It was the kind of neighborhood where every kid should fortunate enough to spend part of their childhood. It was a different time, for sure, but thinking back on the people who lived there, I’m not sure if it was the different time or the people who lived there that made it so special.
There were many times when my mother was preparing a meal and she’d send one her children next door — either direction — to grab an egg, a cup of sugar, some bread, or whatever she needed to finish the meal. And she often returned the favor.
I lived on Josie Avenue in Hillsboro from around the time I was 4 through my first week in fifth grade. It was a newer neighborhood, full of young families with so many kids around my age that it’s hard to imagine a similar place.
Oops. I better hit the brakes right here. I just realized — I have a list of possible column topics and I must have forgot to cross this one off the list — because I wrote about Josie just a few months ago. Oh well, that column had a different feel, and so much seemed happen in those few years on Josie, that I might as well hit the gas again.
Hitting the gas reminds me of one of my first Josie Street memories. My parents only had one car at the time, which must have been the case for several families, because lots of us rode a taxi to and/or from school often, especially the first year or so we lived there. I might have had to ride the taxi no matter how many vehicles we had, because with Dad at work, a brother 18 months younger than me and a newborn sister (the second brother would come along a few years later), it would have been quite a chore for Mom to load us all up each day to take one kid to school.
I do not know how many kids might have been in that taxi at one time, but it was way more than they’d allow today. However many it was, on Fridays the owner (I believe Doris Rooney was her name) would treat us all with a candy bar. And, on occasion, believe it or not, she’d actually let one of the kids just a little older than me drive the taxi a short way down the street.
Maybe that’s why I did the same thing with my kids later on down life’s line, despite my wife’s admonitions. Then again it could be hereditary, because my Dad did the same thing, despite my Mom’s protests.
But I digress.
It was on Josie that I first learned to ride a bicycle. One of the next door neighbor boys taught me. After I had the act down pretty good, the same boy built my first bicycle from pieces of other bikes he found here and there. The same boy had a large role in my early learning of the ins and outs of football, sledding and such.
While Josie was peaceful most days, with that many kids around there are sure to be disagreements, and I ran into my share. If you look closely at one side my face, you can still barely see the claw marks left there by another next door neighbor. I don’t recall what she was mad about, but she had a bit of a temper and that day I got a good taste of it. Funny things is, I don’t remember ever having another cross encounter with her.
There was another girl on the block who once ran over me with a bicycle. Yep, knocked me down with the bike and rode straight over me in the middle of the street. It might have been accident. I really have no idea. But I have no lasting scars from that one. In fact, I remember bouncing right back up and being surprised that I was completely uninjured.
When we played ball games in one particular backyard, there was a fenced-in yard where an older lady lived next to the ball field. If she was watching — and she usually was — and one of game balls bounced over the fence into her yard, she’d come out, grab the ball, and take it inside her house. Her house was a little outside the area I usually roamed and I do not remember if the balls were ever returned. But I do know that a policeman once retrieved a ball from her house for us.
Some of this story makes Josie seem kind of rough. But it really wasn’t. What I remember is that when us kids had a disagreement, we usually settled it amongst ourselves, without interference from adults or anyone else, and moved on.
Mostly, Josie was like the guy who taught me to ride a bike, or like Mike Richmond and Jim Taylor. They were two neighbors a bit older than me that I didn’t play with much. But they used the basketball court behind our house a good bit. One evening as we were eating supper there was a knock at our front door. It was Mike and Jim. They wanted to know if my Dad would mind them replacing our tattered net with a brand new one they had purchased.
We played lots of sports on Josie. The first time I ventured to the big football field at the end of the long block to play with the older kids, I came home with a black eye after accidentally running into one of my teammates while chasing a pass. It might have slowed some kids down, but to me it was pretty cool — like a badge of courage.
Less than a week before we moved from Josie we were playing football in another yard. I tried to tackle one of my classmates. He landed on my right arm, snapping it pretty much like a piece of celery that doesn’t quite break in two. I instantly knew I was hurt like I’d never been hurt before and headed for home. But I was not alone. Up the street with me marched the whole football crew and other kids, with one girl helping me hold my arm in a position so it didn’t hurt as much.
That’s what Josie was like. A few disagreements here and there, but mostly everyone trying to help everyone else.
Today’s society could sure take a lesson.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.