Back in the days before Playstation, X-Box, cell phones, and the internet, a young person had two options: 1. sit and watch TV, or 2. go outside and make up something to do. As a child of the sixties and seventies, I did a good deal of both. I suppose there were the third and fourth options of homework and reading a book, but those two things were pretty low on the priority list at the time.
Outdoor activities were varied. We played army as I’ve mentioned before. We played baseball and football. Sometimes, we’d just walk down to Cantrell’s Barbershop and buy a pop. He had the best machines around; drinks always in glass bottles and sometimes they were so cold that there would be ice floating inside. Not bad for twenty-five cents.
One summer was completely devoted to wiffle ball in my back yard. It was just after my fifth grade year in school, and I had just returned from a trip to California. I don’t know who’s idea it was, but it became literally a daily routine. The gutter on the corner of my house was first base, a spot in the middle of the yard was second, and a sugar maple was third base. We'd put something down for home right in front of the little blue spruce sapling that we nearly trampled to death that summer. (That tree is HUGE now.) Whether you were playing defense or running the bases, you had to carefully avoid the landmines left behind by my dog, Sugar. (She kept my dad’s yard pretty well fertilized.)
Wiffle ball was one of those things that come along, but that never repeat. It was 1973, and all of the kids in the neighborhood would gather every evening to divide up teams and knock that plastic ball around. We didn’t do it before 1973, and no one seemed interested in years after. It was a passing anomaly.
We didn’t play traditional wiffle ball. We didn’t like those little plastic balls with the holes. They didn’t hold up well, and you couldn’t hit them very far. We also didn’t like the flimsy plastic bats that were so easily broken. I don’t know where it came from, but someone provided us with an extra hard and durable white plastic ball about the size of a softball. It was practically unbreakable, which came in handy when we broke the flimsy plastic bat and I brought out my wooden baseball bats. A hit that landed in my yard was in play, but if it went over the fence or my dad’s garage it was a homerun. Boy, did I feel like a real slugger when I’d nail one over the garage.
Late in the summer, the end of the games all but arrived on a sunny afternoon when tragedy struck. It wasn’t the usual crew. Tim and Tony weren’t around. No Tena, Teresa, or Ernie in the game. My cousins had come over to the house, and my friend Jerry from a block over was also there. We decided to do a little hitting. Jeff, my cousin was pitching. Chuck was in the outfield somewhere. Jerry was catching. I was at bat with my really nice and legitimately powerful Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Jeff threw me a pitch that was just calling my name. However, as I started my swing, Jerry chose that moment to stand up. I have no idea why. I don’t know if we ever found out. I swung with the form of my hero, Johnny Bench and nailed that hard plastic ball. I drove it deep into the outfield, but as my bat completed its swing, it came around and also nailed Jerry in the eye.
Of course, Jerry went down, holding his eye and crying out in pain. We helped him up, and got him inside as his eye swelled and changed into a myriad of colors. We were all scared, but he was okay. He apparently suffered no serious injury. It just looked horrible. We got him home and after some ice and likely some sort of pain-killer, all was well.
I must have knocked that hard plastic ball into next week because we never found it. We were all so scared for Jerry that we didn’t see where it went. We searched and searched and searched, but it was NEVER seen again. I mean, I kept and eye out for it for years afterward, but it never resurfaced. It was gone. It was like God had taken it, or aliens had swooped down and snagged it when we weren’t looking. The games ended shortly after we lost that ball. They just weren’t the same anymore.
It was a great ball.
Another fun game from my childhood was developed by my friend Tim. His grandparents lived directly behind my folk’s house, and they had the huge yard that I mentioned in my previous post. Near their backdoor there was a metal post that stuck up out of the ground about three feet. It was only about two inches or less in diameter, and had probably at one time been part of a handrail for the couple of steps down from their backdoor to the patio. The top of this little post had a shallow depression where water would collect. After a while, that water would get sort of stinky. It smelled like…well…like poop.
One day, Tim stuck the end of a stick into that water, got it wet, and began to chase the rest of us around the yard, and a new game was born.
The Poop Monster!
“I’m the Poop Monster! I’m gonna get you! I’m gonna wipe my poop on you!”
Oh, for the innocent days of youth!
The object was simple: don’t get touched by the poop on the stick. If you did, then you were the Poop Monster, and you took over the chasing duties. All that wasn’t too bad when it was just stinky water out of the top of that metal pole, but the thing is, when you’re a kid, you’re playing a game called The Poop Monster, and there is an abundance of animal waste from various neighborhood dogs available to you, sometimes it wasn’t just water on the end of the stick.
Sometimes, we were playing for real.
Sometimes, the game got a bit more intense.
The Poop Monster, a Muncie original. Maybe it should have been copyrighted. Maybe it could be a new Playstation game! Hmmm.
Coming soon: "The Crush" and "Space 1999 and a Neighborhood Rumble"......maybe.