Happily Playing Stickball In the Middle of the Street

21 May

Today’s Moms tell their children constantly, “Don’t play in the street.” But where I grew up in North Bergen, New Jersey, in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s, we almost always played in the streets. It is not that our Moms said, “Go play in the street.” It was more, “Get outside and play!” And the street was the place to go.

It was a common event to see a group of children racing the bases in a heated game of stickball, running in the street. We often had ten or more involved in the game.

On our block, 78th Street between Boulevard East and Park Avenue, we had an upward battle to our game as we lived on a hill. So playing stickball was even more difficult. Hitting the ball and running uphill was a challenge. But we had fun.

I cannot tell you how many windows were broken over the years, but I remember at least two. When a window was smashed, we all went running. Eventually the truth came out.

But I can tell you that our mothers never told us to get out of the street. It was the cars that had to be careful, not the children. People expected the streets to be teeming with activity.

Stickball was played with a broomstick and a pink rubber ball (Spaulding High Flyer, my brother says), or whatever ball happened to be available. We had designated bases that changed each day we played depending on who parked where. A certain car, a telephone pole, a manhole cover, all of these could be named designated bases.

But besides stickball, the street was also the site of football, hide and seek, hopscotch, and any other game that needs a space to run.

I have to say that my favorite ‘street’ story of all concerns my brother. I know he was in high school, because he was already tall. He grew to about six feet. And that is what caused his problem. If he had been shorter, he probably would not have been hurt.

We were playing in the street My brother and his friend were playing football.  Tossing a ball back and forth across the street, in the street on the sidewalk.  But not just tossing, throwing it hard.   My brother caught the ball and turn to run, unbeknownst to him, a volkswagen had parked right where he turned to run.  Usually that car went into the garage, but this time it just was on the sidewalk.

My brother says, “So Jack throws me the ball and I spin to run, never expecting a car to be in the driveway and slam right into the car. Volkswagen’s at that time had a rain guard over the door that was steel. I hit my lip right into this and it split. Spilling lots of blood and needing two stitches.”

There was blood; lots of blood. I have since learned, as a parent, that the face bleeds much more that any part of the body. And my brother’s face was filled with blood, as was the street and the Volkswagen.

Luckily that day a parent was home. I do not say this sarcastically. We would come home from school by ourselves. Make a snack by ourselves and go out to play by ourselves. It was the same way for almost all the kids on the block.

Many other accidents occurred over the years.   I remember many of them, like when my brother’s friend got his hand caught in between a bunch of nails on a piece of wood.  Yes he did. It was a weird accident. My parents took him to the hospital, as his parents were not home.  He was holding the wood on his lap all the way and into the emergency room.

There was one grandma who lived on the block, and she was often the one to wipe away the blood and check to make sure the injured child would survive. She was there the day my sister’s front teeth were knocked out and took care of my sister till my Mom got home. We had some adult supervision. But with so many children on the block, any parent who was home took care of any issues that occurred…issues sometimes being arguments or sometimes being injuries! No one ever argued if a parent disciplined someone else’s children or took care of them.

But I digress. One this day, our parents were home. And my brother was taken to the emergency room at North Hudson Hospital. I was not there, but I have heard that the conversation went something like this:

“How did you get hurt?” The doctor asks.

“I ran into a car,” my brother responds.

“You mean a car ran into you. You got hit by a car,” the doctor says.

“NO, I mean I ran into a car playing stickball,” my brother was honest. “The car was parked. The car did not hit me. I hit the car.”

The doctor then had to laugh. I believe he even said something like, I have never had to stitch a kid who hit a car before.

My brother was fine. He had to get stitches in his face. But that was nothing new for him. He had had stitches before from when he played Superman off the front stoop when we lived on Third Avenue in North Bergen, and another time when a wooden train piece hit him in the head.

He came home with a great story to tell. We all heard about the doctor who thought he got hit by a car!

The next day my brother was back at playing stick ball and other games in the street. Games did not end because of one minor injury. We continued to happily play stickball in the middle of the street for years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stickball

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2 Responses to “Happily Playing Stickball In the Middle of the Street”

  1. Sal Marino May 21, 2015 at 12:31 pm #

    YOU CAPTURED my childhood on our 70th street stickball “field”. The only level street surrounded by hills! The manholes, the blood, but no cars parked on this section of the street. As BH would say: “Thanks for the memories.”

    • zicharon May 21, 2015 at 12:52 pm #

      I am so glad you enjoyed it.

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