The neighborhood I grew up in was a cookie cutter tract of 300 identical homes that were just reversed in floorplans for variety’s sake. Some had carports; others had finished rec rooms. Each had an elm tree planted in front and a sidewalk out to the curb. They were all built in a year by crews that moved down the line pouring concrete, framing, wiring, plumbing, roofing, doors and windows. It was the 1950’s way, assembly line construction.
In each house were two to five kids with both parents. It was a rarity to have a single parent household in those days. One elementary school served the neighborhood then. One swimming pool. One ball field complex. I guess it was something special when it was all new. I don’t actually recall anything clearly till the early 60’s. And then it was a blur with tons of kids running all over.
There were alcoholics then, but we knew them as people first. Mr. King was legendary. He would wander sometimes looking for a drink, stopping by the neighbors’ houses hoping for a beer or better. His one redeeming action each year was the lighting of the Christmas tree bonfire in the open field behind his house. He was the unofficial fire marshall for one night each year in January, after all the older boys had collected the tinsel stripped trees and lugged them back to the enormous evergreen pile. It was a big community deal to cook hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks in the fired up January night. Parents would socialize and kids would have a thumping good time.
Mr. Murray and Mr. Emrico were juicers also, but I never saw them drunk. We sort of heard about them through the grapevine. I’m sure there were a lot of drunks off the local radar. Now Mr. Smith, who lived diagonally behind us, was a flaming, abusive drunk. He chased his wife Phyllis out of their house more than once. I recall that she spent the night in our house a few times, going back to the madman in the morning. I can still hear her New Zealand accent crying out, “Helen, he said he’s going to kill me. Oh, what am I to do?” And my mother made her tea and tried to comfort her.
He died and she remarried a nice man and moved to Florida. Mr. Smith had no redeeming qualities as far as I recall. We never went into his house, though we waited for the Catholic School bus in front of his house for years. There were mimosa trees across the street and behind his house. Their delicate scent could cover the smell of dried blood mixed with whiskey all summer long.
And we had the resident pedophile, Mr. Reynolds. He lived with his mother on the big hill on The Parkway. I don’t know how many boys he molested, many I guess. I just knew he was big and weird and too interested in the paperboy when he came to collect payment each month. Mr. Reynolds would find some ruse to waylay the kid. He kept Cokes for bait to lure young boys into his basement. He had the softest hands for a big man, according to rumors.
All the boys in the neighborhood knew the stories, but no parents did anything about him. However, some vigilante justice was done periodically by the local boys. Directly across from his house was a steep bank, too steep for houses to be built upon. And at the top of that bank was a wide field. On many occasions the local boys would launch egg attacks on Mr. Reynolds’ house and then run like Hell across that field; spread out into ones and twos; and sneak back home through bushes and backyards while Mr. Reynolds seethed and drove around in his creeper Buick, which was usually dripping with eggyolks by then. Revenge is best served poached.
In the Christmas season we dared one another to unscrew Christmas lights and then throw the bulbs into the street in classic vandal style. We would belly squirm next to lit up trees or a fence line and unscrew sizzling bulbs while watching the front door for the resident dad. A few times we were chased by a dad, but we were quick and knew the way through the dark woods and back yards.
My personal favorite winter activity was bombing cars with snowballs. It was a thing of science and beauty to lob a fat icy snowball in the air and time it just right to hit the passing vehicle selected for abuse. Sure it was dangerous, but it was more fun for us bored boys. And like all our other activities, we knew exactly where to run to dodge the offended drivers…until the last time I did this. I hit a car from behind a big oak tree off Kings Highway. I thought I was ninja invisible, but somehow the guy I’d hit found me and grabbed me. He put me into his car with his family and drove me several blocks to my house while yelling at me. I was reeling in panic at what he was going to do and then the repercussions over what my dad would do afterwards. The guy must have known he’d scared the pee out of me because he dropped me off at my house in a dissociated state and drove off without connecting me to my dad. Whew! I swore off that adrenaline high for the rest of my life.
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up in the suburbs.