Where Children Played
No one tried to multi-task when we were in grade school, we had each other to play with and simple cheap toys from a nickel and dime store. We had places like a house in the city with a cellar where air moved a trap door near a chimney, where hot metal on our chimney opened and shut a metal flap as if a ghost lived inside – there we would sit and tell ghost stories, while we leaned our heads against a wall of brick.
Today cellars are all finished off with big screen televisions, large comfortable chairs, stand nearby for snacks, and couches which would open up into a bed, you could sleep in the cellar, play, eat, as if you were upstairs. But we had the darkness of the inside of the flap, near my father’s pictures hanging on cracked cement walls, his pictures shedding dust for tears.
Today when you take a photograph you snap, and place them on a computer, iPhone, or make copies online but then my father had a dark room where this small red light would shine. Guess I was lucky he knew so much about photography – I have boxes of 8×10 inch black and white photos. His darkroom was a place where children were not to play, but we made sure he wasn’t home when all of us friends from the sixth grade gathered in the cellar, near father’s room.
For a moment, I heard the whistle from my brother’s train – near the drain where father built a large table for a Silver Flyer. On tip-toe in footy pajamas, I would stare over the ledge begging with my eyes to play, but I watched. Playing with his train set would be like touching your sibling’s computer, using their iPad, or playing a game on their phone – forget texting, you would be punished for texting today – and we were punished if we entered the darkroom.
I would be blamed if the train flipped, broke, or those plastic figurines were missing, but today, a sibling is not blamed by the other – only by a parent who snaps away technology. An expensive toy – one toy would cost about three hundred dollars – and everything is stored inside this toy instead of a toy closet. Punishment was different in our time; sent to our room where there was no large screen computer or television, and beds were small, to fit into the room. No one cared if they had a lacrosse stick leaning against a wall, (the most expensive stick) or a collection of horses on a shelf that matched a bedroom set. Today children are happy to be told, “Go to your room.”
Straight ahead in our cellar was what we believed to be a genuine bowling alley and neighborhood children gathered to roll real bowling balls down uneven cracked cement floors, slamming against the front wall of our home where giant letters were printed, “Duci Lanes.” The neighborhood boys were first in line to pick up the damaged bowling balls when a nasty fire burnt the lanes to the ground. Our cellar would become a partial bowling alley, and mother bowled too. Today mothers are busy with their own contraptions, a new Kindle Fire, playing words with their friends, friends they never knew or probably never will. We had friends who came for coffee, brought sweets, and talked around a table. The only time this generation talks is when they text or talk face to face on their phone. Oh, I am sure something better will be on the market soon.
Oh, listen to that washing machine rock back and forth on a wooden platform, keeping it off cracked floors, and mother had to carry wet clothes up the cellar stairs. The washing machine made a horrible sound, but mother complained only when her soap operas were on our small TV screen. Today this generation have fancy colors for washers and dryers, front-loading, and they look like those we used at the launder-mat. You would never know they were washing clothes, or drying clothes, you see, nothing shook or rattled walls. Those machines have a room just for them; we never had a laundry room, only a cellar. Rich people have laundry shoots but most machines are on the second floor, or near the bedrooms – near computers, offices, and cell phones. We were lucky our washer worked – most of the time but we never owned a dryer. I would follow my mother outside and stand there, handing her one clothespin at a time, as she placed an extra one between her teeth.
Wait, now I hear all of my grade school friends gathering in the cellar, first near the platform where the washing machine rocked, and everyone is laughing. How innocent we were as children in the sixth grade as we traveled from house to house, boys, and girls, as we played among spider webs, and sat on cold cement floors while listening to the noise from the flap on the furnace. Parents knew we played down in the cellar, there was never a room called a family room. We would sit in a circle, but facing the opposite sex. The dark room where my father developed his photos, happened to be our prize if a soda bottle pointed to you and the one sitting opposite from you. Everyone laughed as the winners made their way into father’s dark room. Oh, I forgot to mention, the room locked from the outside. Today you mention spin the bottle, and this generation has no clue what I am speaking about, they thought it was an old carnival game.
When my friends arrived they never touched my brother’s train set, or bowled without my mother – but we sure learned how to kiss. I recall the girls giggled while the boys laughed-out-loud. Someone would spin the bottle and we knew we would be locked in the darkness, while spider would crawl above our heads. The room had no windows, no stream of light, no way of knowing where the other person stood; I can still feel tears of laughter rolling down my face. When someone finally opened the door we left the darkness – girls laughed while boys bragged.
Guess most of us learned in the sixth grade how to kiss under a spider web hanging above our heads, we learned what it felt like to be with the opposite sex – we did no harm, but laughed and told stories when the door finally opened.
I often wondered if the boys in the darkroom would rather choose their playmate? No one complained, besides, we made up all of our own games.
We must have enjoyed the cellar since we had a new place to play on Saturdays, taking turns at one another’s home – if we weren’t playing spin the bottle the boys were playing baseball, or we could have been at Procters, State, or the Plaza – local theatres in our town. The theatre was where we held hands and prayed the boy we were with would wrap their arm around our shoulder, and perhaps buy some popcorn. If you asked any girl what the movie was about, they never answered.
My father sent me downstairs to look around, to see what remained from those good ‘ole days, when everyone laughed, played innocent games, went to the movies for twenty-five cents, and hid a thirty-two ounce bottle behind a washing machine for the time we met in the cellar.
I learned – memories were sometimes stored in a cardboard box, but today they are kept in files to share.