Why You Blamin’ Me?
I’ve always liked baseball.
I played it as much as I could when I was young, although many times it was really softball. With softball, just about every kid in the neighborhood could play. A baseball game left a lot of kids on the sideline.
My best friends…remember kids can have as many best friends as they want…and I would play catch in a vacant lot across the street from my house. I didn’t own a glove until I got into the eighth grade, but one of my friends had two, so he would let me use one of them. I was left handed, so I had to wear the glove upside-down. Hey, it works!
Playing catch or having a softball game was our constant back-up to everything else we did to have fun. Whenever we ran out of things to do or got bored with what we were doing, someone would say “let’s play catch” and it was like a new day had dawned.
One wouldn’t think playing catch could get you into much trouble…especially when you’re six or seven years old. Well…one would be wrong.
You see, playing catch is only half of the game. You must also throw the ball. The better we got at throwing the ball, the more fun it was to play catch.
Are you following me here?
At six years old we spent a lot of time running after a “throw”, picking up the ball and trying to throw it somewhere near the person we were aiming at. We got better the more we practiced, but it takes time.
So, we threw everything. Mostly stones down by the river or in the allies we walked on the way to and from school. Most all the allies in Lisbon were gravel when I was a boy. In fact most of the streets in Lisbon were gravel. In the summer the city would drive a big truck with a tank on it up and down the city streets spraying used auto oil on the gravel to keep the dust down.
Environmentalists would love that idea today!
Luckily most of our houses had floors covered with linoleum (albeit asbestos filled linoleum) so when we tracked the oil from the street into the house, our moms could easily clean it up as they pushed us back outside under orders to “Not Track Oil Into The House”!!!!
Back to throwing stuff.
Tossing an irregular stone with some accuracy was a challenge especially when you are small for your age and don’t have much age to work with in the first place. Some times we would draw a circle on the back of an old unused garage building, step back an agreed to distance and see who could hit the circle the most times. Other times we would set an empty beer can in the middle of the alley and, once again step off the agreed to distance, and commence “firing”. As the casual throwing became a heated contest, we all cheated forward from our starting marks until one of us proclaimed our self the victor when we hit the can with a stone.
There were pats on the back…followed by several “atta-boys” and an occasional request by one of the group to the victor to explain how he held that stone on the winning throw and did he throw it straight over-hand or side-arm.
It was great and bragging rights were freely granted.
Distance and accuracy were our biggest challenges at this age. Sometimes we got one or the other, but rarely did we get both at the same time.
On one particular fall evening these two elusive quests, accuracy and distance, became my pride and my pitfall…at the same time.
It was probably late October. My friends and I were wearing jackets and sweatshirts as we kicked the gravel and talked under the street light at 4th Avenue and Rose street on the east side of Lisbon.
It was dark enough the street light had come on.
We were bored.
I’m not sure which of the four of us proposed the following, but all of us agreed it would be fun to see who could hit the light bulb in the street light with a stone.
For the better part of ten minutes we threw stones almost straight up in the air and then ran to get out of the way as the stone fell back to the ground.
We weren’t very accurate.
We would laugh and shout “way to go” when one of us hit the metal shield over the light, but mostly we just hit the cool fall air.
That is “until”!!!
Until my powerful left arm combined with the precision of a major league pitcher to unleash a stone that appeared to be laser guided. It didn’t curve. It didn’t fade or slow as it cut through the evening sky toward the street light bulb that seemed to serve as a magnet.
Darkness came quickly to the corner of 4th and Rose Street.
We stood in awe, mouths open, eyes wide and without any of us uttering a single word, scattered for out respective houses.
I can’t tell you what my friends did when they entered their homes. I only know what I did.
Dad was reading the paper at the table. Mom was cleaning up some dishes in the kitchen and my little sister was sitting on the couch watching our black and white
I scurried in through the back door, took off my jacket and hung it on the coat rack and went directly to the couch and sat down next to my sister. You have to realize, I hated sitting next to my little sister.
I looked just once out the living room windows toward the corner where street light stood.
It was still dark.
I turned back to the t-v.
It was just a few minutes when there was a knock on our back door. Dad answered and invited the neighbor from across the street into the house.
They talked for a moment and then Dad requested my presence.
I mentioned I was watching a t-v show, but Dad was pretty insistent that I join him, “right now”, where he stood with our neighbor.
This was not a good sign.
Not only was Dad not his jovial self, the neighbor he was talking with lived exactly in front of the light pole that was no longer illuminated.
Dad asked if I had broken out the light.
I said, “no”. And, I must say I said it with all the authority a six year old could muster.
Well, said Dad, Mr. Skaaden has just told me he was sitting on his front porch and watched you and your friends throwing rocks at the street light…and, he saw you break the light. So, I will ask you again, did you break the light.
“No” I replied, although this time the word sounded more like a question than a demonstrative denial.
Little Joe, my Dad continued, I can’t see any reason why my Skaaden would make up such a story. He is a good friend and neighbor. If you did not break the street light, then who did, Dad was very pointed in this question.
“The rock did”…I replied.
“What”…asked Dad with a touch of surprise.
“The rock broke the light”, I repeated. “I just threw it”.
Both Dad and Mr. Skaaden turned their backs to me and walked outside the house as I stood there wondering where they were going in such a hurry.
I turned to go back to watch t-v but Mom stopped me and told me to sit down at the table and Dad would be back in shortly.
Uh Oh! This is not a good sign, this waiting for Dad after denying an accusation and then blaming an inert object for destroying a neighborhood guiding light.
Dad returned alone and sat down in a chair facing me.
Dad never yelled at us kids. He never hit us either. He talked to us and explained things in such a way we actually understood.
In my present circumstance, Dad explained that I needed to accept the responsibility that I threw the rock that hit the light…that the rock could not throw itself. He also explained there are consequences for destroying, whether we really meant to or not, public or other peoples property.
I would have to pay for the light.
I don’t have a job. I’m six.
Dad had an answer.
The next day the city had sent a crew down to 4th Avenue and Rose Street and the corner was illuminated that night.
For the next three weeks, I walked the gardens of each of the houses, including Mr. Skaaden’s, that abutted that intersection and pulled weeds…no matter how minute. After each daily garden tour, I was required to knock on the owners’ door and ask that they check my work.
When I finished the last day of my sentence of community service I reported back home to let Mom know everyone had okayed my work.
Mom had me sit down at the kitchen table. She then diappeared into the kitchen only to return moments later with an extra big slice of fresh apple pie.
She smiled as she set the pie down in front of me and handed me a fork and then told me…
”Mr. Skaaden picked these apples from his tree this morning”.