As I’m writing this week’s story, we’re down south at our Phoenix home. Our house sits on a corner lot within a baseball’s throw of a small town civic center. The cross street that our house parallels must be directly on the route to all of the local schools because the buses all stop at the corner, just outside our front door. Through my kitchen window, I have a direct view of all of the kids and their morning antics.
The high schoolers are boring. They arrive, they try to act cool and nonchalant, they don’t interact much with each other. They’d rather be anywhere than where they are and if they didn’t, they certainly aren’t going to show it to their peers. The elementary kids aren’t much better. They all act like a bunch of kids (the nerve of them).
The junior high kids; now there’s where the action is. On this morning, the first kid showed up pushing a child’s stroller. Uh-oh, this isn’t going to turn out well. It was a little girl’s pink stroller. My guess is that a child left it a little too close to the sidewalk and Mr Coolkid decided to entertain himself with it. Working against the stroller, the kid had showed up 10 minutes earlier than anyone else that morning, leaving lots of kid-destruction time.
With two hands on the stroller handles, he flipped it up into the air underhand. This went on again and again and again. Pretty soon he began getting disappointed with the speed at which the stroller was disintegrating so he began slamming it against one of the small trees in the common area outside my property line. At that point I began to get concerned that a wheel might fly off and hit my window.
Having been one of these kids myself though, I knew better than to get involved. As long as it’s ‘harmless’ fun, adults should let these kids blow off their steam. The minute you act like their actions are getting to you, well that’s the minute you become a target for more antics. I should know – as a kid, we loved finding these adults. There wasn’t much that was more fun than torturing adults!
We were never destructive, just annoying I guess. I never stole anyone’s toys, especially not for the sole purpose of destroying it. I did though, get into so much mischief in junior high, like the time I took stink perfume into school (read me), or the time I set my desk on fire (read me). Our activities varied depending on the season. If it was winter, we might throw snowballs at cars. If it were summer, we might make a stink bomb to set outside your window fan (read me). It is Autumn as I’m writing this and Autumn while growing up on Prytania meant a few special activities. One of those Fall activities we called grass sliding.
Mentioned in many stories, my Prytania neighborhood was predominantly populated with Catholic families. Saint Peter in Chains Church and school was just up the street, one block on Ridgelawn Avenue. The Kimbles lived directly across the street from it. Kimbles had four kids, Terry was my age and Ed was my brother Steve’s age. From a topography perspective, the church was built on a small hill. The houses across the street from the church were a bit higher up the hill, maybe a good 20-25 concrete steps.
The house next door to the Kimbles had a very nice lawn of Zoysia grass. (Wiki link). The nicest thing about Zoysia? It goes dormant in the cool and cold temperatures. In it’s dormant state, it turns from a lush green to a soft light brown. Here’s a secret too – it gets pretty slippery as the blades are soft and slick. The secret of the dormant Zoysia had been passed down through many generations of Prytania kiddoms.
When the weather began turning chilly and we were looking around for something new to do, one of us would come with the idea of grass sliding up at St. Pete’s. We would all scramble around our houses in search of a piece of cardboard from a box. It could be as small as a large cereal box unfolded, but a large cardboard box worked best. A half dozen or so of us would walk up the next block and we’d walk all the way past the Zoysia. The adults were usually home, (likely retired), so we needed to be a little sneaky. We’d walk up the Kimble steps or maybe the house next door so that we could come at the sliding area from the side.
This was a stealth operation so typically the bulk of us would hide out of sight at least one house over. Then we’d take turns. Holding a piece of cardboard like a snow-sled against our chest, one of us would take a sideways run towards the top of the Zoysia hill and at the last second, we’d make a spectacular Pete Rose belly slide at the very top. Our forward momentum and the lack of friction between the dormant grass and our cardboard would offer us an exciting 3-4 second ride down the sharp incline. It was a very simple, but exciting activity.
Normally the retirees would catch on very quickly and would jump out the front door to chase us off. On a few occasions however, we were lucky enough to get in 20 minutes or more of grass sliding. Likely we had caught them at nap time. If we got bored after twenty minutes, of course we couldn’t just walk away peacefully. We would always get louder and braver, normally attempting a double-decker, two person slide. We would continue getting more and more reckless, more and more loud until finally the sleepers woke up and came out to chase us away. We’d run off, always laughing about our sliding antics and the wildness of the old farts chasing us off of their property.
I am a property owner today and of course now I can relate to the old farts. To the junior high kid out front destroying the child’s stroller, I am now the old fart. The OF’s had worked hard all of their lives and they were enjoying their beautiful Zoysia grass. They didn’t want us little turds sliding on it, possibly putting tears in their turf and spoiling the appearance. But we didn’t know that, all we knew was that our neighborhood was our world and when Fall hit, a tiny piece of our world was open for Pete Rose cardboard-hill-sliding.
Perhaps texting on the smartphones while waiting for the school bus and beating up baby strollers will be nostalgic 40 years from now. For me though, give me a good thick piece of cardboard and a hill filled with Autumn Zoysia and it’s 1971 all over again, sliding into third base, head first, just a block away from good old Prytania.