Before dodgeball was banned

Rick Ryckeley's picture

I was invited to speak at a gathering on Monday, and to be honest I was shocked. Not being asked to speak, mind you, but rather by what I heard when I got there.

The person who gave the introduction told the audience that I wrote stories – stories about childhood before dodgeball was banned. His introduction almost made me speechless. So much so, I changed the title of this story.

Dodgeball has been banned in many elementary schools because it has been deemed too violent a playground activity. The news saddens me still. There was a moment in time, long, long ago where kids were allowed to play and be kids. Back then childhood was very different than it is today.

It was truly a simpler time.

If our memories are the doors to the past, then our dreams are surely its keys. Hard to believe The Boy will look back on his childhood one day, daydream and proclaim that time as the good old days. But, of course, he will be wrong. For you see, I’ve lived both his childhood and mine. And I assure you, the good old days came and went long before he was born – back during the time four brothers and one sister grew up at 110 Flamingo Street.

It was a simpler time.

Whenever we were in the house and the phone rang, there would be a race to the kitchen to see who could answer it first. You see, back then we only had two phones: one in our parent’s bedroom (and we weren’t allowed in there without being invited) and the other in the kitchen secured to the wall some four feet up off the ground.

One sharp tug on the cord and the yellow phone slid off its cradle. And even though a chair was placed directly under it, we weren’t allowed to stand in it. After all, chairs were made for sitting, not standing. Everyone knew that.

As the receiver dangled and bounced like a yo-yo, we fought to see who would get the privilege of talking on the phone. If someone called, it usually was important business for adults and not for children, and if it was Old Mrs. Crabtree, we could get an early warning ... perhaps enough time to make up a good excuse and not get punished for whatever we’d done that day in class. Funny, for some reason, Mrs. Crabtree was a regular caller to our house.

If it wasn’t Mrs. Crabtree, we’d quickly hand the receiver off to Mom or Dad. We were not to tie up the line with endless chatter. Besides, who would want to spend hours talking on the phone anyway? It was much more fun to walk over, knock on the neighbor’s door, and soon escape into a world of childhood adventures.
It was indeed a simpler time.

There were no car seats – and seatbelts were only used to restrain us from fighting in the backseat of the green station wagon with faux wood panels. We jumped bikes over self-made ramps, without bike helmets, elbow or knee-pads to protect us when we crashed. Street football was played in the cul-de-sac down by Old Mrs. Crabtree’s house. When one of us got hurt, Dad would say, “A little blood never hurt anyone. Just rub some dirt on it. You’ll be fine.” This he said quite often. One of us four boys was always getting hurt.

When Down the Street Bully Brad and his gang came around we defended ourselves. For seven years we hurled water balloons, dirt clods, and pinecones at each other. We shot slingshots and BB guns and no one every lost an eye. And yet, despite all of this, we somehow survived.

Endless summers were spent performing flips into frigid waters while dangling off the rope swing down at Cripple Creek. Little hands probed scary holes in the banks on just a dare. Many shoes were lost in the gray mud quicksand of silt that collected in the shallow waters of the creek’s bends. For bedroom night lights, we ran around collecting Mason jars of lightning bugs at dusk – where the back lawn flattened out and disappeared into the murky waters of the swamp.
It was a simpler, safer time.

We slept with the bedroom windows open. Night air was considered healthy back then. Front doors were only locked when we went on vacation once a year. But it really didn’t matter if they were. Who would take what wasn’t theirs? That wasn’t right. We were just kids and even we knew that.

One day, I’m sure, when The Boy has children of his own, he’ll tell them stories of when he was young. I just hope when he does, he’ll look back with as much fondness as I do. And who knows, he may even call that time a simpler time. How funny that, for him, I guess, it truly will be.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is saferick@bellsouth.net. His book is available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]