Tuesday, April 12, 2011
A “Bowl Game” Suspended
I wonder how many people, living today, could tell you where they were, and what they were doing, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I was playing in a Bowl Game on December 7, 1941, a date that might have lived in infamy even if the Japanese had not attacked. That calls for some explanation, I know.
George street was not properly paved until sometime in the early 1950’s I believe, after water and sewer lines had been installed under it, and never was it curbed, except for the fifty feet Dad had installed in front of our place, which, upon reflection, gave the place a dignity that none other on the block could claim. It also saved the yard from the erosion the other lots experienced from cars parking farther and farther up onto them. However, I digress. The point I need to make is that, through the early 1940s, George Street was an unpaved dirt road. In the latter half of the decade, a layer of gravel was spread on it and road oil applied to the gravel from a tank truck equipped with sprayers.
Traffic was sparse, and vehicles relatively slow and loud, which all worked together to make the road a reasonably safe place to play, effectively extending each owner’s yard twenty to thirty feet. That curb that Dad installed, perhaps in faith that pavement would eventually follow, restricted the space in front of our house. But, by beginning our baseball diamond, or football field, a little to the north of our lot, in front of Mrs. Addy’s house, we had sufficient space for our games.
For baseball games in summer, home plate was at the south end of the play space and the outfield further north toward the open fields in that direction. Most of us were right handed hitters. Therefore, our errant balls were most likely to go off into the field to the west of us – occasioning a delay of game while we tried to find the ball among the cornstalks or soybeans. Too often, though, they veered into Mrs. Addy’s yard, which usually meant the end of play for that day unless we had a spare ball on hand. (She was a wonderful neighbor but she let us know that she would rather retrieve our ball from her garden – in her own good time – than have us do so.)
Football games were less likely to get us into jurisdictional troubles. A football can bounce erratically and go where it is not welcome but, for the first years, we didn’t have a genuine football; instead our brother, Marvin, had fabricated one out of a bicycle tire, folded back and forth, and tied together tightly, with a length of baling twine, into a clumsy, oversize, football-like shape. It was not prone to bounce at all. In fact its heavy, hard, unyielding nature gave added incentive to catch it cleanly lest it slip through your hand and wound you so severely that you had to be taken out of the game. Most teams opted for a running game but there were occasions when passing was strategically necessary despite the risk that one could lose the receiver’s service for a quarter, half, or the rest of the game. I have no memory of any attempts at field goals, kick-offs, or punts. I think I would remember if they had been tried. It wasn’t really a football game.
Our football games became a regular feature of Sunday afternoons in Autumn. Sunday mornings were, of course, reserved for Sunday School and Church attendance. Most Sunday evenings were as well. I suspect it stretched our parents’ conscience some to allow a non-sacred activity like football to occur on Sabbath. Nevertheless, it was not “work,” and we did not travel beyond the prescribed distance, we purchased nothing, sold nothing, and it got us out of the house, a not unconsiderable consideration, from their point of view. Mom, always looking for a place to lodge one of her puns, dubbed our games, “Road Bowls” games, or, on rainy Sunday afternoons, “Mud Bowl” games.
And thus it was that, on Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy, our mother called to us from the front door and informed us that the Japanese had attacked our naval base at Pearl Harbor. I was five and three-quarters years old, not much use to a football team, too young to be involved in the war, too ignorant, I’m sure, to even know what all it implied for the future of our family, our nation, or the world, but aware, from Mom’s demeanor, that something of greater import than a Road Bowl game was happening. We suspended our game and went in to listen to the radio. I wish I could recall what was said at church that night.