The memory jar fell over yesterday. One memory spilled out, spun to a stop and lay still for inspection.
Don't know how my memory works or why this memory came out. It was summer. I was in sixth grade, living in Penn Hills, outside of Pittsburgh, PA.
We had a neat little gang of children on our street, about a dozen of us in 'our neighborhood' that were one or two years up and down from being the same age. We were classic American suburbia middle class as defined in the early 1970s, neither wealthy nor poor, with enough money to have clothes, food and shelter but lacking the money to go places and do things except as special treats. Our parents were mostly professionals or small business owners but each managed their dollars. No child was spoiled by their parents' wealth.
Our neighborhood of ranch, split levels and two story faux colonial homes had no playgrounds or parks. We did have a wide street and it was pretty level. All the houses featured two car garages and driveways so no cars parked on the street. We took the space and made it our space. The asphalt street became our playground, baseball and football fields. We marked it with spray paint as needed to define goal lines and bases, arguing and agreeing upon ground rules, like what happened when the ball went where or when a car came by. A car's interruption meant an automatic do over.
I was an excellent athlete at that age, with wonderful strength, speed, reflexes and coordination, so all these games were fun for me. The street games with their threats of houses, telephone poles, cars and delivery trucks were an excellent proving ground where I could practice and improve my skills.
Not every home in the area liked our impromptu set up. There was one family...the Millers...an aged white man and his matching wife...who did not like our games at all. They had no children and were retired. Their brick ranch home's front lawn could inspire songs about meticulous green suburbia lawns. A ball into their yard, which was essentially short right field, was an automatic out. Worse, if the ball entered their yard, someone needed to sneak in and get it before the homeowners flew out to seize it and hold it. They didn't want apologies, they were just annoyed and passing on their annoyance to us.
It was a neighborhood cold war.
On the fine summer afternoon that spilled out of the memory jar this weekend, my sister was pitching and Bruce was batting. The game was softball, four on four. Sis laid it in there and Bruce nailed it - a line drive, not just toward the Miller's yard, but heading for the Miller's front picture window. Yet, somehow, from the moment Sis released the ball, I knew where it was going. I'd begun my motion before Bruce swung his bat.
Time slowed. The ball left Bruce's bat. I raced across the asphalt and into the no kid zone. The ball was coming on a fast, waist high arc. I ran hard, then pulled myself in and leaped horizontally, laying myself out, stretching out my arm and glove, snagging the ball in my glove's upper webbing. I can still see the glass behind my glove.
Momentum carried me on. Without understanding how, I managed to twist, avoid the bushes lining their home's front wall and the house, land on the ground, slide into a tumble, and roll back up onto my feet. I was now in the side yard and just continued on to the next property on the right. It was my cousin's house so it was safe. My knee and elbow were skinned and bleeding and my limbs and clothing were grass stained. As I strolled up out of my cousin's side yard with the ball in my hand, old man Miller stormed out of the front door, slamming his aluminum screen door behind him. He rushed to the scene and glared at his window, bushes and grass, and then glared at me from behind his steel rimmed glasses. I nodded at him but didn't speak. He didn't speak or nod but whirled and marched back into his house.
Smiling in victory, I returned to my friends. The game was suspended as they shared their version of what had happened. Bruce and John related that, fearing the window was going to be broken, they were already running for sanctuary. They couldn't believe I'd caught the ball and that I got away unscathed from Mr Miller.
It's a fond reminiscence of a joyous and innocent age. I don't know why that recollection spilled out this weekend but it's pleasant to discover that not everything stored in the memory jar is a dark moment. The nostalgia it cast carried me through my day.