Even though we didn’t have to return to school before Labor Day, I reluctantly have to admit that that my friends and I were getting a bit bored after two months of summer vacation. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we were — heaven forbid — looking forward to the first day of school. However, we did have to get more creative about the way we spent our days.
Rainy days did provide a bit of variety to our usual fair-weather pursuits of competing in street ball (base or foot), playing games such as Mother May I or Blackie, or just running around randomly.
If it was a total washout, we would congregate on one of the guy’s front porches to play cards or board games. (We rotated our games around each family’s front porches to preserve the sanity of our mothers.)
Our card-playing abilities were rather limited, so games involving simple math concepts were popular. In War, all you had to do was know what card number was higher and ranking of other cards when jack, queen, king and ace.
At least those games ended quickly. The host mother must have dreaded those days when a gang of us played Monopoly. Each game must have seemed like an eternity.
When we were a bit older and played Risk, each game did take an eternity.
One memorable game began when we were elementary students and would have probably have continued until we were in high school if the mom had not suddenly remembered that she had forgotten to sweep the porch.
Downpours in the late afternoon or early evening provided a different type of entertainment. Normally, the only time we went toward water voluntarily was to drink it or swim in it. Baths had instilled a fear of it in us.
However, summer storms were an exception because they turned the gutters of our block into rapidly flowing streams. After a minute or so, the water had swept the between-storm litter from the gutter and into the storm drain at the corner.
That moment gave us enough time to prepare for two activities. The first was to construct little rafts out of the sticks we saved from frozen flavored treats. These rafts would float rapidly down the gutter and join the other debris in the storm drain.
Even more fun was to take off socks and sneakers and go wading in the water — sort of like a somewhat-less-than-sanitary foot whirlpool.
One guy, Poindexter, was a bit more squeamish, so he wore his sneakers into the Gutter River. This probably prevented a major problem because Poindexter was a skinny as he was fussy and he had big feet.
The moment he stepped into the current, he was swept down the gutter and would have gone down between the cast-iron grating and wound up underwater counting those popsicle sticks if his sneakers had not gotten stuck.
When we were a bit older, we could wander farther afield on hikes outside of town. Treeless culm banks were a particular favorite as we raced down the silty coal waste and wound up with feet that looked as though we had been making “cookie wine” by stomping on tubs full of Oreos.
We were used to treeless places. With all the kids we had running around our block, no tree was hardy enough or daring enough to grow. However, there were a few trees around the corner.
For me, though, they were a few trees too many. The other guys had no problem shinnying up the trunk or grabbing onto the lowest branch and swinging themselves up into the tree.
I was too weak to swing and too skinny to shinny. The only ways I would have been able to wind up in a tree would have been to fall off a roof or to sit on a sapling and be very, very patient.