I use the word “ghetto” loosely. Growing up in Section 8 housing in Cherry Hill, a neighborhood in Baltimore, MD, was vastly different in the 1970’s than it is today. While times were hard, it was still a relatively safe place to rip and run the streets without fear of fatality. Standard summer gear included a tank top, pants cut into shorts because there was no way you’d still be able to fit them again by fall, and generic “fish head” sneakers with tube socks.
We didn’t have much at all. Nothing except space, opportunity and ingenuity. I will never become that old man that bores his children to death with tales of how things were far more tougher for me as a kid than it is for them today. But it was.
My mother had little money to speak of and whatever toys we received for Christmas had to last until next Christmas. But when you have outdoors, you don’t need much else. At least not for us street urchins. Being confined to the house because of rain or grounding was a prison sentence. After all, there was absolutely nothing on television and the neighborhood was magnetic.
Necessity forced us to be creative. After so many games of Hide and Seek, Hot Buttered Beans, Tag and others, you had to get down right inventive if you wanted a toy.
We learned to make our own sling shots by taking wire hangers from the closet and shaping them with pliers. We fashioned the sling out of rubber bands and bicycle tire tube. This is how it was done on the African savannah right?
And of course we shot stones. At everything.
Wanted a skateboard? No problem. We augmented those old steel roller skates (don’t act like I was the only one who owned a pair) by separating the front and back of the skate and nailing each end on to a piece of two by four or plywood. Why? Because the mate of the skate was long lost and we looked quite silly pushing ourselves on one skate in cut-off shorts and a dirty tank top. (Side note: you can find a picture of anything on the internet)
Our inspiration derived from many sources. Including Bruce Lee movies. Who didn’t want a pair of nunchucks after watching a martial art film? My apologies to all the people in Cherry Hill who discovered their mops were missing from the back stoop. With an old rusty saw blade, a bit of dog chain, and hammer and nails, we had the necessary materials needed to give each other concussions. We walked the dog with a rope around her neck so we didn’t quite need the dog chain anyway.
Necessity, the mother of invention, served us well. She taught us that a two by four, rubber bands, a clothes pin, and pull tabs from soda cans would yield a serviceable projectile. I was so accurate with it that I hit an MTA bus driver in the leg from 50 paces just before he closed the bus door!
There are times when I am quite envious of my children. They have an overabundance of cool technology, smart phones, internet, and on-demand entertainment. But more often than not I lament for the life that they’ve been deprived of. Not knowing what it’s like to race popsicle sticks in the gutter after a downpour. Throwing eggs at the bus as it drove through the neighborhood. Playing golf with a stick, a soda bottle and a tennis ball. I wouldn’t change my childhood for anything in the world.
There are times today that I have to call on that little boy to remind me that there is a creative spirit within that fuels the evolutionary process. That there is always a solution to a problem. I remind myself that humble beginnings define the man that I am today.
This spring, after a big rain, I’m going to take my daughter to race popsicle sticks in the gutter.