Saturday, June 7, 2014

Not it

I thought I'd start sharing some of the short stories I've written over the years because - well why not, right?  Shake the blog up a little.  Most of the stories I've written are basically lifted straight from my life - Sometimes with the names changed, sometimes not. They usually stem from a minor (or sometimes major) experience I've had that I build on with fictional details.

The one I'm going to share today is one of those.  It's called Not It.  I'd like to think it captures some of the bright, carefree feelings that grow from those enduring childhood memories we all have.  Hope you like!

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Not It

"Tap, tap, tap...I see Elaine behind the Monohan's tree!"  The melodic voice wafted through the air
and took my mind off the tiny rocks that were slowly digging in to my knees as I half knelt and half crouched between two scratchy shrubs in my mother's front yard.  It was early summer, and we were involved in an intense game of Kick the Can with all the neighborhood kids.  Somehow, my older brother had managed to transport a game he used to play on the crumbling, vibrant streets of Brooklyn to the tree lined suburban existence that was Long Island in the 1980's.  Massapequa Park, to be exact.  The cookie cutter towns that dotted the south shore of Long Island were hard to tell apart.  Rows and rows of split level homes and gabled roof lines, all hiding one form of dysfunction or another.

 My thoughts were interrupted as a I heard a boisterous cheer erupt from my captured teammates.  The unlucky kid who was chosen at the start of our game would be facing another round in the dreaded role of "it."  Pat had managed to stealthily creep his way through bushes and behind fences toward the infamous can without being detected, and kick it as far as his scrawny nine year old legs could.

Our "playground"
Photo Credit:  Google Maps Streetview
As I watched the dented, rusty Chock Full o' Nuts coffee can sail through the air, I bounded out of my hiding spot, knowing that Pat's victory of kicking the can meant that everyone who had been captured could run free again to search for a spot to hide.  Round two!  Kids streamed joyfully away from the imaginary jail around the can, leaping and whooping at the second chance to camouflage themselves among the tree-lined corridor that was our playground.

It was always an issue at the start of the game.  Who would be "it?"  Of course, our method of choosing "it" wasn't exactly a champion of efficiency.  Usually, a group of kids would stand in a circle and repeatedly chant "not it" in unison until the inevitable organizational break down.  Evident in the shouting and arguing over who shrieked "not it" first, and who was unfortunate enough to have yelled "not it" last.  Not shockingly, this method was wildly unsuccessful, so we had to use the next best strategy that our collective adolescent brains could come up with.  The song went like this:

"Eeenie Meenie Miney Moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe,
If he hollers let him go,
My mother says that you are NOT IT!"

I anxiously watched Danielle as she deliberately pointed at each person as she sang the words.  Anticipating who would be chosen as "it" was like waiting for the ice cream truck to creep down the street on a ninety degree summer day.  After singing several versions of Eenie Meenie, eventually one person was left over and the thankless task of "it" was assigned.

"Boundaries!" Mickey shouted to get the game started.  "Lakeshore Drive to the edge of the fence at the Kempton's house are boundaries," he would direct with the confidence and authority older brothers naturally exude.  It formed a spacious alley of houses, complete with hidden yards, towering trees, and uniform black top driveways.  Finding a place to hide was never a challenge.

Early 80's with mom.  Gotta
love the rotary phone.
Sean grumpily resigned himself to being "it" again, and began the measured, emphatic count to ten so everyone could hide.  I gleefully sprinted toward his mother's backyard to get out of sight as quickly as possible, and gradually inched my way to a neighbor's parked car.  And then I heard it.  That triumphant voice shouting out for all to hear, "Tap, tap ,tap...I see Peggy crouching behind Mr. Mifsud's car!"

The paint chipped coffee can made a distinct thwacking sound as Sean tapped it vigorously on the street, disclosing my ill-chosen hiding spot and forcing me to reveal myself.  As I dejectedly wandered over to "jail," I could only hope that one of my teammates would prowl their way to the can undiscovered and kick it to free me and my fellow prisoners.

As the day gradually faded and the sun began to slip out of the sky, my anticipation for dinner grew with the fading evening light.  I knew that if my butt was not in a kitchen chair and sitting at the table by 6:01PM, I'd have a problem.  At that moment, I heard the unmistakable clanging that arose from our yard almost every night at six o'clock.  The rusty cowbell that hung outside the back door was a gift from my uncle, who lives in Colorado.  In the 1980's, my mom used it almost religiously to gather five kids from all over the neighborhood for dinner time. I can still hear that distinctive cow bell clang.

I bolted toward the house, and spied my sisters and brother racing toward the front door in response to our Pavlovian dinner bell.  As we hustled inside, I heard the faint voices of the neighborhood kids..."Eenie, meenie, miney moe..."

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I actually wrote the first version of this story about 13 years ago for a writing assignment in college.  I used the original first draft as a framework and heavily, heavily edited it before sharing it here.  The first draft was exactly that - and needed some substantial tweaking.  Plus, I'd like to think my writing skills have improved a little bit since I first wrote this one! 

While I was editing the story, I found myself smiling as I remembered all these silly little kid things we used to do when we were younger.  As I sat and focused, and really reached back into my memory of those childhood times, it's surprising how much I'm able to recall.  And how vivid, and universal some of the details are of those memorable times from growing up.  It feels like a very long time ago.

Ta-ta for now.

4 comments:

  1. Well done Peggy! Brought back fond childhood memories and games we played. Love the pic of you and your Mother.

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  2. Thanks, P! Hope to convey those universal memories we all have of childhood experiences. :)

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  3. Love it! I laugh when my kids play "manhunt"! I will have to teach them kick the can, if I can remember the rules!

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    1. Manhunt is another classic, Eileen! :)

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