Sunday, March 21, 2010

the hole

When I was a kid growing up in Queens, I knew our neighborhood like the back of my hand. In those days, (let's mosey on back to the dark ages for a moment, shall we?) parents kicked their kids out of the house to "go play outside" whenever possible. In the summertime, after a breakfast of Cap'n Crunch or Cocoa Puffs, we'd be out on the street, high on sugar, and looking for someone to play with by about 9 am.

After my friend Jenny and her sister Lisa moved to California, my sister Kathy and I had to go around the block to play with the kids who lived on the next street. It's not like we were the only kids left, it's just that we didn't mingle much with the ones who lived at the other end of our own street, even though some of them went to the same Catholic school we did. Anyway, most of them were boys who were pretty obnoxious and always trying to start turf wars or they teased my sister, and then I'd have to beat them up just to prove I could.

(This is the way things worked in a nine year old girl's world back in the dark ages: You were either the cute little thing in pink who had a boyfriend right out of kindergarten, and went around kissing boys you liked until they stopped being afraid of "cooties" and kissed you back, or you were the tomboy who ran around and rode your bike and climbed trees with the boys, and beat them up when they deserved it. Needless to say, I still wouldn't be caught dead wearing pink, but then again, I also didn't have a boyfriend until I was about 14, either. But they did respect me.)

Sometimes we tried playing with the two Dimbat boys who lived next door but they were just too strange and wild. (More on those two another time.)

So that left mining the next block for eligible kids. The house directly behind us was populated by another Italian family with five kids, two of whom, Nicole and Jeanette, were the same ages as my sister and I. Our backyards were separated by a tall, dense privet hedge that my dad resisted trimming until he had to get out the stepladder to reach the top of it. It's not as if Dad didn't care, it's just that our house was in a constant state of renovation, and the hedges were probably not his highest priority. On top of that, Mr. Rosso tended to get rather pissy about it, since he always kept his side of the hedge neatly trimmed. Our rather unkempt half protruding over the top must have really messed with his perfectionist tendencies. He would occasionally get on a ladder himself, lean over and trim our side, and then toss the clippings into our yard. I heard my dad muttering more than once about what he'd like to do with those clippings.

Going around the block to play was complicated. If we took the shortest route, we had to walk along a very busy boulevard, which my grandmother insisted was populated by unsavory characters. Going the long way around was just...long. We soon realized that there was a thin spot in the hedge between our yard and the Rosso's that would allow us to cut through to the next block with ease. It became known as The Hole, and all the kids soon got in the habit of going through that way, until Nicole's father found out. It just didn't sit right with him somehow.

the hole

He complained to our parents that we were going to ruin the hedge. (I'm pretty sure we weren't the first kids to figure out the shortcut, since the hedge already had a very well-worn path through it.) My parents pretty much dismissed him as a bit of a crackpot took his side and urged us to take the long way around, rather than get into trouble.

Of course to us kids, the sensible thing to do was to just get more stealthy about it. It became a challenge to cut through The Hole without being seen by Nicole's parents, and we sometimes had to post lookouts to make sure the coast was clear. We concocted elaborate schemes to divert attention away from the back yard so her parents didn't spot us. We even built a periscope once out of paper towel tubes to see around corners. It was relatively easy to avoid getting caught until the fateful day Mr. Rosso put up The Fence.

the fence
(photo borrowed from these guys)

The Fence was of the type you usually see at pioneer forts, at least six feet tall, with sharp pointy tops designed to keep the marauding hoards at bay. I think he assumed that once the yard was enclosed, the kids would give up using The Hole and take the long way around. The only exit from the yard was now a gate situated under the kitchen window, where Mrs. Rosso, who always seemed to be standing at the sink washing dishes, became the de facto gatekeeper.

Far from being a deterrent, The Fence became a challenge, forcing us to step up our game. Now, not only did we have to make it through The Hole without being seen, but we also had to open the gate, slip through and make it all the way down the driveway without getting yelled at.

The Hole never lost its appeal for us, and in fact it proved useful many times when we were being chased by bullies who didn't know the territory as well as we did. Once, our friend Zanny, who was about 12 or 13 at the time, was going home from our house one night, and was dutifully walking around the long way when he encountered a drunk guy peeing on the sidewalk and exposing himself. (my grandmother turned out to be right about the unsavory characters) When Zanny turned around and started running back to our house for safety, the guy followed him. He stayed under our protection for awhile and then decided to cut through The Hole to his house on the next block, unobserved and safe. (and if you're wondering why my parents didn't get involved, it was probably because our dad was still at work, and we were home under the supervision of our older brother.)

I know it sounds like we lived in a rough inner city 'hood, but it was really just your average middle class residential neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. I'm sure our parents had no idea we were ever chased by bullies, or hung around the tracks of the Long Island Railroad for that matter, either.

Basically, we just figured what they didn't know couldn't hurt us.

Protecting your parents from your childhood: it's a time honored tradition.

the hole (west)
in my neighborhood in Portland

And whatever happened to Mr. Rosso? I heard a rumor he moved to Texas and lobbied to build another fence...

1 comment:

Aunt Snow said...

I love this. It's so evocative of those secret, parent-excluding, childhood adventures.