When the three of us decided to put this together, one of the things we talked extensively about was how we wanted to get down on paper (or in this case, digital paper) things we remembered about growing up and pass those along because so much has changed. So, today, I decided to take a nostalgic look at the past. One nice thing about nostalgia is that our memories tend to forget, gloss over, or minimize the painful times (not that there were many), so that the ones that stand out are momentous ones that were things that changed us. It also enhances the good times to make them even better, something I have heard a couple of comedians refer to as the “Cybill Shepherd” filter for the pictures in our mind. That said, while the details may be a little fuzzy, here are a couple of memories from my past that I have been reminiscing about recently as my fellow authors and I prepare to embark on a trip to Cooperstown, NY, to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
When I was in grade school we lived in a small town and I used to walk around our neighborhood, from our house to the neighborhood up the block where I had my paper route and down the road to our school. I promised myself not to make this a social commentary, but one quick note, this was back when we expected kids to be responsible, didn’t consider kids walking somewhere, working, etc. to be child abuse or negligence, and, admittedly, did not have as many abductions, etc. Of course, we also didn’t really use seat belts, so not all of our ideas were great. Anyway, back to the story.
To this day, I still remember the route I would take to our school. There was the big fenced in yard with the huge German Shepherd three blocks down on the left, the cocker spaniel further down that liked to be petted, and, about 2/3 of the way to the school, a couple of blocks to the right was a little grocery store. That store had all of my favorite things, baseball cards, candy bars and a little deli counter that made sandwiches. That little store was close enough to the school that, if we left as soon as we were released to go to lunch, we could walk there, get a sandwich and eat it while walking back. If the timing was optimal, we’d get back right at the beginning of recess and have time to play football, foursquare, or just hang out with our friends before heading in for the afternoon. I didn’t go there often during school, but I still remember the first time. I had a paper route at that time, so I had a little extra money and it was in the spring before baseball season began, so the new baseball cards weren’t out yet to suck up the money I had. A friend of mine pulled me aside during morning recess and told me he was going to go with his older brother and two friends to the store during lunch and get some M&Ms and wanted to know if I’d go with him. I wasn’t sure because I had never done that before, I had brought my lunch with me, and I didn’t want to miss recess. He assured me we’d be back in time, so I agreed. We walked along this set of railroad tracks that ran behind the store and he introduced me to the concept of putting a penny on the tracks and then coming back to find it flattened by the train on the way home from school. We got to the store and Mike went to the candy rack while I went back to the deli counter. I got a ham and cheese with mustard on a roll and Mike got his M&Ms and we headed back. Sure enough we made it back in plenty of time, ate our food, and celebrated our successful adventure.
That little store was where we got our baseball cards also. We’d buy as many as we could afford, cram our mouths full of the “gum” inside, and frantically sort through them to find the duplicates we could trade, the members of our favorite team, and those rare individual players we imagined ourselves to be as we played baseball in the backyard. The gum was a hard, thin, stick, kind of like Bazooka Joe bubble gum, but much thinner and longer. It would break into tiny pieces and eventually get soft enough to become chewable, at which point, it would lose its flavor and be pretty bland. I used to hate certain cards you would find in the pack. I didn’t mind the team cards nor the cards with the MVPs and leaders on them, but the checklist cards were a waste and made you feel like you got ripped off, because that should have been a player card. My brothers and I collected different teams and a lot of my friends collected different teams, so every other week, after collecting the money for the papers, we’d head down to the store, stock up on cards and then get together to swap on a scale similar to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Then we’d choose up sides and go play ball in one of the yards, complete with ghost runners, and bases comprised of either scuff marks in the grass or whatever rock, sack, box, etc., we could find.
Sure, baseball cards and deli counters are still with us, and I can still walk to the grocery store, but time has changed both them and me enough to where it is not quite the same as it was then. The world has gotten smaller and I don’t get recess anymore, but the memories are still fresh and comfortable. Maybe I’ll walk down the road and put a penny on the train tracks…