Now THAT’s a Playground

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That, boys and girls, is the courtyard of the apartment building in which I grew up.  Second story on the right. The current occupant has an air conditioner in the kitchen window, which I find puzzling. My cousin Irene took this picture a few years ago.  When I first saw it, I thought something was missing but couldn’t put my finger on it.  Then it came to me.  No clotheslines!  When I was a kid, the entire courtyard was crisscrossed with clotheslines running between the two buildings. I guess everyone has a dryer now.  No more pulling frozen blue jeans off the line and standing them in a corner to thaw out.

When we were very small, the landlady would attach a hose to her kitchen sink and feed it out of the ground floor window, second down on the right, so we could cool off in the summer.  We put on our bathing suits and enjoyed that treat just as if we were at Coney Island.

Looks pretty bare, doesn’t it?  Oh, but what adventures we had back there.  Back in the seventies, the landlord had a brilliant idea (no doubt fueled by copious amounts of ethanol).  He would bust up the concrete and plant grass.  Instant playground!  We were thrilled, as you can well imagine.  The nearest park was about a quarter of a mile away and not safe for children to be in without an adult.  One summer day, they took a jackhammer to the concrete, starting just about at the line in the foreground of the picture, leaving big chunks of busted concrete where the jackhammer broke them.

And that was that.  For reasons never explained to the kids in the apartments, the broken concrete was never removed.  No grass was planted.  Which was just friggin’ awesome.

Broken slabs of concrete can be used in so many ways.  We created forts for our GI Joes (the ones with lifelike hair and beard, not regulation in any way).  We dared one another to run across the rubble as fast as possible without falling and suffering countless gashes.  We drew pictures with chalk. One day, we tried to build an animal trap, though I don’t really know what we expected to catch back there.  We found a nice round slab about two feet in diameter.  As we rolled it along, we noticed a bunch of nasty-looking bugs clinging to the bottom.  Not the cockroaches we knew so well but alien things you don’t generally see in the concrete jungle.  Screams erupted and we all jumped away.  Except for my sister. Betrayed by her reflexes, she stayed in place just long enough for the slab to land on her foot.  She spent most of the summer in a cast.

Good times.

The courtyard is shaped like the E on an eye chart.  You’re looking at the center leg.  Along the spine, there’s a chain link fence and about a four-foot drop into the neighboring courtyard.  A thin ledge runs along the opposite side of the fence.  Walking its length was a test of bravery we each had to pass.  The truly brave could climb onto the flat roof of a garage whose back faced the courtyard at the far left end.  The heroic could leap from the roof and land without breaking any bones.  I made the jump many times.

My brother buried his turtle back there in an area where the concrete had crumbled long before the jackhammer incident.  Not allowed to have a dog or a cat, I named every alley cat back there and sometimes snuck them food. I worried about them when it got cold. When one died, I grieved alone.

We buried treasure and made pirate maps for the others to follow.  We told ghost stories.  We imagined.

The picture shows that somewhere along the line, they repaved the courtyard.  They paved over forts. They paved over buried treasure.  They paved over a world no adult ever saw.

Pity.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dawne Webber
    Jun 01, 2015 @ 18:16:19

    I was right there with you. You have a gift. Keep using it.

    Reply

  2. speckofawesome
    Jun 01, 2015 @ 20:23:32

    I love this so much. It’s amazing what kids can do with just their environment. This piece brought me to your courtyard and also took me back to my own childhood spent in the open shells of half-constructed homes.

    Reply

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