strained. I was nervous and couldn’t tell what was going on at all and wanted to get back to my buddy Ronny.
“Paul,” she said softly and turned to look at me.
I turned a little to look at her and said,” Yeah?” She was what seemed terribly close.
“Have you ever…” she paused.
I continued to look at her and noticed that she was pretty. Thoughts of finding Ronnie were fading. “Have I ever what?” Clueless.
“Have you ever been kissed?” she said.
“Well, my mom and dad.”
“Me, too.” She sat.
Some noise from the outside intruded. Coats were getting put on. “Where’s Linda?” said Mrs. Carlson from the kitchen.
Linda just reached over and took my face ever so gently in her hands and planted the most delicate kiss on my li[ps. I sat there. In shock. It was soft and nice, as was her hair that fell on my face when she stood up. She left.
“I’m right here, Mom,” as she entered the kitchen.
“Can you go find Paul and Ronnie? We’re just about ready to go.”
I had been far more interested in the neighborhood games: hop scotch in the street. Four square, jumping rope, red light, and the queen of all games, hide and seek in the summer. The heat of the day dissipates in the evening after supper. Shade begins to be everywhere as the sun sinks lower. The front yard of our house is home base because we had five kids, although Mike was getting to be older enough that he was no longer a regular. Claudie, too, was growing up. She might join us for red light. Whoever was “it” would stand on the border of the Danforth’s yard and our property This was a little risky because after supper the Danforths wouldn’t come out and play. We may have been off limits. They probably had to go to bed early poor little buggers. We’d be out at eight or niine o’ clock at night, running around barefoot and no shirts. Leaning on the telephone pole guy wire you’d go, “Green Light.” Everyone would start to move toward you and you’d count, “One, two, three, four fivesixsevenahnineten REDLIGHT.” as fast as you could and turn quick to see if you could catch anyone moving. We’d all be exaggeratedly still- arms in the air close to bursting with excitement- did we get caught moving? “Ginny, you have to go back and do three banana twirls.” Ginny would banana twirl back to the starting line. “Ronnie, I saw you move your left foot. Four umbrellas back.” Then the slow move back to the guy wire, one quick turn to see if you could catch anybody. “Ah! Linda. I didn’t say Green light. Go back with five bunny hops.” She’d hop back to the start. Once you got close enough to touch the person counting it became a mad dash back, the person who was it, caught as many as possible. A fun game. The ultimate game, however, was Hide and Seek. As dusk came on, and in the summer it came so late, and there was blessedly no school ever again for months and months and it was getting cool so the running felt fantastic. And we played an open game. You could hide anywhere in the neighborhood. For swift runners, this is the game of choice. Someone is selected to be IT. Not me. We’d pick a young kid first. It’s funny how playing among ourselves with no adults to supervise we’d work it out so everyone had fun and nobody got hurt too bad. We’d pick a younger kid and they’d be it and have to count to a hundred? Not to a hundred for the little ones. And when they were done they’d call out. “Ready or not here I come.” And they’d wander about five feet from the base looking for hiders. The kid would eventually wander a little further from base, someone would break from cover and light out for home, the little kid wouldn’t see them quickly enough and they’d get in free, or maybe the little kid would capture them. We played to have fun, not to win all the time, and we took it easy on the little kids, although once you were of age: No quarter. The particulars of it escape me now, I haven’t played in about a hundred years,- what the heck was Olli Olli in free? but the thrill of it remains: the sprints, the chase, the close calls, the risks you felt your were taking, being in hiding and not knowing if you were being hunted. I’m not sure if this game is still played by kids but it would be loss if it’s not. Of course the game gets better as older kids get chosen to be it. Linda’s it. She’s a pretty fast runner. She counts to a hundred. We book out of there. Run as far as you dare for a count of one hundred. I light out for the woods at the back of the houses on he other side of the street from us. it’s a circle four tenths of a mile around and all the houses on one side back up to these woods. Everybody’s yard was pie shaped, and where the yard is so skinny nobody mows, the builders didn’t clear it so it’s foresty, a little wild. A great place to hide. I get behind a tree and wait. Waiting is so exciting. You watch. You see Linda, still far off. Someone bursts out from behind Cocheo’s house and lights out for home. Linda turns and runs, the great race on. I sit back. Safe for now. Pretty excited by the dusk, the game, the summer, thoughts of Linda. The sun settles in the west turning the clouds a nice color pink. School is so far off it is beyond belief. Life is good. Before you know it it is pretty dark. It’s pretty quiet. No one seems to be looking for me. I start the long sneak back to home. I get out of the woods and into the cut grass and am sneaking kid fashion between the Cocheo’s yellow house and the Carlson’s grey house. I notice lights are on on the back porch over at Carlson’s. I look. Hey. Everybody’s in there. I stop sneaking and walk over. There are a bunch of kids in there eating popsicles and watermelon and talking and laughing. You might knock if you don’t know someone well, but this is the Carlson’s house. I just walk up to the glass door and grab the handle.
I try again. Kids inside notice me. I jiggle the handle. They think this is the funniest thing they have ever seen. I’m outside- the great runner. The last one standing. In the dark, all alone. Ha Ha Ha. Locked out. And they’re all pointing and laughing.
My brothers and sisters, the Bacon kids, Ronnie, Linda. I tried again, not aware of what was going on. They burst out laughing. Gales of laughter. This was the highlight of the summer. The mighty Hide and Seek player, supreme runner of the neighborhood, locked out. How do you feel now you blue-eyed, fleet footed little kid? I didn’t feel too good. It felt like I was getting made fun of in an ugly way. I didn‘t try the door a third time. I was too impulsive. I hauled off and punched it. I put my fist right through that plate glass up to my armpit. The faces at the tables changed. It wasn’t so funny now, was it? I pulled my arm back.Yeah, I know now I shouldn’t have punched through a glass window. I could have picked up something to break it, I could have done a cool little short punch if I knew what I was doing. I punched through just like a ten year old kid would do who felt left out and picked on. There was blood everywhere. My fist, my wrist, my forearm, my upper arms. A bloody mess. Mrs. Carlson came out of the kitchen with a look of horror on her face. “What on earth? Who locked that door? Ronnie?”
“No mom, honest.”
“Leigh and Kiwi, Bruce, you go on home now. Ginny and Claude, and Joey, you go tell your mom I’ll bring Paulie home in a few minutes. Everything is gonna be all right. Linda, Ronnie, pick up. Linda, get me some band aids, cotton bandages and Mercurochrome out of the bathroom. Ronnie, you disappear.” That was the end of the party. Mrs. Carlson was pretty soothing as she patched me up. Washed, wiped, joked. “What did you want to go and break a window like that for? You could have used a stick.” First I got nursed by Mrs. Carlson while Linda watched, then I was sat down and given a piece of cake and some watermelon to enjoy. Then I got taken home to my mom by Mrs. Carlson who explained the whole thing to her. I didn’t go to the hospital. It was just a bunch of cuts.