Growing Up In Backyards

In my formative years– that as, about the time I realized a pair of clean underwear in the morning was a good decision, not one of several options– I discovered the value of having kids in the neighborhood that I could play outdoor games with. In our Wliiamstown, West Virginia backyards, Mark Dobbins, Jeff Pyles, and I would play 1-on-2 tackle football, grass-staining our blue jeans and white t-shirts. We didn’t know how to tackle. Mostly, it was a grab-and-fall brand of tackle. Ripped t-shirts were common. Hiding them from our moms was next to impossible. We tried to emulate running back Jim Brown, the best of all-time and the hero of the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, we fumbled the ball more in one afternoon than Brown did in his whole career.

Whiffle Ball was our other go-to. We’d play until someone hit a bomb onto the roof. As it went whistling into orbit, we’d begin to pray. It would hit the roof and begin a slow, descending trickle back down the shingles. Our prayers were asking for the miracle of a bump, a hop, and a fall back to earth. However, miracles rarely happened in our backyards. Instead, the plastic ball would come to the edge of the shingles cliff and tumble over into the eavestrough, staying there in the mud and sediment until the next heavy rainstorm. That translated into our form of a rain delay. “Game called because of gutter”, would be groaned by whoever had not been the batter, as our whiffle ball supply was thin to begin with: One! A home run trot would be toned down by the insults and anger of the others. A right field single was more valued than a 90-foot-blast onto the Green Roof Monster. Right field was our neighbor’s backyard in a era when there were no fences.

Our exploits took place in our backyards, where reputations were made and we became legends in our own minds. Jeff, Mark, and I rarely went together inside one of our homes. If we did, it was usually because we needed to hydrate at halftime. As kids, we played outside in sun or snow. Rain might mean we’d scuttle into one of our home carports, maybe not. Tackle football in the snow was a treat, the snow acting like a soft blanket to fall upon. After football, even though we were soaked to the bone (No snowsuits for us!), we’d build snow forts and go to war. Mark Dobbins had an arm, Jeff Pyles not so much. Me? I was erratic and unpredictable.

Backyards were where it was at. Our front yard was small and un-masculine, landscaped with our moms’ flower beds and puny-looking bushes. Backyards were our stadiums and we were our own cheerleaders.

Those were the golden years of our youthful innocence.

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