Where Indian Children Used to Play

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Richland Lane was untrafficked, hushed, planted in great shade trees, and peopled by wonderfully collected children. They were sober, sane, quiet kids, whose older brothers and sisters were away at boarding school or college. Every warm night we played organized games—games that were the sweetest part of those sweet years, that long suspended interval between terror and anger.

On the quiet dead-end street, among the still brick houses under their old ash trees and oaks, we paced out the ritual evenings. I saw us as if from above, even then, even as I stood in place living out my childhood and knowing it, aware of myself as if from above and behind, skinny and exultant on the street. We are silent, waiting or running, spread out on the pale street like chessmen, stilled as priests, relaxed and knowing. Someone hits the ball, someone silent far up the street catches it on the bounce; we move aside, clearing a path. Carefully the batter lays down the bat perpendicular to the street. Carefully the hushed player up the street rolls the ball down to the bat. The rolled ball hits the bat and flies up unpredictably; the batter missed the catch; he and the fielder switch positions. Indian Ball.

And there were no roads at all.
And the trees were very tall.

Capture the flag was, essentially, the French and Indian War. The dead-end street (Europe) saw open combat at its fixed border. Brute strength could win. We disdained the street, although of course we had to guard its border. We fought the real war in the backyards (America)—a limitless wilderness of trees, garbage cans, thickets, back porches, and gardens, where no one knew where the two sides’ territories ended, and where strategy required bold and original planning , private initiative, sneaky scouting, and courage.

If someone cheated at any game, or incurred the group’s wrath in any way, the rest of us gave him, or her, Indian burns; we wrung a bare arm with both hands close together till the skin...
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