Do you remember what it was like when you were seven and it was summer? Do you recall your child hood friends and what you did every day? I would go to sleep at night and being so anxious to play some more, that I would close my eyes and a moment later it would be morning.
I remember getting up to the sound of hearing kids playing out side, running out the front door with my bow and arrow in hand and sending an arrow two houses down, into the spears palm tree nearly missing their cat. Only then realizing I was still in my pajamas.
But on my block just across the street from me lived the Hechinger’s. Their yard was not just another yard to play in but it was like going to Disneyland, particularly, Tom Sawyers island. First it was so large that they rented out four other houses on the property. And in between those houses were the maids building and a huge rumpus room that became the pool house when they put in the pool, the first people on the block to have a pool.
In fact they had a pool before that but by the time I entered the scene it was full of trash. It was made of cement and built above ground just 16 by 6’ across and about 4’ high I never saw anything like before or since.Next to the pool was a pond with a water fall and a small bridge now all filled in with debris as Mr. Hechinger said one day, when we tried to revive it, “leave it alone we filled it in because it bred mosquitoes.” There were paths that went every which way and areas where there was nothing but fruit trees growing, you name it apricot, peach, apples and even a fig tree.
Next to that was the play yard with an old decrepit jungle gym that had seen better days, which over the summer would become many things depending on what popular motion picture or TV show was currently playing in the theaters or on TV. It became the Alamo when the movie Davy Crocket “King of the Wild Frontier” was playing and you would find us re-enacting it on that jungle gym. There were so many plastic cowboy and army men killed, disfigured and or melted in that yard that I believe even today if you went and dug around a little you would fine some plastic body parts still there.
Now the Hechinger’s were a family of 6. The oldest brother having already moved out having become an attorney. Albert the next oldest still living at home but in high school, then Joey a year younger than me and lastly Michael the most carrying and thoughtfulness of the bunch. They almost lost him one day while driving in their dads Cadillac. He was playing with the doorknob and the door opened and he nearly ended up in the street but for the fast work of their dad who reached around and grabbed him by the nap of the neck. Seat belts and rear door child locks had not been invented yet. They solved that problem by simply removing the rear door handles.
Albert was always trying to get Joey and me to fight. Joey was one of those kids that had to act tough and even though I was older and could probably beat him in a fight. But my best attribute, when in danger, was the ability to outrun anyone, even my dad, and I got pretty good at doing just that when in need. Later in Junior high and high school I led to me doing pretty good at track.
But one day while Albert was trying to get us to fight I used a notable cuss word, punched Joey in the nose and ran home. Weeks later when their new pool had been completed I returned. Only to be sent in to see Mrs. Hechinger, who did not want to hear anything about how Albert was trying to get us to fight. She just wanted an apology for the cuss word, which she reluctantly received.
One night though I was going to do a sleep over and Joey and I were going to stay in the building that used to house the live in maid and butler, who they no longer had on live in status. As the night progressed though I found it creepy to be in that room. The bed had been covered with hard plastic to protect it and every time you moved it would make noise. It also had the strange odor of Ivory soap and I could feel the presence of the people who had been their servants. They did not seem to be all that happy to live there and neither did I. I did not spend the night.
But the other memory I had about that particular building was about Henry, cousins to the Hechinger’s. He lived just across the street in a less then opulent house and the same age as Albert. He was taking the girl who lived in one of the Hechinger houses on a date. Dottie was quite attractive, well endowed and seemed like a pleasant enough person, but it was a pool date and it was after dark. As Albert, Joey, Michael and I quietly snuck through the maid’s quarters to have a peek we saw them in the pool embracing, kissing and generally gyrating.
Now for Joey, Michael and me, we just wanted to keep watching but for some reason this incensed Albert and before I knew it we were in the living room reporting what we saw to Mrs. Hechinger. Albert saying that they might be getting some sort of love juices in the pool water or something akin to that. Joey, Michael and I just want to go back and watch just a little bit longer.
But summer went like that, adventure after adventure. One day Michael and his cousin decided to make a parachute out of an old blanket and try it out by jumping off the roof. Even I thought that was a bad idea.
You could spend hours though in their yard walking the different cement paths that went from here to there and in between all kinds of fruit to eat and things to see. I would wonder what they were thinking when they designed the place, I never saw their parents ever eat a piece of fruit. The tennis court had also seen better days and now was not even good enough to ride bicycles on.
Then one day while Joey and I were sitting in the tree house we had made that previous summer in their fig tree and enjoying some figs, I looked over to the back house and there was a new family moving in with two attractive daughters, Shirley and Elaine and they were near my age. In fact as luck would have it they would be going to Betsy Ross Elementary School with me. And Elaine, the cutest of the two, would be in my class.
A strange feeling came over me that day though when I saw them move in. Because that house was the most dilapidated house I had ever seen. And I just had this feeling of sympathy for her that she would have to live there. It was an old clapboard building that might have originally had a dirt floor and the foundation just laid on the ground. Some said it was once a chicken coop. They were so poor that they used old curtains for doorways. It was the first of the houses to be torn down many years later.
Being the Italian stallion that I was I wanted to get to know them a little better. But Joey went into his show off mode and their mother stepped in and it was clear that was not going to happen. My sister and the older girls on the block though became friends and hung out with them, brought them food and old clothes as they were dirt poor. We only got messages of what was going on in there.
Apparently the mother was very cool and would make popcorn for the girls in a frying pan, the popcorn spilling over the stove. My popcorn also spills all over the stove even with the right pan. Now I always hated in the middle of summer to hear TV adds about going back to school, buying clothes and supplies. I just didn’t want to be reminded of summer ending and having to go back to Betsy Ross Elementary. But well, this summer was different. It was the first summer I was actually looking forward to going back to school because I new Elaine would be in my class.