The Other Day

The other day, i kept thinking about how i should just quit writing.

Oh, i’m going to finish this book, but i thought about how much simpler my life would be if after finishing the book, i just quit writing. i could practice and play more golf. i could actually complete some home projects, which keep growing at an exponential pace now. i could go to the zoo and San Diego Museum of Art several times a week. i could cook, grill, and smoke more food. i could go to more to local high school and sports events. i could exercise more. i could hike these marvelous hills more.

Ain’t gonna happen. No way.

Writing, regardless of how good or bad it is, writing is somehow in my blood. i also like communicating with friends — and you will never know how much your compliments on my posts mean to me.

And then there is this other thing. i will be what i consider officially old in slightly less than two months. 75. Three-quarters of a century. Hell, up until somewhere around my mid-forties, i thought three-quarters of a century was ancient history. Writing these posts allows me to think about history and share it with others.

My Navy memories are shared with other men of the sea. i’m not sure the old guard is understood by the new, but the old guard identifies with steam and bridge watches and red-lit combat information center with radar repeaters and manual plotters and crackling radio and manned mounts and the salty breeze and the frothing main.

My memories of growing up in Middle Tennessee apparently resound with folks who grew up there with me, both the ones who, like me, left, and those blessed ones who stayed rooted to their…well, rooted to their roots.

Tonight, after a full day of stuff including dawdling, i sat down and thought about home. i enjoy writing about home. With our trip to Tennessee for Christmas looming, you might think i was thinking of the wonderful Christmases i have had growing up, and for the past twenty-six years, mostly on Signal Mountain, in Tennessee.

But no, i sat down and started thinking about dandelions, sour grapes, clover, and bees.

Don’t know why it came into my head, but i started thinking about our yard at 127 Castle Heights Avenue. Dr. Cash’s expansive two-lot yard butted against our back yard with one more house in the front between our house and his, which was on the corner of Castle Heights Avenue and West Spring Street. He had a large garden, very large for that neighborhood, which ran almost the entire length of our backyard. He spent a lot of time working in that garden with mixed results. He also spent a lot of time on his yard. We could see him when he would walk around his lawn, spot a weed or a blade of grass unwanted in his beautiful yard, get down on his hands and knees, and crawl around picking out the abusing growth and throwing it in his trailing gunny sack. His beautiful lawn nearly always looked like a beautiful lawn with pock marks where the offending plants had been removed.

His garden included a grape vine about thirty yards long inside the short rock border he had installed on the property line with our backyard. The grapes were sour, but Dr. Cash was very protective of them. So we would delight in hiding behind the neatly trimmed hedges (says one of those who was charged with the trimming) on our side of the property line, and surreptitiously steal grapes and eat them even though they were sour, bitter, not good. Later, once or twice, i cut off twigs and smoked the grapevines.

Our back yard, and the front yard too was our playground along with the empty lot the Padgett’s owned between our house and their home up toward West Main Street. But we dared not tread into Dr. Cash’s garden.

Up until i  was eight or nine, we had about three extremely poor yielding peach trees, good for climbing but not so good for peaches on the south side of the front lawn. Daddy realized the futility of them in the early 1950’s and took them out. There was a Chinese elm on the north side of our sidewalk leading to the front door. It was blown down by a tornado or a wannbe tornado in the late forties, but replaced several times. The shade of those trees was our haven from the summer sun. We would haul out blankets and spend leisurely summer days in shorts and barefoot sitting and lying under that tree playing games (hell, we might have even read some books). i can even remember (vaguely, of course) Mother bringing out lemonade for us. There is scant chance of us actually napping there, but we might have.

The backyard was a paradise for play. The old single wood garage had a backboard and basketball goal on the front. Daddy built a swing set out of pipe in the back of our lot and the garage basketball goal was replaced with one on the swings. The swing set was also perfect for working on kicking extra points. John Johnson was our neighbor for a long while with his mother and then his wife Charlotte and their daughters Kanya and Kristy. John, about ten years older than me would come over, shoot basketball, play pitch and catch, throw passes, and amaze me with how many field goals he could kick over that swing set. Of course, we would have to go through the hole in the northeast corner of the fence and hedgerow to collect the football from the orchard in the lot behind us.

In my younger years, it was a perfect ranch for cowboys to roam, complete with mini-Stetson hat, cap six guns, two-gun rig of course, the trusty Red Ryder BB carbine, cowboy hat, shorts, shirtless, and barefoot. Many a pretend bad guy bit the dust in that backyard.

Later, that backyard was also a good spot for “whiffle” baseball, usually a two-man game with imaginary lines defining the number of bases for hits and the property line and the back of the house serving as the home run distance. We threw away the whiffle bats and used wooden bats from Little League and even Babe Ruth League. Henry Harding and Mike Dixon were the usual opposite team in games that went on for hours. Oh, what movement you could get on those whiffle balls (and without risking Tommy John surgery).

Winter, cold winter, ice, snow, didn’t stop us from being in that yard. There was adventure in the cold. For the life of me, i can’t remember what we did other than some very poor sledding down the hill on Castle Heights, eat snow cones, and build snowmen. But we were out there.

On summertime nights after supper, we would venture forth into that yard, armed with bell jars including tops with holes punched with an ice pick. We hunted fireflies, lightning bugs some say, and catch them and put them in the jar, somehow expecting them to live in there and light up our lives. While we are on our great hunt, the mosquitoes hunted us, and usually won. My bare back, arms and legs were more itchy welt collectors than functioning body parts.

The backyard was the appointed place for eating watermelon and spitting the seeds out long before they had seedless (almost) watermelons. And it was the location for grinding on the home made ice cream maker surrounded by salted iced and all covered with blankets.

Unlike Dr. Cash’s back yard, our yard was not perfect. We had grass, lush grass really, but it was  the grass itself i remember now. Our grass was full of wonderful pastimes like searching for four leaf clovers. We harvested dandelions in the blooming stage, and plucked their petals with “she loves me, she loves me not” mantras. When the dandelions matured, we would pick them and blow the “pappus,” the white beard-like seeds into the air. Beautiful magic.

And in that lawn, there lurked the villain, the bee. And if you stepped on that bee, you got stung on your bare foot, and you would cry, and go in the house, and scream to Mother about those killer bees and have the stinger removed and get soothed and doctored (mercurochrome ?) and the world would eventually return to normal.

And if you were really bored and had a pocket knife, you could go out on that lawn and play mumblety-peg.

i miss it, but i can remember it and write about it.

1 thought on “The Other Day

  1. We had a great time in our back yard too. When Mother would bring home some of her Heights boys, we had enough room and people to play softball. We had some great games. Of course we had plenty of equipment. My two brothers were athletes at Castle Heights. We had basketballs and goals, tennis balls and rackets (we played in the street), and softballs, baseballs, gloves and bats, and a leather football. Good times. When we weren’t playing sports, Randy Johnson (the barber) would come over wagging potatoes. Either my sister Mimi or i would dig a hole in the yard, build a fire, go inside and get an iron skillet and some lard. We carried pocket knives and peeled those potatoes, cut them up and fried them right there in the back yard. We played stagecoach with our wagon and had a tractor tire sandbox. Of course there were always neighbor kids over and we played the usual yard and sidewalk games. Some real good fun was on the Dillion Farm on Hunters Point. Riding horses, driving tractors, fishing in the creek, going to school at Carol School with Betty (i was 5 and could sit in on her classes). Yep i loved the farm. i was never bored in town either because all of the activities and my favorite place to visit…the Library. Mother took me every week. I read every young readers biographies they had. I still read like a fiend.

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